A Taiko Glossary

Being a performance art originating from Japan, there are a lot of Japanese terms that we use when talking about equipment or concepts in Taiko.  If you’d like to become hip to our lingo, we’ve assembled a Glossary here.

bachi – (bah-chee) drumsticks. There are different styles and sizes of bachi; the specific ones you use at a given time can depend on what drum you are hitting, what song you are playing, or even personal preference. Bachi may be tapered or straight, and are usually made out of wood. Common types of wood include maple, magnolia, and cypress.

chudaiko – (chu-die-koh) medium sized drums, generally 19-34 inch diameter at the drum head. The bodies of the drums are traditionally made from one single piece of wood, but some modern drums are constructed like wine barrels. The drum heads are animal hide (most commonly cow), stretched and nailed to the body with tacks with round, black heads. These are the most widely used drums in kumidaiko groups.

hachimaki – (ha-chee-mah-kee) a headband worn across the head, tied at the back of the head. They may be worn folded, or twisted. Occasionally included in taiko performance uniforms.

happi – (hah-pee) a coat. The exact style varies in the length of sleeve, length of the coat, and closures. These are often worn by festival-goers, or by groups of people as a uniform. Harisen’s current happi are black, green, and orange, sleeveless, mid-thigh, and open across the chest.

ji – (gee) an underlying beat that helps to keep time in a taiko song. Typically played on the shime, other drums may take up the ji during solo sections or to drive the beat faster while keeping the ensemble together. There are many styles of ji.  The exact rhythm played as a ji can be traditional, such as the matsuri ji, but can also be unique and written to fulfill part of the melody of a song.

kiai – (kee-eye) similar to in martial arts, taiko may incorporate shouting words or sounds as the players exert themselves, call encouragement to other players, or fill rests in a song. Some songs add in scripted kiai to add interest and depth to a piece. Common words/sounds include ‘sore’ (so-ray), ‘hup’, ‘ya sa’, and ‘iya’ (ee-ya).

kuchi shoga – (coo-chee shoh-gah) phoneticized musical notation. Taiko songs may be written in Western music notation, but traditionally are taught using kuchi shoga, with onomonopoeic words denoting specific hits.  A ‘don’ is a single hit to the drumhead; ‘doko’ is two beats in quick succession. ‘Ka’ is a tap of the bachi on the rim of the drum; ‘kara’ is two. Which hand hits and the strength of the hit can also be communicated in this way.

odaiko – (oh-die-koh) large drums, 35-72 inch diameter at the drum head. Sometimes, odaiko may be crafted at an even larger size. The drums are usually set up horizontally on an elevated stand that results in a player hitting the drum using an overhead motion.  Construction is similar to that of chudaiko.

okedo – (oh-kay-doh) a type of shimedaiko that has a longer body than a typical shime. They may be played set vertically on a stand, or by attaching a strap and slinging the drum horizontally across the player’s body.  Also called ‘katsugi’.

shime – (she-may) a type of shimedaiko. Sometimes described as the ‘snare drums’ of taiko.  These are played set vertically on a stand such that the player is standing or sitting. These are generally the time-keepers in songs, playing the ji.

shimedaiko – (she-may-die-koh) drumheads are not tacked down as they are with chudaiko or odaiko, and are instead attached with ropes, the pitch may be altered by tightening or loosening the rope.

tekkou – (teh-koh) wristbands. These are generally cloth and encircle the entire wrist, generally to the middle of the forearm. There can sometimes be a flap of cloth that covers the back of the hand, kept in place by a loop around the middle finger. Largely used for style as a part of a performer’s uniform.