Reflections on the Art of Taiko and World Peace - By
Nakamura is the leader of Shinji Shumeikai's Shumei Taiko Ensemble,
one of the foremost taiko drumming groups in the world today. For close
to twenty years the Ensemble has inspired audiences with the beauty
and precision of its modern interpretation of one of Japan's oldest
musical traditions. The Ensemble performs throughout the world, appearing
at such venues as Lincoln Center, New York; the United Nations, New
York; and the Parliament of the World's Religions, Cape Town.
Ensemble was featured in a benefit concert entitled "An Affair with
Nature" with Paul Winter and the Paul Winter Consort on September 7,
2000 at Lehigh University, Zoeliner Arts Center, Baker Hall, Bethlehem,
PA. Proceeds from this concert benefited the expansion of The Rodale
Institute's "Kid's Re-Generation" 2000 Educational Programs.
sound of taiko drums have played a significant part in Shinji Shumeikai
since first used in one of our ceremonies nearly thirty years ago. It
is felt that each of us can communicate with God through our individual
prayers and that the deeper and more intensively we pray, the more intimate
our communion with God becomes. In Japanese this idea is called "Kanno
Doko" and denotes that moment when human prayers interchange with Divine
Light. It is the moment when a person's purified soul, like a spark
flying from a flint stone, emanates radiance that connects one directly
with God. By its very sound taiko expresses this state of Kanno Doko.
Taiko is a prayer. This is the most basic and the most important principle
of the Shumei Taiko Ensemble.
Ensemble was founded in 1982 as part of Shinji Shumeikai's endeavor
to foster an appreciation of the arts. Our founder, Meishusama, taught
that through art man's nature can be purified and elevated, and its
baser elements removed. Naturally, we pursue this aim through literature,
painting, music, drama, cinema, and other art forms. The artist's soul
summons all people to be elevated through all the various mediums that
art employs. The mystical power that springs from the artist's soul
passes through the words, pictures, musical instruments, the song and
dance of art and touches the soul of all mankind. This link, this spiritual
cord between the artist's soul and the souls of his or her fellow human
beings, can be very strong. Because of this, if an artist's character
is troubled, he or she will trouble his or her fellow humans. And, if
an artist's soul is fine and pure, he or she will refine and purify
the souls of his or her fellow men. This ability to exalt and elevate
the soul is the noblest aspect of art of any medium, and the artist
should use art to become a worthy guide for the rest of mankind.
Shumei Taiko Ensemble's way of living is based on this idea. Every day
we practice purifying our souls and elevating our characters through
serving God. We do this by developing within ourselves an appreciation
of beauty and art, and by helping people. To improve our minds and bodies
we do strenuous exercise daily. By running, stretching, and rehearsing
we strengthen our muscular powers. Surrounded by the beautiful Shigaraki
Mountains, in which Shinji Shumeikai's headquarters of Misono is located,
we practice on our drums, flutes, and harps to create a graceful and
1988 our Ensemble has performed under the artistic leadership of Meisho
Tosha, who is considered by many to be the greatest yokobue flute player.
Under his direction Shumei Taiko has come to occupy an eminent place
in the world of Japanese performing arts, both in our mastery of traditional
taiko and yokobue techniques and in our approach to contemporary and
innovational forms of taiko music.
has the power to move beyond the differences that separate human beings
from one another. It transcends language, customs, and race and oversteps
political, religious, and national boundaries. Art has the power to
dissolve all that spawns bitterness, hatred, and hostility between people.
year we participated in a series of eight performances at the Parliament
of World Religion in Cape Town, South Africa. It was our privilege to
play following addresses given by Dr. Nelson Mandela and His Holiness
the Dalai Lama. Afterward, Eugene Imai, the Director of Shinji Shumeikai
of America, told us that our performance was a great success, not because
it insured that Shinji Shumeikai and our Ensemble would become better
known but because the sounds of our drums made the hearts of all who
heard us beat as one. And that one heartbeat overcame religious intolerance
and beat a strong and clear message of world harmony.
the many types of drumming practiced in the world, Shumei Taiko's drumming
aspires to produce a particularly spiritual sound, like that of Native
American and ceremonial African drumming.
year we were honored to be invited to perform in the General Assembly
Hall at the United Nations during the opening ceremony of the Millennium
World Peace Summit in August, 2000. It is our hope that through participating
in this event we will continue to make our contribution toward the achievement
of world peace by bridging the distances that exist between people.
Note on the History of Taiko
the early history of taiko remains obscure, scholars claim that as a
drumming style that includes military, cultural, and religious uses
it dates back 1400 to 1800 years. Drums resembling those used in contemporary
Japanese taiko were used as early as 300 AD. The booming sound of taiko
heralded the opening celebrations of the Todaiji Buddhist Temple in
the sixth century and later provided the regal music of the imperial
court. In religious ceremonies, taiko has been used for centuries in
both Shinto rites and during various Buddhist festivals. The result
of this long history is the rich body of traditional rhythms that form
taiko's existing repertoire.
the Shumei Taiko Ensemble's mission is to promote peace among mankind,
it is certain that taiko drums were first used as a battlefield instrument
to intimidate enemies and rally arms. A vestige of the art's military
origin is found in the heavy regimen of physical exercise, emphasis
on discipline, and the tight communal ethos of most modern taiko troupes,
including that of the Shumei Taiko Ensemble. Yet, the irony of taiko's
martial origin supports rather than contradicts the Ensemble's mission
of peace and the beliefs held by Shinji Shumeikai concerning the role
of art as a great purifier of the human spirit. For if artistry does
possess the power to refine the hearts of mankind, it certainly also
has the power to take what was once a brutish din heard before battles
and transform it into sublimely spiritual music.