Field Notes: Taiko Drumming Promotes Culture and Cardio

Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vast and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: taiko drumming.
To register for classes at Taiko Center of the Pacific, call 737-7236 or email
Photos: Gregory Yamamoto



Rooted in sixth-century Japan, taiko is a style of drumming initially used at temples or shrines. (The word taiko literally means “big drum.”) Historically, it is thought to have been a way to send messages across long distances, to chase away insects in farmlands, to instill courage in warriors during times of battle and to celebrate a bountiful harvest. Today, though, taiko most often refers to the modern art of ensemble-style Japanese drumming, called kumi-daiko. The late Daihachi Oguchi, a former jazz musician, is credited for creating the kumi-daiko style of drumming in 1951. Since then, more than 8,000 groups have formed in Japan, spreading the art form around the world. In 1968, Seiichi Tanaka formed the first North American taiko group, the San Francisco Taiko Dojo. While the art form still utilizes ancient instruments, it’s been infused with modern sounds, rhythms and styles.



In Hawai‘i, there are more than two dozen taiko groups and schools across the Islands, including the Taiko Center of the Pacific in Honolulu. Opened in 1990, this school, one of the oldest in Hawai‘i, is directed by internationally renowned master drummer Kenny Endo. (He celebrates 40 years of playing taiko this year.) The school has more than 100 students, ranging in ages from 2 to 85. They come from all walks of life: students, professors, attorneys, accountants, engineers, flight attendants, hotel managers, programmers, acupuncturists, even a pastry chef. “We say it’s never too early or too late to start,” says Chizuko Endo, the school’s managing director, taiko instructor and Kenny’s wife.



Taiko practice is like a fitness class: Wear loose, breathable, comfortable clothing: T-shirts, tank tops, board shorts, yoga pants. And you never play with shoes or slippers on. While most go hadashi (barefoot), you can wear socks. Earplugs are optional.



Each class starts with an aisatsu, or greeting, accompanied with a polite bow. Here, as in many taiko schools, it’s “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu,” which is a typical greeting before the start
of practice.


There are several Japanese values gleaned from taiko: sonkei (respect), wa (harmony), kansha (gratitude), ganbaru (perserverance) and gaman (enduring patience).


And it all starts with learning the importance of bowing before entering the room. “It all has to do with respect,” Chizuko Endo says. “You’re showing respect for the teacher, who’s sharing knowledge, respect for the room or dojo, respect for the other students in the class, respect for the instruments, and respect for the art of taiko itself.”




Tracy Gunn, 41, Downtown, restaurant manager, playing taiko for five years

“I loved it more than I thought I would. Playing it is way more fun than watching it. If it’s a taiko day, it’s a good day. I don’t cancel taiko
for anything.”



Lynn Uyeda, 58, Kalama Valley, property management bookkeeper, playing taiko for six years

“I love that it’s something where the more you learn, the more you get out of it. It’s never at a stalemate. It’s always challenging us.”



Michael Zucker, 73, Pālolo, retired, playing taiko for six years

“All my life people have told me I gotta be louder with my voice. Taiko gives me a chance to be loud for the first time. I never want to wear earplugs when I play. I want to hear the sound as loud as can be.”




  • Always bow before you walk into or leave the room, wherever it is.

  • Leave your slippers and shoes outside.

  • Always help set up the drums and put them away after class.

  • Remove jewelry before playing.

  • Bring water. You’ll need it.


Did you know? Kenny Endo once drummed at the bottom of the Grand Canyon as part of a cultural exchange. The drums got there by horse.