DRUM TAO: When Japanese Drum Performing Art Reaches the World

  • ART
  • Tokyo
  • Japan is a culturally rich country with many interesting and unique features that you cannot miss when traveling here. You will probably be recommended to check out a kabuki show, see maiko (means “apprentice geisha”), go to concerts of singers and idol groups, or enjoy some quirky cosplay cafes and restaurants.

    But have you ever heard of drum performing art? You would probably be like me,  thinking that drum beats do not seem interesting, sometimes even excessive noises, not suitable for (eardrums of) the elderly or children. But you will have to think again! Let me introduce you to one of the most wonderful artistic experiences I’ve ever seen and heard – the drum performing show from the artists of DRUM TAO!

    1. A glimpse of DRUM TAO

    DRUM TAO, or TAO, is a Japanese troupe founded in 1993 in Aichi Prefecture, whose main purpose is to reflect the Japanese culture and tradition through art. Although specializing in Japanese drums (called taiko) in various size, TAO transforms their performance by excellently combining it with martial arts, dance, cutting-edge light shows, contemporary music and other musical instruments such as koto, shakuhachi, shamisen, etc. Their inspiration comes from ancient and modern Japanese culture but also is influenced by some exotic features from Korea, Maori, Indonesia, etc.

    Author’s video


    Through many generations of tough training and performing, TAO has achieved many successes and made a great reputation in and outside Japan. In 2004, Drum Tao attended the world’s largest arts festival – Edinburgh Festival Fringe and made their world debut with a run of 25 consecutive days of sold out shows, even though it was their first time participating! Following the success, they were invited to perform at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Soon after, they made their first North American tour, visited 44 cities with a total of 50 shows and all were sold out of tickets right away!

    The above is just one of the successes they have achieved. To date, TAO has become an international art group, performing in 26 countries and 500 cities with more than 8 million audience viewers. You can find more information about Drum Tao through their official website.

    2. Mangekyo: Finest performance of drum art


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    Mangekyo (万華響) is one of the most innovative and creative shows of TAO. It debuted in 2017 and is still performed annually with more and more improvement. Mangekyo brings a unique experience to the audience by combining the avant-garde powerful sound of traditional Japanese drums with acrobatics, martial arts, music and performances of other ethnic instruments.

    Author’s photo

    A special feature of Mangekyo is its ability to overcome all language barriers and shake the audience’s emotions thanks to elaborate staging, beautiful technical movements, and lively sound and light. Mangekyo’s 2019 version is a highly anticipated collaboration from “Team Lab” – a group of various experts in the digital field. Team Lab takes “collective creation” as the main concept, incorporating it with the top costume designs by Koshino Junko and famous stage designer Rumi Matsui.

    You can find out more information about Mangekyo here. TAO also has their official fan page and publishes Mangekyo’s latest information on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in the link above. This is the fastest and most useful way to be updated about the shows and tours of TAO. Click like and follow it!

    3. Hard work of the TAO performers


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    As you can see, the drum instruments used by TAO performers vary in size, in which the larger ones require the controllers to have strength and endurance. Moreover, TAO’s choreography is made up of many complex movements and requires finality, flexibility as well as good facial expression. That is why when TAO performers perform, they are sweating as if they were in a sauna.

    The extremely demanding physical needs for the TAO’s unique performance require all of the performers to train themselves and become athletes. Their daily practice begins at 5 AM and ends at 10 PM, including 20km running, physical therapy, martial arts, dancing, drums, and chord practice.

    A performance of DRUM TAO in “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”

    During the first ten years, 400 trainees gave up, forcing the founder as well as the “boss”, Ikuo Fujitaka, to adjust their training regime. Since then, the number of trainees has been more stable, and there has been a growing number of talents recruited when TAO amazed the world with their awesome skills.

    TAO only became a phenomenon after 7 years of hardship and training. They have the beauty of Japanese drum art that seemed to be lost and proudly affirmed to be the most unique and one of the most outstanding drum art groups in the international stage. The severe pain and suffering were finally paying off!

    4. Ticket booking

    Mangekyo is held annually at the contemporary Alternative Theater in Yurakucho, Tokyo. You can check the schedule of performances, available seats, and tickets at the official website of Mangekyo. In addition, if you are outside Japan, you can book tickets through Klook or JAPANiCAN (official travel site of JTB – the most famous tour operator and official sponsor of Mangekyo). All websites are in English so you don’t have to worry even if you don’t know Japanese.

    Also, if you want to “follow” Drum Tao to attend their concerts across Japan, or simply you’re outside Tokyo but still want to enjoy their show, you can refer the information here. The dates, locations, and tickets are all clearly stated, but this will be a small challenge for you because all information is in Japanese.

    Wishing you have a wonderful experience listening to a drum performance from TAO!