Updated on Oct. 5, 2016

Please give us a brief introduction to Kodo.

We are a Japanese group of artists, musicians and performers based on Sado Island in Japan. We use many musical instruments in our performances, but our work focuses primarily on taiko drumming. Taiko is the Japanese word for traditional drums, which are made from wood and animal hides. Originally, our group’s name was simply Kodo, but in 2012 the official name of our group became “Kodo Taiko Performing Arts Ensemble.” Kodo performs all over the world, and has gained both international and domestic recognition as a group dedicated to the re-creation of traditional Japanese performing arts, focusing on taiko drumming.

Is “Kodo” one of the traditional performing arts of Sado Island?

Kodo is not a preservation society for Sado Island’s traditional performing arts. Of course we have certainly been influenced by the local culture simply by having our base in a part of Japan that is rich in traditional arts. However, we should stress that Kodo is not a preservation society dedicated exclusively to passing down local Sado traditions. In recent years, Kodo hopefuls training at the Kodo Apprentice Centre have taken part in the festivals of neighbouring villages, where they learn the annual rite of demon drumming (ondeko or onidaiko in Japanese) from the locals. This valuable opportunity has become part of their curriculum. These particular styles, unique to these villages, have been incorporated into certain Kodo stage pieces with permission from the locals.

Kodo’s antecedent group was called “Sado no Kuni Ondekoza” (Demon Drummers of Sado Island), which is often confused with a group that is currently active, called Ondekoza. This group is based on Japan’s Honshu Island. In the 1970’s, the leader of Sado’s first Ondekoza group was Tagayasu Den. He left Sado Island in the early 1980’s to form another group, and that group continues to use the name Ondekoza.

To be clear, there was no direct connection between the former “Sado no Kuni Ondekoza” group and the local style of demon drumming, nor is there presently any relationship between Kodo and the group of taiko drummers in Japan who go by the name of “Ondekoza” today. Finally, one more clarification: the word “Kodo” is often mistakenly used overseas as synonymous with taiko drumming itself. Please remember that Kodo is one of a number of Japanese taiko groups, not a name for the genre of taiko drumming.

How many Kodo members are there?

As of October 2016, there are 30 performing members (22 men, 8 women) and 5 junior members. This number includes four Distinguished Members: Yoshikazu Fujimoto, Yoko Fujimoto, Chieko Kojima, and Motofumi Yamaguchi. The performers range in age from 21 to 64 years old, with an average age of 31. There are 31 staff members, and if we include Kodo’s apprentices and casual staff, the Kodo Group in its entirety contains around 100 members. There are 5 staff members from Sado Island. The other members come from as far away as Hokkaido and Okinawa, and from everywhere in between.

What is the Kodo Group?

The Kodo Group is made up of the performance ensemble and three managerial organizations.
Kodo Taiko Performing Arts Ensemble carries out a range of year-round activities alongside its core “One Earth Tour” and “School Workshop & Interactive Performances,” such as solo and small group appearances, collaborations, workshops, and more. The ensemble’s wide range of work is managed by the following three organizations:
Kitamaesen, Co., Ltd. manages everything related to the planning and production of Kodo’s performances.
Otodaiku, Co., Ltd. manages the group’s music publishing and copyrights.
The Kodo Cultural Foundation is a public-interest corporation that oversees activities focused on social education and regional revitalization.
As of Oct. 2016, the Kodo Group has around 100 members, which includes 30 performing members, 5 junior members, and 31 staff members, as well as casual staff members and apprentices.

What is life like for the members of Kodo?

Kodo spends long spans of time on the road while on tour, and the sizeable group is often divided into two or three separate casts in order to perform at different locations on any given day. About one third of the year is spent on tour abroad, and one third is spent performing throughout Japan. The final third is spent on Sado Island creating new works and rehearsing.

For some years after the group first formed, Kodo members lived communally. This tradition remains for younger members, who live together in dormitory-style accommodations at Kodo Village, but senior members now live in nearby communities and commute to the Village every day.

The media often mentions that Kodo members “go running together early each morning,” but that is no longer the case. Kodo apprentices continue to rise early and do physical training as part of their routine, but full-fledged members are not required to follow any particular fitness regime. Instead, every Kodo member is responsible for his or her own fitness and physical care.

How does someone become a member of Kodo?

To become a member of Kodo, you must first complete a two-year apprenticeship programme at the Kodo Apprentice Centre in Kakinoura, Sado Island. Apprentices live communally at the Centre (a former school building), where they learn taiko, dance, song, bamboo flute, and other traditional arts in the rich natural and cultural surroundings of Sado Island. The programme includes performing arts such as Noh theater and Kyogen, as well as tea ceremony and agricultural work. Upon completion of the programme, apprentices hoping to become Kodo members may be selected to become probationary junior members who spend an additional year of training on the job. Junior members can then become full-fledged Kodo members if they pass the final stage of selection.

Why is Kodo based on Sado Island?

Our activities on Sado Island began in the 1970’s. At the time, issues related to the island’s youth leaving for larger cities became an increasing concern. In hopes of attracting young people to the island, we began our work in Sado with the goal of setting up a university for the study of traditional Japanese arts and crafts. To raise the necessary funds to build such a school, we planned to travel around the world playing taiko concerts. Currently, with taiko as the focus of our performances, Kodo is one of the few Japanese performing arts group with such a long and prolific history of international touring.

Eventually, our plan became a reality. We have our base, Kodo Village, as well as the creation of the Kodo Cultural Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to the research and re-creation of traditional Japanese culture. Our original goals have been realized. Nestled in its diverse natural surroundings and nurtured by the vitality of its thriving performing arts community, Kodo has benefited immensely from its long association with Sado Island.

Does a Kodo performance consist only of Japanese drums?

The main focus of a Kodo performance is taiko drumming, but other traditional Japanese musical elements also play an integral role. Instruments such as fue (bamboo flute), shamisen (Japanese banjo), koto (harp), and narimono (metal percussion instruments) are featured on the Kodo stage, along with dance and vocals. The ensemble also incorporates Western instruments such as timpani, snare drums, and an array of traditional folk instruments.

Kodo performances include pieces such as O-daiko, Yatai-bayashi, and Miyake, which are based on the traditional rhythms of regional Japan, while compositions such as Monochrome, Chonlima, and Kaden have been written for Kodo by contemporary artists. Some pieces, such as Zoku, Irodori, and Kusa-wake, were composed by members of Kodo themselves. The pieces that Kodo performs change from production to production. A usual performance usually lasts about two hours.

What kinds of drums does Kodo play? What size are the drums? How many drums are used in a Kodo performance?

The taiko drums that Kodo use can be roughly divided into three main categories: miya-daiko, oke-daiko, and shime-daiko. Miya-daiko are drums with shells comprised of one solid piece of hollowed-out wood and fixed drumheads, while oke-daiko are drums with a shell constructed like a barrel, using separate planks of wood and tunable drumheads. The third group, shime-daiko, are drums with a shell made of one solid piece of hollowed-out wood, but with tunable drumheads. While the cowhide head of the oke-daiko and shime-daiko are fastened on with ropes that stretch along the sides of the drum body, the heads of miya-daiko are fixed in place by metal tacks. Depending on the size and shape of the shell, miya-daiko can be called o-daiko (large drum), chu-daiko (middle-sized drum), and hirado-daiko (large flat drum).

The shell of the large o-daiko is made from the trunk of a large tree, such as Japanese Zelkova (keyaki) or African Bubinga. The heads of these drums each measure over one meter in diameter and are made from the hide of one large cow. The weight of the drum together with the stand (yatai) on which it rests is a staggering 400 kg. (882 lbs.). Kodo uses 30 to 50 taiko for a standard theater performance, depending on the production and programme.

Tamasaburo Bando & Kodo

Mr. Tamasaburo Bando first visited Kodo Village on Sado Island in the year 2000. Bando went on to direct “Kodo One Earth Tour Special,” his first project with Kodo, in 2003. Then in 2006, the first on-stage collaboration between Bando and Kodo was “Amaterasu,” a musical dance play based on the famous Japanese myth of the eponymous sun goddess. This innovative production continues to receive high acclaim with each encore season. In 2007, Amaterasu was presented at Tokyo’s iconic Kabukiza Theatre. Following a programme renewal in 2013, the production soared to further renown with sell-out seasons in 2013 and 2015.
Meanwhile, Bando directed “DADAN,” another cutting-edge Kodo production that premiered in Japan in 2009 and made its foreign debut in Europe in 2012 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. This performance continues to evolve via frequent touring, and has received enthusiastic praise in Japan, Spain, France, Hong Kong, and Brazil.
In 2012, Bando assumed the role of Artistic Director for Kodo Taiko Performing Arts Ensemble, overseeing all of Kodo’s stage productions for the following four years. Under Bando’s direction, five distinct “Kodo One Earth Tour” productions have been created to date, at a pace of one new work a year: “Legend” (2012), “Mystery” (2013), “Eternity” (2014), “Chaos” (2015), and “Spiral” (2016). With Tamasaburo Bando’s guidance, Kodo continues to hone its techniques. The ensemble is devoted to cultivating new skills and seeking new heights of artistic expression.

Works Directed by Tamasaburo Bando

・Kodo One Earth Tour Special

Premiering in 2003, this production grew out of dialogue between Bando and each individual Kodo member over the course of three years. “Sado e,” featured in the second act, is a 20-minute-long composition created especially for the ensemble that features taiko, metal percussion instruments, vocals, bamboo flutes, shamisen (Japanese banjo), koto harps and more. Based upon the group’s journey to date, “Kodo One Earth Tour Special” gives audiences a preview of Kodo’s future possibilities.

・Amaterasu

This programme premiered in 2006, and was followed by encore performances at Tokyo’s iconic Kabukiza Theatre in 2007. Encore seasons with a renewed programme were held in 2013 & 2015.
Based on the story of “The Cave of the Sun Goddess,” the musical dance play “Amaterasu” is Bando and Kodo’s first on-stage collaboration. The production features a glorious dance performance by Bando as the sun goddess Amaterasu herself. In addition to playing taiko and other instruments, Kodo performers sing and act as they depict the gods who appear in this well-known story from Japanese mythology. Amaterasu is a monumental work in Kodo’s repertoire, and will be remembered as the first time for Kodo performers to be directed as both musicians and actors.
In 2013, an updated Amaterasu programme was presented for a three-month season in Japan, welcoming former Takarazuka Revue performer, Harei Aine, to the cast in the role of Ameno-uzume. Furthermore, this work became the inspiration for new Bando & Kodo collaborative performance pieces. “Ibuki” premiered in 2012, and “Amaterasu Genso” opened in 2013 at Kanamaru-za, which was formerly known as The Konpira Grand Theatre.

・DADAN

Originally premiering in 2009, “DADAN” has enjoyed multiple encore seasons: in 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and once again in 2017. Simultaneously raw and refined, DADAN performances feature only Kodo’s young, powerhouse male performers. Translated simply as “drumming men,” DADAN has continued to evolve on stage, gaining new power and dynamism with each performance. One could say that this work simultaneously tests each performer’s physical, technical, psychological and spiritual limits. DADAN saw its world premiere in Tokyo in 2009, and the success of this initial run led to its foreign debut at Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, France, with four sold-out performances in 2012. To date, DADAN performances and tours have been held in Japan, France, Spain, Hong Kong, and Brazil. DADAN will tour throughout the USA in 2017.

・Kodo One Earth Tour: Legend

Premiering in 2012, “Legend” toured throughout Japan, the USA, and Europe for a total of 123 performances and an audience of over 140,000 people. This production was created with compositions that have been performed by the Kodo ensemble since the days of its antecedent group, Sado no Kuni Ondekoza. In addition to these compositions, “Legend” also offered recent works by current Kodo members and brand new works composed by Tamasaburo Bando. Kaden, the programme’s opening oeuvre composed by Bando, received high critical acclaim, and went on to have a great impact on the ensemble’s creative process in subsequent years.

・Kodo One Earth Tour: Mystery

Premiering in 2013, “Mystery” toured throughout Japan, North America, and Europe. The programme depicts the wondrous and sacred “mystery” that lies deep within both traditional Japanese folk arts and the hearts of Japanese people. Audiences are invited into an extraordinary realm that appears at the crossroads between darkness and light. This profound work incorporates theatrical elements and unique folk arts such as the grand serpents from Shimane’s Iwami Kagura and wild beasts from Akita’s Namahage.

・Kodo One Earth Tour: Eternity

Premiering in 2014, “Eternity” toured throughout Japan in 2015. This production uses a broad range of percussion instruments and the myriad of tones that they produce. The sounds they create depict the various glimpses of “eternity” throughout time that manifest themselves among the workings of nature. The Eternity programme steps away from Kodo’s conventional image and repertoire to date, showing audiences a completely new side of the ensemble through all-new compositions.

・Kodo One Earth Tour: Chaos

Premiering in 2015, this programme toured throughout Japan in 2016. “Chaos” is an imaginative journey that weaves jubilant dimensions and percussive tones into a dynamic and tumultuous whole. Mentored by drum supervisor Tetsuya Kajiwara, former drummer of the Japanese rock band “The Blue Hearts,” Kodo explores a world where Western drums collide with the reverberations of Japan’s traditional taiko drums. With curiosity and creativity, the Kodo members play drum kits, tires bound with duct tape, and other new forms of percussion. They boldly explore the reverberations of taiko with a broader spectrum of sound, the results ranging from chaos to fusion, and ultimately, harmony.

・Kodo One Earth Tour: Spiral

“Spiral” premiered in 2016 as Kodo’s 35th Anniversary Commemorative Concert, which was followed by a four-month tour throughout Japan.
In “Spiral,” the new generation of young Kodo members present a modern interpretation of Kodo’s classic repertoire. One innovation is the incorporation of Western percussion into Kodo’s signature solo piece, O-daiko, performed on the big drum. The finale is the new title piece Rasen (Spiral). Rasen showcases Kodo’s perpetual creative evolution by celebrating the ensemble’s past, present and future. It incorporates echoes of earlier work, which can be heard in phrases pulled from iconic traditional Kodo arrangements such as Miyake and Yatai-bayashi. This shows Kodo’s willingness to experiment with Western percussion in order to further explore the infinite possibilities of taiko.

・Kodo One Earth Tour: Yugen

The next Bando & Kodo collaboration will premiere in May 2017, followed by Japan performances in May, June, and September that year. In this work, the performers will depict the world of Noh theater using Kodo’s unique panorama of sound. “Kodo can not simply attempt to perform Noh rituals. Noh and Kabuki accompaniments are performed with instruments to which Kodo is not accustomed. If Kodo attempted to use the same instruments as Noh and Kabuki musicians, naturally a performance by those specialists would be far better. Therefore, Kodo must practice with their own instruments and express the world of Noh in their own way.” (Translated excerpt from an interview with Tamasaburo Bando)

Kodo 30th Anniversary Publication “Inochi Moyashite, Tatakeyo. – 30 Years of Kodo -“

In commemoration of the group’s 30th anniversary, Kodo published a book to capture the first three decades of its remarkable journey. Starting with an overview of the group’s origin and history, this definitive publication offers unprecedented insights into the world of Kodo, from the ensemble’s evolving stage expression to the member’s daily lives and personal experiences. It was created both with sincere appreciation for the many people who have supported Kodo thus far, and also in anticipation of the many we will meet on the road ahead.

Available through the Kodo Online Store and at major booksellers throughout Japan.

Kodo 30th Anniversary Publication “Inochi Moyashite, Tatakeyo. –30 Years of Kodo–”