Updated: Mar. 2023
Are you coming to <city/state/province> on your 2023 North America tour?
All tour dates have been announced here:
If you want us to come to your area, please tell your local theater. We hope local demand brings us to you next time.
When are you coming to Europe next?
Early 2024. We’ve announced the production information and our performances in Switzerland here. However, we can’t announce any further countries until details are confirmed later this year. In the meantime, please tell your local theater you want to see Kodo. We hope local demand brings us to your city/country, too.
When are you coming to <city/state/province/country>?
Please note that we go where we are invited by a presenter. Please tell your local theater or festival you want to see Kodo. We hope local demand brings us to your city/country.
Are you planning to release any new DVDs/albums?
When we have news to share about new releases, we will announce it on our News page and social media accounts. Please wait for our updates.
What is 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 Feb. 2023, there are 37 performers (27 men, 10 women)—4 Distinguished Members, 30 Members, and 3 Junior Members. The performers range in age from 20 to 72 years old, with an average age of 35.4. There are 32 full-time staff members, and if we include Kodo’s apprentices and casual staff, the Kodo Group in its entirety contains around 100 members. There are 4 staff members from Sado Island. The other members come from as far away as Hokkaido, Kagoshima, and the USA.
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.
・Kodo Cultural Foundation is a public-interest corporation that oversees activities focused on social education and regional revitalization.
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.
What is the history between Kabuki actor Tamasaburo Bando and 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).
Kodo returned to the stage with Tamasaburo Bando in 2017 for a brand new collaborative work, Tamasaburo Bando x Kodo Special Performance “Yugen,” a production based on three iconic Noh plays: The Feather Robe, The Stone Bridge, and Dojoji Temple. Yugen was reimagined as a Kabuki production in 2018 for which Kodo provided the musical accompaniment. In 2023, Yugen returned for a third season at Osaka’s Shochikuza Theatre.
Do you ever plan to release an English version of the Kodo 30th Anniversary Publication “Inochi Moyashite, Tatakeyo.—30 Years of Kodo”?
In Feb. 2023, Japanese-English translator and Kodo colleague Melanie Taylor (South Paw Translation) is planning to launch a crowdfunding project to translate our book into English. We hope you’ll join us in supporting this project. See here for details.