By Eric Jacques
Taiko performance at Morikami Museum, Boca Raton, FL.
The Japanese diaspora, which is the successive emigrations of peoples from Japan over the past few centuries, has been widespread and varied. With their people and culture the Japanese brought their music, and anywhere with a thriving Japanese population usually retains at least some of its cultural roots.
Japanese music is extremely diverse. There exists a plethora of musical styles, both traditional and modern, which are deep parts of Japanese culture. One of the more familiar types of Japanese “music” is the widely known taiko drumming. However, within Japan, it is less thought of as a style of music but rather an art-form ensemble.
While the word “taiko” translates literally to “wide drum”, the Japanese ensemble performance on these drums is referred to as “kumi-daiko”. These performances can last anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes and follow a specific song structure known as jo-ha-kyu. The jo-ha-kyu structure leads the song through a series of six sections, which always includes a gradual tempo increase before the final part.
The various taiko drums are originally from China, and were introduced to Japan during the Yayoi Period in 300AD. In feudal Japan, taiko drumming was used to motivate troops and to communicate directives. On approach to a battle, the taiko yaku (main drummer) was responsible for setting the 6 beat rhythm. The amount of repeated measures determined whether soldiers would gather, march, or advance on an enemy. However, taiko drums were also played in the court style music of Gagaku, and were widely used in many castles and shrines in ancient Japan. It is one of the oldest styles of court music still being played today.
The Japanese diaspora in America brought many aspects of its culture. Japanese citizens began migrating to the Americas following the 1868 Meiji Restoration and its political, cultural, and social changes. Most of the migration in the United States occurred earlier in the 20th Century, as the Immigration Act of 1924 put a choke on the influx of Japanese immigrants until 1965.
In the early 20th Century, Florida authorities attempted to create a Japanese farming community in what is now Boca Raton, Florida. The incentives stemmed from the government subsidized Florida East Coast Railway, which was owned by Henry Flagler a famous Floridian tycoon. Settlement of land on the Florida east coast was highly encouraged, as the railroad would profit and the land would be sold to new coming immigrants.
Jo Sakai was a Japanese entrepreneur from NYU who decided to purchase 1,000 acres of land in 1907. He then recruited many men from his hometown of Miyazu, Japan. Over the first quarter of the 20th Century, Japanese settlers grew pineapple and shipped their produce upstate through the railroads. This colony eventually became known as the “Yamato Colony,” and is remembered today through Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Boca Raton, FL.
Although the original Yamato Colony lost profitability as emerging pineapple markets in Cuba began to take business, there is still a small Japanese community in Boca Raton which celebrates their culture. The Morikami Museum is known for holding many Japanese events and holidays, where Taiko drumming is a common feature. There are older members of the Japanese community who take part in these musical festivities, while younger generations of related Japanese family still get involved in Morikami’s famous taiko drumming performances.