【Edo Tokyo Rethink】Wadaiko Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten: The Words of Zeami and Inheritance of Tradition
Thump, thump, thump—
As the taiko drum’s skin is stretched wide, the sound of a wooden mallet’s hammering echoes through the workshop.
Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten was founded in the first year of the Bunkyū Period (1861) as a taiko shop. However, customer demand led them to expand into portable shrines and ritual goods.
For this reason, the shop is split into various workshops. These include workshops that make the drum’s shell, workshops that stretch the skin that goes over the drum, workshops that dismantle or put together portable shrines, workshops in charge of maintenance and repair, workshops that apply lacquer, and toreutic workshops that work with metal-carving.
It is said that it takes at least 10 years for an artisan to learn the basics of work. From there, they further develop their skill in the craft they feel most confident in.
The sound of taiko drums originally represented the prayers of Japanese people and their gratitude to nature. With the aim of returning to this origin, Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten is currently embarking on the “Taiko drums that create a forest” project.
Wood from the forests of Tokyo are turned into taiko drums by Tokyo-based artisans. This process by which they search for a way of taiko drums that lives in harmony with nature is both a journey to the roots of taiko drums, and a challenge to find something that will connect to the future.
President Yoshihiko Miyamoto stated “When listening to the sound of a tree more than 60 years old and over 25 meters in height falling, I truly felt the weight of responsibility to this life that we have taken, which will be reborn as a taiko drum.”
Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten has continued to maintain Japanese tradition and techniques, from working on a set of musical instruments for the Ceremony of Accession of Emperor Showa, portable shrines for Asakusa Shrine, as well as being an official supplier for the Kabuki-za Theater and National Noh Theater. Miyamoto spoke thusly on the matter.
“It isn’t something we think too deeply about. There is a phrase of Zeami, “Shunin aigyō”, which translates roughly to “Be loved and respected by the people”. To be loved by the people is an indispensable part of passing on tradition. Therefore, while we continue to maintain old things, it is just as important to seek out manufacturing methods and materials that will resonate with the people of today.”
In this year’s EDO TOKYO RETHINK exhibition, Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten will collaborate with contemporary artist Noritaka Tatehana. There is no doubt that the new challenge of creating a piece of art using taiko drums will become a step towards the future of taiko tradition.
Photo by Satomi Yamauchi
*All necessary safety precautions were taken during the interview as part of COVID-19 prevention.
Online Exhibition Outline
Exhibition Title: Edo Tokyo Rethink -The Future of Traditional Industries Represented by Art in the Former Iwasaki House Garden-
Exhibition Period: March 24, 2022 (Thu) 14:00 – March 31, 2022 (Thu)
*The exhibition will be available for viewing as an archive at the same URL even after the online exhibition ends.
Organizer: Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Edo-Tokyo Kirari Project
Co-organizer: Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association