Making taiko drums from the trees of a Tokyo forest, planting the forests of the future
Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten is an establishment that embodies the “old meets new” concept of Edo Tokyo Kirari in its own unique way. Ever since its founding in 1861 (Bunkyu 1), Miyamoto Unosuke Shoten has been involved in producing items such as mikoshi (portable shrines), taiko drums, and other musical instruments used in Noh theater and gagaku (traditional Japanese court music) and has been a continuous supporter of the festivals and traditional performing arts so dear to the hearts of the Japanese people.
“For us, the manufacturing process is not about the pursuit of novelty,” explains President Yoshihiko Miyamoto. “We believe in keeping traditions alive and fresh, in not letting them grow old and stale. For that reason, it is crucial to create not only physical objects but also opportunities for the ongoing artistic use of those objects. Since 2014, we have opened HIBIKUS, a Japanese taiko drum school, and kaDON, its American subsidiary, to create spaces transcending national boundaries where people can easily get started on learning taiko drumming, thereby contributing to wider dissemination of this aspect of our culture.”
“Taiko drums for forests” is a new project underway that is born of this desire to combine the production of physical objects with the generation of opportunities and ideas. Drawing on the ancient genesis of Japanese performing arts, which sprang to life in a time when the Japanese people lived in harmony with nature, this project began out of a desire to create musical instruments in harmony with the environment of Tokyo. Working in cooperation with Tokyo Chainsaws, a sustainable forestry company based in Hinohara Village, the project’s aim is to forge connections to the lush forests of the future through the creation of taiko drums of thinned cedar wood. Both high-pitched hanebyoshi-daiko (“leaping beat drums”) and low-pitched jibyoshi-daiko (“ground beat drums”) can be manufactured using techniques traditionally employed for making barrels or tubs, with a wooden board shaped into a cylinder to form the body of the drum.
“Normally we use wood with a straight grain that does not easily warp,” explains Miyamoto. “But here we also used cross grain wood in order avoid wastage. The challenge was how to form it into a cylinder while suppressing the wood’s natural tendency to warp, which really highlighted how skilled our craftsmen truly are.”
The taiko drums that were manufactured using these methods were successfully unveiled in March 2021. Preparations are currently underway to make them available for sale. Various events to be held in the forest used to make these taiko are also being planned, hopefully in March 2022.
“Participants will be able to listen to taiko performances in the forest, get involved in tree planting, and engage in woodworking workshops,” explains Miyamoto. “It would make me very happy if connecting these taiko drums more directly to the forests that gave birth to them could deepen our interest in manufacturing and the environment simultaneously. I hope to continue holding similar gatherings that allow us to enjoy our time surrounded by nature.”