by Daniel Benson
Taiko, a performance art originally from Japan, has spread quickly since its origin in the early 1950s, establishing professional and amateur groups across five continents. As taiko has spread, it has changed, accommodating the needs of both its performers and its expanding audience base. In a process of professionalization that mimics such established Japanese “high arts” as noh, taiko has developed from an inchoate collection of folk and religious rituals and popular entertainments to become an independent performance art, with a body of rules to govern style and a self-identifying “taiko community” that follows them. In the process, taiko has become the symbol for a range of social movements, from Japan’s post-war nativism to Asian-American pan-ethnicity, all of which have exerted influence on taiko’s development, either in concert or at odds with the forces audiences exert through their selective patronage of particularly entertaining taiko groups. Although these conflicts arise from taiko’s particular history, the tension they place on the art form mirrors the development of many other performance arts. As the innovations of taiko’s first practitioners became the traditions of the next generation of taiko players, the shape of the art form has changed, balancing taiko between innovation and standardization.