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Bishamon Daiko Drum Ensemble

My hometown is very small with less 1000 inhabitants. The town is divided in 6 areas. Two of them, including the one where my family is belong to, have an drum ensemble of local children named Bishamon Daiko 毘沙門太鼓.


The groupe is consisted by children, age of 10 to 12, used to only boys. When I participated, girls had to participate it because of less and less population of town.



There was a master of drum, called sensei, teacher. He was former primal school directer.

Later I heard that it was him who created this ensemble because our area had no tradition of performing arts like other areas.


Bishamon Daiko is named after the Bishamon-ten, Vaiśravaṇa of Hindu (Buddhic) god that our local temple has the pavillon with its statue. The performance is dedicated to the local Buddhic ceremony once a year. (Also, once for municipal events of performing arts, every summer).


One or two months before the ceremony, we start to practice at main pavillon of local Buddhist temple after school.

It is know that the Master is really strict. Children, including me, were frighten everyday. We had to follow all strict rules to take his lesson.


First, you had to space out our taken-off shoes correctly, when you enter to the main pavillon, called honden. Then you have to greet to the alter, you should never across inside of alter. When Master arrives, you have to sit down on your knees with others. Your place is determine by your age and your height. The leader make sign and all make deep bow to him, saying "onegaishimasu", means "thank you in advance". This is formal greeting to ask someone a service.


Then our lessons begins. The first lesson almost ends by explanation of all ritual codes: how to sit down, how to bow, how to stand up, how to do everything. If you cannot to well, or you are not serious, you risk to be hit by his stick.


Regular lesson was more frightening for me. It begins with memorisation. He teaches un one thing per day and you have to memorise all. One year, it was name of circular ratio (pi). For exemple, the first day you memorise 3.14, next day you add few figures more: 3. 1415, next day, 3.141592, 3.14159265, ...All pupils have to quote by memory. He chose one by one in random. During the term of rehearsal, everyone was grumbling numbers, Asian countries, or European countries.


When it comes to the drum lesson, before you participate to the group, you have to memorise all sequences. It is older pupils teaches beginners. The first day, all know basic technic, and all sequences by heart.


The ensemble is consisted by five rhythmic sequences like below;


No. 1 (called 1 ban, ichi-ban)




No. 2 (called 2 ban, ni-ban)


Measure 1, 3, 5, 7: hit membrane, the rest you hit frame.



No. 3 (called 3 ban, san-ban)

First 4 measure you beat frame, and last 4 measure on membrane.



No. 4 (called 4 ban, yon-ban)


reverse to No. 3



No. 5 (called 5 ban, go-ban)


Normally it is repeated twice.



We change sound (and pitch) by changing the place you beat (membrane or frame) and your hand (left hand or right hand). You beat accent by left hand, for exemple.



We have two sides of big drums (called ō-daiko) which is put on the high drum stand. The body part of drum is on the stand so that two sides can be used. Only tall pupils can reach. We used two sides of membrane.

We have five or six small drums on small stand. It is set so that one side of membrane be horizontal. One side of membrane is on the stand, so that you used only one side.


Two or three pupils use one drum or one side of drum. When you play one of sequences once or twice (according to arrangement) you switch to another position. When you don't play drum, you have to make given posture. Every movement is determined and this was totally ritual.


We have another sequence to begin, or to finish the music. Tremolo it begins very slowly and gradually becomes faster. Had no particular name for it (for us). Normally only leader who is normally highest and oldest can play. Later, I noticed that this is often used in another shintoistic or buddhist popular ceremony in Japan.


Every time, the combination of sequence changes. So all you have to memorise is the order of sequences and your movement during when you don't are not in turn to play.








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© 2015 by Akiko Hirai