Under the artistic direction of Japanese Living National Treasure and revered kabuki icon Tamasaburo Bando, the taiko performing arts ensemble is further refining its carefully considered stagecraft, combining the centuries-old techniques that Tamasaburo has absorbed from a lifetime on stage with the vigorous, joyful vision of taiko Kodo has developed over the decades, a vision that extends beyond music into movement and costume.
Kodo has thoughtfully transformed the percussive music of Japan’s rural festivals and rituals of harvest and renewal. The ensemble evokes the age-old celebrations of the agricultural cycle, yet pairs ancient pieces with new compositions by respected Japanese composers—from jazz pianists to kabuki masters—and by Kodo members. Their vision has inspired performing arts ensembles worldwide, including Blue Man Group, with whom Kodo recently collaborated on a piece that garnered an International Emmy Nomination. Founders of Cirque du Soliel traveled to Sado to learn from Kodo, incorporating elements into their classic piece, “Mystère.” Kodo have worked with musical lights from respected Chinese composer Tan Dun to Corsican vocal ensemble A Filetta, from the Tokyo Philharmonic to the Paris Opera. Whatever the source or inspiration, Kodo devotes long hours of intense rehearsal to each piece, demanding total commitment and profound creative drive.
The group unites this sharp focus with a dedication to a way of life; alongside rigorous rehearsing, members run long distances to train for the physical challenges of drumming. They raise rice using old hand methods, practice traditional arts like the tea ceremony, and build eco-conscious furniture. It is part and parcel of Kodo’s mission: To promote and develop Japan’s vibrant yet sometimes neglected traditions, roots inextricable entwined with an older way of life.
This way of life still persists on Sado. Lying many miles off of Japan’s western coast, the large island was once the destination for exiles, outspoken thinkers and artists deemed politically dangerous to Japan’s rulers. It became a quiet artistic, isolated hub where tradition met the forefront of Japanese culture. Today, it retains many practices of an age lost in modern, urban Japan, from the old ways of brewing much sought-after sake, to celebrations of the harvest with masked dances and stirring drums.
When Kodo’s founders came to Sado in the late 1960s, they were searching for a place to make a new kind of community, a new haven for art. They were swayed by its beauty and by the strength of these roots. They lived communally, worked and played music together, turning taiko from a musical form played at festivals into high and highly athletic art. After the group debuted in Berlin and spent most of the 1980s on tour, its founding members returned to their island home to establish Kodo Village. Now a vibrant arts hub, the village houses the ensemble and its apprentices and plays host each year to an annual Earth Celebration, a music and arts festival that brings together the many sounds and cultures Kodo encounters during its months on the road.
This urge to embrace the world’s art influences Kodo’s compositions and has helped them hone their presentation of their home country’s distinctive roots. It has won them acclaim worldwide, and demonstrated the great flexibility and power of Japanese music and art.
Shaped by Sado Island’s rich traditions and by years of international touring, Kodo developed a unique style and repertoire. Yet despite the constant infusion of global influences, the group became even more fiercely dedicated to its home of Sado Island. In 1988, Kodo built their own Village not far from the original schoolhouse by the sea, with living, practice, recording and office spaces, farm land and carefully tended forests.
Kodo Cultural Foundation
The Kodo Cultural Foundation is committed to the cultural and environmental preservation of Sado Island, and oversees many ambitious projects. From the conservation of local habitat and the revitalization of rare craft traditions, to the renovation of Noh theaters throughout Sado Island, the highly collaborative Kodo Cultural Foundation supports many vital initiatives.
Kodo Apprentice Centre
Inspired by its recordings, lifestyle, and performance art, many young people wished to join Kodo and learn the taiko and associated disciplines. In response, Kodo established an Apprentice Centre in another renovated schoolhouse. The apprentice program serves as a kind of mini-university, fulfilling part of Kodo’s original vision. Open to all qualified applicants, the program offers intensive training in not only diverse traditional performing arts, but in many related disciplines that inspire and inform them. These include rice culture and vegetable farming, Noh/Kyogen, tea ceremony, cooking and cuisine, history, and calligraphy, among others. Graduates are selected on an individual basis to become junior performing members.
Sado Island Taiko Centre
In an effort to extend their educational programs to the general public, and to share the joy of taiko, Kodo helped design and construct a beautiful new Taiko Centre. Situated high on a hill overlooking the sea, Taiko Centre staff conduct workshops and seminars year-round for visitors of all ages.
Kodo cares deeply about the natural environment of its home, including Sado’s lush forests. To create a model of how a local resource could be sustainably managed, Kodo designs and manufactures interior furnishings from native, renewable timber. Cured by the sea, built by hand, and designed by Kodo Board member and renowned designer, Makoto Shimazaki, it is sold under the name Earth Furniture.
Every August, artists and fans from around the world travel to Sado Island to attend three days of original music and cultural events during the now-famous Earth Celebration music festival, currently in its twenty-fourth year. Although guest artists change every year, taiko culture and the stunning natural surroundings of Sado Island are at the heart of every event.
One Earth Tour
When Kodo began touring the world three decades ago, the performers discovered that the sound of the taiko had a similar effect. Wherever people heard the taiko, there was an instant sense of community, of one-ness. So the name One Earth Tour was born, and carried by the sound of the taiko, it has traveled the world with its message of shared humanity, environmental awareness, and peace, ever since.