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Olympics to resonate with sound of Japanese taiko drums

Akitoshi Asano, representative director of the Asano Taiko music store in Ishikawa Prefecture. (Kyodo)

KANAZAWA, Japan (Kyodo) -- A project to turn zelkova trees into Japanese taiko drums for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games is coming to fruit, using trees that were felled when the event's main stadium was constructed.

    With five naturally shaped "jukon" (tree root) taiko drums created by cutting the trunk of a large tree aged over 100 years, those involved in the project envision welcoming people from around the world at the opening ceremony with the sound of the drums.

    "What remains to be decided is how hollow to make the drums. The sound will change depending on that," said Akitoshi Asano, 72, representative director of the Asano Taiko music store in Ishikawa Prefecture in central Japan.

    Asano was requested to make the drums by Munenori Higashi, 70, president of Taiko Center Co., a Kyoto-based company that provides taiko lessons in various locations across Japan. The idea came to Higashi when musician Kurotaro Kurosaka suggested recycling felled trees into instruments.

    Kurosaka, 70, who is acquainted with Higashi, plays a wooden flute called the "kocarina."

    "It's such a waste to just throw away zelkova trees, which have so much history. They should be left as a legacy of the Olympics," said Higashi.

    Higashi and Kurosaka consulted with the Japan Sport Council, who are overseeing the building of the New National Stadium and it was decided in January 2015 that they would receive around 25 zelkova and other trees.

    Around 10 tree trunks in good condition, relatively free of holes and other problems, were transported to Asano Taiko's workshop via a large truck. In order to prevent the wood from cracking, craftsmen took time to dry the wood.

    Work to shave the trunk surface was performed by young craftsmen, with each working on one drum. Thin trunks were made into decorative drums.

    Of the five drums, the large ones will have a maximum diameter of around 116 centimeters, and a height of 75 cm. Drum skins will only be stretched across the top of the barrels so as not to obscure the natural look of the wood.

    Given that how the inside of a drum is carved greatly influences its sound, Asano and his team are also considering applying lacquer to enhance reverberation.

    "It's interesting to make a taiko drum that looks different," Asano said.

    The drum skins of the five taiko drums will be colored to match the Olympic colors of blue, yellow, black, green and red, with the set expected to be completed by October.

    "By having the taiko drums played at an Olympic event, we hope to show the world a piece of Japanese culture," Higashi said.

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