In recent years, many wa-daiko (Japanese drums) troupes have been appearing in all parts of Japan. The wa-daiko has come into vogue especially in peripheral regions where depopulation and aging have reached a serious degree. The boom should be regarded as folklorism, relating to the concept of the German Volkskunde, rather than a part of popular culture in modern or post-modern Japan. The wa-daiko groups often insist on strong ties with the scenery, history and peasant traditions of the home town and village. They are eager to be placed as an equivalent to or substitute for the traditional folkloric performing art.
In this article, I analyze the process in which the wa-daiko performances are invented and acquire meanings in a local context. My discussion is based upon the survey of the forty-one troupes in Nagasaki Prefecture which took part in the Shichoson Day (Cities, Towns and Villages Day) of the Journey Exposition in Nagasaki in 1990.
I begin with an examination of the names and self-introductions of the wa-daiko groups. Most of the groups take a name for themselves after their town, a well-known landscape feature, local history, or a local tradition such as a legend, folktale, or a traditional activity of production. These are presumed to symbolize the home region. The self-introductions are announced at concerts, and also can be read in concert brochures. They explain how deeply the groups are associated with the local traditions, and claim legitimacy through representing the regional cultures, even through the wa-daiko dramming as a performing art is not authentic.
Secondly, the article discusses the way the playing techniques were introduced to the regions. Most groups learned the technique from instructors whom they invited from remote regions. They also requested the instructors to compose a few pieces for them. The composers attempted, by request or voluntarily, to express regional features related to the nature and tradition. However, there is in fact no difference among the pieces played by each group. The groups, therefore, try to be distinctive from each other through the performances and costumes on stage. It is not a process in which the locality makes the sound significant. The fact is the other way round; the sound itself gains meanings through the dramatization and contrivance of performances.
Thirdly, the troupe members and performers are investigated. The players consist of town and village officials, staff members of the chamber of commerce and industry, the agricultural and the fishery cooperatives, members of youth associations, school teachers, factory workers, housewives and so on. Most of them are of a relatively younger generation in their twenties and thirties, and 30 percent of them are women. They practice routine activities at the central settlement where the town office is located.
Fourthly, I describe financial matters. Most of the wa-daiko groups enjoy various kinds of assistance. Some of them are organized as part of the revitalization project of the town authority and the chamber of commerce and industry. Moreover, not a few groups are financially supported by the prefectural and national governments. In Nagasaki Prefecture, for the last nine years, the total amounts of the grants were eighty-five million yen for 45 cases with the average amount per case being nearly two million yen. The prefectural government also offers another type of assistance. It makes a constant promotion of the wa-daiko groups through television programs as one of its public relations activities.
The idyllic images of “homeland” or furusato that many wa-daiko groups try to express through their performances are responding to what city dwellers as well as academics expect to see.