NISEKO this week said goodbye to Rokurou Takada – the founder of Kutchan’s thriving taiko drum culture – who passed away on Sunday, aged 96.
Roku-san, as he was affectionately known, was universally loved for sharing his warm-hearted passion and enthusiasm with young and old alike.
He died of a heart attack on Sunday morning – less than four years short of the 100 milestone he hoped to reach, and before he was able to achieve his dream of getting 1000 people playing taiko at the one time. He was well on the way with a 600-strong performance last year.
Several hundred people packed Kutchan’s Satou Ceremony Hall for the funeral on Thursday, with many spilling outside. On Friday there was a kokubetsu shiki (farewell ceremony) before the cremation ceremony at Takasago.
En route to the cremation ceremony, Roku-san’s body was driven past the Hokuyou Elementary School, where some of his taiko students gave him their final performance, then slowly down Kutchan’s main street to the train station where he had worked. There, Roku-san’s drumming troupe, the Yotei Daiko Serve Association, also gave Roku-san one more show.
During the cremation ceremony drummers kept the beat going outside. Yotei Daiko Serve Association member Tomoko Maruya said Roku-san had requested to hear taiko when he died, and preferably for three days non-stop if possible.
In an interview we did with Roku-san in 2008, Roku-san said he started playing taiko when he was in his mother’s stomach.
“My family’s religion is the Nichiren sect of Buddhism,” Roku-san said.
“While we chant a sutra, we play a fan drum. So I always heard those rhythms when my mother was chanting, and was probably drumming in her stomach!”
Before Roku-san inspired others to play with him, the townsfolk used to laugh at him as he played his taiko wherever he went. But soon the beat caught on and the rest is history. The Yotei Daiko Serve Association now has hundreds of members, with a generation of children now inspired by Roku-san to follow.
Read the full interview we did with Roku-san in February 2008 here.