Kodō: Working with Pierre Cardin to Bring Japanese Drum Art to the World

New York, N.Y. There is a great group in Japan called Kodō (鼓童), a group that based on folk culture of the island of Sado with performances of Japanese drums and dances. But before this group was created, there was a drum group called Ondekoza (鬼太鼓座)  — “the demon drum group” — is a taiko drum troupe whose members became the group“Kodō.”

I invited Ondekoza to the United States in 1975 when the beginning of Japanese drum art was known. It was the first overseas performance for Onndekoza, and the performance became very popular and the troupe very famous. Even after becoming  “Kodō,” they performed in many parts of the world – and the art of Japanese drumming became to be known to the world!

The great designer Pierre Cardin of Italy, active for decades in Paris, loves Japan and became very popular there from his first trip in 1957. Mr. Cardan was involved in the “Onikokoza” performances in the United States.


I am from the Woven Fabric of Tatsumura Family

My grandfather was an artist who was making Nishijin textiles. He was the first Tatsumura Heizo and his second was also Tatsumura Heizo – my father. The obi — the stylized sash of a kimono — is very expensive and considered an ‘estate.’ Cardan was very interested in the woven fabric of the Tatsumura family and often designed dresses using the fabric of the Tatsumura family.

His dresses with my family’s fabric often appeared in Vogue magazine. Cardin was also interested in me, knowing I was the daughter connecting our family firm with the world of art. He told me to do a show with the obi at the Lincoln Center, so I held an exhibition of obi and kimono. About ten strips of Tatsumura obi, this kimono on this strip was in the form of being properly coordinated in the way, and it was exhibited and became very popular.

1957.t_1024_0Pierre Cardin arrived in Japan for the first time in 1957.

When I said that I wanted to do something with the performance of “Onndekoza,” he went to see for himself and was very impressed, He told me he would be a sponsor. The first American show is in 1975 was produced at The Beacon Theater on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. We had a great response, as it was the first time Americans could see something like this.

People who had not seen such big drums beat it with great force, rhythmic music, and the dance that matched it was so fresh. The style of the men in their near nakedness, the flattering style of those who beat the drums became the talk of the town. The venue was packed with enthusiastic audiences!

maxresdefault (4)Woven Nishijin obi (kimono sashes) made in Kyoto, Japan.

When Pierre Cardin arrived in New York for this show, I was just leaving New York on a tour with a famous orchestra, although I was supposed to pick him up. Instead, I remember my daughter, at age 9, became my ambassador, wearing a beautiful kimono and bringing a bouquet of flowers to meet him at the airport.

With Cardan’s participation in the project, it became possible to continue the drum performances in France, and for a while after that, we produced our drm art all over the world.


Looking back on the history of the “Kodō” in the photo book made after that, around 1976, the drums were being performed in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, France, West Germany, and so on. In America, the drum troupe appeared not only New York but also the famous Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts. By the next year, performed in Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The shock of the performances at this time was large and we were enthusiastically accepted all over the world.

It is my deepest pleasure to remember now how “Kodō” become so famous. I am proud that I was able to help the group’s from their first overseas performance onwards.

Originally published as Vol. 64 in Weekly Biz, March 16, 2019; translated by Jim Luce.

See: Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura Column in Japan’s Weekly Biz



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About Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura

View all posts by Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko was born into a distinguished old family in Kyoto, Japan, and graduated from Toho conservatory of Music in Tokyo. In 1961 she came to U.S. as a pianist sponsored by the Boston Symphony. She studied at Boston University, New York University, and received her Ph.D. in Oriental Medicine from New York State University and the International Academy of Education in Tokyo. From 1968 to 1992, she promoted cultural exchanges from East to West and vice versa, and became a world famous impresario, producing 2,000 events each year all over the world encompassing over 140 countries. In this connection, in 1972, she went to Dharamsala to find the lost Tibetan Folk Opera, and met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with whom she remains a lifelong friend. In 1973 and 1991 she arranged and funded personally the tours of the Folk Opera of Tibet to the West. She has received many medals and honors from different countries. Her tireless life long work in Philanthropic field is vast and well known ranging from Save the Beacon Theater, Save the Boat People, Help the Homeless, natural disasters of earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as relief to AIDS and HIV positive children in Africa. She has been a dedicated Board Member to both the J. Luce Foundation and Orphans International for years. Her work focuses on the Tibetan people; Tibetan children remain especially strong in her heart. She raised fund for the new academic building for Manjushree Orphanage in Tawang, India and supported many aspects of the school. See HuffPo pieces entitled Japanese Holistic Healer in NYC to Build School for Tibetan Orphans in India, A Japanese Dinner with Raul Castro’s Daughter, and NYC Gala in Support of Tibetan Orphans Set for January.

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