The most pervasive and well known of all Japanese percussion
instruments is the taiko, found in almost all towns and villages throughout Japan
All Japanese drums have in common a head made of cow hide cured and stretched tightly over both ends of a wooden body. The body is shaped either like an hourglass or a barrel, and the skin is either fastened to the body by tacks or held taut with ropes, in which case it is referred to as shime-daiko.
Taiko were originally used as part of religious matsuri or festivals. Beating on a drum and blowing flutes in the matsuri-bayashi was one of the most popular ways to coax kami deities out of their invisible realms into the human world. The origins of the taiko in Shinto creation myths can be traced back to the "Nihongi," one of the earliest written chronicles of Japan, where the creation of the land is explained through the metaphor of sound: a single drum beat.
The taiko is also used in local folk songs and dances, and learning taiko is a very easy way to foster community participation. With just a little training, everyone, from young to old, can join in. But as with anything else, decades of practice naturally bring about an ease with subtlety and nuance. So everyone from a beginner to an "expert" can have great fun banging away at a taiko.
Many large cities in the West have Japanese community centres or Buddhist temples that have taiko troupes and most will welcome any one who wants to learn how to play.