Were taiko drums used to determine village size? If so, when was this practice in use?

In 'Full Circle', Michael Palin says that the taiko drums were used to determine village sizes in pre-industrial Japan. I took this to mean the Tokugawa Shogunate, but the Wikipedia article on Edo-period villages came up empty. I don't have a direct quote as Google Books doesn't do a preview of it, and I'm listening to the audiobook.

I then searched more and found the claim also in this old New York Times article from 1986 in this wording:

In ancient Japan, folklore has it, a village's boundaries were determined by the farthest point from which the villagers could hear the sound of the taiko - a big drum.

Listening to the taiko today, one imagines those villages must have been awfully big because, if sound has size, taiko music is enormous.

This takes the context away from the Tokugawa and linked instead with ancient Japan, probably pre-Heian given the reference to "folklore". Yet, this more detailed article focussing on the drums has no information regarding whether they were used for village size determination or what period this may have happened in. However, New World Encyclopedia repeats the claim and references this site which also makes the claim but doesn't reference or cite this.

  • 3
    "those villages must have been awfully big " - the size of a village doesn't have to mean the size of the area with densely packed houses. Villages had fields around them, used for agriculture...
    – vsz
    Jun 18 '20 at 4:37

I suspect this is a misleading interpretation of a custom.

The rumbling power of the taiko has also been long been associated with the gods, and has been appropriated by the religions of Japan. According to Daihachi Oguchi of Osuwa-daiko, about four thousand years ago, in the Jomon period , taiko was used for to signal various activities in the village. Simple taiko beats would be used to signal that the hunters were setting out, or to signal that a storm was coming and that the women needed to bring in the meat and fruits they had drying. While there is no direct physical evidence to support this claim, Megumi Ochi, curator of the Taiko Kan Museum, believes this to be true since other cultures exhibit the same behavior. Because these signals were so important to the flow of daily life, the people were very thankful of the taiko, and began to believe that the taiko was inhabited by a god. TaikoResource

If the taiko drums were used to coordinate village activities in this manner, then those beyond the sound of the drum would have been less organically connected to village life. The size of the village was determined by the village's ability to coordinate and govern activities effectively, and the taiko were merely the technology of that governance. I think the original quote makes it sound as though cause and effect were reversed - that the goal was to design a village within the sound of a drum; I find it more credible that the goal was to coordinate village activities using available technology.

Another source

It is said that the boundaries of the village were defined by the distance at which the community odaiko (large drum) could be heard. This would mean, the louder the taiko, the bigger the village. In fact, some drums were made to gargantuan scale, 10-15 feet in diameter, and pounded upon by sticks the size of a baseball bat! PortlandTaiko

I think that @andrewRichmod expresses my hypothesis more clearly than I do; I'm copying it here because comments are barn cats, and I don't want an excellent contribution to be lost.

If it was useful for villagers to hear the drum, then also organically population density, property value would be higher within range, villagers would choose to live in earshot.

I'd be more comfortable with my hypothesis if I could find a primary source, or even a secondary source that I found more reliable.

  • 2
    If it was useful for villagers to hear the drum, then also organically population density, property value would be higher within range, villagers would choose to live in earshot. Jun 17 '20 at 12:57
  • I like the hypothesis!
    – gktscrk
    Jun 17 '20 at 13:25
  • 6
    This also means that the sound defines an upper bound for the maximum practical size of the village, not the size of the village. Jun 18 '20 at 7:39
  • 2
    For comparison: There are lots of colloquial sayings/traditions in English describing some village/town/area as being defined by the earshot of the bells of some church — e.g. true cockneys being those born “within the sound of Bow bells” — and the practical use of church bells as a communal signal was certainly very real. But at the same time, there wasn’t any terribly strict or consistent relationship between the earshot of the bells and either the administrative or bricks-and-mortar extent of settlements. Folklore is often based in real history, but oversimplifies it. Jun 18 '20 at 16:05

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