Bare-chested Tsutomu Okuda plays a tune on his broad abdomen at the 10th “belly drum” contest at Shingujinja shrine in Koka, Shiga Prefecture, in November. (Jiro Tsutsui)

KOKA, Shiga Prefecture--Tsutomu Okuda was slim as a high school student, but by his 30s he weighed 130 kilograms and soon started tapping on his belly to create sounds.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Okuda, 52, is the winner of no less than seven tanuki (raccoon dog) “belly drum” contests, in which participants play songs on their stomachs using their fingers.

He has slimmed down somewhat since the height of his reign, weighing 118 kg, and has a 132-cm waistline.

Okuda, a beautician by trade, is no stranger to winning.

When he was a second-year student at Shigaraki High School, he placed second in the middleweight division of a boxing event at a national high school athletic meet.

He started getting rounder in the waist in his mid-20s.

Seeing his plump body, a neighbor asked Okuda to join a tanuki lookalike contest in 2007, when he was 40. He demonstrated his stomach skills for the first time at the event.

Tanuki in Japanese fiction are often featured drumming their abdomens.

When a national tanuki belly drum competition started two years later, he became the first champion, going on to win it three years in a row.

At the fourth event, Okuda served as a judge because he was already reckoned as a sort of hall of famer.

However, he was asked to return the following year by the organizers, who said the event would be "dull" without him.

In the 10th, and final, installment at Shingujinja shrine in November, bare-chested Okuda came out on top out of 24 individuals and groups, tapping out “Shiawase Nara Te o Tatako” (If You're Happy, Clap Your Hands), a popular tune by the late singer Kyu Sakamoto.

He ended up winning the contest seven times, settling for runner-up twice.

Okuda lives in the Shigaraki district of Koka famed for its ceramic wares. Perhaps best known are humorous anthropomorphized tanuki figurines with balloon-like bellies, wearing a hat and holding a sake bottle.

Okuda's standout performance has been refined over the years through low-key efforts. While he initially tapped his belly with only his palms, he tested various techniques and found that drumming with his fingers curled is the best way to make clear sounds.

Practicing in a bathroom, he hit upon the idea of making the skin wet with a spray bottle so that the sounds resonated. Okuda also tried using Shigaraki ware statues and pieces of plastic pipe, as they have hollows like the inside of curled hands.

Through such refinements, he is now able to play five scales by hitting his stomach with two small and large pipes while opening and closing their outlets in different ways.

Okuda has three daughters. Asked what she thinks of her father, Mina, Okuda's second daughter, described him as an "interesting dad."

The 16-year-old second-year high school student noted, however, that she wants him to lose weight for his health.

Okuda said he will go on a diet following the last contest.

"My skin has become softer with age, resulting in slight changes in sound," Okuda said, jokingly adding that before slimming down he will consume the 30 kg of rice he won with his family first.