Introducing: Interview with Yamato Drummer Gen Hidaka

Back by popular demand the world-renowned Taiko drummers, Yamato bring their high-energy and immersive show Jhonetsu (Passion) to Brighton Dome. The 12-strong troupe have captivated audiences across the globe, demonstrating their immense skill in the traditional art of Taiko drumming and epitomising the Japanese spirit. Ahead of the show, performer Gen Hidaka discusses his journey, and reveals the day-to-day life of the Yamato Drummers.

I first saw the Yamato Drummers when I was 21 – I had the opportunity to visit Switzerland and while I was there a friend gave me a birthday present and it was a ticket to one of Yamato’s shows.

At the time I had no idea about Taiko drumming or Yamato at all, and to be honest my friend and I went to theatre without any big expectations.

I then saw them perform and I was quite simply blown away. I had never experienced a feeling like it in my life – my heart was beating in time with the sound of the Taiko drumming.

I was just sitting there and watching the performance, but for some reason I also felt proud of myself as a Japanese person. They made me feel proud and encouraged me to live confidently – they changed my life that day completely.

How did you get involved?

After I graduated from college in Canada, I took a chance and simply called the Yamato office and asked if I could join. My concern was the fact I had no prior experience or knowledge of Taiko drumming, however it turned out not to be an issue at all. The Yamato team invited me to come to their place and live with them for a while – so I took the plunge and it was not long after that I joined the group.

For Yamato, the technique and experience of Taiko drumming were not important – being able to live together is more important than anything else.

What was it that attracted you to drumming?

The energy, the beauty of the movement, the funny moments, and the communication between us – the ‘do your best’ kind of mentality.

Yamato drummers short clip from Yamato, the Drummers of Japan on Vimeo.

What training is involved in becoming one of the Yamato drummers?

There’s a 10km run every morning through the mountains in Japan, followed by weight training using one of the taiko [drums] called Shime-daiko that weighs about 12kg. We then practice Taiko drumming throughout the day until we have to stop at night due to the loud noise – we don’t want to disturb the neighbours! We also need to be able to cook and clean because we all live together.

How does this differ to other forms of drumming?

Yamato drumming is not just traditional music – our music is modern, and all composed by our Artistic Director Masa Ogawa. We consider Yamato drumming to be more like a sport – we lose about 2kg every tour which is just as much as a boxer. It’s complete entertainment so everyone from children to adults can enjoy our show.

What are the drums made out of? How many are used in the show and how many drum sticks?

Taiko drums all vary in size, made in similar ways with either tackled or laced heads with interesting histories. For example, the Miya-daiko is a beer-barrel shaped drum made from one big piece of wood and was brought to Japan from China through Korea around the 15th century. The Shimedaiko is a small drum often used for high pitched, fast rhythm drumming and originates from Kudara (Korea) during the 6th century.

We also use other instruments such as the Chappa – small bronze cymbals which originate from China. We also use the Koto – a stringed instrument, usually used played for court music, and made from a hollowed-out Paulownia tree, ideally 40-50 years old with a 40cm diameter.

In total there are about 50 drums and about 100-200 drums sticks used in each show. We have performed more than 3,500 shows in 54 countries to over 7 million people.

How many drummers and how many costume changes are there in the show?

There is usually anywhere between 8 – 12 drummers on stage, with only 1 costume change.  

Yamato - The Drummers of Japan is showing on 15 Feb 2019. Book tickets here.