Following a hugely successful tour in 2017, YAMATO are back by popular demand bringing their new show Passion to Regal Theatre on Saturday, September 14 and the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre on Sunday, September 15. YAMATO’s acclaimed performances of Japanese Taiko drumming and music have captivated audiences of over 7-million people in 54 countries across the globe. BRAYDEN EDWARDS talked to artistic director Masa Ogawa to find out about the rich history of drumming in Japan, the rigorous training required to hit the elite level and what audiences can expect from the shows.
How long has drumming been part of Japanese culture and how is it different from drumming in other parts of the world? What kinds of traditions or rituals has the drumming been used in?
Taiko means “drum” in Japanese. We call all of the drums “Taiko”. Japanese drums are called “Wa-daiko”, which has a long history but has only been used in the performing arts for the last 60 to 70 years.
YAMATO was born in 1993. Before that, there were several Taiko drumming companies active such as Ondekoza and Kodo. Wadaiko wasn’t used as “music” for entertainment before. After their apprentices, Wadaiko has been used to entertain people like the shows. Wadaiko has a long history, but the history of “Wadaiko-performance” started about 50 years ago.
Another important fact about Wadaiko is the sizes of the drums and the sound itself. Wadaiko is made with one piece of a big tree and its sound is really heavy and deep.
It looks like it takes a lot of strength and fitness. How much training does it take to be able to perform at such an elite level?
This is just the list of YAMATO training: Members run 10 km every morning before breakfast. After breakfast, they do weight training to gain muscle for two hours. They do basic drum training before lunch for two hours. After lunch, they practice for their performance until about 8pm. After dinner, they do individual training with small instruments like Shamisen, Koto, Chappa and Shinobue.
In addition, they do make their own drum sticks called “Bachi” by themselves. The most important training criteria for us is the condition of living together.
Yamato is described as the “epitome of the Japanese spirit”, honouring traditional Taiko and Wadaiko drumming while also exploring contemporary drumming styles. Do you get all your inspiration from Japanese drumming or are you influenced by percussion in other places around the world?
To make it clear at the beginning, YAMATO is not doing traditional Taiko drumming. We just want to create our own performance with Japanese Taiko drumming. Of course, we respect the history of Japanese culture and Taiko instrument. We value the fact that we were born in Japan and believe in living on the ground of “Asuka village” which is called the birthplace of Japan.
Some of the drums look very big and heavy, how big do they get and is it challenging to travel with them?
Our biggest Taiko weighs more than 500kg. It’s so difficult to take it by hand, we have to use a hand lift for it. We are travelling with more than 40 different Taiko drums. All of them are heavy and fragile which is why we have to do training to gain muscle.
I saw a video of Yamato performing on the street in Bunbury when you were here in WA in 2017. Do you often perform outside traditional performance spaces and what have been some of the most unusual places you have performed in your travels?
We perform everywhere. Normally, we do perform in the venues to crowds from 300 to 3,000 people. We also do outside performances for the people with audiences varying from 50 to 15,000. The smallest performance we had was at a kindergarten with just 20 kids in front of us. In Austria, we performed on a lake. We were on a floating stage on the lake and the audiences were sitting beside the lake. We have also performed in castles, churches… many, many places.
How is your new show Passion different from the shows you have previously toured and what kind of night can people look forward to?
It’s difficult to describe the difference between this show and the others. YAMATO’s shows always give the same feeling, same energy and big power. However, this new show Passion will also show you scenery you have never seen before with lots of different types of Wadaiko on stage.
How do you hope people will feel when they walk out of a Yamato show?
We hope all the people will get energy from YAMATO’s Taiko drumming. We want to share the energy of passion. We know that all of our audiences will re-realise their own energy in their own “passion.” We hope to get it in our body and mind. That’s the reason for YAMATO; to keep drumming all over the world.