In a class by itself, taiko drumming combines athleticism and musicality. Here Picture This Post (PTP) Masa Ogawa (MO), founder and artistic director of Yamato: Drummers of Japan.
(PTP) How did you discover Taiko drumming/How did Yamato get started?
(MO) Yamato was started by something my mother did. She found a big and old Taiko drum in storage of a traditional shrine in our town. She said, “You should do something with this for the Shrine Festival.” I wrote a song and performed it with my brother and friends. It was just one time, and we figured it would be a nice memory. To our surprise, we started getting a lot of requests to play for other people. We didn’t have enough Taiko drums. Nor did we have costumes or any more songs. But nearly ten people had already joined Yamato. Some of them quit their jobs. Something was happening. We practiced a lot, early in the morning until midnight. We ran 10 kilometers every morning to get stamina. We were feeling that Taiko drumming was giving us the power to discover something, and one of those things was our future. The life itself was so hard, but there was no hitting the wall with stress. We said yes to all booking requests, and also got energy from street performances.
Yamato includes women performers drumming alongside the men, which breaks with Japanese taiko tradition. How else does Yamato embrace and/or break with tradition?
To be honest, I did not have any interest in Japanese traditional things before I encountered Taiko drumming. I could just feel the power of Taiko. I used it for making music and creating our own performance. Still, we had to pay a big respect to Japanese tradition and the Taiko drum.
I have a big respect for the Yamato ladies because they are so powerful. In Yamato, when the men see what the women are doing, the effort they are putting out, the man thinks, “I have to do more!” And the ladies tell the boys, “You are a man, you should be strong!” That is out of modern thinking a little bit, but it is working well for us. Yamato boys will be spurred by Yamato’s ladies’ power. And the man has the power to support that woman’s power.
Yamato drummers don’t just strike the drums with their hands, but with their whole bodies. Every performer puts a lot into each performance, physically, creatively and spiritually, how do you keep that energy up?
Yes, all the drummers play the big Taiko drums with their full power. Every morning, in our home in Asuka Village in Japan, YAMATO drummers run in the mountain and the rice field about 10 km and just after running they do shadow drumming with fat Bachi sticks. They are facing the sky and imagining the biggest Taiko. They hit that Taiko more than 1000 times. After eating breakfast, they do weight training for the muscles for 2 - 3 hours. And then after eating lunch, they do practice for Taiko drumming and the performance.
How has YAMATO changed and grown in the past 26 years? What are you most proud of when you reflect on those years?
We are still traveling the world with the Taiko drum and have played more than 4000 performances in 54 countries for more than 8 million fans! We never thought life would turn out like this in the beginning. If you do something your whole heart and mind, the road you must walk will appear. Just do with all of your being. Then on your journey, many wonderful things will happen.
For Passion - Jhonetsu, what are you hoping to communicate with the audience through the performance? What do you hope they will take away from the show?
I hope to be able to enfold people into the big vibration of the Taiko drum. I hope the audience heartbeat will synchronize with our beat. Then I hope people will be drawn into the circle. Our mission is to make people energetic and to make them one. We get energy from the people smiling together and understanding each other. We hope people will be energized by catching our own energy.
For tickets and more information please visit Mondaviarts Website.
Photos courtesy of Yamato Drummers of Japan