YAMATO literally means Japan in ancient culture. Appropriately, the members of the troupe all live in the village of Asuka, which is considered the birthplace of culture of Japan.
Yamato - The Drummers of Japan bring their high energy performance to Port Macquarie’s Glasshouse in their third stop on a 15 city tour across Australia.
Gen Hidaka joined the troupe in 2006, having no experience of drumming. In his first year he had physical training every day, including running 10 kilometres each morning and weight training in the afternoon. This was in addition to learning the art of taiko drumming. For the Yamato troupe, taiko is not just about technique, it is about physical energy. “There are a lot of taiko drum groups and each group has a different style,” Hidaka says.
There are about 20 members at any one time in the troupe, of which eight to 12 will tour Australia. Hidaka has not been Down Under before, but Yamato performed at the Wormald Festival opening in 2010. He says they don’t get much spare time but always run each morning. “That’s when we do our sightseeing. We were our Yamato t-shirts and people say hi to us.”
Since 1993, Yamato has performed in 53 countries, visiting more than 10 each year. It is the most prolific Japanese performing art group to tour internationally. “We are ambassadors … we feel a responsibility to represent the culture of Japan.”
The troupe members create all their performance pieces in Asuka, including the musical compositions, lighting design, choreography, performance techniques, makeup, and props such as the bachi (sticks). Most of their costumes have been designed by members but Australian audiences will also see some designed by international fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto.
Hidaka says the performance title – The Challengers, is about them wanting to challenge themselves. “We show not only drumming but many things like singing, humour and interaction with the audience.”
It’s a heavy load they bring with them, usually about 50 drums, one which weighs 500kg. “It is made from a 400-year-old Keyaki tree from near our village.”
Living in such close quarters prompted a question about romance among the members. “Sometimes,” Hidaka says diplomatically. “We do everything together, clean, sleep, work, argue. We consider it is important so we can understand one another and be in harmony on stage. Once a year we visit family, but really it is mostly too complicated to have romance.”
It sounds like a challenging existence. Hidaka says some members have been with the group since the beginning, others might only stay a year. “I love touring, you meet so many people in so many countries and that is rare. If I hadn’t joined Yamato I wouldn’t have had that.”