Gen Hidaka is a master Taiko drummer – expert in the ancient Japanese art of ensemble percussion and a member of the famed Yamato group.

“It’s all about the energy and beauty of the movement,” he says. “It’s also about the communication between us – the ‘do your best’ kind of mentality... and the funny moments too!”

The Yamato taiko drummers combine traditional music with style, athleticism and agility and are an explosive live spectacle.

On Monday they roll up at Oxford’s New Theatre, in a new show to celebrate their 25th year. The show features all new music composed by artistic director Masa Ogawa, is called ‘Jhonetsu’ or ‘Passion’ and features up to 12 drummers on stage at a time.

The show goes on to London for a run at the Peacock Theatre.

“Yamato drumming is not just traditional music,” says Gen. “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.”

Yamato formed in 1993 with the aim of preserving the tradition of Taiko drumming while exploring new possibilities for the majestic wadiako drums. Since then, their rich reverberations have been heard worldwide.

Recognised as trailblazers in the Taiko world, Yamato have broken from the patriarchal confines of the style by including female drummers in the troupe from inception. Since then, the troupe has performed in front of seven million people in more than 54 countries.

The Oxford Times:

More physically demanding than any other drumming style, performers must not only learn the traditional technique but also engage in an intensive endurance training programme. Taiko drums can weigh up to half a ton and to strike them effectively requires the full strength of a well-trained body.

Yamato’s troupe start each day with a 10km run and vigorous weight training to keep themselves in peak physical condition and maintain the fitness needed for their nightly two-hour performances.

“I first saw the Yamato Drummers when I was 21,” says Gen. “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 the 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.”

Inspired by Yamato’s artistry, movement, and communicative performance, but having absolutely no previous experience, Gen made contact with the troupe with the aim of joining after finishing college in Canada.

“After I graduated, I took a chance and simply called the Yamato office and asked if I could join,” he recalls.

“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.

The training regime was more like something you’d expect from an elite military special forces unit. Members live together, train 12 hours a day and follow a tough programme of physical exercise.

The Oxford Times:

“There’s a 10km run every morning through the mountains in Japan, followed by weight training using one of the drums, called a 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.”

Sticklers for tradition, the music may be new but the techniques and instruments are age-old.

Gen says: “Taiko drums all vary in size but are made in similar ways with either tackled or laced heads with interesting histories.

The Oxford Times:

“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 Shime-daiko is a small drum often used for high pitched, fast rhythm drumming and originated in Korea in the sixth century. We also use other instruments such as the Chappa – small bronze cymbals from China.

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“And we use the Koto – a stringed instrument which was played for court music, and made from a hollowed-out Paulownia tree, ideally 40-50 years-old and with a diameter of 40cm.

“There are about 50 drums in total and about 100-200 drums sticks used in each show.”

And gen says, the group love showing it off – and the chance to travel. “We have performed more than 3,500 shows in 54 countries to over seven million people,” he says.

And with the group now in the UK, what does he enjoy most about being over here?

“Driving in the left lane!” he laughs. “It’s just like it is in Japan which makes it a lot easier for us. Your fish and chips are really good too, and some of us enjoy the beer!”

*The Yamato Drummers play the New Theatre, Oxford, on Monday, February 25. For details and tickets go to