I am determined to make a trip to Japan’s Sado island, home to one of the loudest groups in the world.
Sado, off the coast of Niigata Prefecture, is the base camp of the Kodo drummers. To my ears, the volume of the noise they make is at least as loud as a performance by a rock band, yet it’s achieved without amplification.
As a person with a passion for both Japan and for loud music, Sado sounds like the perfect destination for me.
This week, I watched the drummers’ show at London’s Royal Festival Hall. I was thrilled by its energy but I was also impressed by the players’ discipline, which meant that every beat formed part of an intricate and highly melodic musical pattern.
They can also sing and play traditional instruments such as the bamboo flute, so this gives their gigs interesting textures.
Discipline is instilled during the drummers’ life upon the island.
A Financial Times journalist, Raphael Abraham, visited them there in 2016 and revealed that: “Six mornings a week in rain or shine, trainees get up at dawn to jog up and down hilly rural roads, followed by a ritual cleaning on hands and knees of the building in which they board, a converted schoolhouse with no central heating.”
He also explained that: “They grow much of their own food, carve their chopsticks and drumsticks, and are schooled in tea ceremonies. No computers or phones are permitted, and so their only contact with families and friends off the island is via handwritten letters.”
For me, the most impressive part of the Kodo legacy show came at the climax, when a performer dressed in a white loin cloth beat out a rhythm on a drum known as O-daiko.
This mighty instrument weighs about 300 kilos and measures 145cm in diameter. It requires great power and an expert technique to make it resonate.
You can get an impression of what life is like on the road for the drummers by reading the blog of Shun Takuma, on the Kodo website. He writes: “As a foreigner abroad, I am relishing all the fresh experiences. Observing people, walking in the different cities and trying the local food. Yet at the same time there are moments of homesickness for Japan.”
Shun says audience responses vary from country to country. “In some places, the emotions are freely expressed. Elsewhere there is more reserve, rather like myself.”
When I go to Sado, I could ask to join the group. I have taken a few lessons in playing the taiko drums and I’m pleased that the group’s website states that Kodo welcomes apprentices from abroad.
It also warns that “advanced Japanese skills are a must to undertake the training.”
I expect that means a very disciplined approach to language learning is required, as well as a great commitment to understand the philosophy of this unique form of Japanese art.