A Japan Guy Email Interview:
Japanese Taiko
featuring Isaku Kageyama

Okay, so you’re probably wondering how I met Isaku. Truth be told, I met Isaku on Twitter, visited his site, and thought “Ths is one of the most intense taiko photos I’ve ever seen in my life!” I really enjoy watching taiko, though I’ve never played for real (except for the video game taiko at the Japanese arcades (it’s really fun)). When I came to Japan, taiko is one of the arts that I really wanted to see, along with the shamisen. It’s one of the things that really stands out in my mind about Japanese culture & it’s just so freakin’ cool to look at. I reached out to Isaku, because I liked the tracks he had on his website. He ended up being really easy to talk to, and here is what we talked about:

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Isaku Kageyama and I’m a taiko drummer. I was born in San Francisco and grew up in Tokyo.

2. For those who don’t know, what is Taiko (たいこ or 太鼓) exactly?
Taiko is a traditional Japanese drum. Historically, it was played as a part of religious ceremonies and festivals. Taiko is still played at festivals, but over the past 50 years, it’s come to be played on stage as a performing art.

3. How long have you been doing Taiko drumming? What attracted you to it?
I’ve been playing taiko since I was 6 – so over 20 years now. At first it wasn’t something I really wanted to do – more like my parents forced me so that I could learn about Japan and Japanese culture.

4. Do you have a drummer that has really inspired your music? Why do you like him or her?
The drummer that has been the biggest influence on me is Yoichi Watanabe. He’s the founder of Amanojaku – the taiko group I played with all my life – and like a second father.

5. What was your most memorable taiko concert?
I have a few memorable concerts – the first was maybe the North American Taiko Conference in Los Angeles in 2001. It was my first big professional concert and it was the first time I was a part of professional taiko on stage.

6. Do you see any major differences between the way Taiko is done in the U.S. and in Japan?

I feel there is more emphasis on ethnicity in the US. In a homogenous society like Japan, a lot of Japanese can go through life without seriously thinking about ethnicity and identity. But for ethnic minorities in the US, it’s very important to have a voice, and one way to do that is taiko.

7. For anyone who’s interested in doing Taiko, how would you recommend they get started?
7. If you’re in Japan, there are so many local taiko groups and schools you can join. In the US, it might be harder depending on your location. But a lot of people get started by forming a taiko group. If you’re really passionate, you’ll find a way.

8. If you could construct the perfect Taiko gig in your mind, who would you like to play with (it can be any musician at all)? Where would you like to perform?
I have idols like Herbie Hancock or Zakir Hussain, but none that I would feel comfortable playing with right now. Carnegie Hall has always been a dream.

9. Can you give us a quick, simple, Taiko lesson?
Online taiko lessons will be available in the next 2-3 weeks at www.loopto.com/taikolessons

10. Can you do a quick Taiko Demo?

I have a lot of YouTube videos where you can see my music: http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=ikageyama

11. If anyone is looking to check out more of your music, where can they go?

My website with upcoming shows and whatnot is: www.isakukageyama.com

Isaku, thank you so much for taking the time to do an interview, I hope to have you on again sometime!

Do you have any questions for Isaku? Any questions about taiko drumming? If so, please post them in the comments section below. Also, if you have a chance, please go check out his website and some of his music…good stuff!

See you next time,

Donald Ash

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  • haha, that is a wild pic and a great interview. I really love the big stage productions like in the second video. It’s awesome how working the largest drum like that almost feels like they are fighting with a dangerous beast at times or are being repelled by some unseen force at other times as they fight to stay on their feet. Truly epic! Thanks for sharing! :D

    • Donald Ash

      That stage show was my favorite too Lance. It’s just such a larger-than-life looking show. Isaku is a really cool dude, too, which makes me appreciate it even more. Thanks for watching!

      P.S.-Love the “dangerous beast” fighting simile :)

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