WHEN Japan’s Kodo drummers come to Brighton in a few weeks there will be no doubting their immense skill – but few in the audience will realise the strict regime which saw them become masters of their craft.

In fact, the performers undertake two years at the Kodo Apprentice Centre on the Japanese island of Sado where they literally live their art all day, every day. Founded in 1981 and using traditional taiko drums, Kodo have become one of Japan’s best-known musical companies, spending around a third of each year touring internationally.

Mitsuru Ishizuka grew up in a family of taiko players so knew from an early age that he wanted to be a member of Kodo. By 16 he was determined to gain a place at the prestigious Apprentice Centre. And, once there, he learned a good deal more than drumming.

“You have to get up early in the morning and you go running and then you do jobs like cleaning the house,” says Ishizuka. “From early in the morning to late in the evening you are practising drumming but you also have to practise lots of other things which are Japanese traditions.

“In a way it’s a monastic kind of life to lead because you are separate from society and it is all about the community of people you are with.”

In 1997 Monty Python comedian-turned-explorer Michael Palin spent a day with the apprentices on Sado where he joined a nine mile run, watched a rehearsal and was allowed to have a go at striking the company’s biggest drum. Palin may not have made the grade but Misturu did. Having joined the centre in 1999, he was picked for the company and became a fully-fledged performer in 2002. After all his hard work, it was a special moment.

“In some ways I don’t even remember the detail of that first concert because of the total concentration it needed,” Mitsuru says. “In that first concert you just have to express everything that you have learned.”

This year the company is touring a new work; Evolution. It premiered in Tokyo in 2016 and the European tour is the first time the production has been performed outside Japan. While the tradition of the company is an essential element of its shows, Mitsuru says audience members will respond to Evolution without needing to understand the heritage behind the group.

“You know if you bang a drum really loud then people will feel it inside and they will enjoy that,” he says. “You don’t need to understand our traditions to enjoy it. And you don’t get that kind of sound from anyone else but Kodo. I hope people feel this loud sound and it makes them happy.”

For Eri Uchida, another member of Kodo, joining the Apprentice Centre was a way of understanding more of her Japanese background. “I grew up in Japan but then I decided to go to high school in Canada,” she says. “I had studied some taiko but I realised I didn’t really know about its importance in Japan so my goal was to go to the Apprentice Centre to learn about the culture of taiko,” she says. Traditionally, taiko drummers are male but women make up nearly one-third of the company’s performers.

“In the past taiko drumming was at festivals and most of the time women could not be part of that,” says Uchida. “In a way it is more difficult for women because we do not tend to have as much muscle as the men but we therefore think of a way to play with less muscle, in a more relaxed way. It’s about making sure you do the right training and then relaxing when you perform.”

And, like Ishizuka, she carries the ethos of the Apprentice Centre with her at all times. “What we learnt at the Apprentice Centre goes very deep,” she says. “It’s all about commitment and that means that when you go on stage, whether it’s playing the drum or dancing, you are totally committed to what you are doing.

“Because of that commitment, people enjoy watching Kodo.”

Kodo, Brighton Dome, January 30, brightondome.org