Hamamatsu is known as Music City, as in addition to being the home base of Yamaha Corporation Japan, it’s also where Roland and Kawai are based. What’s cool is that the city’s tallest building, the ACT City Tower, is designed to look like a harmonica – and its top 17 floors are the hotel where we’d spend the next two nights.
The first night, we dined at a Bavarian restaurant that brewed its own lagers and ales onsite – and served them in two-litre jugs. The fare was a mix of German, Japanese, and Italian (right?) and had us all in a great mood.
There, we met a few members of the Berlin Philharmonic who were in town for a reason that I don’t recall, but it was nonetheless cool to be making musical connections in Music City.
That night, a few of us dipped in to a European-style pub that had a live owl on its bar – perhaps the first that will inevitably be diagnosed with lung cancer, seeing as how smoking is still legit in most Japanese pubs, this one being no exception.
The next day was the big one for all of us, getting to visit YCJ’s head office for a presentation on upcoming products and brand initiatives and a sneak peak at some products set to debut over the next year. Understandably, we’ve been sworn to secrecy on some of these, so expect some big thanks at The 2017 NAMM Show and beyond.
Before the main presentations in the auditorium, we visited the adjacent factory, where only Yamaha’s top-end instruments are crafted by the masters. We had the chance to see a gentleman lacquering one of the company’s top-end classical guitars – one that would retail for about $15,000 CAD – and also saw an elderly gentleman finely chiseling the bracing of an acoustic guitar like it was his life’s work, which it clearly was. The care with which he manipulated his tools and worked his way around the instrument was truly masterful, and some of our group commented on it being one of the most impressive parts of the entire trip, just watching him work so effortlessly.
In the auditorium, the opening address came from Ken Hiraoka, who was familiar to many in attendance as he formerly occupied the post of president of Yamaha Canada Music. Now, he’s working on a streamlined brand strategy that will take Yamaha forward for the next 10 years.
Most important about this day, and perhaps the whole trip, it seemed, was the opportunity to gain feedback from the front lines. After individual presentations from Yamaha acoustic guitar, drum, and bass specialists, the dealers were invited to give their no-holds-barred feedback on product design, marketing focus, and more. Behind us, several employees were diligently taking notes and documenting everything that was said.
We heard later from our fearless leader, Taiki Oshiro from Yamaha Canada – aka Takedown – that his colleagues from YCJ were more than pleased with all of the information they received from our group, and that it went far beyond the typical feedback they’ve extracted in the past from such exercises.
Before the presentations started, we had a chance to visit Yamaha’s photo studio, where all of their marketing photos and videos are born, and each of us posed for a photo on a plain white background standing straight up, shoulders broad and chest puffed out, hands in pockets. In the final presentation, where we celebrated the success of Yamaha’s Revstar guitars since their debut at NAMM 2016, we saw why they were taken, as each of us on the trip was given the “Meet Your Other Half” Revstar ad campaign treatment. It was a pleasant surprise to end the afternoon.
Before taking off, we had an opportunity to get our hands on the new gear, which is always welcome among a bunch of gear heads.
That night, several YCJ friends – including Ken – joined us for a shabu-shabu dinner at a local restaurant, after which a group headed out to Rocky’s, a Canadian-themed pub adorned with natural wood paneling and tables and with a canoe suspended above the bar. It was a calm end to a busy day, and one of our last together, as the next day, we were set to take the bullet train to Tokyo for our final full day in Japan.