Spring in Ueno 上野の春

Ueno Park April 2014Today I took a walk through Ueno Park, very close to where I live. Since last week there have been all kinds of people, Japanese and non-Japanese, flocking to the park for cherry blossom viewing.

It seems like there are more birds out too. The common gulls (Larus canus) are now out in addition to the slightly smaller black-headed gulls (Larus ridibundus) that can usually be seen at Shinobazu Pond. They’re all getting along quite nicely. Pretty soon the insects will be back too. Spring is here!

Parties on Blue Tarps, Ueno ParkDrinking sake and nibbling on food under the blossoms sure is nice. Today too, parties were sitting on their blue tarps, cheerfully carrying on. I noticed that everybody takes their shoes off before sitting on the tarps. I suppose it’s best to keep the area clean and cozy since some people end up drinking too much and falling asleep.

Common and Black-headed Gulls, Shinobazu PondJapan sure is nice in spring.


Ueno Park, 2014人間だけじゃなく、鳥も増えている気がします。ちなみに、不忍池にいつも見かけるユリカモメだけじゃなく、もうちょっと大きいカモメも来ています。皆仲良くやっているみたいです。もう少ししたら虫も出てくるでしょう。(おけら、毛虫、ゲジ〜 ♪)春ですね。

Ueno Park, April 2014花の下でお酒を飲んだり、つまみ食いをしたりするというのはいいですね。今日も、ブルーシートの上に座る皆さんがとても陽気でいい感じでした。一つ気づいたことがあって、皆ブルーシートに座る前に靴をちゃんと脱ぐんですね。まあ、飲み過ぎて寝てしまう方もいるので、きれいに気持ちよくやった方がいいですね。


Katsura Beishi II and IV 二世と四世桂米紫

I have heard Katsura Beishi IV’s rakugo on numerous occasions. He is an energetic and precise performer. He specializes in koten rakugo, but apparently also performs shinsaku rakugo from time to time. He is going to turn 40 this week and strikes me as one of the young hanashika out there who will develop into one of the great masters in the coming years.

However, the road to mastery is not an easy one. In their younger years, hanashika have their fair share of hard times. Indeed, when they enter the professional world, their teachers often tell them things such as, “You’re not going to be able to eat for ten years.”

The other day, I was reading a Taishō-period magazine and came across a short article about Katsura Beishi II (1877-1943), who was also right around 40 when it was run. It became clear that Beishi II had it extremely hard.

Katsura Beishi-kun  (By Chûbê, 1918)

△ Although Katsura Beishi tells funny stories on stage every day and night, he gets nothing more than his set monthly wage. There are shipping millionaires and steel upstarts in the world, but the economy is horrible. We can’t put away a single mon and this is absolutely ridiculous. Beishi therefore took a chance as a performer and took his act to the provinces in hopes of one day being able to slap his friends on their cheeks with wads of cash. He zealously put together a show and headed to Hiroshima, where the the money is supposed to flow a little better. However, at every turn he suffered one misfortune after the next. After three months, his zeal was thoroughly stamped out. He faced the same hardships as a beggar. He had no money to board the locomotive and had no acquaintances to borrow money from. He had no means whatsoever, so he made poles of his legs and took to the road. When he at last made it back to Osaka, he asked for a meeting with the manager of the Kōbaitei (yose). Beishi’s clothes looked like the tattered kimono of a beggar, so the woman at reception gave him a suspicious look. In any case, she brought him to the attention of the manager, but, because he saw him without even getting a name let alone any particulars, he had no clue who he was. “I won’t have anything to do with beggars like you,” he said, “now quit dawdling and out you go!”  To this piercing greeting Beishi responded, “Sir, I’m no beggar. It”s me, Beishi!” The manager gave him a hard look and uttered, “Oh…” and nodded, “so, you’re still alive after all.” Beishi was a man of small stature to begin with, but this made him shrink a little more.




桂米紫クン (寄稿 忠兵衛、大正7年)


For Early Birds, Variety 早起きには演芸

San'yûtei Koenka no Engei zukan, property of NHKThis morning I woke up at 3:41 a.m. I guess my body is still on U.S. time.

There used to be much more traditional variety entertainment on Japanese TV, but these days rakugo is generally aired in the early morning hours, if at all.

This morning I watched “Variety Picture Book” (Engei zukan, NHK, Sundays 5:15-5:45 a.m.), hosted by Tokyo-native shamisen mandan (comic chat with shamisen) artist San’yûtei Koenka (1960-).

Sakai Kunio-Tôru on San'yûtei Koenka no Engei zukan, property of NHKToday’s featured performers were the Kansai-based manzai duo Saikai Kunio-Tôru, brothers originally from Iwate prefecture who began performing in 1972, and Tokyo rakugo master San’yûtei Kinba IV, who boasts the longest running professional career in all of rakugo at 72 years–he began his apprenticeship under Kinba III in 1941 at age 12.

I was happy to see Sakai Kunio-Tôru on TV because I have met Kunio, the “strait man” (tsukkomi) in the duo (right side of photo). Thanks to Somemaru, I have been out to dinner and karaoke with him. Kunio was a fabulous singer and, in fact, his crooning was a big part of the act aired this morning. Very funny indeed.

San'yûtei Kinba IV on San'yûtei Koenka no Engei zukan, property of NHKKinba told the story “Long and Short [Tempered]” (Chôtan), which features two friends–an extremely patient man from Kamigata and a short-fused man from Edo/Tokyo. The latter repeatedly gets angry at the former because he talks and smokes way too slowly. At the end of the story, the Kamigata man has something to say, but fears that his Edokko friend will get angry if he tells tells him. No, the Edokko says, urging him to speak up. When the Kamigata man slowly informs his friend that his sleeve in on fire, the Edokko becomes furious. The former then delivers the ochi: I guess I shouldn’t have told you after all. Rakugo by such a seasoned master is truly a luxury to listen to. San'yûtei Kinba IV on San'yûtei Koenka no Engei zukan, property of NHKInterestingly, Kinba used a kendai and hizakakushi–generally only used in the Kamigata tradition–for this story. This was not simply for decoration, though. He used it to conceal the lower half of his body as he sat cross-legged. It must have become too painful for Kinba to sit in the traditional manner, seiza.

I woke up too early this morning, but was rewarded with variety on TV. I think I should continue getting up early enough to watch programs like these, but not before 5:00 a.m. if I can help it.



今朝、三味線漫談家の三遊亭小円歌が司会を勤める「三遊亭小円歌の演芸図鑑」という番組(NHK, 毎週日曜 午前5:15~5:45)を見ました。

Sakai Kunio-Tôru on San'yûtei Koenka no Engei zukan, property of NHK今日の出演者は昭和47年結成で岩手県出身の兄弟漫才のコンビ、関西を中心に活動されている酒井くにお・とおる師匠、そして昭和16年、12歳で三代目三遊亭金馬に入門なさった東京落語の大師匠の四代 三遊亭金馬でした。 金馬師匠は2014年現在、東西併せて落語界最古参の落語家でいらっしゃいます。


San'yûtei Kinba IV on San'yûtei Koenka no Engei zukan, property of NHK金馬師匠のお噺は気の長い上方ものと超短気の江戸っ子が登場する「長短」をお演りになりました。上方出身の男は喋るにも煙草を吸うにもあまりにも時間がかかるので、江戸っ子が何度も怒ります。噺の最後に上方ものは言いたい事がありますが、怒られると思って遠慮します。怒らないと江戸っ子が約束しますが、着物の袖が燃えているよとゆっくりと知らされろと、やはり、江戸っ子が怒り出します。オチで上方ものが言います、「やっぱり、おせえねえ (教えない) ほうがよかった」。大名人の落語を聴けて、まことに贅沢でした。おもしろいことに、金馬師匠が普段上方でしか使わない見台と膝隠しを置いていました。これはただの置き道具・飾りではなく、下半身を隠すためでした。お足が痛んでいらっしゃるためか、正座ではなく胡座をかいてお演りになりした。


Experiment Results 実験結果

I’m back in Tokyo.

Although I was hoping to find something, I did not come across a single thing that was rakugo related on my way from Portland to my Tokyo apartment. I might add, however, I did not find anything to do with traditional Japanese performing arts (eg., nô, kyôgen, kabuki, bunraku, etc.) either.

Unlike Japan Airlines and ANA, Delta Airlines doesn’t seem to offer Japanese comedy (rakugo, manzai, comic variety programs) on their flights to Japan. They do have a selection of Japanese movies though…

Fortunately, I did bring a rakugo book with me, so I was not completely without rakugo on the flight.





International Rakugo Experiment 国際落語実験

I am going to return to Tokyo today.

I will take a direct flight from Portland International to Narita International Airport.

Rakugo is a big part of my life because I am interested in the art and I actively seek it out. I wonder, though, how long would it take one to see or hear something rakugo related if s/he didn’t seek it out?

Today I will conduct an experiment from the moment I take off from Portland until I arrive at my Bunkyô-ku apartment. Will I come across anything rakugo related on my journey? I will let you know after I get home tomorrow. See you then!