First Practice with Somemaru 師匠と初お稽古

Today I had my first formal lesson with Somemaru. Four days ago when I asked Somemaru for the lesson, there was only one other pupil scheduled for a lesson. Three others came forward since then to ask for lessons, so I got bumped to #5… I felt bad that Somemaru ended up with such a long day. Despite having four rather long lessons–averaging an hour and a half a piece–Somemaru still told me to take a seat in front of him at the end of the day.

The experience was everything yet nothing that I expected. Though I had the story, Sake no kasu, memorized for the most, Somemaru spent much time correcting my Japanese. This is not necessarily because I am not a native speaker of the language, though. True, I may have a “strange” accent that needs more correction than usual, but Somemaru also critiques his formal pupils for not using correct pronunciation and accent. Take, for instance, one of the lessons before mine; though the pupil managed to make his way through the story, the session seemed more like an Osaka dialect lesson than one on rakugo. This makes it clear to me that I’m not being singled out because of my poor Japanese. Because Kamigata Rakugo is an Osaka comic narrative art, Somemaru wants to make sure that his pupils present just that.

As I mentioned before, I learned Sake no kasu from Somemaru in an informal setting. I later received from Aisome a homemade script of the story, which I then memorized. I was somewhat surprised that Somemaru rejected completely some of the lines that I recited, but I was also aware of the fact that rakugo is anything but a scripted art. In theory, the basic framework of stories remain the same, but the words used to fill out story framework changes with each telling. So, essentially, the story I brought to today’s lesson was not the same when the lesson was over. Indeed, the creative potential of rakugo is thrilling.

Somemaru directed me on some of the basics of rakugo acting techniques. There are several characters in the story Sake no kasu, but (fortunately), just two appear together at any given time. Keep in mind that one hanashika performs all roles; if three or more characters appear at a time–and this is often the case–things can become quite complicated. Distinctions between characters are made by applying a number of techniques, but the most basic of these is called kami-shimo hô (high-low technique). In practically every pairing of characters a distinction is made in their hierarchy, whether this be a difference in social status, age, working relationship, etc. When the hanashika takes the role of person of higher rank, in most cases anyway, (s)he adjusts his gaze slightly to stage right (audience’s left) when addressing a character of lower rank. The case is the opposite when performing characters of lower rank. My kami-shimo angles were adjusted far too widely, so Somemaru corrected me on this. There were a number of other things that Somemaru helped me improve on, but I won’t go into the details here. Needless to say, I learned a great deal in today’s lesson.

As you might have guessed, I was nervous to sit in front of Somemaru for a formal lesson. I wore a yukata, and had with me the necessary properties, a sensu and tenugui. Though I brought along a recording device, perhaps because of my nerves, I failed to hit the record button. This may be for the better though; Somemaru has said all along that relying on recording devices and scripts is not the best way to go about learning rakugo. Considering this, my first lesson was done the “old-fashioned” way. That is, it was done the right way, via pure oral transmission. I truly appreciate having this experience with Somemaru, and hope that I may have more opportunities such as this. Thank you very much Shishô.







3 thoughts on “First Practice with Somemaru 師匠と初お稽古

    • Dad, yeah, Diane is a lot of fun to hang out with… We live relatively close to each other but we can’t seem to make time to get together… I’ve seen her perform rakugo in English, but I have yet to see her balloon show. She’s got some amazing pics on her homepage, which is worth checking out.

  1. From the blogroll, Diane Kitchijitsu gives one a good lesson on Rakugo.
    Very informative. I’ll bet she would be a real to spend some time with.

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