Karukuchi and Niwaka 軽口と仁輪加

Today Somemaru kindly asked me to help him and a couple of pupils at a special performance for a crowd at a historic sake brewery in Nishinomiya. My jobs today: driver, luggage transport, costume assistant, and sound technician. Wow, so many titles, it really sounds official… It was 100% fun though!

Today was “special” because Somemaru presented two comic arts that are rarely performed anymore. They are called karukuchi and niwaka.

Karukuchi (lit. light, or loose, mouth) is a comedy routine which looks somewhat like manzai in that it is a fast-paced, two-man, stand-up act in which artists perform kashikoi (wit) and aho (stooge) roles. It is different in that performers of this art are traditionally hanashika, wear kimono, and subject matter is typically more “traditional.” Today’s act was about two guys who tried to reenact a scene from a kabuki play. Though they both claimed to be kabuki connoiseurs, they couldn’t for the life of them (and this where the comedy lays) make it work. This was largely the fault of the aho, which was brilliantly played by Somemaru. The kashikoi was played by his pupil, Hanamaru (unfortunately I couldn’t get a good shot of this from backstage…).

Niwaka is also an old form of theater–mostly of comic variety, though kabuki spin-offs were part of the repertoire–that dates back to the Edo period. In Osaka the art was performed early on by “career entertainers” (shokugyô geinin) and is thought to be a precursor of the shinkigeki (lit. new comedy) theater and manzai. Actors have long performed multiple roles, and incredibly (unreasonably?) quick costume changes are a major part of the fun for audiences. Today’s show was no different. Aisome played four different characters with four different costumes, and Hanamaru played a married couple who somehow have to be in the same place at the same time. I was backstage helping Hanamaru jump in and out of kimonos and wigs, but even with my help we could not be fast enough… Somemaru, to delight the audience, rushed Hanamaru through costume changes to the point where he had to basically thrust the wigs alone into audience view as he spoke for the characters from backstage, in his underwear. The show came to a hilarious end when Somemaru pulled the underdressed Hanamaru out onto stage. The audience loved it! Here are a couple photos from our dressing room just before niwaka:



The final portion of the show was an interview that Somemaru gave to a local university professor. He talked about the history of these rare arts, and of course, things rakugo-related. Somemaru also spent a good deal of time talking about me, and had me join him on stage. I was asked a few questions about my interests in rakugo, and even got to perform a portion of Sake no kasu in English, which I was happy to do.

Today, even though I didn’t do much, and even made a couple mistakes with musical cues, Somemaru gave me an extremely generous and unexpected money gift. I didn’t deserve this, so I will have to go back and help him again soon.

On the way home we stopped by a wonderful Korean restaurant and had dinner. The restaurant also sold its own kimchee, some of which Somemaru bought for me. When we got home Aisome and I unpacked everything, hung up Somemaru’s kimono to air out, and scrubbed his tabi. We finished the day with tea and cake.

Somemaru said to me half-jokingly, “you miss the good life, don’t you?” Yes, he’s absolutely right. He really did take wonderful care of me over the past several months. Being back with Somemaru for the day today reminded me of how much I am missing now that I am back to studying full-time.

Shishô, call me whenever you like, and I’ll be there in a blink!











2 thoughts on “Karukuchi and Niwaka 軽口と仁輪加

  1. I would’ve loved to have been part of the audience to see this performance. Actually, backstage would have been just as fun.

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