A Look at Tokyo Rakugo Culture Outside the Yose 寄席外東京落語の文化一見

I recently spent about a week in Tokyo and had a very nice time. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to a yose to listen to Tokyo rakugo, but I was still able to feel a sense of local pride in the art. I came across a number of places or things, all somewhat removed from yose, that exhibited rakugo and its culture.

In Ningyô-chô I found a clock tower, which puts on a lively karakuri ningyô puppet display on the hour. The “show” is hosted by a hanashika puppet that dawns a kimono and kneels on a zabuton just above eye-level, telling a brief story about rakugo and the history of the neighborhood. At the top of the clock are several names in yose gaki (yose-style calligraphy) of famous Tokyo hanashika of past generations. Below the names, puppets — characters from rakugo stories — come out in place of cuckoos.

Not far from the rakugo clock I found a rakugo barber shop. From the outside one can hardly tell that inside the owner always has rakugo running on cassette tapes, CDs, VHS tapes or DVDs. I went inside to ask him about this and he said he’s been playing rakugo for customers for a number of years. Of course, he loves rakugo too. He prefers Tokyo rakugo, but also has a some Kamigata hanashika media on hand.

Since I collect books on rakugo, I spent a couple days browsing the famous Kanda used-book mall, which is spread out over several blocks. I had a great time and found a lot of great books, all at reasonable prices. In the back of one shop, I discovered a rakugo cafe, which has it’s own rakugo kôza for hosting small-scale rakugo shows on Tuesdays. Unfortunately, the cafe was closed the day I was passing through. Still, from the outside I could tell that the owner must be a huge rakugo fan. In addition to the kôza, there were about a hundred tenugui tacked to the ceiling, and numerous publications on rakugo available for browsing. I’ll have to go back next time to see if there is any rakugo food on the menu.

Finally, in one used-book store that specializes in rakugo books (and, interestingly, Christian books), I was given a copy of Tokyo kawaraban, a monthly that has promoted and reviewed rakugo in Tokyo since July of 1977. The June 2011 issue has 118 pages and is filled with interesting essays, interviews, pictures, show listings, reviews, etc. Truly, this is a fabulous resource for Tokyo rakugo fans and first-timers alike.







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