Rakugo for Autumn 秋の落語

Japanese flocking to see autumn leaves at RikugienJapan is breathtakingly beautiful during autumn.

It is no wonder that Japanese people have celebrated this season in poetry for centuries and continue to flock to see the changing leaves at beautiful gardens and natural spots.

Yesterday I visited the Rikugien Gardens, which is now in its autumn prime. Rikugien was completed in 1702 by the shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi’s trusted confidante, Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu. The project took seven years to complete. Rikugien is a strolling, mountain and pond-style garden based on themes in waka poetry.

When thinking of autumn and rakugo, the story Chihayaburu comes to mind. In the story, a young man named Kiroku calls on Jinbei, an older man in the neighborhood, who is supposed to have great knowledge of poetry, among other things.  Kiroku asks him to expound on the meaning of a famous poem (Kokin wakashû 294, also Hyakunin isshu 17) by legendary courtier Ariwara no Narihira.

The original poem is:

千早ぶる 神代もきかず 竜田川  からくれなゐに 水くくるとは
Chihayaburu / kamiyo mo kikazu / Tatsuta-gawa / kara kurenai ni / mizu kuguru to wa

Unheard of even in the legendary age of the awesome gods: Tatsuta River in scarlet and the water flowing under it                                                                                                          (Joshua Mostow’s translation)

The humor in Chihayaburu lies in the fact that the erudite old man is too self-important to confess that he simply doesn’t know what the poem means.  Instead, he shows himself to be impatient and slapdash as he gives an absurd interpretation.

The following is Jinbei’s explanation:

In the Edo period there was a popular sumô wrestler named Tatsutagawa, who was of second highest rank (ôzeki). One day he went to the Yoshiwara pleasure district and fell in love with the courtesan named Chihaya at first sight. But, since Chihaya hated sumô wrestlers, she rejected him (Chihaya-buru). When the scorned Tatsutagawa then tried to make advances to her younger “sister,” Kamiyo, she also turned him away, saying, “I hate whatever my sister hates” (Kamiyo mo kikazu Tatsutagawa).

Twice rejected, Tatsutagawa fell in the rankings and soon retired from sumô to take over the family tôfu business. Some years later, a woman beggar came to his shop and asked for the bean-curd refuse (okara). Tatsutagawa was initially happy to offer her okara, but, when he realized that the woman was actually Chihaya, now ruined and down on her luck, he became enraged. He flung the okara at her and tossed her out. She fell down near the well and, out of regret, drown herself on the spot (kara kurenai [as in deep red lips] ni mizu kuguru).

Kiroku is doubtful of the interpretation, but the forcible old man convinces him that this is the truth. Just when he is satisfied with Jinbei’s explanation, Kiroku realizes that the final two morae of the poem (to wa) have been left out. What does this mean, he asks.

The spur-of-the-moment answer the old man gives serves as the punch line (ochi) of the story:

Chihaya was her geisha name, but it turns out that Towa was her real name.

Such is the funny business of rakugo. Enjoy autumn!

Autumn 2013, Rikugien (Tokyo)日本の秋は息をのむほど美しいです。





千早(ちはや)ぶる 神代(かみよ)もきかず 龍田川(たつたがは)からくれなゐに 水くくるとは




このことから、成績不振となった竜田川は力士を廃業、実家に戻って家業である豆腐屋を継ぎました。それから数年後、竜田川の店に一人の女乞食が訪れます。「おからを分けてくれ」と言われ、喜んであげようとした竜田川だったが、なんとその乞食は零落した千早太夫の成れの果てでした。激怒した竜田川はおからを放り出し、千早を思い切り突き飛ばした。千早は井戸のそばに倒れこみ、こうなったのも自分が悪いと井戸に飛び込み入水自殺を遂げました(から紅 [くれない] に水くぐる)。

Lights on the trees, poetic depiction of river, Rikugien (Tokyo) 2013






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