Katsura Harukoma: RIP 春駒師匠、合掌

Katsura Harukoma, property of http://fumikyou.seesaa.net/archives/200902-1.htmlI was sad the other day when I read the news that Katsura Harukoma (62) died of liver failure. I have a number of memories of Harukoma, the most memorable being the first time I met him at the Rengatei chi’ki yose held at the Fûgetsudō Hall in Motomachi (Kobe).

I followed Somemaru into the dressing room and got a glare from Harukoma that seemed to say, “what the hell is this foreigner doing here.” Honestly, I was scared of him. I was even more scared when Somemaru went to the restroom and left me alone with Harukoma in the dressing room. I then realized that I hadn’t given him a proper greeting. “Pardon me,” I said sheepishly, “My name is Matt — I am an exchange student from America. I am studying rakugo under Somemaru.”

With this he said “good work” and gave me a little envelope with money in it (goshûgibukuro). He was scary at first, but I could see that he could also be kind.

Another memory I have of Harukoma is when I was at Somemaru’s one day and the phone rang. I was the only person in the room, so I grabbed Somemaru’s schedule book, a pencil, and some paper. This was my first time to answer Somemaru’s telephone.

Something, something something, can he make it on May 26th?” gurgled the voice on the other end of the line.

“Yes, that day looks like its open,” I replied, but before I could get the name of the man or venue, he hung up.

Just at that moment, Somemaru came into the room.

“Who called?”


“Huh? There was a call wasn’t there?”


“Who was it?”

“Well… I’m not quite sure.”

“What? You were just talking to them. Was it about a job?”

“Yes, maybe… They asked if you could make it on May 26th.”


“Um… yes, perhaps.”

I think this was the only time I got in trouble with Somemaru.

After this incident I met Harukoma a number of times in places like dressing rooms, so I confirmed the voice on the phone that I couldn’t comprehend was indeed Harukoma’s. Although I made myself a nuisance to him, he was always nice to me. For this I am grateful. It is truly sad that we can no longer listen to his rakugo live.

Rest in peace.

Katsura Harukoma, property of Katsura Harukoma, http://www.oct.zaq.ne.jp/katsuraharukoma/先日、桂春駒師匠が肝不全でお亡くなりになったというニュースを読んだとき、悲しかったです。春駒師匠との想い出はいくつかありますが、最も印象的なのは神戸元町の「神戸凬月堂ホール」で行われた恋雅亭という寄席で初めてお会いしたときのことです。



Motomachi Yose Rengatei, property of Katsura Harukoma, http://www.oct.zaq.ne.jp/katsuraharukoma/もう一つの想い出は、染丸師匠のお宅で受けた電話でした。僕しかいなかったので、電話がなったとき師匠の手帳、鉛筆、そして紙を取って、初めて師匠の電話に出てみました。

















Luring In Audiences 呼び込み

I am not a professional rakugo storyteller.

However, when I have opportunities to perform, I get an idea what professionals must have to go through from time to time — particularly those younger hanashika still working to build a fan base.

On Saturday, I went to the theater where I was to perform rakugo. It was my first time performing at this particular venue. I found my dressing room without too much trouble, changed into my kimono, and proceeded to the backstage area five minutes before going on.

Two very friendly stagehands put out my zabuton, kendai, and hizakakushi. As the time to enter time drew near, I noticed there was almost no sound coming from the audience. Perhaps two people conversing quietly…

“Have they opened the doors yet?” I asked the stagehands.

“Um, I’m not sure. It doesn’t sound like it…” one replied. “Do you happen to know where the emcee is?” he continued, asking me.

WHAT! Do I know where the emcee is?! How would I know where the emcee is? I started to get a touch worried.

“Well, I do have a tuxedo-like jacket,” the other stagehand kindly offered, “I suppose I could introduce you.”

Yet, there was almost nobody in the audience. This reminded me of a story that a pro hanashika once told me about having to do rakugo for just one person. “At least I have two,” I tried to comfort myself.

Fortunately, I had the cell phone number of the woman who invited me to perform. I called her.

“Hello, this is Matt.” I said very calmly.

“Hello, Matt? Are you there now?” she asked.

“Yes, it looks like we are running 15 minutes behind.” I told her as casually as possible. “You wouldn’t happen to know where the emcee is, would you? He’s missing.” I continued.

“Oh he’s here with me,” she said almost as casually. “I’ll send him over.”

A very good idea.

I figured it would take the emcee at least five minutes to arrive and get situated. I recalled that there were about 100 people outside on my way into the theater. I decided to run out to invite them in to listen to rakugo.

Good afternoon, everyone! What a beautiful day it is today!” I projected as best I could across the large square. “And what a beautiful day to share a few laughs! Won’t you come inside to hear me perform rakugo, Japanese comic storytelling? The show will start momentarily, and it will be in English!”

I approached every group and individual that I could find, then ran back into the theater. Almost as soon as I returned backstage my entrance music (Ishidan) began playing.

I entered, kneeled on the zabuton, and bowed. I clacked the kobyôshi on the kendai to get started and was thrilled to see 15 people already in the audience. As I progressed through my makura intro, more people made their way in, bringing the total to 50 or so.

I was so grateful that they came!

The story (“Morning Toiletries” Chôzu mawashi) went well. I had so much fun with this wonderful audience that my 45-minute set was over in the blink of an eye.

On this day I had to go outside of the venue to work for my audience. I beckoned people to come in and see me perform. This was a first for me.

It soon dawned on me that this is what many hanashika–especially young ones–have to do on a regular basis.

I learned from this that winning an audience is not easy, even if the show is free. This must especially be the case for professionals, who not only ask for time but also the cost of a ticket. This is how hanashika make their living. Hanashika therefore have to stay hungry, humble, train hard to be more interesting than rival entertainers, and foster relationships in and outside the yose.

I am glad that I was able to experience having to work for my audience on Saturday. I gained further respect for hanashika who wake up every day to devise new ways to win new fans and keep them coming back for more.







え~?!なぜ僕が…? 司会がどこに行ったかなんて分かりませんよ~。分かるわけないでしょ~。徐々に心配になってきました。

そしてもう一人の舞台係が「いやぁ、私、タキシードのようなジャケットがあって、あれでしたら、私が司会役をできないこともないですが… 」と言いました。優しい方ですけどね。





「はい、舞台の方は15分ほど遅れているそうですが…」とできるだけ平静を保って言ってみました。そして、「あの… 司会の方は、どちらにいらっしゃるかお分かりでしょうか。こちらにはいらっしゃらないんですが… 」




「皆様、こんにちは!本日は本当に気持ちのいいお天気ですね~!」できるだけ大きな声で繰り返しました。「こんな素敵な日に一緒に笑えたら最高ですね!これから、僕のラクゴ (ジャパニーズ スタイル ストーリーテリング)を聴いてくださいませんか~。英語で演りますが、間もなく始まりま~す。ぜひ、中の方へどうぞ~!」









Ômisoka&Gantan 大晦日&元旦

Just like last year, this year I spent Ômisoka (December 31) and Gantan (January 1) at Somemaru’s house. This is a very busy, but very enjoyable time of the year.

One reason I like New Year (Oshôgatsu) in Japan is that it is a time of togetherness for most families. It is the one time of year when the majority of stores close and people are able to focus on things other than work and the commercial world outside their doors. This is also a time when a good deal of the country flocks to local temples and shrines for New Year’s blessings, buying amulets for any number of things, such as commuter safety, help finding true love, having successful childbirth, passing high school and college entrance exams, and so on.

One soon learns that Japanese people (or at least NHK) take Oshôgatsu seriously when they observe the way the wildly popular annual music program Kôhaku uta gassen comes to a sudden, anticlimactic end at Countdown: 10, 9. 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… CUT TO QUIET, SOLEMN SHOTS OF TEMPLES AROUND THE NATION.

Ômisoka and Gantan at Somemaru’s are not exactly solemn, but he does adhere to old customs as far as food (osechi) preparation and ceremonial sake (otoso) pouring goes. Pupils in training and children receive money gifts (otoshidama), and the list of customs followed goes on. Again, togetherness is key. This is the best thing about the holiday.

On Ômisoka I spent the entire day assisting Somemaru with osechi preparation, making enough food for about 40 people. Somemaru does all the cooking himself, working all day in the kitchen, hardly taking a break. Actually, I had to remind him to take a break from time to time. On one of our breaks we enjoyed toshikoshi soba, long buckwheat noodles, an Ômisoka must.

I went home late and returned early the next morning to help with more preparations before Somemaru’s pupils began arriving with their wives and children.

Soon everybody had arrived and the New Year’s banquet was underway. I helped by making sure food and drinks never ran out, and washed a great deal of dishes. Of course I was also allowed to partake in the delicious food and drinks. All of this was wonderful, and the banquet felt like a huge family gathering. Indeed, everybody had a fabulous time, starting off the New Year in grand fashion. I especially enjoyed playing with the children, two of them promising to return to America with me.

The festivities lasted well into the night. I stayed until the end to help clean up, getting home just before midnight. When I looked in the mirror, I realized I still had a smile on my face.

I have a feeling the Year of the Dragon is going to be a special year.



9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 . . . 全国の静かで厳粛たる寺々のカット。






Christmas Carving クリスマス木彫り

This year I enjoyed another Christmas Eve at Somemaru’s house.

During the day I helped with some cleaning and decorated Somemaru’s balcony with Christmas lights.

As evening approached, we turned on the Christmas lights, and prepared dinner, which included an appetizer of fried chicken, a longtime Christmas favorite in Japan thanks to the marketing department at Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The main dish was Hayashi-ya Rice, or hashed beef over rice, Somemaru-style. We began properly too; with sparkling wine and a toast.

And of course, after dinner came Christmas cake and tea.

As it is finally complete after several months of work, I chose this day to give Somemaru his wood carving. He seemed to like it, and that made me truly happy. (See below for captioned  photos of the carving.)

Somemaru also gave me a thoughtful gift this evening: a signed paperboard (shikishi) with a personalized greeting that reads, Matô ni ikiru shiawase (Happiness is living the way you see fit). [This is also a play on my name: Happiness is living like Matt.] 

Somemaru shishô, thank you for making Christmas special this year too.












For Water Boiling 水だき用

The Japanese language is hard. I am reminded of this fact every day. No matter how much I learn, there is always more learn. Speaking, reading comprehension, composition…

I enjoy the challenge of Japanese though, I really do.

This week, on Wednesday, I spent the day at Somemaru’s house. After a day of shamisen lessons, he said he wanted to make nabe (hot pot). He wrote out a list of ingredients and sent me shopping. I could read everything on the list, so no questions asked. I was on my way.

I got to the supermarket and started putting ingredients into my basket one by one, beginning with the vegetables: 1/2 head of hakusai (Chinese cabbage); one bunch of kikuna (garland chrysanthemum — Japanese greens); one tub of shiitake mushrooms; 1/2 daikon radish, the lower half; one bunch of shironegi (leeks).

Next, one tub of kinugoshi (silk-strained) tofu, sliced; one pack of kuzukiri (arrowroot noodles).

Next, raw oysters, two packs.

And finally, 400 grams of thinly sliced pork loin, mizudaki yô

Mizudaki yô? Huh? “For mizudaki?” … “For water daki?” … daki… “burn?” … “boil?” “For water boiling…?” Ugh.

I asked a young part-timer, stocking meat nearby.

MATT: Excuse me. Is this pork loin here mizudaki yô?

PART-TIMER: Mizudaki yô?

MATT: Yes. Mizudaki yô. See, it’s written right here.

PART-TIMER: I’ll be right back, sir.

Off the young man goes, soon to return with an older employee. I pick up the pork loin Somemaru always buys for nabe.

EMPLOYEE: Hi, you’re having nabe right?

MATT: Yes, that’s right.

EMPLOYEE: What you have there is fine.

MATT: This is mizudaki yô?


MATT: Thank you.

I paid for the groceries and hurried back to Somemaru’s. On my way I smiled and thought to myself, if Japanese language is difficult for even Japanese people, I have a LONG way to go.

I promise to always remember my learning experiences, and show compassion to my Japanese language students in the future…

The first entry for “mizudaki” in the Kôjien dictionary (electronic version): Nabe ryôri no isshu (one type of nabe cuisine).




スーパーに着きますと、材料を一つずつ籠に入れ始めました。まずはお野菜:白菜 半切、菊菜 1、しいたけ 1、大根 下半分、白ねぎ 1。

続きまして、絹ごし(切れたやつ) 1、くずきり 1。

次は、かき 2袋。

そして、最後に豚ロース 水だき用 400g

え?水だき用?用=for … For 水だき? 水=water … For water だき?… 焚き?炊き?For water boiling? わっ。