My Brother Loves Japan’s Plums 我が弟梅好き

Yesterday Philip and I went to Osaka Castle Park to enjoy the beautiful and fragrant plum tree orchard, which is now in full bloom. So far he has enjoyed trying new foods, riding trains, and exploring supermarkets, but he seems to have loved the plums trees in full bloom more than anything. He was thoroughly impressed and took many pictures.

Today we will go watch day one of the Osaka Grand Sumô tournament.

We will also be thinking of all the victims and families affected by the 3/11/2011 Tôhoku Megaquake and subsequent tsunamis and nuclear disasters. Today marks one year since the tragedies, but there are still many people displaced, and affected areas are still in the process of recovering. Please consider making even a small contribution to relief organizations such as the Japanese Red Cross (link on side bar →).


Tanabe Yose 田辺寄席

Today I went to listen to rakugo at the Tanabe Yose. Though it was my first time, this chiiki yose was holding its 595th and 596th shows this afternoon and evening. The Tanabe Yose, which puts on monthly shows and has changed venues a couple of times, has been making audiences laugh for  some 38 years. This is the “home ground” of Katsura Bunta, and it would seem that many people in the audience are also longtime regulars. Indeed it was a very friendly, family-like atmosphere, and tea and snacks were even served in the garden during intermission.

I am glad that I arrived early, because people soon filled seats in anticipation for Bunta’s pre-show talk. Ten minutes before each show, Bunta comes out for a short set called Kaikô zeroban, a play on the rakugo story Kaikô ichiban. Today, perhaps because he heard a non-Japanese was in the audience, he began by sharing jokes from around the world, including countries such as America, England, India, China, and even Iran. He performed jokes in rakugo style, showing how humor in the world is often universal (if not similar to rakugo).

Bunta performed the story Hyôgo bune, which was fabulous. Today’s special guest was Shôfukutei Kakushi, who was also great in the two stories he performed, Hettsui nusutto and Hana ikada.

The first Tanabe Yose show was held in September 1974 on the third floor of Akatsuki Pan, a bakery not far from Minami Tanabe Station. This remained the venue for but a year since there wasn’t enough space for all the people who wanted in, and the stairs, too steep for elderly yose-goers, also presented a problem. From there the Tanabe Yose was moved to the Abeno Youth Center, where it remained for many years.

The Tanabe Yose was founded by a large group of local citizens who loved rakugo and wanted to listen to rakugo regularly in their own community. The yose was formed at a time when hanashika were at pains to find venues they could regularly perform at. From the beginning there were around eighty people at every show, and high attendance continued at the Tanabe Yose even after the 1970s rakugo boom ended. It is safe to say that most Kamigata hanashika have performed at this venue at least once.

With each show, organizers also distribute a free newspaper titled Yoriai zake (named after a rakugo story). In addition to Tanabe Yose-related news, Yoriai zake also has regular articles on Osaka history, interesting culture, and even the air raids during World War II.

Today attendance remains high, with close to 200 people attending each show. Attendance numbers suddenly rose following the Hanshin Awaji Megaquake of 1995, and this is no doubt thanks to the Tanabe Yose’s volunteer efforts, which included putting together and donating backpacks with relief supplies and putting on charity outreach rakugo shows at ground zero. Apparently, a number of quake victims continue to this day as regulars in the audience.

Today the Tanabe Yose is at home in the Momogaike Citizen’s Activity Center (shimin katsudô sentâ, JR Minami Tanabe Station, or Tanabe Station on the subway). If you would like to enjoy a wonderful community yose experience, please do visit the Tanabe Yose. Be sure to make reservations and plan to arrive a little arrive early.

Finally, I would like to mention a unique exhibit of yose models by Medaru Kôbô on display in the lobby. This is quite interesting, so be sure to take a look!











Amateur Rakugo 素人落語

Tonight I went to “Lil’ Farm,” an establishment that doubles as a old-fashioned Shôwa-period coffee shop (run by the owners in the daytime) and bar (run by their son in the evening). This place is just steps from my apartment and I have stopped by for both coffee and beer in the past.

The reason I am writing about Lil’ Farm my blog is that an amateur rakugo charity event was held to benefit the victims of the March Tôhoku Earthquake and subsequent disasters. I am all for charity and beer, but add rakugo to the mix and you cannot count me out. The son who runs the bar at night occasionally performs rakugo himself as an amateur. His stage name is Taco Rice. 

Photo property of "八尾女子!"

Taco Rice didn’t make a stage appearance tonight, but three energetic, young women performed one rakugo story each. Two performed traditional stories, Dôbutsuen (The Zoo) and Ko home (Complimenting a Child [for Saké]), while the other performed an original piece called Sekkusulesu fûfu (The Sexless Couple). All three wore kimono, and did a wonderful job. The three girls are all from Osaka (Yao City) and currently reside in Tokyo, trying to make it in the professional entertainment (acting and singing) industry. They occasionally perform together as the Yao Joshi! (Girls of Yao!).

Though the audience’s age ranged from 3 to 70, most were in their 20s and 30s. Not surprisingly, this was the first time for most to hear rakugo performed live or otherwise. This particular crowd is heavily involved in the Osaka hip-hop and reggae scenes, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that most people were able to appreciate something so “traditional” as rakugo. The fact that tonight’s performers are also involved in “cooler” endeavors such as trying to make it in the Tokyo entertainment world may have helped put a “cool” stamp on rakugo this evening. I hope that tonight’s amateur show inspired some people in the audience to want to go and listen to professionals narrate stories at real yose.

A very fun show, for a very good cause! Thank you Lil’ Farm!






Kamigata Rakugo Charity 上方落語の慈善

Last night while at the Hanjôtei for Somemaru’s show I noticed that their was a box in the dressing room for donations to the Red Cross of Japan, to be used to help those in northern Japan affected by the recent disasters. I was impressed by this, but absolutely amazed when I saw posted the amount (with receipt from the Red Cross) donated in cash on April 1, 2011: ¥7,000,000 (≈ $80,000USD)! The total collected by the Hanjôtei (Kamigata Rakugo Association) as of April 7 was ¥7,174,123 (≈ $84,650USD)! It looks like Osaka hanashika and their fans alike are joining the masses, working hard to help the very unfortunate. Respectable indeed.