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。

















To Master’s House 師匠のお宅へ

Front door at Somemaru'sThe most important part of this short trip to Osaka is to pay a visit to master Somemaru.

He had time yesterday, so I went to see him at his house. It was wonderful to see him in person, to see him smile and laugh. We talked about many things rakugo-related and not, and he gave me advice on a lot of matters.

Around 5pm he asked me to pull his car around, then we drove to the supermarket. We selected ingredients for nabe (hotpot), then headed home. Just like old times, we prepared dinner together.

Someya arrived just in time for dinner. The three of us talked about a lot and enjoyed many laughs while eating. Somemaru and Someya shared some of their views on performing rakugo, in fact said some things that made me change the way I look at the art, reconsider the way I will approach it as an amateur performer in the future.

Toward the end of dinner, the conversation moved to the topic of Someya’s momentous name change (shûmei) to Hayashiya Kikumaru III next September. He asked Somemaru for advice on a number of matters, and I was able to see that shûmei are not simply ceremonies that people attend.

There is so much to think about and prepare, the simplest of matters perhaps being selecting a design for one’s new tenugui (hand towel), of which hundreds are made and given as formal gifts to other professionals and fans.

Somemaru and Someya looking at tenuguiLast night we spent a good deal of time looking through traditional tenugui pattern books and at actual tenugui, of which Somemaru has an impressive collection. Someya did not make a final decision, but said he would like to keep his new design simple and perhaps include a traditional tenugui chrysanthemum design if he can find one–this would represent the Kiku part of his new name. Nice!

Speaking of tenugui, Someya was very kind to present me with one of his own Hayashiya Someya tenugui, which are quickly becoming a rare item. He also gave me a nice brochure about his shûmei, which Yoshimoto prepared for distribution at a recent press conference.

We topped off the evening with tea and ice cream. Someya and I bowed to Somemaru and thanked him for dinner and everything else, then we were on our way. We took the same train toward Umeda then later said our goodbyes.

Shortly thereafter, I reached into my coat pocket to get some eye drops, and what did I find? Somemaru’s CAR KEY! WHAT!! I forgot to return it after driving to the supermarket. I gasped and looked at my watch, but it was too late in the evening to return to Somemaru’s.

So, this morning I made another trip to Somemaru’s house to return his car key and sheepishly apologize. When Somemaru saw me he smiled and said, “Okay, no worries.” I guess my thick-headed mistake gave me another opportunity to thank him for such nice day yesterday.





食事も終わりに近づいた頃、来年9月の「染弥改メ 三代目林家菊丸」の襲名についてのお話になりました。襲名は、お客さまに披露するためであるのはもちろん、そのためにさまざまな準備があるということがわかりました。







Earthenware Pot and the Mouse 土鍋鼠

Last night was a night full of dreams.

Or at least I could remember many of them upon waking up.

It’s been a while since I’ve remembered my dreams so clearly.

I’ve heard  that one is becoming truly fluent in a second language when s/he starts dreaming in that language.

Well, what does it mean when you begin dreaming about hanashika, and your dreams are like rakugo stories?

Last night I had the following dream.

I was at Katsura Yonedanji V’s (Katsura Beichô III’s pupil, and own son) house for breakfast. I don’t remember what was being prepared, but the house was very Western. In fact, I think we were in my parents’ next-door neighbors’ house.

I was calling Yonedanji “Yonedanji-san,” and then it dawned on me that, since he has rakugo pupils of his own, I should probably be calling him Yonedanji-shishô. Wow, even in my dreams I am concerned with obeying the rules of hierarchical society…

I apologized and inquired, “you have two pupils now, right?” “Five,” he corrected me. Indeed, the kitchen and dining room was bustling with good-looking young men, busy preparing breakfast and setting the table. (In reality he does have two.)

Then Yonedanji and I had the following conversation:

YONEDANJI: I have a really nice, old earthenware nabe [for hotpot] that belonged to my mother. She doesn’t need it anymore and I’ve been trying to find a good friend to give it to. Could you use it?

I have my own (cheap) nabe, so I really do not need another, but I thought, since this nabe technically belonged to the Living National Treasure Katsura Beichô, I should probably not turn it down.

MATT: Really? Me? Are you sure? How could I…

With that, Yonedanji went outside to a picnic table to fetch the nabe. I could see him through a window, but I tried not to watch him for fear of being rude. He returned with a handsome though dusty, antique nabe.

YONEDANJI: Here it is. Take a look.

I took it in my hands and opened the lid. Inside, I was surprised to find a little mouse. I wasn’t sure if Yonedanji had seen it, so, to keep from startling him, and  his deshi, I commented casually.

MATT: Oh, there’s a little mouse inside.

With this Yonedanji, and all of his deshi, erupted in laughter. He explained how easy it is to catch mice in nabe by putting a little food inside and leaving the lid cracked open. Indeed, Yondedanji was quite pleased with himself.

The joke was on me, and I can’t remember if I even got to keep Beicho’s nabe!

Maybe I will find out as I dream tonight.





















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。
















How To Say Nagoya 名古屋の言い方

Yesterday, I had the following conversation with my friend from Tokyo (a University of Tokyo teacher):

MATT: The Chûnichi Dragons are from Nagoya, right?

FRIEND: Yeah. But it’s Nagoya.

MATT: Yeah. Nagoya.

FRIEND: No, the accent is Nagoya.

MATT: But, I live in Osaka, so…

FRIEND: Yeah, but, I think people from Osaka also pronounce it Nagoya.

MATT: Really? But, I recently took a trip to Nagoya with Somemaru, and I was saying Nagoya this and Nagoya that, and he didn’t say a thing. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure he was saying Nagoya too.

FRIEND: Maybe Somemaru is just a nice guy and wasn’t correcting you. But, I’m not from Osaka, so I don’t really know. But, I think it’s Nagoya.

MATT: Strange.

FRIEND: Huh? Me?

MATT: No, it’s just that, I’ve come all this way thinking it’s Nagoya, and saying Nagoya…

FRIEND: But, yeah…

MATT: This is really getting to me. I’m going to ask Somemaru tomorrow.

FRIEND: Come on, I don’t think you have to take it that far…

And, fast-forward to today; I asked Somemaru how to say Nagoya. No, actually, I wrote “Nagoya” on a piece of paper and asked him to read it. Sure enough, it was NAgoya. Somemaru had one thing to say: “You might want to apologize to your friend.”

(Deep bow, forehead to the ground) I’M SO SORRY!

Here’s what I learned today: 1) Nagoya is pronounced Nagoya; 2) Don’t debate matters with University of Tokyo teachers; 3) It’s NOT okay to assume my “foreign accent” is Osaka dialect.