The First “Lion Show” 第一回 獅子の会

I remember hearing often in my youth the saying, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” These virtually opposite animals are metaphors for March weather, which tends to begin rough – wet, windy, cold – then end gentle – dry and warm. The transformation of lion to lamb represents the transition of winter to spring.

How auspicious, then, to hold “The First Lion’s Show” (Dai ikkai shishi no kai) on March 1! Please join me for what is sure to be a wonderful show at the Hanjôtei this evening. I am especially looking forward to Somemaru’s performance of the story Kyô no chazuke, and Hayashi Someza’s performance of Karuwaza kôshaku. There will also be rakugo performances by Hayashiya Someya and Katsura Asakichi, and a special shika shibai (a play [shibai] by hanashika) performance of Bakushô・Toki udon.

See you there! (Show starts at 6:30pm; ¥2500 in advance, ¥3000 at the door.)


ということで、3月1日に「第一回 獅子の会」が行われるのはとても縁起が良いですね。今晩、ご一緒に聴きにいきませんか?僕は、特に楽しみにしているのは、染丸師匠の「京の茶漬」と林家染左さんの「軽業講釈」です。林家染弥さんと桂あさ吉さんの落語もあり、「爆笑・時うどん」という鹿芝居(ハナシカが演る芝居)もありますので、ゼイタク〜。


Hayashiya Family Showcase 林家一門顔見世興行

Tonight I went to the Hanjôtei for the Hayashiya Ichimon-kai (showcase of those in the same artistic family). This is one of the biggest annual events for the Hayashiya family, and what a show it was!

It was a special show featuring seven hanashika and eight rakugo stories. The highlight of the evening was Somemaru’s performance of Funa Benkei (Benkei on the Boat), which I had never seen performed before. It is a fabulous story. It is lightly based on the the Heikei monogatari tale of the same name, though the rakugo version is all about the comedy of a henpecked husband sneaking out to have with his best friends a midsummer night of boating, music, and geisha, only to be discovered by his wife, who is the Benkei (legendary monk-warrior possessing supernatural strengh) of this story. Somemaru did an incredible Benkei impression, which looked as if it was pulled straight from ukiyo-e illustrations of celebrated early modern kabuki actors in the role of Benkei.

Property of Honolulu Academy of Arts

It was wonderful to see performances from so many of Somemaru’s pupils. While they each have their own unique styles, bits of Somemaru — his facial expressions, his voice, his stylistic gesticulations, and great female impersonations — can at times be found in his pupils’ rakugo.

This was a wonderful night of rakugo, indeed. In addition to Somemaru’s masterpiece, Funa Benkei, I also especially enjoyed the stories by (in order of performance) Usaburô (Enyôhaku), Somejaku (Unagiya), Someza (Sarayashiki), and Hanamaru (Naimongai).

Tonight Hanamaru was given the headliner (tori) spot, and he did not disappoint. He began by talking about his infatuation with the Takarazuka Music Revue, singing bits of the recently staged “Romeo and Juliet,” and a rewritten Kamigata Rakugo version, in which it is not the Montagues and Capulets in conflict, but certain members of the Katsura and Shôfukutei rakugo families.

The story he performed was the “classic” Naimongai (Trying to Buy What Shops Don’t Have), but with an amusing twist. The two protagonists are Hiroshi and Billy–a Japanese and non-Japanese (presumably an American, who has an irritatingly in-depth knowledge about Japan, and a amusingly thick accent)–and they make their way through the famous (Japan’s longest) Tenjinbashi shopping arcade, even making a stop at the Hantôtei, only to be turned away by the current manager. Billy can not help pilfering things at each stop; at the Hanjôtei he swipes the red rickshaw, and Katsura Harudanji III in it!  The audience loved Hanamaru’s performance, and I could see just why he was recently awarded the “Gut-buster Prize” (Bakushô shô).

On the way out tonight I was asked if the character Billy had been based on me… Hmm… good question, but I doubt it. I am not as clever as Billy, and my accent it worse.

I had a great time at the yose tonight, and am looking forward to listening to Somemaru and his talented artistic family perform in the near future.









The Ivory Yose アイボリー寄席

Today we had a free day until evening, so we took it easy at Somemaru’s house. He brought out a box of wigs, which we tried on. One of the wigs gave me an idea of the kind of professor I might look like in 20 years.

In the evening, Somemaru did a favor for a younger hanashika by making a guest appearance at the tenth show at the “Ivory Yose,” which is held at the Ivory Hotel in Toyonaka.

Tonight Somemaru did one of his specialty numbers, Kaketori (The Debt Collector), but he seemed to have even more energy than usual, all of which he put into making the audience laugh and laugh. I also laughed a lot from backstage. Though I’ve probably heard Somemaru do this particular story about ten times, I enjoy it more and more with each telling, and I always seem to learn something new. This is one of the attractions of rakugo, especially that by a master such as Somemaru.

Someza, a pupil of Somemaru’s, was at the show to play flutes. I have a lot of respect for Someza–he takes his art very seriously, and as a result, he strikes me as a person who may become one of the future masters of the art. Someza sat backstage and quietly mouthed the lines as Somemaru narrated Kaketori to the audience. I’ve heard rumors about Someza’s incredible ability to memorize stories in a short period of time. For example, I heard recently that he memorized the story Nedoko, a rather complex story, in about a day or two. Maybe this shouldn’t be too surprising considering the fact he is an Osaka University graduate. Another interesting fact about Someza is that he is a big NFL (American football) fan. Here is a picture of Someza in action backstage:





Rakugo Laughing Fits 落語泣き笑い

This morning Somemaru needed to do some more recording for his book, so we planned to meet at the Hanjôtei–about a mile from my place–at 9 a.m. He trusted me to take his performance shamisen home with me last night and bring it this morning. This was an honor, yet quite a responsibility. I’ve heard that this particular shamisen is worth around $20,000USD, but it is most certainly priceless to Somemaru and his artistic school. I’m sure some of his pupils would have cried if they knew he sent this shamisen home with me…

There were too many people around at the Hanjôtei today for me to go on another “exploration,” so I enjoyed  the live music while reading a couple reference books that zenza use to look up stories, hanashika names, and spelling when filling out the neta-chô during shows.

These books are Rakugo jiten (The Rakugo Encyclopedia, Tôdai Rakugokai 1969) and Kamigata rakugoka meikan (The Kamigata Rakugo Storyteller Directory, Hanjôtei and Kamigata Rakugo Kyôkai [eds.] 2006, 2010).

We returned to Somemaru’s house in the afternoon for a couple rakugo lessons, for Somekichi and Someza. I wrote about Somekichi learning the story Yadoya gataki in a recent blog. Today was his third practice session. To my untrained ears it sounds like he is making good progress. According to Somemaru this is a very challenging story, and very long. Depending on the version, it can last as long as 45 minutes!

Somemaru can be a strict master, but he is also compassionate, as I witnessed once again today. For some reason Somekichi got caught up in a giggle fit that lasted about 15 minutes! Somemaru didn’t loose his temper or anything. In fact, he couldn’t help himself from joining in (to the point of tears at times) and letting the laughter run its course. I guess if hanashika can’t enjoy fun like this in their art, there’s no way they can expect their audiences to.



昼から師匠の家に戻り、染吉さんと染左さんの噺のお稽古がありました。以前、染吉の「宿屋敵」のお稽古についてブログを書きましたが、今日は第三回でした。染丸師匠によるとこの噺はとても難しいし、とても長いそうです。場合によっては、45分かかるときもあります。 もちろん、師匠は厳しいときもあるんですが、とても思いやりのある方です。今日、それをまた改めて感じました。お稽古中に、なぜか、染吉さんが笑ってしまって、15分間くらい止められなかったんです。それに怒らず、逆にそのまま流して一緒に泣き笑いしてあげました。噺家さんが自分自身の芸を楽しむことができなかったら、お客様を楽しませることこともできないでしょう。

Caricature Debut 戯画デビュー

Today was a practice day at Somemaru’s, so it was a pretty laid-back day. I got quite a bit of reading done between chores and other business.

Somemaru got something interesting in the mail today from a student who participated in a recent for-college-credit rakugo workshop. It was a caricature drawing of Somemaru and his assistants–Someza, Aisome, Ms. Nagamine (shamisen), and, none other than myself! I am the one in the drawing who seems to be hiding behind Somemaru. Come to think of it, I was “behind the scenes” for most of the several-day workshop, so this is most appropriate. In the drawing I am saying, “Totte ko~~ ka~~,” a pun on “should I go and grab it?” (the forgotten hoe in the story) and “Cock-a-doodle-doo!” (this is a chicken speaking, after all). This pun is the punchline–and title–of one of the kobanashi (comical anecdotes) that Somemaru let me perform during the workshop. Thanks to this talented student, I also made my caricature debut today!