Karan Koron カランコロン

geta from HamamatsuyaI’ve been wanting to get a pair of geta (Japanese wooden glogs) and today was the day. I actually received them as an early birthday present!

I went to the same Yanaka Ginza shop–the Hamamatsuya–where I bought a pair of setta sandals last fall. I loved the setta so much, and the owner of the shop was so nice (I’ve stopped in to say hello to her numerous times since then) that this is the only place I will buy my Japanese footwear in Tokyo.

walking Hebi-dōri (Sendagi, Tokyo)The geta that I selected are made of a single piece of kiri (paulownia) wood, which is fairly light in weight, yet hard. It has a beautiful grain, too. I also selected fashionable byakuroku (whitish green) hanao (cloth thongs), which give the geta a fresh, cool look. Perfect for Japan’s hot summer.

I wore the geta around my neighborhood and then to dinner in Nezu. They are quite comfortable, and I love the karan koron karan koron sound that they make as I stroll along.

This makes one recall the Matsuo Bashô (1644-94) poem:

Summer evening / Dawn light comes in the echoes / The sound of geta

Natsu no yo ya kodama ni akuru geta no oto

Hamamatsuya okamisanしばらく前から下駄を買おうと思っていましたが、今日はやっと買いにいけました。というより、少し早めの誕生日のプレゼントに買っていただきました。






Spring in Ueno 上野の春

Ueno Park April 2014Today I took a walk through Ueno Park, very close to where I live. Since last week there have been all kinds of people, Japanese and non-Japanese, flocking to the park for cherry blossom viewing.

It seems like there are more birds out too. The common gulls (Larus canus) are now out in addition to the slightly smaller black-headed gulls (Larus ridibundus) that can usually be seen at Shinobazu Pond. They’re all getting along quite nicely. Pretty soon the insects will be back too. Spring is here!

Parties on Blue Tarps, Ueno ParkDrinking sake and nibbling on food under the blossoms sure is nice. Today too, parties were sitting on their blue tarps, cheerfully carrying on. I noticed that everybody takes their shoes off before sitting on the tarps. I suppose it’s best to keep the area clean and cozy since some people end up drinking too much and falling asleep.

Common and Black-headed Gulls, Shinobazu PondJapan sure is nice in spring.


Ueno Park, 2014人間だけじゃなく、鳥も増えている気がします。ちなみに、不忍池にいつも見かけるユリカモメだけじゃなく、もうちょっと大きいカモメも来ています。皆仲良くやっているみたいです。もう少ししたら虫も出てくるでしょう。(おけら、毛虫、ゲジ〜 ♪)春ですね。

Ueno Park, April 2014花の下でお酒を飲んだり、つまみ食いをしたりするというのはいいですね。今日も、ブルーシートの上に座る皆さんがとても陽気でいい感じでした。一つ気づいたことがあって、皆ブルーシートに座る前に靴をちゃんと脱ぐんですね。まあ、飲み過ぎて寝てしまう方もいるので、きれいに気持ちよくやった方がいいですね。


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





Elementary School Rakugo Class 小学校での落語授業

children in Shîba village school rakugo class - Ashahi TVI watched a program tonight on TV Asahi (Ch.5, Tokyo) called Nani kore: chin hyakkei (What’s This! Unusual Sites). Therein was a segment called “Unusual Schools,” which I found quite interesting.

There’s an elementary school in Shîba village, Miyazaki prefecture, which has less than 10 students. Because there are so few students in attendance and they do not have regular opportunities to speak in front of large groups, they take a rakugo class to be able to practice speaking in front of others. In fact, this class has been a part of the school’s curriculum for some 24 years.

children in Shîba village school rakugo class - Ashahi TV

In the feature, students could be seen working hard at repeating the lines of rakugo stories. They were so adorable. They seemed to thoroughly enjoy performing rakugo. It turns out that some students perform rakugo at national children’s rakugo competitions.

children in Shîba village school rakugo class - Ashahi TVStudents even have the luxury of receiving one-on-one training from professional rakugoka three times a year. In the feature, Tokyo rakugoka Shunpûtei Ryûnosuke could be seen giving formal sit-down lessons (suwari-geiko) to children. He was sweating and quite hard on them.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there has been a rakugo class at this school for 24 years.

To the students in Shîba village: keep up the great work!

children in Shîba village school rakugo class - Ashahi TV今晩、テレビ朝日(5チャネル 東京)で「ナニコレ 珍百景」という番組を見ましたが、その中の一つに「学校珍百景」というコーナーがあって、最も興味深かったです。


Children in rakugo class - Asahi TV取材で学生さんが一生懸命ネタを繰り返し、とても可愛かったです。皆さんが落語をとても楽しんで演っていて、こども落語全国大会に出ることもあるそうです。

children in Shîba village school rakugo class - Ashahi TVとても贅沢なことに、学生さんはプロの落語家に年に3回マンツーマンの授業を受けることもできます。取材では春風亭柳之助の座り稽古を受けている場面もあり、汗をかきながら厳しく指導していました。



Shôfukutei Shokyô, R.I.P. 松喬師匠、おつかれさまでございました。(合掌)

Shôfukutei Shokaku VI, property of Asahi News Kamigata rakugo has lost one of its great storytellers.

Last September I wrote about Shôfukutei Shokyô VI’s inspiring battle against cancer. Since then Shokyô has taken liver cancer head on by continuing to perform rakugo. This June, however, he returned to the hospital and, sadly, he passed away on July 30. He will be missed by countless family, fans and friends.

Nikkan Sports ran the following article on July 31.

Shôfukutei Shokyô Dies of Liver Cancer, Age 62  (reported July 31, 2013, 4:04 p.m.)

Though Kamigata Rakugo storyteller Shôfukutei Shokyô (real name Takada Toshinobu) was diagnosed with end-stage liver cancer in December two years ago, he continued performing as he underwent treatment. He passed away at 4:30 p.m. on July 30 at the age of 62.

His final appearances were on June 8 and 9 at the Tenman Tenjin Hanjôtei, for the Shokyô artistic school showcase (Shokyô ichimon kai). Hanjôtei manager Onda Masakazu commented, “His physical condition might not have been that great, but, it was business as usual onstage. He got laughs by weaving his disease into jokes.” 

Shokyô entered an apprenticeship in 1969 with Shôfukutei Shokaku VI, who was instrumental in the revitalization of Kamigata rakugo during the post-WWII era. Shokyô first performed with the name Kakuza, and in 1987 he received the name Shokyô VI . In Shokaku VI’s school he was junior to Nikaku and Tsurukô, and senior to Tsurubei, all who have played active roles in T.V., radio, and other media. 

Shokyô had a reputation for his unaffected, openhearted style on stage, his faithful adherence to Kamigata dialect and polite speech, and being talented at expressing the subtleties of human nature. Called the hanashika who best carried on the artistic style of Shokaku VI, he received the Arts Festival Grand Prize [from the Japanese Agency of Cultural Affairs] in 2007.

In December of 2011, following a show commemorating his sixtieth birthday, he was feeling unwell and went to the hospital thinking, “maybe it’s fatigue.” It was there that he received notice that he had end-stage liver cancer. The cancer was approximately 6.5 centimeters, and surgery would be impossible. He received chemotherapy, and announced his condition at a press conference in March 2012. By April, he was back on stage.

Thereafter, he continued performing while receiving a new cancer immunotherapy to extract the components to make a vaccine from his own blood. Shokyô even joked, “Insurance won’t cover it, so I gotta keep working,” adding that “making people laugh, and laughing myself, is the best medicine.” 

Last October, Shokyô set a goal to complete a four-year, 16-show seasonal showcase called “Sixteen Nights of Shokyô” (Shokyô jûrokuya). He launched the series, but by mid-June his health began deteriorating. He had to cancel “The Fourth Night,” scheduled for July 21. 

A wake in Shokyô’s honor will be held  at 6:00 p.m on August 1. A funeral and memorial service will be held at 1:00 p.m. on August 2. All services will be held at the Osaka City Yasuragi Tenkûkan (Osaka-shi Abeno-ku Abeno-suji 4-19-115). Shokyô’s oldest son, Takada Kenta, will be representing the family as chief mourner.

Shokyô once said, “I would like to present the fragrance (nioi) and fun of Kamigata in an easy-to-follow manner, and let my speech flow naturally. I hope to bring forth a new flower during my 60s.” Considering his inspiring finalé, he did just this. He brought forth a truly beautiful flower.

Shokyô-shishô, rest in peace. Gasshô.




笑福亭松喬さんが肝臓がんで死去 62歳

Shôfukutei Shokyô, property of Nikkan Sports一昨年12月、末期肝臓がんの告知を受け、闘病しながらも高座に上がり続けた上方落語家、笑福亭松喬(しょうふくてい・しょきょう=本名・高田敏信)さんが30日午後4時30分、大阪市西区の病院で死去した。62歳だった。