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。







New Town 新しい町

Fox & CatI am getting settled in Tokyo. I love my new place and neighborhood. Over the past few days I have explored the area on foot. Here are a few pictures I took in the Nezu area and beyond.

On Saturday I walked to Yanaka, Ueno Park, Ochanomizu, Akihabara, Kanda Jinbochô, then back to Nezu, covering a distance of almost 10 miles (16km)! I will be able to cover more ground once I have a bike.

Rakugo CafeIn Jinbochô I stopped by the Rakugo Cafe, which was closed for preparations for an evening rakugo show. It was posted that there were still tickets available, so I inquired about the price. ¥2500 (about $25). Too expensive for such a small venue, and only two hanashika performing. It seems that rakugo is getting more expensive with each passing year. Great for hanashika, too bad for regular folks.

On my way home, I stopped for tonkatsu teishoku (pork cutlets served with rice, miso soup, and Japanese pickles) and a bottle of Kirin beer. Half the price of the rakugokai, just no laughs.

Loving Tokyo so far.

Nezu 1-chôme東京の生活にどんどん落ち着いてきました。新しい部屋も近所も、とても気に入っています。数日前から、散歩をして街を冒険しています。撮った写真を何枚かお見せしましょう。


Hongo 5-chôme神保町でらくごカフェ(上)に寄ってみましたが、落語会の準備で閉まっていた。当日券はまだあったので、スタフにその値段を聞いてみたら、なんと2500円だと。小さい会場、そして二人会には少々高いですね… 年を追うごとに落語が高くなっている気がします。噺家にはとてもいいことですが、大衆には残念。



My Brother in Osaka! 弟が大阪に!

I’ve waited for years to be able to share Japan with somebody in my family. Now I finally have the chance. Yesterday my brother, Philip, came to Osaka all the way from Oregon (west coast, USA). He will be here for one week.

We had okonomiyaki (Japanese-style savory pancake, for lack of better translation) last night and will visit the ancient capital Nara today.

Whirlwind Week 駆け足の一週間

This was an eventful week. I spent just about every day at Somemaru’s, and here are some of the highlights:


This was a practice day, and I helped with the regular routine: breakfast, housecleaning, greeting students, serving tea, and staying within earshot of Somemaru in case he needed something. Somemaru usually decides what he wants for dinner during the last couple lessons, sending Aisome or I out for groceries. Today he felt like kasujiru (sake lees soup), which I haven’t had since last winter, and absolutely love. I have a special memory about kasujiru, which you can read a bit about here: Sunday and Sake no kasu.


I was in charge of breakfast on this day. When I make breakfast at Somemaru’s house, I try to make something just as it would be served at my parent’s house. On Wednesday I departed from my regular omelets, opting instead for eggs sunny-side-up, hash browns, bacon, toast, and orange slices. In the afternoon, Somemaru and I made ponkan (Chinese honey orange) marmalade and had a wonderful talk about his life and rakugo.

In the evening we met a group of friends at the Suzunariza Theater for an exciting Taishû Engeki production featuring the troupe led by the young and handsome Satomi Takashi.


Today was another practice day. In addition to the regular practice-day routine, I had a shamisen lesson of my own. To say the least, this is always a humbling experience. I did my best and just have to make sure I do better next time, improving on all the areas Somemaru told me to work on. During other students’ lessons, I also spent some time practicing taiko (drums) with Aisome. I’ve recently felt a new urgency to practice more since I will be leading a yose workshop in Portland, Oregon this summer. Fortunately, I still have some time left in Japan, and I’m around the right people.

Bunshi ichimon kai

I asked Somemaru if I could be excused before dinner tonight because there was a special rakugo show being put on at the Hanjôtei in the evening. It was a Bunshi ichimon kai, but not one of the typical variety. Tonight was a special charity show to raise money for the Kumano River World Heritage Site marker that was severely damaged in Typhoon Talas last September.

Katsura Bunshi V played a role in this site being built. On his sickbed prior to dying in 2005, he brushed the characters 熊野川 (Kumano River), which were replicated and enlarged for the site marker. Prior to this Bunshi also composed the instant classic Kumano môde (Pilgrimage to Kumano), this being the the last story I heard him perform.

For some reason, I felt “called” to the show tonight. I felt called to support the charity event, and to hear Bunshi’s story narrated by his #4 pupil, Katsura Bunta, the only hanashika who performs Kumano môde today. Bunta did an incredible job. In a touching moment, when he took his final bow, somebody in the audience shouted “Roku daime!!,” indicating they would rather see Katsura Bunta become Bunshi VI than Katsura Sanshi, who is set to ascend to the historic name this July.

It was a wonderful, action packed week. I am now gearing down for a quiet weekend with my books.





この日は僕が朝食を担当させていただました。師匠のお宅で朝食を作る際、必ず自分の親の家で出るようなアメリカンなメニューを用意することにしています。水曜日はいつものオムレツから離れ、その代わりに半熟(目玉) 焼き、ハッシュブラウン、ベイコン、トーストとカットオレンジにしました。昼からはポンカンのマーマレードを作りながら、落語と師匠の人生についての素敵なトークを。









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。