Another Old Name Renewed: Bun’nosuke もう一つ名跡復活、文之助

Bun'nosuke III. Photo property of Rakuten Tickets ( Sports ran the following article today:

Katsura Jakumatsu Becomes Katsura Bun’nosuke III

On October 6, Kamigata rakugoka Katsura Jakumatsu (57) took the name Katsura Bun’nosuke III. To mark the occasion he appeared in a name ascension ceremony and performance in Osaka. This is the first time the name Katsura Bun’nosuke has been used in 83 years. Katsura Bun’nosuke III commented on his goals after the show: “I want to keep practicing, and bring a new presence of mind to the stage.”

In addition to other members of the Katsura Beichô school¹ being present during the opening address (kôjô), Kamigata Rakugo Association Chairperson Katsura Bunshi and Vice Chairperson Shôfukutei Tsurube were also on hand. Bunshi told the audience, “He is a dexterous and versatile entertainer who can perform both the classics and original pieces.  I look forward to him furthering the greatness of this name.”


桂雀松 「桂文之助」三代目を襲名



¹ Bun’nosuke III is a pupil of the late Katsura Shijaku, who was Katsura Beichô direct pupil. 三代文之助は故桂枝雀の弟子で、枝雀は桂米朝の直弟子。Article 記事へ


Golden Oldie Finds 懐かしいもの発見


I was organizing some of my things today and came across some  golden oldies. For instance, I found a few Bunshi V name strips (senja fuda) and an “Encircle Katsura Kobunshi Club” (Katsura Kobunshi o kakomu kai) membership card! Happy finds indeed.


Sanshi Book Review 三枝師匠の本 書評

"Shishô, Godaime Bunshi e" (Katsura Sanshi)Last year I wrote a post about the publication of Katsura Sanshi’s (now Bunshi VI) book titled Shishô, godaime Bunshi e (To My Master, Bunshi V [Yoshimoto Bukkusu, 2012]). Since I’ve read it, perhaps it is time I share my thoughts on the book. Please note, these are my own views.

What I got from the book was probably what Sanshi wanted to get from writing it — to know Bunshi V better. Sanshi didn’t know Bunshi V well because he ended his formal training for show business even before a year had passed.

Sanshi obviously felt guilty about taking his master’s name. Before doing so, he wanted to get a concrete idea about who Bunshi V was, and make it clear to readers that he would not be able to become the same person. He also wanted to create an image that he had received unanimous approval from the entire Bunshi V school (19 other members) for his name change.

The bulk of the book consists of interviews with all of Bunshi V’s pupils, in chronological order, with the exception of his interview (dialogue rather) with Katsura Bunchin, the other Bunshi V pupil who has become rich and famous through broadcast media. I found it somewhat suspect that Bunchin was saved until last.

Sanshi’s interview questions frequently seem loaded, geared toward alleviating his own doubts about taking such an illustrious name. His comments, too, seem motivated by a desire to show that he was indeed Bunshi V’s #1 pupil (in every sense of the word), one his master could be proud of.

There is constant focus on the fact that Bunshi V let pupils be “free” (jiyû ni saseru) and do just what they wanted, and that he himself focused energy on non-rakugo and rakugo-fusion projects. However, Sanshi hardly mentions the fact that Bunshi V, down to his core, was all about rakugo and passing on a tradition.

Bunshi V allowing pupils to be “free” was not a result of him being a kind, giving man, as Sanshi leads readers to believe. In my opinion, this was Bunshi V’s way of saying nicely, you don’t have what it takes to do rakugo as it should be done, so, feel free to find your own way. Essentially, Bunshi V was “raising” them by tossing them out (sute-sodachi). In doing this, it was always Bunshi V’s hope that they would one day return to rakugo proper.

I was disappointed that Sanshi did not research/write the closing section on Bunshi V’s art and life (Godaime Katsura Bunshi: Sono gei to hito). He hired a scholar to do this. The fact that Sanshi didn’t take this task on himself told me that he still hadn’t learned who Bunshi V was, or wasn’t interested. Nevertheless, it was not Sanshi’s goal to learn Bunshi V’s art, or become him.

Godaime Katsura Bunshi: Sono gei to hito is quite scholarly. This,  along with the painstakingly detailed timeline and performance history, are very informative. The interviews, however, are the most valuable part of the book. Though Sanshi’s questions often seem loaded, there is much said that transcends them. I especially enjoyed the interviews with Bunta and Bunza. All interviews serve — more or less — as dialogues (geidan) on Bunshi V’s art.

I conducted a formal geidan interview with Bunshi V on his art for my master’s thesis in Japan. As far as I know, nobody else has done one, or at least published it. From the geidan I conducted, and from my personal conversations with Bunshi V, I know well that he was an extremely giving man. He hated to tell people no. His acceptance of me as a minarai is perfect example of this. After all, Bunshi V had better things to than teach an American kid about rakugo.

I also know that Bunshi V was concerned about the future of Kamigata rakugo, that fewer hanashika were doing stories with hamemono, that there was no formal yose in Osaka. If Bunshi V could see it, he would be relieved that the Hanjôtei is now in operation. He would be pleased that Somemaru IV has more than doubled the number of  professional shamisen players. He would be proud that there are some hanashika are carrying on the tradition of rakugo that he loved most.

Sanshi has taken his master’s name, but he will not carry on the Bunshi V tradition. It is clear in his closing statements, though, that he is okay with this. Why? Because considers himself the “New Story” (shinsaku) Bunshi — Sanshi’s repertoire consists almost entirely of stories he wrote — and wants posterity to remember him as the man who made the classics of tomorrow. Whether this will happen, only time can tell.

Did Sanshi get to know Bunshi V better by writing Shishô, godaime Bunshi e? Perhaps. More than this, Sanshi learned about Bunshi V’s other pupils, and that they shared a number of experiences with each other. He also found that he didn’t have many of the experiences others did. Still, by meeting each individual and asking the questions he wanted, Sanshi found a way to feel better about moving ahead with the ascension to Bunshi VI.

Bunshi VI at press conf. May 23, 2013 (property of Daily News)According to Daily Sports Online, Bunshi VI held a press conference on May 23, in Osaka. He eagerly told reporters that he will be hosting the “Namba Grand Kagetsu Bunshi Festival” on July 17, to celebrate his seventieth birthday and commemorate a full year with his new name. He also announced that he would be featuring “The Man Who Summons Storms: The Ishihara Yûjirô Story” and a new rakugo piece “Dear Friend” (Tomo yo).

At the very end his 2012 book, Sanshi writes, “I will do my best not to soil the name Bunshi, and bring even more honor to it.” In order to accomplish this, I think he will need work hard to study Bunshi V’s rakugo, and transmit Bunshi’s most popular stories and artistic style to the next generation. If there is no transmission, the tradition will die out. Of course, it is an entertainer’s job to sell oneself, and promote their own style. However, more important than this is preserving the Kamigata tradition. Especially if your name is Bunshi, indeed, one would like to see you bringing rakugo classics to the stage.

去年このブログで、桂三枝師匠の本「師匠、五代目文枝へ」(ヨシモトブックス 2012)についての記事を書きました。今日は読み終えた感想をアップしたいと思います。あくまでも、これは個人的な見解です。












ところで、デイリースポーツによると5月23日に六代目文枝師匠が大阪で会見し、70歳を祝う古希と襲名一周年記念を迎える7月16日に「三枝改メ六代 桂文枝襲名1周年記念『文枝フェスティバルinなんばグランド花月』」を行い、そこで「嵐を呼ぶ男 石原裕次郎物語」と新作のネタ「友よ」をやると意欲的に発表した。


Tarento-Hanashika タレント・噺家

Yamasaki Hôsei, property of Today I learned on Twitter (@rakugonews) that the popular Yoshimoto comedian Yamasaki Hôsei (44, a.k.a. Yamachan) will soon begin a rakugo apprenticeship under Kamigata rakugo master Tsukitei Happô. Yamasaki’s rakugo name will be Tsukitei Hôsei.

It is no secret that aspiring performers occasionally try to use the rakugo world as a stepping stone to reach the more lucrative world of TV and other popular media. After all, formal rakugo training can offer a number of the tools necessary in becoming good talkers and marketable entertainers.

Interestingly, there seems to be a pattern developing for so-called “tarento,” generally TV personalities and/or comedians, to come to the rakugo world for training. It was not terribly surprising earlier in the year when Watanabe Atsumu (43, a.k.a. Nabe’atsu) entered the artistic school of hanashikatarento Katsura Sanshi (now Bunshi VI), but I was a little surprised when I heard that Yamasaki will be joining Happô.

The big question is WHY? Rakugo offers limited exposure and therefore cannot promise the kind of returns regular work in TV can bring. So, if it’s not about money, is it about the genuine desire to improve one’s art? Could it be about a fondness of rakugo, or genuine concern for the art’s future? Is it about personal legacy, or is it simply a gimmick?

Perhaps Katsura Sanshi’s relative absence from and successful return to Kamigata Rakugo following an illustrious 30+ year career in TV, and his recent ascension to his master’s name insprired tarento to think they too could make it as hanashika. Or maybe the current rakugo boom is affecting even TV stars.

According to Mantan Web (Yomiuri Shinbun Digital), Yamasaki has long had a strong desire to challenge himself with something other than working as a tarento. In addition to his friend Higashino Kôji suggesting rakugo rakugo in 2008, he also listened the late Katsura Shijaku’s version of the rakugo story Kôzu no tomi. This made him realize the appeal that rakugo has.

Whatever the reasons tarento want to become hanashika, one thing is clear. They will bring new fans to rakugo. We can only be grateful for this. The thing that is not clear, however, especially since they are also continuing their “day jobs,” is the impact they will have on the rakugo world. Will they ever be able to perform the kind of rakugo old rakugo masters and die-hard rakugo fans expect, or will they help redefine rakugo in a new era?

I like rakugo, so I would like to cheer them on in either case. There may be something fun in all of it.

今朝、ツイッター (@rakugonews)でこんな記事を見ました。吉本のお笑い芸人、山崎邦正(44、愛称 やまちゃん)が2013年1月より月亭八方師匠のもとで落語修業を始め、落語芸名は「月亭方正」となる…


しかし、面白いことに、最近はこれとは逆のパターンがよく見られます。既に知名度のあるタレントが落語の世界に入り、一から修業を始めているのです。渡辺鐘(43、愛称 ナベアツ、 芸名 桂三度)氏が、噺家・タレントである桂三枝(現 六代文枝)師匠の一門に入ったことにはあまりびっくりしませんでしたが、山崎氏が八方師匠に入門するニュースを聞いた時は、ちょっとびっくりしました。






Sanshi’s Feelings of Guilt 三枝の罪悪感

Last night before going to bed I read the forward to Katsura Sanshi’s recent book, Shishô, godaime Bunshi e (To My Master, Bunshi V [Yoshimoto Bukkusu, 2012]).

In the course of eleven pages, Sanshi recalls his wildly successful career as a radio and TV “tarento” (personality/star), but asks why his master Bunshi V (1930-2005) ever allowed him to follow such a path. More specifically, he wonders why Bunshi told him to go (itte koi) to the broadcasting company in the first place.

It soon becomes clear Sanshi is filled with guilt since he got his big break so soon after entering the artistic school of Bunshi. Despite the fact he was associated with Bunshi longer than most of Bunshi’s other pupils, Sanshi knows Bunshi the least.

Sanshi is filled with guilt because he will soon take the name of a Kamigata rakugo giant– his master –but he hardly knows the man who preceded him. In an attempt to know Bunshi better, to give readers a sense that he has support from those who knew Bunshi best, and perhaps to relieve his guilt, Sanshi interviews those who learned from Bunshi. The interviews make up the bulk of the book.

Toward the end of the forward Sanshi writes, “Considering the fact that my classic-loving (koten-ha) master did an original story (sôsaku) at the end [of his career/life], could he have been showing his support for my [adherence to] original rakugo? Was he giving me his approval? By taking on such a new challenge could he have been saying, ‘You keep going, and don’t worry about a thing’?”

It is doubtful Sanshi has any concerns about ascending to an artistic name that goes back more than 150 years, but he clearly feels guilty about taking the name of his master. Whatever the case, Sanshi’s interpretation of Bunshi’s decision to compose the original story “Kumano môde” at Mie and Kumano prefectures’ joint request as a last-ditch attempt to convey to Sanshi his approval strikes me as self-serving, egotistical, and unfortunate. But perhaps this is what Sanshi needs to tell himself to relieve such guilt.

Indeed, Sanshi went to the broadcasting company as his master told him to shortly after beginning his apprenticeship, but Sanshi went off and over time failed to return, which was also implied when Bunshi said itte koi (go and come back). Sanshi made his priority making it in the world of mass media entertainment.

It is not impossible to make a good living on rakugo alone, but, perhaps one cannot blame Sanshi since there was so much more money to be had in radio and TV. Still, the fact remains, Sanshi did not return to complete a formal apprenticeship with Bunshi, and, consequently, Sanshi never became the hanashika his master expected. Perhaps this is where Sanshi’s guilt late in life derives from, particularly in the months and days before he takes his masters name.

Tonight it’s on to Chapter One.

Here is my review of the book.