Embarking on a Shinsaku Journey 新作落語の旅へ

It’s been over 10 years now since I first encountered Kamigata rakugo. Thanks to rakugo, I’ve had a lot of good laughs, and a few good cries. I’ve even had the opportunity to perform the art. My relationship with rakugo has been a valuable experience, and I am grateful.

Personally, I like the the older stories that have been passed down for generations (denshô rakugo). This is not to say that there are not good stories among the “new rakugo” (shinsakusôsaku rakugo) composed since the end of World War II (1945-). Still, I have never felt the desire to take on shinsaku as a topic for serious study.

I’ve listened to a fair share of post-World War II rakugo and I’ve often thought, “Why do hanashika need to perform these stories (that feature ‘salarymen,’ etc.) in kimono? In fact, it’s strange.” Of course, people in the audience are free to say shinsaku is no good, or that they hate it. However, as a scholar and amateur performer of the art, I’ve recently come to think that I should study shinsaku more closely in order to reach a rational conclusion. It will be important for me to remain neutral and objective as I listen to and read “new rakugo.”

Katsura Sanshi "Bakusho rakugo daizenshu"Thus, today I purchased Katsura Sanshi’s (now Bunshi VI) “Great Anthology of Explosive Laughter Rakugo” (Bakushô rakugo daizenshû), my first reference as I set out on a journey to study shinsaku.



戦後の新作落語を聴きながら、「なんで噺家が着物を着て(サラリーマンなどが登場する)新作落語を演らないかんやろ。逆におかしい 」とよく思いました。「新作はダメ、嫌い」と言うのはもちろん聴く人次第です。ただ僕は学者、そして素人噺家として、ちゃんと現代の新作を勉強して判断するべきだと最近特に強く思うようになりました。中立的な立場で、客観的にそれぞれの新作を鑑賞しないといけません。

ということで、今日は桂三枝(現 六代文枝)の「爆笑落語大全集」を買いました。これを最初の参考として、新作落語の勉強の旅に行ってまいりまっさ。


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。


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.











Sarutahiko Daijin: Against Shûmei? 猿田彦大神: 襲名反対?

Yesterday I posted the following bit on Twitter (in Japanese):

Today, on Master Sanshi’s blog: “Immediately after my offertory rakugo it started raining. I am guarded by Sarutahiko Daijin.” In Japan when it suddenly starts raining like this, is this a common expression/belief? In the US and elsewhere we usually say “God is crying.” There are all kinds in the world.

And now, this news just in from Suponichi anekkusu makes one wonder about the possibility of divine intervention…

Katsura Sanshi: Taxi Ride in a Jam, ¥140,000, Bill Yoshimoto?

Katsura Sanshi (68), who will ascend to the historic Kamigata Rakugo name Katsura Bunshi this July, visited the Sarutahiko Shrine in Ise City, Mie Prefecture, on February 22. There he prayed for a successful name-change [shûmei] celebration tour, which will begin on July 16, and last about a year and a half.

To get started on the right foot, since the god Sarutahiko Daijin is believed to help guide affairs in the right direction, Sanshi performed at the shrine the story Taiken shita bakari, which has to do with a taxi. It so happened that Sanshi’s apprentice brought with him the wrong size of kimono, so they had to leave their Ise hotel at 11pm by taxi, making a round trip to Sanshi’s home in Ikeda City, to pick up the proper habutae kimono. Recounting the hectic events Sanshi said, “We returned at 5:30am.” Not forgetting to express gratitude to the god of the shrine, he added, “It was by the grace of Sarutahiko Daijin that we could return safely, and feel refreshed despite the lack of sleep.”

Considering such a happening, Sanshi decided to change the story to one of his originals at the last minute. In a press conference that followed, he said with satisfaction, “I kind of felt that I could hear the god chuckling.” He also joked, “I meant to ask the god if I should send the ¥140,000 taxi bill to Yoshimoto, but forgot. I’m sure he would say ‘send it!'” Having announced his name-change celebration tour before the god, he also said with a tightened expression, “It’s hit me that this is all quite real.”




桂三枝 ハプニングでタクシー代14万円 吉本興業に請求する?




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。