Okotohajime 御事始

Last year at this time I wrote about (0)kotohajime. It’s hard to believe a year has already passed since then. But here we are.

Kotohajime takes place on December 13 in the Kamigata area (Dec. 8 in Tokyo) and is the day when preparations for the New Year formally begin. In the world of arts that are “practiced,” (keikogoto), members of artistic families often pay a formal visit to their master on this day, bringing with them a present of kagamimochi, usually eaten in a zenzai sweet bean dish on the eleventh day of the New Year.

Kotohajime is a is a day-long event at Somemaru’s house, combined with morning ôsôji, a deep cleaning of his house, and a banquet that lasts into the evening.

Today I arrived at Somemaru’s house at 10 a.m., an hour before everybody else, to have breakfast and help with preparations. Somemaru’s many pupils began showing up one by one at 11 a.m. Everybody came with a gift, presented it to him, bowed deeply, and thanked him for the previous year, also asking him for his generous favors in the year to come.

After the morning greetings were made, straws were drawn Japanese-style to determine everybody’s cleaning duties. This year I landed on the front door area (genkan do). This is a pretty easy job compared to, say, cleaning the bathroom, so I was also asked to tend to the garden outside. Everybody cleaned the house in good spirits, laughing and carrying on.

Of course, with so many pupils, the cleaning goes fast. As I helped, I thought about the importance of everyone being here for ôsôji. Taking care of Somemaru in such a way is one way of performing ongaeshi, paying back one’s personal debts.

Every bit of work that we did today are things Somemaru won’t have to do himself. Personally, it made me feel good that I could be there to show my respect and gratitude for all he’s done for me over the past year. I am still in his debt, as are all of his formal pupils, but us being there for ôsôji helps show Somemaru that we haven’t forgotten our debts to him.

Soon we were done cleaning and it was time to change out of our work clothes and into our suits for kotohajime. Somemaru was helped into his kimono.

Everybody sat Japanese-style before Somemaru, in order of seniority. One by one, we reflected on the year (hansei) and proposed how we might make the coming year better. This is a highly formal event, but humor is permitted at  times too. Depending on the pupil, Somemaru offered heartfelt advice, or critique.

As usual, he presented each pupil with a gift, something they will have use for as they work in the coming year. Last year he presented folding fans, this year we received shikigami, (mats on which to fold kimono, so they won’t get dirty).

After kotohajime proper, we had a great banquet, with delicious sushi and other foods, and of course plenty of alcoholic drinks. It was great fun to enjoy the time with Somemaru’s artistic family.

I stayed a couple hours after everyone left, to clean up, and relax a bit with Somemaru.

It was a busy day, but it went by incredibly fast, just like the year.

Thank you for including me in kotohajime Somemaru shishô.












Kotohajime 事始め

Today was a very busy day. I arrived at Somemaru’s house at 9 a.m. to eat breakfast and finish last-minute set-up by 10 a.m., when Somemaru’s pupils would begin showing up to kick off the day’s festivities with the annual year-end deep house cleaning, ôsôji. Since Somemaru has so many pupils (14, including one he is surrogate for), we were able to clean his entire house in just two hours.

After cleaning we had a tea break and a snack of rice balls. Then we all got changed into suits for koto-hajime. Because this is such a formal ceremony, I didn’t feel that it would be right to take a picture. During koto-hajime Somemaru sat at the front of the room as each pupil gave a formal address of thanks for the year, and a report of the good aspects and areas they would like to improve on as a rakugo storyteller during 2010. Somemaru asked important questions and offered advice on how each could improve before preventing them with a ceremonial tenugui (hand towel) and hakusen (white paper folding fan). The two indispensable props in rakugo. At the very end of the ceremony I also gave a formal address, though I was incredibly nervous to speak in front of Somemaru’s artistic school. On his blog Somemaru explains koto-hajime much better than I can.

Immediately after this the group proceeded downstairs to the room that has the family’s Buddhist alter. Ohayashi-san (shamisen players) also started arriving at this time. A hôji (memorial) service was held for Somemaru’s parents (father 13 years, mother 7 years deceased). It was my first time to attend such a service, so the monk’s sutra chanting and the group incense burning was all very interesting, but I could tell that there were a few in the group who were tired from sitting seiza. The service lasted about an hour. Hanashika (storytellers) usually only sit seiza for about 20 minutes at a time. The hôji was interesting in itself, but I also had some side-entertainment. Of course I didn’t take pictures during the service, but I did get a picture of the flowers and gifts that people presented.


After the hôji, the group began prepping for the enkai party. From the kitchen I noticed that Somemaru was calling his pupils in order, one by one, to write their names on a sheet of paper. Though I am not an official pupil, I was happy when Somemaru called me to write my name too, in the kanji he designated for my name, Matto 真人 (Matt)The ohayashi-san present were also asked to write their names. This sheet lists the names of people who presented Somemaru with kagami-mochi (large rice cake offered to gods at New Years).

What better to have on an such an auspicious, cold December day than kani-nabe (crab hotpot) to eat and plenty of alcohol to drink? While I did spend most of the dinner party (enkai) playing the part of waiter, I did get my fill of good food and drinks. What a treat!


大掃除が終わったら、休憩にお茶とおにぎりをいただきました。その後は事始めのために全員がスーツに着替え。とても正式な儀式なので、写真を撮る自信はなかった。事始めに染丸師匠は座敷の前に座り、弟子一人一人は順番にフォーマルな挨拶を申し上げます。その中、一年間の感謝、そして2010年に噺家としていいこともこれから磨いていきたいところも申し上げました。 染丸師匠はそれぞれについて大事な質問を聞いたり、どうやってもっといい噺家になれるのか、とても役に立つアドバイスもくれました。この後すぐ、弟子に正式の手ぬぐいと白扇のプレゼントを渡しました。僕も師匠に挨拶しましたが、一門全員の前だったからとても緊張しました。 彼のブログに師匠が事始めについて素晴らしい説明を書いてくださいました。




Blog Start ブログ初め

I decided to begin this blog today because tomorrow, December 13, is when koto-hajime is held. This is the official opening of the new year in the Kamigata rakugo world. Much will happen tomorrow, and in the days and months that follow, so I thought this would be a fine time to begin documenting my day-to-day experiences.

Thanks for visiting!