For Early Birds, Variety 早起きには演芸

San'yûtei Koenka no Engei zukan, property of NHKThis morning I woke up at 3:41 a.m. I guess my body is still on U.S. time.

There used to be much more traditional variety entertainment on Japanese TV, but these days rakugo is generally aired in the early morning hours, if at all.

This morning I watched “Variety Picture Book” (Engei zukan, NHK, Sundays 5:15-5:45 a.m.), hosted by Tokyo-native shamisen mandan (comic chat with shamisen) artist San’yûtei Koenka (1960-).

Sakai Kunio-Tôru on San'yûtei Koenka no Engei zukan, property of NHKToday’s featured performers were the Kansai-based manzai duo Saikai Kunio-Tôru, brothers originally from Iwate prefecture who began performing in 1972, and Tokyo rakugo master San’yûtei Kinba IV, who boasts the longest running professional career in all of rakugo at 72 years–he began his apprenticeship under Kinba III in 1941 at age 12.

I was happy to see Sakai Kunio-Tôru on TV because I have met Kunio, the “strait man” (tsukkomi) in the duo (right side of photo). Thanks to Somemaru, I have been out to dinner and karaoke with him. Kunio was a fabulous singer and, in fact, his crooning was a big part of the act aired this morning. Very funny indeed.

San'yûtei Kinba IV on San'yûtei Koenka no Engei zukan, property of NHKKinba told the story “Long and Short [Tempered]” (Chôtan), which features two friends–an extremely patient man from Kamigata and a short-fused man from Edo/Tokyo. The latter repeatedly gets angry at the former because he talks and smokes way too slowly. At the end of the story, the Kamigata man has something to say, but fears that his Edokko friend will get angry if he tells tells him. No, the Edokko says, urging him to speak up. When the Kamigata man slowly informs his friend that his sleeve in on fire, the Edokko becomes furious. The former then delivers the ochi: I guess I shouldn’t have told you after all. Rakugo by such a seasoned master is truly a luxury to listen to. San'yûtei Kinba IV on San'yûtei Koenka no Engei zukan, property of NHKInterestingly, Kinba used a kendai and hizakakushi–generally only used in the Kamigata tradition–for this story. This was not simply for decoration, though. He used it to conceal the lower half of his body as he sat cross-legged. It must have become too painful for Kinba to sit in the traditional manner, seiza.

I woke up too early this morning, but was rewarded with variety on TV. I think I should continue getting up early enough to watch programs like these, but not before 5:00 a.m. if I can help it.



今朝、三味線漫談家の三遊亭小円歌が司会を勤める「三遊亭小円歌の演芸図鑑」という番組(NHK, 毎週日曜 午前5:15~5:45)を見ました。

Sakai Kunio-Tôru on San'yûtei Koenka no Engei zukan, property of NHK今日の出演者は昭和47年結成で岩手県出身の兄弟漫才のコンビ、関西を中心に活動されている酒井くにお・とおる師匠、そして昭和16年、12歳で三代目三遊亭金馬に入門なさった東京落語の大師匠の四代 三遊亭金馬でした。 金馬師匠は2014年現在、東西併せて落語界最古参の落語家でいらっしゃいます。


San'yûtei Kinba IV on San'yûtei Koenka no Engei zukan, property of NHK金馬師匠のお噺は気の長い上方ものと超短気の江戸っ子が登場する「長短」をお演りになりました。上方出身の男は喋るにも煙草を吸うにもあまりにも時間がかかるので、江戸っ子が何度も怒ります。噺の最後に上方ものは言いたい事がありますが、怒られると思って遠慮します。怒らないと江戸っ子が約束しますが、着物の袖が燃えているよとゆっくりと知らされろと、やはり、江戸っ子が怒り出します。オチで上方ものが言います、「やっぱり、おせえねえ (教えない) ほうがよかった」。大名人の落語を聴けて、まことに贅沢でした。おもしろいことに、金馬師匠が普段上方でしか使わない見台と膝隠しを置いていました。これはただの置き道具・飾りではなく、下半身を隠すためでした。お足が痛んでいらっしゃるためか、正座ではなく胡座をかいてお演りになりした。


Dinner and Karaoke ディナーとカラオケ

Tonight Somemaru invited me out to dinner and karaoke with a group of friends and pupils. The Chinese food was wonderful, and the karaoke was a blast. The best part of the evening was hearing Somemaru and Sakai Kunio (manzai artist/comedian) talk about the various jobs they’ve done together through the years, and listening to them sing songs from their younger days. Hanamaru, Someya, and Kinuyo (shamisen) were also along for the night’s festivities.

Somemaru has been incredibly generous to me since I’ve come to Japan to study under him. He has given me a number of beautiful gifts, and tonight he presented me with yet another. He gave me a valuable book that I had been wanting but could not afford myself, and he even did the wrapping.

Thank you so much, Shishô!




Let’s-go Shôji レッツゴー正児 師匠

Today I attended the “Open Lecture,” hosted by the Japanese Society for Humor and Laughter Studies (Nihon warai gakkai). The speaker was “Let’s Go Shôji” of the manzai trio “Let’s Go Sanbiki.”

“Let’s Go Shôji” treated the crowd to a wonderful 90-minute talk, entitled “My Life as an Entertainer” (Waga geinin jinsei). He made us laugh and cry numerous times. Truly, he is a talented speaker, probably a good thing for one whose profession is manzai.

He has had an amazing life filled with many ups and downs. But his story is truly one of success. He is a positive thinker, a hard worker, and incredibly resilient.

One case in point was when he tripped and fell hard on his way up to the stage after being introduced. Some thought it was a joke and laughed. He immediately made it into a joke himself, saying, “Now I couldn’t let the emcee be funnier than me, right? …” Still, upon learning he has bad knees after a major surgery, one has to wonder. A regular man in his 70s probably would have had to be taken to a hospital after a fall like that… In any case, this served as a metaphor for his life; he’s not the kind of person to let a fall keep him down.

In his talk he mentioned meeting Katsura Bunshi V on several occasions in yose dressing rooms. On my way out, I approached “Let’s Go Shôji,” thanked him for a wonderful talk, and told him I studied  for some time with Bunshi. It’s a small world, we both agreed. We talked for a few more minutes and I was on my way.

A very interesting man to say the least. I hope to hear him speak again in the near future.

If you are interested in hearing some great “Let’s Go Sanbiki” material, I recommend the following: “Let’s Go Sanbiki” on YouTube. (in Japanese)








Death of a Manzai Legend 漫才名人の死

Sadly, manzai (two-man stand-up) legend Kimi Koishi passed away this week at age 83. This morning Somemaru left early for the funeral service. Unfortunately I don’t have a black suit and tie, so I stayed home to take care of the cleaning, etc.

Living National Treasure/ hanashika Katsura Beichô, who knew Koishi for many years, issued the following statement on January 23:

Itokoi [nickname of duo] certainly had a refined style of manzai.  They never used  gaudy langauge. They were the epitomy of elegance. I wonder if there are any manzai artists around today who could ever take their place. He [Koishi] was two years younger than me, but he had a longer performance history. He knew so much about the entertainment world of yesteryear. Nobody could stop him if he got to talking about the good ol’ days. Even quite recently I spoke with him for hours in a dressing room at a TV station. I’m truly saddened by his death. (link in Japanese)

Somemaru made the following comments on his blog:

Master Kimi Koishi’s funeral service was held today.  The memorial photograph was of him wearing a hat, cigarette in hand. He sure looked sharp. The assembly hall was packed with people lamenting his passing. Words like these might seem inadequate, but I think they suit this man, an entertainer among entertainers, perfectly. I appeared with him on NHK’s “Kamigata Variety Hall,” which appears to have been his very last job. He was always a sweet man who was so kind to put up on a pedestal a person such as myself. I am saddened by his passing and pray that his soul may rest in peace. Gasshô [palms together in prayer].

Manzai duo "Itokoi," brothers Yumeji Itoshi (r) and Kimi Koishi



長年交流があった落語家の桂米朝さんの話 「いとこいさん」の漫才には品がありましたな。どぎつい言葉は使いません。上品の極みや。今の漫才さんの中に受け継いでくれる人が居るかしらん。私より二つ年下やが、芸歴は古いんです。昔の芸界の様子を実によう知ってはりました。彼と古い話をしだすと、もう止まりません。最近も放送局の控室で何時間も話し込んだことがありました。ホンマに寂しい限りです。(リンク