Katsura Harukoma: RIP 春駒師匠、合掌

Katsura Harukoma, property of http://fumikyou.seesaa.net/archives/200902-1.htmlI was sad the other day when I read the news that Katsura Harukoma (62) died of liver failure. I have a number of memories of Harukoma, the most memorable being the first time I met him at the Rengatei chi’ki yose held at the Fûgetsudō Hall in Motomachi (Kobe).

I followed Somemaru into the dressing room and got a glare from Harukoma that seemed to say, “what the hell is this foreigner doing here.” Honestly, I was scared of him. I was even more scared when Somemaru went to the restroom and left me alone with Harukoma in the dressing room. I then realized that I hadn’t given him a proper greeting. “Pardon me,” I said sheepishly, “My name is Matt — I am an exchange student from America. I am studying rakugo under Somemaru.”

With this he said “good work” and gave me a little envelope with money in it (goshûgibukuro). He was scary at first, but I could see that he could also be kind.

Another memory I have of Harukoma is when I was at Somemaru’s one day and the phone rang. I was the only person in the room, so I grabbed Somemaru’s schedule book, a pencil, and some paper. This was my first time to answer Somemaru’s telephone.

Something, something something, can he make it on May 26th?” gurgled the voice on the other end of the line.

“Yes, that day looks like its open,” I replied, but before I could get the name of the man or venue, he hung up.

Just at that moment, Somemaru came into the room.

“Who called?”


“Huh? There was a call wasn’t there?”


“Who was it?”

“Well… I’m not quite sure.”

“What? You were just talking to them. Was it about a job?”

“Yes, maybe… They asked if you could make it on May 26th.”


“Um… yes, perhaps.”

I think this was the only time I got in trouble with Somemaru.

After this incident I met Harukoma a number of times in places like dressing rooms, so I confirmed the voice on the phone that I couldn’t comprehend was indeed Harukoma’s. Although I made myself a nuisance to him, he was always nice to me. For this I am grateful. It is truly sad that we can no longer listen to his rakugo live.

Rest in peace.

Katsura Harukoma, property of Katsura Harukoma, http://www.oct.zaq.ne.jp/katsuraharukoma/先日、桂春駒師匠が肝不全でお亡くなりになったというニュースを読んだとき、悲しかったです。春駒師匠との想い出はいくつかありますが、最も印象的なのは神戸元町の「神戸凬月堂ホール」で行われた恋雅亭という寄席で初めてお会いしたときのことです。



Motomachi Yose Rengatei, property of Katsura Harukoma, http://www.oct.zaq.ne.jp/katsuraharukoma/もう一つの想い出は、染丸師匠のお宅で受けた電話でした。僕しかいなかったので、電話がなったとき師匠の手帳、鉛筆、そして紙を取って、初めて師匠の電話に出てみました。

















Long Day for Somemaru 染丸の長い一日

This morning I went Somemaru’s house at 10 a.m., as usual. When we were preparing breakfast I noticed some dishsoap near the kitchen sink with a label that read “Honda.” “What?!” I thought. I didn’t know that Honda manufactured liquid soap along with their worldclass cars… Somemaru proceeded to tell me that the Honda dealership (he bought two new cars in 2010) sent him a New Year’s care package, which held items one needs every day: soap, suran wrap, facial tissue, and toilet paper! And everything had a Honda label–the better to remember them by?

What interesting customer service and marketing strategy! I’ve never heard of anything like this happening in the United States. Then again, I’ve never purchaced a new Honda. Maybe you have to purchace two at the same time?

After our morning routine, three reprepresentatives from Yoshimoto Productions (kogyo), including Somemaru’s current manager, arrived for a meeting. They spent about an hour discsussing contractual and scheduling matters. I used this time to get some light ironing done.

Immediately following the Yoshimoto meeting Somemaru’s third pupil, Someya, arrived for his first lesson for the story Kowakare ([Parent-] Child Separation). This is a ninjôbanashi (tale of human emotions/sentiment). Some versions of this story tend to more tear-jerkers rather than the big comedy pieces generally expected of rakugo. One note on the ninjôbanashi genre, more of these stories are told in Tokyo than in Osaka. This has much to do with the traditional tastes of people in those cities–I’ve heard it said that people in Tokyo tend to want to be moved, or made to think, while their counterparts in Osaka simply want to be made to laugh.

I should write a bit here about rakugo lessons, too. Lessons are often conducted differently from master to master, so some of the things I put down here may only be true for the way Somemaru teaches.

Rakugo stories are typically learned during the course of three lessons. In Japanese this is called Sanben keiko (lit. three-time practice). In the first lesson, like today, the master performs the story for the pupil, who sits directly in front him, in seiza-style, observing quietly. Some masters like to do this first lesson “old-school” -style in that they allow neither notetaking nor electronic recording devices. Somemaru is merciful in that he allows his pupils to record sessions if they like. When the master finishes the story proper he continues with some comments about timing, performance techniques, and flexibility. From now until the second session, it will be the pupil’s job to commit the story to memory. In the second lesson he will recite his version of the story. The master will listen quietly, taking notes until the end, when he will offer his critique, then perhaps re-perform sections of the story. There is typically still much to be worked out after the second session, so the pupil takes what he’s learned from session two, and applies it in preparation for the third and final practice. The third lesson looks much like the second, but instead of it being a “practice run,” the story presented should come across as a final product, ready for the stage. Finally, in this last session, the pupil asks for the master’s permission to take the new story to the stage. Unless the pupil does terribly in the finally practice, permission is generally granted. The first public performance of a newly acquired story is called neta oroshi (lit. story unloading) in Japanese.

Immediately following Someya’s lesson, a representative arrived from the publishing house that will be putting out in spring Somemaru’s next book, Kamigata rakugo yose hayashi (Kamigata Rakugo Music for the Yose). The meeting was, for the most, about choosing photos to be used in the book. Just like in the United States, there are all kinds of hoops to jump through, and red tape to walk around, when using pictures for publications in Japan. The meeting lasted over one hour, but the rep. seemed to leave in a very good mood. Somemaru must have provided him with everything he wanted and more.

Shortly after the publication meeting, Somemaru and I prepared his kimono, etc., and we were off to the “Hyogo Citizen’s Yose” (Hyôgo kumin yose) in Shinkaichi (Kôbe), which has been held annually, several times a year, since 1978. Somemaru (then Someji) first performed in this citizen-run yose‘s fifth show. Tonight’s was show #176!

We finished up in Shinkaichi after 9 p.m. We stopped on our way for a late dinner and got back to Somemaru’s place just before 11:00. We had to begin right away packing for Somemaru’s two-day Tokyo trip, for which he will depart early tomorrow morning. I did all I could and headed home before the final train left and got home after midnight. What a day! Somemaru shishô, please get plenty of rest tonight!


Happy New Year! 明けましておめでとう!

Happy New Year!

I have been a fairly avid runner for almost 15 years. If possible, each year I like to literally run out of the old year and into the new. I do this by, what else, running. I left my place before midnight. There was almost NOBODY out on the streets as I ran. I wondered where everybody could have gone, until I neared the Osaka Tenmangu Shrine. Yes, indeed, thousands of people had filled the streets surrounding this historic shine (ca. 949) for their first visit of the year (hatsu môde). I regret not taking my camera with me on my run! Here is the picture I took at 12:41 a.m., after returning.

This was just the beginning of what would prove to be a very exciting New Year’s Day. Aisome and I arrived at Somemaru’s house a little early to make sure everything was ready for the New Year’s guests, who would be arriving at 10 a.m. Once the guests had arrived, Somemaru poured a ceremonial cup of sake (complete with fragments of gold leaf!) for all–his pupils, their wives, their children (who wanted to try a taste of sake–most did not), his own wife, and finally me. Since I was the last person to drink I received the honor of pouring Somemaru’s sake. All drank from the same saucer, and this was a wonderful bonding experience.

Following the sake ritual, the full-day banquet got underway. We put out three long tables so everybody could have a seat. There was more than enough food for everybody, and beer flowed like a river. As people ate and drank the room became more and more festive.

All of Somemaru’s pupils and their families were here for this special occasion. Since these men are all professional entertainers, it is extremely difficult to get them together in one place at the same time. Because of this, there was much to talk about, and much about which to reminisce. While most conversations stayed non-work-related, some people found time to sneak off with their day-planners to set up future shows with one another.

For the most, though, and especially as people drank, good fun was had. We were even a little goofy at times, as you can see in the picture that we (clockwise from top left: Someta, Someya, Takemaru, Somejaku) are holding up our “bunny ears” in honor of the Year of the Rabbit, and the Hayashiya artistiv family crest, the nu no ji usagi.

An interesting part of the day, and I had previously heard about but never experienced this custom, was the presentation ofotoshi-dama (New Year’s money gifts) to children. Somemaru began this in a semi-formal manner, and all deshi followed suit. With there being so many deshi, I think that the children must have made off pretty well today. Since we are in training, and not officially emancipated, Aisome and I also received otoshi-dama from a few of Somemaru’s older pupils.

There were fun and games for everybody at the party. The adults enjoyed drinking and conversing together, and checking about 300 New Years lottery tickets that many in the group had jointly purchased–each participant put in ¥3000 and got only ¥300 back. That toshikoshi soba must not be working yet (see yesterday’s blog). The children enjoyed playing new and traditional games, and getting attention from adoring adults. In the following picture you see two children performing a manzai(two-man stand-up comedy) act, which they learned from Somesuke (one of Somemaru’s pupils) just beforehand. They certainly stole the show!

Of course while Somemaru was enjoying such a festive time with his many guests, it was my, and Aisome’s–not to mention a couple other lower-ranking pupils no longer in training (shûgyô)–job to make sure that we kept up with washing dishes and waiting on people as they ate and drank. I’ve never worked in a busy restaurant kitchen washing dishes before, but today I got an idea what it must be like. We washed hundreds of dishes and did not break a single one! As a result of being so busy, some of our own food and drinks had to be enjoyed from the kitchen.

At the end of the day, after the last person had finally gone home–it was a nonstop 12-hour banquet–Somemaru came up to Aisome and I with two goshûgi envelopes, gave one to each of us saying it was our otoshi-dama. Since we are in our shûgyôperiod and therefore do not have time to take any outside work, we are, in a sense, Somemaru’s children. Everyday he looks after all of our needs, from commutation expenses to feeding us all meals. He pays our way to the theater if he goes, and the list goes on and on. This evening he also gave us a very generous otoshi-dama, which was held in the center envelope below. What a fabulous gift and New Year’s Day. Thank you Somemaru-shishô, I will never forget this!










Somemaru Reference Library 染丸資料館

Somemaru has so many books that he could open a reference library. The bulk of his books treat rakugo and kabuki, but he also has quite a few books on the history and geography of Osaka, as well as this city’s dialect and cultures. Really, since I am here in Japan to do my dissertation research, it is a dream come true. Especially this is the case with his collection of rakugo books. I can’t think of a library that has as many books on rakugo as he does.

Today we dedicated the bulk of the day to cleaning one of his Japanese-style rooms, which holds his many winter kimono, and a most of his books on rakugo and kabuki. I was excited to help because I knew I would be able to see each title as I took books off the shelves, dusted, and reorganized them on the shelves. The room looks much better now, and the books are just calling out, “read me, read me”! Aisome, Somemaru, and I worked together, and we made jokes and laughed as we worked. This was especially nice because it is the kind of thing I might do with my dad and brothers on a rainy day (like it was here today) back home in Oregon.

When we finished cleaning, Aisome and I were surprised with an early Christmas gift from Somemaru. “You two have worked hard,” he said, “go get yourself something nice for Christmas.” He then handed us money-gift envelopes. I won’t say how much I received, but it was much more than I deserved. (Thank you Shishô!)





Kôjô and Shûmei-kai 口上と襲名会

The main event today was the Tuesday edition of a week-long shûmei (succession of name) ceremony for Shôfukutei Kotsuru, who began his professional rakugo career in 1975 with Shôfukutei Shikaku V. Kotsuru was given his own master’s name, which is quite an honor. Contratulations. Somemaru was the show’s first-half closer, and intermission was followed by a kôjô (formal address) by several top Kamigata rakugo masters (including Somemaru), who offered words of congratulations mixed with comical anecdotes. It was a fun program, which I was glad to witness from backstage.