Off to Tokyo Next Month 来月は東京へ

Next month I am “going home,” to Japan.

This time I will be living in Tokyo, not Osaka. Some friends are asking me, why do you need to go to Tokyo when you’re studying Kamigata rakugo. They may be partly right, but I’ve never lived in Tokyo before, and also feel that I should get to know Tokyo rakugo a little better in order to understand the “true essence” of Kamigata rakugo.

Of course I’m planning to visit Osaka while living in Tokyo. After all, that’s where Somemaru is, and I will also need to do some more work at Osaka yose and museums.

But, it’s not like I can’t hear Kamigata rakugo in Tokyo. There are a number of Kamigata artists who perform there quite regularly. It will be interesting to see how they perform in Tokyo, whether they perform differently there than they do in Osaka.

I heard there are almost no convenience stores in the neighborhood I am going to be living in, but I also heard it’s a great area.

To the University of Tokyo: 1-minute walk

To the Suzumoto Engeijô (yose): .74mi (1.2km)

To the Shitamachi Museum: .74mi

To the Oedo Ueno Hirokojitei (yose): .86mi (1.4km)

To Kanda-Jinbochô (used bookstores, Rakugo Cafe, etc.): 1.7mi (2.8km)

To the Asakusa Engei Hall (yose): 2.1mi (3.5km)

To the Oedo Nihonbashitei (yose): 2.3mi (3.7km)

To the Asakusa Mokubatei (yose): 2.3mi

To the Edo Tokyo Museum: 2.8mi (4.5km)

To the Tsubouchi Shôyô Memorial Theater Museum (Waseda University): 3mi (4.9km)

To the National Engeijô (yose): 3.3mi (5.3km)

To the Ikebukuro Engeijô (yose): 3.8mi (6.1km)

To the Edo Fukagawa Museum: 3.8mi

To the Shinjuku Suehirotei (yose): 4.3mi (7km)

To the Tenman Tenjin Hanjôtei (yose in Osaka): 307.5mi (495km)

With the exception of the Hanjôtei, all of these places are of bike-able distance from my place. I can’t wait!

I’m sure there are plenty of other worthwhile yose, museums, libraries, etc., but I still know next to nothing about Tokyo.

I would love to hear from anybody that has an interesting place to recommend. Please leave a comment below!

























Beautiful Nudity 美しいヌード

I spend most of my time these days speaking Japanese, reading Japanese books, enjoying Japanese theatre, and exploring the main thoroughfares and back streets of the cities and backwaters of… Japan. I love living in Japan and am extremely fortunate to be having the experiences I am. Today I did something quite different for a change.

Somemaru invited me on a trip out to the Kobe City Museum (Kobe shiritsu hakubutsukan), which until June 12 is hosting “The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece from the British Museum.” I was happy to attend this exhibition because, while I am a fan of its theatre and arts, I rarely have the chance to study ancient Greece. Among other things, we viewed numerous beautiful vases and sculptures. I was attracted to the marble sculptures most of all. I grew up seeing many of these works depicted in cartoons and picture books, and later in junior high and high school art and history books. Seeing Greece’s ancient art in person, needless to say, is a completely different experience.

If I had to choose just one sculpture as my favorite today it would be part of the marble sculpture “Two Boys Fighting Over a Game of Knucklebones” for its realism, movement, and humor. I also enjoyed many others, including the famous main attraction, “The Discobolus,” and other art depicting athletes, particularly runners.

I wasn’t aware of the fact that ancient Greek athletes competed in the nude. Asthetics — beauty of the well-toned male body — obviously won over practicality in Greek sports. There are records of early modern Japanese runners — hikyaku couriers — running nude, but in most cases they at least wore waraji (straw sandals) to protect their feet and fundoshi (loincloths) to support and cover the second-most important things they carried. While hikyaku depicted in ukiyo-e and actual photos are shown to have toned legs and bodies, I can’t remember ever coming across a Japanese text that in any way celebrates them for their beauty as the Greeks did their professional athletes. Hikyaku were not professional athletes, though. They were rough, low-class servicemen.

Image property of Honolulu Academy of Arts.

Sumô wrestlers, on the other hand, have long been professional athletes respected and admired for their toned bodies, often featured nude aside from mawashi (sumo belts, like glorified fundoshi). To the untrained Western eye sumô wrestlers appear obese and out of shape, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. They are incredibly fast, agile, and flexible, and most of their weight is made up of brawny muscle. Though ancient Greece’s naked athletes and Japan’s sumô wrestlers are worlds and more than a millenium apart, their physical feats and beautiful nudity were appreciated in similar fashion.

Since this is a blog about Kamiagata Rakugo, I might do well to end here by mentioning there are a number of rakugo stories about sumô, including Hanaikada ([A Stand-in for the Champ] Hanaikada), Kôsuke mochi (Kôsuke’s Mochi Shop [Flourishes Thanks to a Sumo Wrestler]), Kuwagata (Kuwagata [the Small Champ]), and Ôyasu’uri (Cheap Sell [the Sumo Wrestler with an Awkward-but-befitting Name]).

Somemaru shishô, thank you for the opportunity to do some cross-cultural comparison and contrast! A very nice day in Kobe indeed.








Utagawa Kuniyoshi Exhibit 歌川国芳展

Cats forming the word "octopus" (tako). Image property of

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861) is said to be one of the last great early modern ukiyo-e (woodblock print and painting) artists. Kuniyoshi is known for incorporating a number of styles and treating an array of subjects, but, being the cat lover I am, I have for some time especially enjoyed his depiction of cats, which were sometimes used to represent real people, such as popular kabuki actors, courtesans, and government officials.

The Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts (Osaka shiritsu hakubutsukan) is currently putting on a major Kuniyoshi exhibition in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of his death. I have seen posters advertising this exhibition in train stations and have been meaning to go, so I was happy when Somemaru said earlier this week he would like to take me. We went  to the exhibition today, spending two and a half hours touring the staggeringly vast show.

It was simply fabulous. To say the least, it was a treat to see so many quality Kuniyoshi ukiyo-e in one place, up close and personal — the old handmade paper, the wonderful bold colors, an incredible display of popular early modern subjects, different editions of the same prints, meticulously carved cherry wood blocks (done by artisans, not Kuniyoshi)… the list goes on.

I know that Somemaru is a big art lover, and is himself an artist, but what does he as a hanashika get out of viewing wonderful art such as this? According to him, there is much “play” (asobi, e.g., share, mitate) in Kuniyoshi’s work. This gives hanashika an idea about the kind of games people played in early modern Japan, what they thought was funny and fashionable, what inspired trends.

"Hyaku monogatari," inspired by Hayashiya Shôzô I. Image property of

There is not much to do about ukiyo-e in rakugo, but, being that countless works in this style serve as realistic illustrations of Edo-period life, they offer much to hanashika (and rakugo fans) as aids to imagination and understanding. Interestingly, it became clear today that rakugo (or one of its early modern predecessors) inspired Kuniyoshi in at least one case. The 1840 print “One Hundred Tales: Picture of the Haunted Mansion” (Hyaku monogatari bakemono yashiki no zu) was inspired by a ghost story (kaidan banashi) composed and performed by the hanashika Hayashiya Shôzô I (1781-1842), one of Somemaru’s artistic ancestors.

We had a great time today viewing Kuniyoshi’s art. I was very lucky to tour the exhibit with Somemaru, who was kind to give me a mini-lecture at virtually every print.

After we finished at the Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts we went out for Chinese food. Shishô, thank you for a very educational, and enjoyable day!








The Rakugo Museum in Ikeda 池田の落語みゅーじあむ

Today I visited the Rakugo Museum in Ikeda. There I found a number of interesting exhibits and a space to perform rakugo (shows are put on here twice a month, usually costing ¥1000 to ¥1500 for tickets), but best of all there is a superb collection of books, CDs, DVDs, etc., in a second-floor resource center. Included in the collection of rakugo books are some rare one’s I cannot afford. Next to Somemaru’s own collection of rakugo books (not open to the public, of course), this may be the best collection I’ve found yet. Best of all, the Rakugo Museum is open and free to the public.

Ikeda is on the Hankyu Takarazuka line, a bit out of the way from the center of Osaka, but the 45-minute trip is worth it. I was thoroughly impressed with this clean and inviting town. There are a number of other museums, temples and shrines, a castle, and outdoor mini-galleries on street corners, all accessible on enjoyable walking courses, which generally only take a couple hours each. Most important for me and other rakugo fans are the two Kamigata Rakugo stories set in Ikeda: Ikeda no ushi home (Complimenting a Cow in Ikeda) and Ikeda no shishi gai (Buying Ikeda Boar Meat). Truly, thanks to the banners throughout the area advertising the Rakugo Museum, and various rakugo events held here during the year, Ikeda City is quickly becoming a “rakugo town.”

今日は池田市にある落語みゅーじあむを訪ねてみました。そこに興味深い展示も高座もあります (月に二回ほど落語会が行われ、チケットは1000円〜1500円です)。しかし、一番よかったのが二階にある資料室でした。落語の本、CD、DVDなどがタクサンあります。僕の予算ではなかなか買えない珍しい本もあります。染丸師匠の資料コレクション (もちろん、一般の方は拝見できません) を除いて、今まで見つけた上方落語の資料室の中で、落語みゅーじあむが一番多かったてす。


Osaka Kamigata Performance Resource Center 大阪府立上方演芸資料館

Today I spent about four hours at the Osaka Prefecture Kamigata Performance Resource Center (Osaka-fu ritsu Kamigata engei shiryô kan), also known as Waha Kamigata. Here they have a great museum devoted to traditional yose arts such as rakugo, naniwabushi, manzai, kôdan, etc. My favorite part of the museum were clips of rakugo masters from the SP record era such as Katsura Harudanji I and Hayashiya Somemaru II, and a walk-through Kamigata Performance timeline, complete with a fine collection of artifacts from different periods on display (e.g., props, clothing, flyers, performers’ cherished personal belongings, etc.). There is also a great resource library with a nice selection of books to read, and CDs and DVDs to listen to and view, in house. I have been to a number of shows held at the performance spaces in the Waha Kamigata complex, which also houses the bookstore Junkudô, but this was the first time I visited the museum and library. I had a wonderful time, and will be going back very soon, and often since international students get in without dropping a yen. Not that the price of entry is expensive: ¥400 for general admission, ¥250 for domestic students, and FREE for those only wanting to use the resource library! Whether you spend money or not, the experience will definitely be worth it. Please do stop by if you’re in the neighborhood (Nanba).