Hikohachi Matsuri 2011 第21回彦八まつり

After returning to the US in 2005, it took five long years to be able to return to Japan, and to once again enjoy the excitement of the Hikohachi Matsuri. Ironically, Hikohachi Matsuri 2011 was almost called off due to Typhoon #12 (Talas). In fact, for the first time in its 21-year history, the first day was cancelled.

Despite this, Somemaru had his group of hanashika and ohayashi performers practice Sumiyoshi odori the day before as planned. This is a popular set of dances they perform every year at the festival. I attended practice and went home with Somemaru and a few others to help with further preparations, in hopes that the second day would not be cancelled.

Fortunately, while rain was still in the forecast, day two of the Hikohachi Masturi was held as scheduled. I got up, put on my yukata, and headed for the Ikutama Shrine with umbrella in hand.

Last time I was in Japan, I left shortly following the death of Katsura Bunshi V, in 2005. I was quite grief stricken because he was the man I called Shishô for the previous three years. The Kamigata Rakugo world was in pain because it had lost one of its giants. But we had many reasons to celebrate his life. Bunshi, along with a number of others, had accomplished so much. In the course of his life, the Kamigata Rakugo Association had been formed, hanashika numbers had increased dramatically, the art experienced several major booms, the Hikohachi Matsuri was launched, and the list goes on. Shortly after Bunshi died, one of his remaining dreams was realized; Kamigata Rakugo received its first permanent home in the post World War II era, the Tenman Tenjin Hanjôtei. Thanks to this, Kamigata Rakugo experienced yet another boom, still continuing today.

Today Hikohachi Matsuri 2011 was held in the usual place, on the grounds of Ikutama Shrine, in Osaka. I went to help at Somemaru’s “rakugo family” (ichimon) booth, but I made sure to stop by Bunshi’s, where I found some of his pupils cooking the legendary dish that he fed them while in training over the years, which he himself also cooked at the Hikohachi Matsuri in years past: yaki udon (fried and seasoned udon noodles topped with a fried egg, soft yolk).

I have made and eaten yaki udon with Bunshi in the past, so it was wonderful to visit the Bunshi booth again today and enjoy that nostalgic flavor. It made me happy to see that his pupils also had a portrait of Bunshi hanging inside the booth. It was as if Bunshi was there with all of us in spirit.

From morning until night I helped the Somemaru ichimon at their booth, calling out to festival-goers and fans, inviting them to try their luck at winning big prizes by pulling tickets from a fish bowl. With the group I banged on drums and rang bells all day. “Come one, come all! One try, one hundred yen!” We had so much fun even though we were rained on throughout the day, on and off. The crowds were wonderful. They didn’t let the rain dampen the festival atmosphere one bit.

Of course it was great to see Somemaru take the stage with his group at 12:30.  Though it was raining just before hand, the sun breifly came out for their performance. This allowed an even larger crowd to gather around the stage.

Despite the stage being wet, and everybody’s white tabi getting soaked, all dances went well. A couple people couldn’t help slipping, but there were no major accidents. Somemaru’s pupil, Emimaru, was even able to do a backflip in his dance as planned.

Indeed, it was wonderful to be back at the Hikohachi Matsuri, a festival put on by hanashika to be able to spend time brushing shoulders with fans outside of the yose, to personally thank them for their patronage throughout the year.

After closing Somemaru’s booth, we changed out of our yukata and said goodbye for the evening. I stuck around a little longer to enjoy Katsura Ayame and Hayashiya Somejaku (a.k.a. comedy duo Anesama Kingusu), et al, perform to a “packed house” in their booth-turned-mini theater.

I could go on and on about what a fun and memorable day it was, but I will let some more pictures do the talking (at bottom). I hope to see you all at the Hikohachi Matsuri in the years to come!














Learn on Your Own 自分で習え

Somemaru had to teach Sumiyoshi odori (dance) at the Hanjôtei today, so after breakfast we changed clothes and headed out. It is always fun for me to wear yukata (thin, cotton kimono, usually worn during summer months, or for practice, work, or something else that might make you sweat), but today was my first time to drive wearing one. I got several strange looks from other drivers, and even a couple policemen. Somemaru got a kick out of this.

After dance practice Somemaru had a meeting with the manager of the Hanjôtei. Somemaru proposed ending music and dance classes (narimono kyôshitsu) for a number of reasons, the most significant being that only a few out of 15 or 20 zenza seem to actually be learning anything. Somemaru pointed out the fact that some masters, despite Kamigata rakugo being such a musical art, don’t really feel it’s important to learn anything besides storytelling. In this, some hanashika do nothing but shinsaku (lit. newly-composed) rakugo, which most often leaves traditional instruments out altogether.

Somemaru today expressed that he feels a brief indroduction to the basics of yose bayashi and dance is important, but following that formal introductions to outside teachers can be made to young hanashika who are truly intent on learning arts that will enable them to make their rakugo more “colorful” (hade). The result of today’s meeting was a decision to discontinue the narimono kyôshitsu as of March 31. If in the future there are serious requests for another class with regular meeting times, there is a chance that things will recommence, though, perhaps, with new guidelines for participants.

All this said, Somemaru truly feels that it is important for hanashika to learn outside (non-rakugo) traditional arts like Japanese dance, yose bayashi, etc. This, he says, will help them make their art more enjoyable to listen to and watch. Personally, Somemaru is a big fan of kabuki. He seems to have entire plays memorized. In fact, he even subscribes to the Kabuki Channel. Hardly a day goes by that we don’t watch kabuki at his house! Not surprisingly, Somemaru has many shibaibanashi (kabuki-inspired rakugo stories, which have a long history in Osaka) in his repetoire. Again, Somemaru feels practicing various arts is very important. Experiencing various things is important.

Speaking of having experiences, when I was a minarai apprentice of Katsura Bunshi V (1930-2005) he said half-jokingly that hanashika also need to spend time drinking, gambling, and carousing. Apparently hanashika need to know about these “three paths of pleasure” (sandôraku) since they are often found in rakugo stories.






Pines, Rakugo, Togetherness 松、落語、連帯

Today was a very busy day, with five engagements on Somemaru’s schedule. In the morning we drove to the Rihga Royal Hotel in Nakanoshima (central Osaka) to perform at a banquet of about 500. Somemaru spoke a bit then performed with two pupils an auspicious dance for New Years, Matsu zukushi (Pines Plentiful). Next we sped off to the Hanjôtei for a afternoon show, of which Somemaru was the tori headliner (as usual).

After the afternoon slot, we went to a nearby cafe to have coffee/tea and cake with Rinseikai, Somemaru’s group of devoted fans. One man I spoke to has been following Somemaru for more almost 40 years! Now that is devotion (Interestingly, this man told me he made his way to the famous Ebisu Shrine in Nishinomiya that morning–as a reward, he felt, he won the wonderful framed shikishi that I mentioned in yesterday’s blog). After the break with Rinseikai, we returned to the Hanjôtei for a Hayashiya ichimon-kai, a show put on by all members of an artistic family. Because there is no way so many (14) people can be fit into one show, the Hayashiya family does a couple of these shows per year. Of course we had to have an after-show party, and that took place at a nearby restaurant. One of the highlights was a gift (new obi) presentation to Hanamaru, for winning the recent “Roaring Laughter Prize.” This party was a nice way to end a long day.



First Rakugo 2011 初落語

Today Somemaru had two shows, at different venues. The first show was at the Hanjôtei. I am thrilled that Kamigata Rakugo finally has its own yose again (est. 2006, the first in the post-WWII era). Somemaru finished today’s Hanjôtei appearance with an auspicious dance to celebrate the New Year.

On the way to the next show we stopped by the temple Isshinji, near in Tennoji, to pay a visit to the grave of Hayashiya Somemaru II (1867-1952), which essentially serves as a symbol for this great artistic name, and its history, which dates back to the first Somemaru (c. 1831-1877). The second show of the day was at the Isshinji theater, where the current Somemaru performs annually.

At both venues I received otoshi-dama from elder storytellers. When I get  money gifts in this fashion it is my obligation to go directly to Somemaru, show him the envelope(s) that holds the money, announce who it is from, and tell Somemaru “thank you.” After all, if I weren’t associated with Somemaru, I wouldn’t receive such gifts. It was a busy day, but it was nice to get back into the swing of things with rakugo after the holiday hiatus.

Finally, I have to share one more picture. We ran into this sign that reads “Aizen san,” for a nearby temple and pond. A second possible reading for the Chinese characters is “Aisome san,” the name of this pupil, who is currently undergoing training with Somemaru.