Somemaru’s International Spirit 師匠の国際スピリッツ

Today I spent the day at Somemaru’s. He has recently agreed to give an Australian Ph.D. student shamisen lessons while she is here on research, which has to do with music in rakugo (i.e., yosebayashi). Today was her first day. Of course she will be expected to speak Japanese and be able to follow and make progress in lessons, just as his other Japanese students. I believe she is up for the challenge.

With an American and now an Australian under his tutelage, Somemaru is becoming quite “international.” Well, I guess he was so long before we came along. He has traveled to more than 20 countries for rakugo-related business!

Somemaru’s current live-in pupil, Aisome, jokingly asked us not to speak English around Shishô, because it tends to “infect” his speech for the next week or so.

I’m not sure about that, but one thing I do know is that Somemaru is generous to take on informal pupils from other countries. Thanks to him we are having unforgettable research experiences.






Somemaru’s Contribution 染丸師匠の功績

Today a Kamigata yose shamisen player came to Somemaru’s house for a special practice session. She will be playing at a rakugo show in which Somemaru will be starring on January 7th. He will be performing the story “Tenka ichi ukare no kuzu yori” (also known by the title “Kami kuzu ya”). Like many Kamigata- (Osaka) style stories, this one has a lot of hamemono (music). This story includes enjoyable bits of traditional numbers from kabuki, joruri, and nagauta.

The incorporation of hamemono is one important characteristic that sets rakugo in Osaka apart from that in Tokyo. The former is a more festive and musical art. The are many reasons for this being the case, but this might be boiled down to the fact that Osaka is historically a major center of commerce, as opposed to Tokyo, the traditionally samurai/shogun-centered city of administration.

In the decades following WWII there has been much discussion and concern regarding whether the musical tradition of Kamigata might not die out. The problem, according to rakugo scholars, and storytellers like the late Katsura Bunshi V, was that there were not enough professional shamisen players involved, and the number of storytellers who knew how to incorporate music and instrumental sound effects was rapidly decreasing.

Somemaru is one person who is trying to ensure that the musical tradition of this art does not die out. In addition to publishing major works on his art and its music, he has personally trained six professional yose shamisen players, and even has two “grand pupils.” These eight artists make up close to half of the professional shamisen players who play for Kamigata rakugo.

When I asked Somemaru about why he took on ohayashi pupils, he said without pause for thought, “Because there weren’t enough. All of the older [shamisen] masters we’re dying off, and we had hardly anybody to play for us.” Katsura Beicho, Living National Treasure since 1995, has praised Somemaru specifically for this contribution to their art. This is no doubt another reason why Somemaru receives award after award, including a major one from the Japanese government in 2010.






Practice Day お稽古日

Today was an okeiko (practice) day for Somemaru. When his professional (rakugo) schedule permits, he dedicates one or two days a week to teaching shamisen and other hayashi instruments to non-rakugo pupils. Some of these students aspire to work, or are already working, professionally as shamisen players, but most are amateurs who practice without any intention of making a living with the skills they acquire from Somemaru.

My duties on practice days are to clean the house and set up instruments before practice, serve tea to and greet students as they arrive, make copies of sheet music as Somemaru requires, fill in on the atari-gane (hand gong) as needed, and put everything away after practice. Practice days are nice in that I have quite a bit of free time. Today I snacked on sweets, drank green tea, caught up on some reading, and borrowed Somemaru’s foot massager. But, the best part of practice days are being able to listening to the wonderful yose hayashi music!