Experiment Results 実験結果

I’m back in Tokyo.

Although I was hoping to find something, I did not come across a single thing that was rakugo related on my way from Portland to my Tokyo apartment. I might add, however, I did not find anything to do with traditional Japanese performing arts (eg., nô, kyôgen, kabuki, bunraku, etc.) either.

Unlike Japan Airlines and ANA, Delta Airlines doesn’t seem to offer Japanese comedy (rakugo, manzai, comic variety programs) on their flights to Japan. They do have a selection of Japanese movies though…

Fortunately, I did bring a rakugo book with me, so I was not completely without rakugo on the flight.





International Rakugo Experiment 国際落語実験

I am going to return to Tokyo today.

I will take a direct flight from Portland International to Narita International Airport.

Rakugo is a big part of my life because I am interested in the art and I actively seek it out. I wonder, though, how long would it take one to see or hear something rakugo related if s/he didn’t seek it out?

Today I will conduct an experiment from the moment I take off from Portland until I arrive at my Bunkyô-ku apartment. Will I come across anything rakugo related on my journey? I will let you know after I get home tomorrow. See you then!





New (English) Book on Rakugo 新しい落語本(英語)

Ian McArthur book coverUntil this year, just two scholarly books on rakugo had been published in English. The first one was Heinz Morioka and Miyoko Sasaki’s Rakugo: The Popular Narrative Art of Japan (Cambridge: Harvard Council on East Asian Studies, 1990; 470 pp.). The second was Lori Brau’s Rakugo: Performing Comedy and Cultural Heritage in Contemporary Tokyo (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008; 274 pp.).

This year, Ian McArthur published the third, Henry Black – On Stage in Meiji Japan (Victoria, Australia: Monash University Publishing, 2013; 286pp.), which has much to do with rakugo. The book’s focus is on Australian-born British citizen, Henry Black (stage name Kairakutei Burakku I, 1858-1923), who made a career as a professional storyteller (rakugoka) and actor in Japan in the 1880s and 1890s. Among other things, the book examines the role Black played in bringing nineteenth-century European notions of modernity to Japan during the Meiji era.

I am happy to introduce this book on my blog, and am looking forward to getting a copy of my own.

英語で書かれている落語についての学究的な本は、現在まで二冊しか出版されていません。その一つは、森岡ハインツ先生と佐々木 みよ子先生の「Rakugo: The Popular Narrative Art of Japan」(落語 日本の大衆話芸, Cambridge: Harvard Council on East Asian Studies, 1990; 470頁). 二つ目は、ロリー・ブラウ先生の「Rakugo: Performing Comedy and Cultural Heritage in Contemporary Tokyo」(落語 現代における東京のコメディーおよび文化遺産の実演, Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2008; 274頁)です。

しかし今年、新たに落語に関係の深い本が出版されました。イアン・マッカーサー先生の「Henry Black – On Stage in Meiji Japan 」(明治時代の舞台を踏む  ヘンリー・ブラック  Victoria, Australia: Monash University Publishing, 2013; 286頁) という本です。この本はオーストラリア生まれ英国国籍、そして明治半ばに日本で落語家や役者として活躍したヘンリー・ブラック(芸名は初代 快楽亭 ブラック、1858-1923) という人物を中心に、19世紀ヨーロッパでの現代化における価値観、そしてその価値観をブラック氏がどのように明治時代の日本に紹介したかといういうテーマで構成されています。


Study Hard, Play Hard よく学び、よく遊べ

There is a Japanese saying that goes, “study hard, play hard,” (yoku manabi, yoku asobe). Though I will spend most of 2013 working to finish writing my dissertation, I am also going to make an effort to enjoy myself by doing some things other than writing.

Rakugo is great to write about, but its much more enjoyable to perform. I am therefore very grateful to already have a couple of opportunities to perform English rakugo lined up for 2013.

I have been asked to perform rakugo at Portland Community College (Sylvania campus) on February 7, 2013, at 1:00 p.m., and I will probably do a rakugo story at student show I will be co-directing at Portland State University on June 6, 2013, at 7:00 p.m.

Stay tuned for more details and flyers.

I will also travel to Japan for about a month in February and March. During that time I will conduct some research, buy some more used books, and listen to as much live rakugo as possible.

After all… all work and no play makes Matt a dull boy.







Penitentiary Rakugo II 刑務所落語 その二

And to the Oregon State Penitentiary I went.

Any chance to put on a kimono and perform rakugo is a great opportunity for me, so I almost didn’t have to think about going on September 21. I was simply happy to be performing rakugo. And, in a way, it was kind of like Johnny Cash going to perform at prisons beginning with Huntsville State in 1954, and more famously Folsom State and San Quentin State Prisons in the late ’60s, both of which resulted with hit songs and albums. So, like Johnny Cash, right?

Okay, maybe not…

Of course, there was no money in this for me, and clearly no hope for commercial success or fame to follow. Just the chance to meet an interesting group of men, and be “Japanese” for a couple of hours. And how rewarding the experience was!

Thanks to the people who organized this show, it was a wonderful and memorable evening. Despite the serious nature of their jobs, Officers Tavera and Blain were remarkably friendly and welcoming. After explaining the rules surrounding my visit, and checking my belongings, they corralled me through a metal detector then through a series of heavy bolted doors. Next, I found myself walking through an inmate compound. I have to admit, I was a somewhat nervous at first, but when I met a few of the men in the group I would be performing for, all that went away. After all, they are people just like me, right? In this, they were more courteous and hospitable than some people on the “outside.”

I soon arrived in the auditorium where I would be performing. I wasn’t there for five minutes when a man walked up with a warm smile and asked, “Would you like a cup of juice, Mr. Shores? How about a cinnamon roll, Mr. Shores?”

“Sure, that would be great,” I answered, grateful. The cinnamon roll he brought must have been as big as my face. What a treat!

A number of other members of the Asia Pacific Family approached me, very friendly and eager to assist. I told them that I didn’t need much help since I only had to set out my zabuton, kendai, and hizakakushi. Their sound technician made sure the microphone was in place, and got the CD ready for cueing.

I changed out of my street clothes into my kimono behind one of the several standing partitions lined up on the stage.

“Shores, we’re going to run ’em in!” Mr. Tavera projected from across the auditorium.

“Thank you.” I replied.

After I finished tying my obi, I waited to be introduced. I peaked through a small gap between two partitions. I guess the nerves were coming back. I didn’t see anybody that looked “mean.” There were no disorderly inmates in need of reprimand. Other than the supervising officers, locked gates, and “prison blue” inmate attire, there was nothing else that made this place stand out as a penitentiary. Maybe this shouldn’t have come as a surprise. No, I did not see inmates sitting before me through the partition gaps. I saw men who looked no different than my friends, brothers, uncles…

Sure, these men were inmates, but they were also people. But the nerves still remained. Oh, yes, I still had something challenging ahead of me. Performing rakugo.

I entered to the to the song Ishidan then proceeded to do my set, which consisted of two stories — Unagiya (The Eel Shop) and Ko wa kasugai (Children are Staples) — and a Q&A session that followed. The audience was very responsive and seemed to enjoy the show. I appreciated their close attention and insightful questions. I also appreciated the opportunity to practice, and introduce an art that almost no one in the room had ever heard of.

Ko wa kasugai is one of Somemaru’s specialty pieces (ohako). It is a tale of deep human emotions and sentiment (ninjôbanashi). Really, it is a quite difficult piece and probably too early for me to be performing it. But I just love this story. The version that Somemaru tells is about a man who is reunited with his son, then later his wife, from whom he has been separated from because, basically, he was was a dysfunctional husband and father. We learn that the man has in his time away made important life changes, and, while the wife may not necessarily be ready for the man to come back into the home, the parents together decide that this may indeed be the best thing for their child. In the touching ending to the story, we realize that, like the title says, children indeed are staples. In a classic, rakugo-style ending, the young boy blurts out, “Oh! That’s why you said you were going to pound me with Daddy’s hammer!”

I shook the hands of numerous thankful men following the show. It was gratifying to see that my visit meant something to them.

“Will you come again?” one man about the same age as me asked.

“Yes, I will,” I told him, and meant it.

After changing clothes, I was allowed 15 minutes to visit with several Asian Pacific Family members. They asked questions about my life, and I asked questions about theirs. I tried to finish the huge cinnamon role they gave me when I first arrived, but couldn’t.

Performing rakugo is challenging, but the hardest thing about my visit was actually leaving, or leaving all the men behind rather. After my belongings were checked a second time, and I retraced my steps through the same heavy doors to freedom, it was hard to leave my new friends behind in the penitentiary. I have no idea what the men are in jail for, or for how long they will be incarcerated, but I hope that they will continue working on their rehabilitation and one earn the opportunity to rejoin regular society. After repaying their debts and making amends, I know each and every one  of them could do something to contribute to the world we live in.

I was incredibly fortunate to be able to perform for the Asian Pacific Family, and share with them Japan’s great comic storytelling art. Rakugo entertains people and makes them laugh, but I also learned on this evening that is makes unique meetings like this possible.