Waseda Yose わせだ寄席

83rd Waseda YoseYesterday I went to listen to rakugo at the 83rd Waseda Yose.

According to the Waseda University Rakugo Research Club’s (Waseda daigaku rakugo kenkyû kai) official homepage, the club has hosted one to two professional rakugo shows a year since 1954, in hopes of sharing the fun of rakugo with students. Originally called the Rakugo Kenkyû Kai, the show was later renamed Waseda Yose.

83rd Waseda Yose lineup

I could see that the Waseda Yose is a full-fledged yose program, and seats at the 83rd show were just about packed. There were four rakugo performances and one iromono act. The entire program was entertaining, but the best of all was Katsura Nankyô’s (a rakugo veteran of 50 years) telling of the story “Belly Drum” (Taiko bara).

Wonderful show, everyone!






June Recital 6月の発表会

Drama Dance Drums flyer

Coming up this June at Portland State: a student recital featuring rakugo, kyôgen, taiko, and more! Be sure come if you can!


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.




















Filled with Gratitude 感謝の気持ちでいっぱい

It’s been one week since we had our show at Portland State University. I’m still on an incredible high, first because it was so much fun, and second because I was able to realize my dream of  putting on my own rakugo show in the United States.

I have many people to thank for supporting me in this endeavor, but I feel most indebted to Katsura Bunshi V and Hayashiya Somemaru IV, whose shows and styles were the inspiration for this show. Of course, I could never come close to their level of mastery and delivery, but I am tremendously grateful to them for all they taught and showed me.

I told my audience that it felt strange and daunting to go from being an observing apprentice with little of my own actual rakugo performance experience, right into the role of “master.” I was constantly humbled because there is still so much I don’t know. And I gained even more respect for all the professionals who make rakugo their lifelong career. I learned this time, more than ever, that it takes a LOT of work not only to train, but also to produce shows.

We had about 150 people in the audience last night. It was incredibly rewarding to teach people in the community about rakugo and yose. It also felt wonderful to be able to make people laugh. And when I didn’t get the laughs I was hoping for, I learned something from that, too. All this made much clearer to me what pro hanashika go through on a day-to-day basis.

My students made me very proud. They worked very hard to learn their rakugo or iromono (other variety acts), not to mention all the hayashi instruments in less than three weeks. One talented student even mastered two songs on shamisen so that I too could have live debayashi (entrance music).¹

It would seem that everybody involved in putting on the show, and those in attendance, had a great time. This makes me happier than I can say. And it looks like I will have another chance to produce a rakugo show at Portland State next spring, on May 24. I will continue studying and will work hard to make it an even better show.







¹During our music training we referred to Hayashiya Somemaru IV’s Kamigata rakugo yosebayashi no sekai, which comes complete with CDs and sheet music.  三味線と寄席囃子のお稽古ですが、染丸師匠の「上方落語寄席囃子の世界」を参考に使わせていただきました。