Rakugo for Autumn 秋の落語

Japanese flocking to see autumn leaves at RikugienJapan is breathtakingly beautiful during autumn.

It is no wonder that Japanese people have celebrated this season in poetry for centuries and continue to flock to see the changing leaves at beautiful gardens and natural spots.

Yesterday I visited the Rikugien Gardens, which is now in its autumn prime. Rikugien was completed in 1702 by the shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi’s trusted confidante, Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu. The project took seven years to complete. Rikugien is a strolling, mountain and pond-style garden based on themes in waka poetry.

When thinking of autumn and rakugo, the story Chihayaburu comes to mind. In the story, a young man named Kiroku calls on Jinbei, an older man in the neighborhood, who is supposed to have great knowledge of poetry, among other things.  Kiroku asks him to expound on the meaning of a famous poem (Kokin wakashû 294, also Hyakunin isshu 17) by legendary courtier Ariwara no Narihira.

The original poem is:

千早ぶる 神代もきかず 竜田川  からくれなゐに 水くくるとは
Chihayaburu / kamiyo mo kikazu / Tatsuta-gawa / kara kurenai ni / mizu kuguru to wa

Unheard of even in the legendary age of the awesome gods: Tatsuta River in scarlet and the water flowing under it                                                                                                          (Joshua Mostow’s translation)

The humor in Chihayaburu lies in the fact that the erudite old man is too self-important to confess that he simply doesn’t know what the poem means.  Instead, he shows himself to be impatient and slapdash as he gives an absurd interpretation.

The following is Jinbei’s explanation:

In the Edo period there was a popular sumô wrestler named Tatsutagawa, who was of second highest rank (ôzeki). One day he went to the Yoshiwara pleasure district and fell in love with the courtesan named Chihaya at first sight. But, since Chihaya hated sumô wrestlers, she rejected him (Chihaya-buru). When the scorned Tatsutagawa then tried to make advances to her younger “sister,” Kamiyo, she also turned him away, saying, “I hate whatever my sister hates” (Kamiyo mo kikazu Tatsutagawa).

Twice rejected, Tatsutagawa fell in the rankings and soon retired from sumô to take over the family tôfu business. Some years later, a woman beggar came to his shop and asked for the bean-curd refuse (okara). Tatsutagawa was initially happy to offer her okara, but, when he realized that the woman was actually Chihaya, now ruined and down on her luck, he became enraged. He flung the okara at her and tossed her out. She fell down near the well and, out of regret, drown herself on the spot (kara kurenai [as in deep red lips] ni mizu kuguru).

Kiroku is doubtful of the interpretation, but the forcible old man convinces him that this is the truth. Just when he is satisfied with Jinbei’s explanation, Kiroku realizes that the final two morae of the poem (to wa) have been left out. What does this mean, he asks.

The spur-of-the-moment answer the old man gives serves as the punch line (ochi) of the story:

Chihaya was her geisha name, but it turns out that Towa was her real name.

Such is the funny business of rakugo. Enjoy autumn!

Autumn 2013, Rikugien (Tokyo)日本の秋は息をのむほど美しいです。





千早(ちはや)ぶる 神代(かみよ)もきかず 龍田川(たつたがは)からくれなゐに 水くくるとは




このことから、成績不振となった竜田川は力士を廃業、実家に戻って家業である豆腐屋を継ぎました。それから数年後、竜田川の店に一人の女乞食が訪れます。「おからを分けてくれ」と言われ、喜んであげようとした竜田川だったが、なんとその乞食は零落した千早太夫の成れの果てでした。激怒した竜田川はおからを放り出し、千早を思い切り突き飛ばした。千早は井戸のそばに倒れこみ、こうなったのも自分が悪いと井戸に飛び込み入水自殺を遂げました(から紅 [くれない] に水くぐる)。

Lights on the trees, poetic depiction of river, Rikugien (Tokyo) 2013





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!





Children Cute, Straightforward かわいい子ども、正直もの

Rakugo at International School, PortlandRecently it crossed my mind, children are so cute.

Last week I performed rakugo for two groups at the International School in Portland. The first group consisted of ages 3-6, the second ages 7-10. I thought it would be best to do a story that is both easy to follow and has a lot of gestures (shigusa), so I performed “The Zoo” (Dôbutsuen).

During the makura, we did animal voices/calls, and I asked the children about their dreams, and jobs they would like to do in the future. Children have incredible imaginations, and they are quite good at mimicking.

And boy are they straightforward.

At the get-go I said, “I am going to tell you a funny story today!” but, during the makura, 3 or 4 children blurted out, “When are you going to tell us the story?” and “Hurry up!” …

Once I got into the story proper, I was amazed at how well they concentrated. They laughed at all the funny parts, and if something seemed somewhat strange, they let me know it with a, “Wha〜t?!”

Performing rakugo is ALWAYS enjoyable for me, but my most recent audiences–children–were so honest and pure, and they left quite an impression on me.

Now, if you ask me if I am ready for children of my own, hmm, I don’t know about that… I think I may lack still the confidence. After all, I was more than a handful for my folks. I have been able to gather that the job of parent is a tough one, indeed.

Instead, I’ll play with other people’s children.

And I would love to perform rakugo for them again.


先週、ポートランドにあるインターナショナル・スクールで二組に英語落語を演らせていただきました。最初のグループは3~6歳で、その次は7〜10歳のグループでした。分かりやすい、仕草の多い演目がいいと思って、 「動物園」にさせていただきました。






自分の子どもがほしくなったかいと言われたら、いや、それはどうでしょう。自信はまだちょっと… 僕は悪い子だったので、親という仕事はどれほど大変か、ちょっと分かるような気がします。



Sanshi Book Review 三枝師匠の本 書評

"Shishô, Godaime Bunshi e" (Katsura Sanshi)Last year I wrote a post about the publication of Katsura Sanshi’s (now Bunshi VI) book titled Shishô, godaime Bunshi e (To My Master, Bunshi V [Yoshimoto Bukkusu, 2012]). Since I’ve read it, perhaps it is time I share my thoughts on the book. Please note, these are my own views.

What I got from the book was probably what Sanshi wanted to get from writing it — to know Bunshi V better. Sanshi didn’t know Bunshi V well because he ended his formal training for show business even before a year had passed.

Sanshi obviously felt guilty about taking his master’s name. Before doing so, he wanted to get a concrete idea about who Bunshi V was, and make it clear to readers that he would not be able to become the same person. He also wanted to create an image that he had received unanimous approval from the entire Bunshi V school (19 other members) for his name change.

The bulk of the book consists of interviews with all of Bunshi V’s pupils, in chronological order, with the exception of his interview (dialogue rather) with Katsura Bunchin, the other Bunshi V pupil who has become rich and famous through broadcast media. I found it somewhat suspect that Bunchin was saved until last.

Sanshi’s interview questions frequently seem loaded, geared toward alleviating his own doubts about taking such an illustrious name. His comments, too, seem motivated by a desire to show that he was indeed Bunshi V’s #1 pupil (in every sense of the word), one his master could be proud of.

There is constant focus on the fact that Bunshi V let pupils be “free” (jiyû ni saseru) and do just what they wanted, and that he himself focused energy on non-rakugo and rakugo-fusion projects. However, Sanshi hardly mentions the fact that Bunshi V, down to his core, was all about rakugo and passing on a tradition.

Bunshi V allowing pupils to be “free” was not a result of him being a kind, giving man, as Sanshi leads readers to believe. In my opinion, this was Bunshi V’s way of saying nicely, you don’t have what it takes to do rakugo as it should be done, so, feel free to find your own way. Essentially, Bunshi V was “raising” them by tossing them out (sute-sodachi). In doing this, it was always Bunshi V’s hope that they would one day return to rakugo proper.

I was disappointed that Sanshi did not research/write the closing section on Bunshi V’s art and life (Godaime Katsura Bunshi: Sono gei to hito). He hired a scholar to do this. The fact that Sanshi didn’t take this task on himself told me that he still hadn’t learned who Bunshi V was, or wasn’t interested. Nevertheless, it was not Sanshi’s goal to learn Bunshi V’s art, or become him.

Godaime Katsura Bunshi: Sono gei to hito is quite scholarly. This,  along with the painstakingly detailed timeline and performance history, are very informative. The interviews, however, are the most valuable part of the book. Though Sanshi’s questions often seem loaded, there is much said that transcends them. I especially enjoyed the interviews with Bunta and Bunza. All interviews serve — more or less — as dialogues (geidan) on Bunshi V’s art.

I conducted a formal geidan interview with Bunshi V on his art for my master’s thesis in Japan. As far as I know, nobody else has done one, or at least published it. From the geidan I conducted, and from my personal conversations with Bunshi V, I know well that he was an extremely giving man. He hated to tell people no. His acceptance of me as a minarai is perfect example of this. After all, Bunshi V had better things to than teach an American kid about rakugo.

I also know that Bunshi V was concerned about the future of Kamigata rakugo, that fewer hanashika were doing stories with hamemono, that there was no formal yose in Osaka. If Bunshi V could see it, he would be relieved that the Hanjôtei is now in operation. He would be pleased that Somemaru IV has more than doubled the number of  professional shamisen players. He would be proud that there are some hanashika are carrying on the tradition of rakugo that he loved most.

Sanshi has taken his master’s name, but he will not carry on the Bunshi V tradition. It is clear in his closing statements, though, that he is okay with this. Why? Because considers himself the “New Story” (shinsaku) Bunshi — Sanshi’s repertoire consists almost entirely of stories he wrote — and wants posterity to remember him as the man who made the classics of tomorrow. Whether this will happen, only time can tell.

Did Sanshi get to know Bunshi V better by writing Shishô, godaime Bunshi e? Perhaps. More than this, Sanshi learned about Bunshi V’s other pupils, and that they shared a number of experiences with each other. He also found that he didn’t have many of the experiences others did. Still, by meeting each individual and asking the questions he wanted, Sanshi found a way to feel better about moving ahead with the ascension to Bunshi VI.

Bunshi VI at press conf. May 23, 2013 (property of Daily News)According to Daily Sports Online, Bunshi VI held a press conference on May 23, in Osaka. He eagerly told reporters that he will be hosting the “Namba Grand Kagetsu Bunshi Festival” on July 17, to celebrate his seventieth birthday and commemorate a full year with his new name. He also announced that he would be featuring “The Man Who Summons Storms: The Ishihara Yûjirô Story” and a new rakugo piece “Dear Friend” (Tomo yo).

At the very end his 2012 book, Sanshi writes, “I will do my best not to soil the name Bunshi, and bring even more honor to it.” In order to accomplish this, I think he will need work hard to study Bunshi V’s rakugo, and transmit Bunshi’s most popular stories and artistic style to the next generation. If there is no transmission, the tradition will die out. Of course, it is an entertainer’s job to sell oneself, and promote their own style. However, more important than this is preserving the Kamigata tradition. Especially if your name is Bunshi, indeed, one would like to see you bringing rakugo classics to the stage.

去年このブログで、桂三枝師匠の本「師匠、五代目文枝へ」(ヨシモトブックス 2012)についての記事を書きました。今日は読み終えた感想をアップしたいと思います。あくまでも、これは個人的な見解です。












ところで、デイリースポーツによると5月23日に六代目文枝師匠が大阪で会見し、70歳を祝う古希と襲名一周年記念を迎える7月16日に「三枝改メ六代 桂文枝襲名1周年記念『文枝フェスティバルinなんばグランド花月』」を行い、そこで「嵐を呼ぶ男 石原裕次郎物語」と新作のネタ「友よ」をやると意欲的に発表した。


This Weekend: “Skosh Japanese” 今週末:「少しジャパニーズ」

SkoshPosterI was kindly invited to perform rakugo this weekend at “Skosh (a little) Japanese,” a children’s festival and culture fair being hosted by the Mt. Hood Community College Japanese Club & Ebetsu Gresham Sister City Association.

I am honored to be a part of this special celebration, and to share the stage with big-name artists such as Portland Taiko, koto virtuoso Mizuki Dazai, and best-selling author Kristina McMorris. There will also be children’s activities, tea ceremony, calligraphy, ikebana (flower arrangement), bonsai, and haiku booths.

I will have the stage from 12:00 to 12:45pm. I have yet to decide which story to perform. I think I should do something interesting for all ages including children, so maybe a story like “The Zoo” (Dôbutsuen), or “Morning Toiletries” (Chôzu mawashi). These would be good because they are quite physical stories, and easy to follow. I have heard them told numerous times, but have never performed them in public myself. I better decide and get practicing!

“Skosh Japanese” will be held on Saturday, May 11, 2013 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Mt. Hood Community College – Gresham Campus. I hope to see you there!

"The Outlook" article by Rob Cullivan今週末、マウント・フッド・コミュニティカレッジの日本クラブと江別・グレシャム姉妹都市協会が「少しジャパニーズ」という子ども祭りと文化フェアを主催しますが、僕が落語を紹介するために親切な招待をいただきました。


12時〜12時45分の間に落語を演らせていただきますが、根多はまだ決めていません…  子どもを含むすべての年齢が楽しめるような落語がいいのですが、「動物園」、または「手水廻し」のような噺がいいかもしれません。仕草も多いし、分かりやすい根多です。この噺は何度も聴いていますが、僕はまだ人の前では演ったことはない… 早う決めてお稽古せんな。