Luring In Audiences 呼び込み

I am not a professional rakugo storyteller.

However, when I have opportunities to perform, I get an idea what professionals must have to go through from time to time — particularly those younger hanashika still working to build a fan base.

On Saturday, I went to the theater where I was to perform rakugo. It was my first time performing at this particular venue. I found my dressing room without too much trouble, changed into my kimono, and proceeded to the backstage area five minutes before going on.

Two very friendly stagehands put out my zabuton, kendai, and hizakakushi. As the time to enter time drew near, I noticed there was almost no sound coming from the audience. Perhaps two people conversing quietly…

“Have they opened the doors yet?” I asked the stagehands.

“Um, I’m not sure. It doesn’t sound like it…” one replied. “Do you happen to know where the emcee is?” he continued, asking me.

WHAT! Do I know where the emcee is?! How would I know where the emcee is? I started to get a touch worried.

“Well, I do have a tuxedo-like jacket,” the other stagehand kindly offered, “I suppose I could introduce you.”

Yet, there was almost nobody in the audience. This reminded me of a story that a pro hanashika once told me about having to do rakugo for just one person. “At least I have two,” I tried to comfort myself.

Fortunately, I had the cell phone number of the woman who invited me to perform. I called her.

“Hello, this is Matt.” I said very calmly.

“Hello, Matt? Are you there now?” she asked.

“Yes, it looks like we are running 15 minutes behind.” I told her as casually as possible. “You wouldn’t happen to know where the emcee is, would you? He’s missing.” I continued.

“Oh he’s here with me,” she said almost as casually. “I’ll send him over.”

A very good idea.

I figured it would take the emcee at least five minutes to arrive and get situated. I recalled that there were about 100 people outside on my way into the theater. I decided to run out to invite them in to listen to rakugo.

Good afternoon, everyone! What a beautiful day it is today!” I projected as best I could across the large square. “And what a beautiful day to share a few laughs! Won’t you come inside to hear me perform rakugo, Japanese comic storytelling? The show will start momentarily, and it will be in English!”

I approached every group and individual that I could find, then ran back into the theater. Almost as soon as I returned backstage my entrance music (Ishidan) began playing.

I entered, kneeled on the zabuton, and bowed. I clacked the kobyôshi on the kendai to get started and was thrilled to see 15 people already in the audience. As I progressed through my makura intro, more people made their way in, bringing the total to 50 or so.

I was so grateful that they came!

The story (“Morning Toiletries” Chôzu mawashi) went well. I had so much fun with this wonderful audience that my 45-minute set was over in the blink of an eye.

On this day I had to go outside of the venue to work for my audience. I beckoned people to come in and see me perform. This was a first for me.

It soon dawned on me that this is what many hanashika–especially young ones–have to do on a regular basis.

I learned from this that winning an audience is not easy, even if the show is free. This must especially be the case for professionals, who not only ask for time but also the cost of a ticket. This is how hanashika make their living. Hanashika therefore have to stay hungry, humble, train hard to be more interesting than rival entertainers, and foster relationships in and outside the yose.

I am glad that I was able to experience having to work for my audience on Saturday. I gained further respect for hanashika who wake up every day to devise new ways to win new fans and keep them coming back for more.







え~?!なぜ僕が…? 司会がどこに行ったかなんて分かりませんよ~。分かるわけないでしょ~。徐々に心配になってきました。

そしてもう一人の舞台係が「いやぁ、私、タキシードのようなジャケットがあって、あれでしたら、私が司会役をできないこともないですが… 」と言いました。優しい方ですけどね。





「はい、舞台の方は15分ほど遅れているそうですが…」とできるだけ平静を保って言ってみました。そして、「あの… 司会の方は、どちらにいらっしゃるかお分かりでしょうか。こちらにはいらっしゃらないんですが… 」




「皆様、こんにちは!本日は本当に気持ちのいいお天気ですね~!」できるだけ大きな声で繰り返しました。「こんな素敵な日に一緒に笑えたら最高ですね!これから、僕のラクゴ (ジャパニーズ スタイル ストーリーテリング)を聴いてくださいませんか~。英語で演りますが、間もなく始まりま~す。ぜひ、中の方へどうぞ~!」









No Matter How Much One Practices どんなにお稽古しても

Dressing room at PCCThanks to organizers and sponsors at Portland Community College, and a great audience that included both students and distinguished guests, the rakugo show–and reception that followed–was a very memorable experience.

I could not have asked for more in terms of hospitality, venue, support, and response.

Every opportunity to perform is an opportunity to learn. This time I learned that one can never practice enough.

For this show I decided to do the story Niuriya, which is a “travel story” (tabibanashi). The reason I wanted to do this is because it is a story that zenza often learn while in training. Particularly, I wanted to challenge myself by memorizing the “outset” (hottan) of the story, a section of challenging cadence-style narrative interspersed with rhythmic strikes on the kendai with small wooden clappers (kobyôshi) and a fan wrapped in paper (hariôgi). This bit is also called “striking” (tataki) and is traditionally used to train beginners in projection, enunciation, breathing, and timing.

I have seen tataki narrated a number of times, but I particularly like Somemaru’s version, which is included on his 3-DVD box set “The World of Hayashiya Somemaru” (Hayashiya Somemaru no sekai).

I told Somemaru that I wanted to do this part of the story in Japanese and he warned me that it is quite difficult. Still, I thought I was up for the challenge.

The day before the show I had the tataki bit memorized and was able to get through it with satisfactory speed. On the day of the show, I ran through it a few more times. No problem.


Performing in front of a live audience is different from practicing alone. About two-thirds of the way through, I lost a line and couldn’t seem to recover. I had no choice but to humbly accept defeat and proceed with the story.

The rest of the story went well, and the audience seemed to like Niuriya, but as soon as I left the stage I wanted so badly to get right back out there and give it another shot.

Truly, one can never practice enough. I look forward to further opportunities to improve as a hanashika.












Lesson Request お稽古のお願い

Today it was back to business as usual at Somemaru’s. He seemed rather energetic at breakfast despite having such a busy weekend, and having to worry about finishing his book. I was glad to see him in such high spirits. After breakfast I gave him a massage.

After cleaning the house we had some time to relax before Somemaru left for an interview with reporters. I have been invited to the University of Tokyo to give a talk on rakugo, and the organizers also asked me if I could give performances in English and Japanese. As I wrote in a previous blog, Somemaru taught me the story Sake no kasu (Sake Lees) informally one night as we were making kasu-jiru (sake lees soup) for dinner. I thought this would be a good time to request a formal lesson for the story Sake no kasu. I checked his day planner and Febuary 4th looked like the best day since he is also giving Somekichi a lesson that day.

In the professional rakugo world it is protocol to perform a story only after you have had formal lessons and have received permission from your master to perform it publicly. I am not a professional hanashika by any means, but since I would like to perform in Tokyo the story that Somemaru taught me, it is only right that I play by the rules of the game. I told Somemaru that I have been working on memorizing Sake no kasu, and would like to perform it in Japanese and English in Tokyo next week. Would he please give me a lesson on the 4th, I asked. “Okay,” was his answer. I was so happy he said yes. Now the pressure is on–not only will this will be my first formal lesson, I also want to show Somemaru that I have some glint of potential as a performer of his art.

I have just three days to be ready!



プロの落語界では、ちゃんとお稽古して、公に噺をする許可を師匠からいただくまでは、高座で発表しないということが儀礼です。僕はプロの噺家ではないですが、師匠が教えてくださった噺を東京でしたいと思っているので、僕もちゃんとお稽古をして、師匠の許可をもらった方がいいと思いました。今朝、師匠に言ったのは「噺を少しずつ覚えてきました。今度、東京でこの噺をしたいと思っています。4日にお稽古をお願いしてもよろしいでしょうか。」 師匠の返事は「はい、いいよ。」でした。OKと言ってくださって、本当に嬉しかったです。と同時にプレッシャーも感じています。初の正式なお稽古ですし、師匠に僕にでも落語を語る可能性が少しでもあるということも見せたいです。


A Deep Talk on Rakugo 落語の深い話

Today after Somemaru’s day of shamisen lessons, he and I went to Umeda for dinner and dessert. We spent most of our time talking about rakugo, and what he said shined some much needed light on my research. Below are some notes I took after we went our separate ways for the evening.

Three-Lesson Rakugo (Sanben keiko) and Memorization

I was under the impression, and previously wrote, that rakugo is an art in which students are often expected to learn stories within the space of three lesson sessions. I talked to Somemaru about this and he said that this is more of a Tokyo thing, though the system could be used easily enough in Osaka. In this, sanben keiko was an approach used before audio recording devices came about. These days, it is really up to the master–a student may get ten chances before a master says, “okay.” A master may call it off after just two lessons. In some rare cases, pupils come to the first or second lesson having memorized a story, and they get permission right away to go public with it.

Somemaru noted that young hanashika don’t seem to have the memory that they used to. There are a number of reasons that might be attributed to this. It may be the way students are taught in schools these days–less assignments requiring rote memorization; it may be the new ways in which people receive news and other information; it may have something to do with contemporary methods of organization; it may have to do with the fact that there are more and more script-like publications on rakugo. Somemaru recalls that when he was a younger, he and other hanashika were not concerned with memorizing every little detail of stories like young hanashika seem to be today. What was important were these three things: storyline (suji), jokes (gyagu), and punch line (ochi). Everything else could be (should be) filled in. Somemaru said that there were even times when he heard a story performed one night then was doing it the next himself. Pupils today, however, seem to think that they need to memorize every single “line” and detail of stories, and this gets in the way of students making stories their own, not to mention making progress in general. Instead of memorizing points 1 through 10, students should only be going after points 1 and 10, and maybe a couple of those in between.

Just Let Rakugo be Rakugo!

It was the mass media, scholars, and other non-hanashika groups who put rakugo, and its components, into stiff categories. This, Somemaru thinks, did more harm than good. Categorizing stories and rakugo techniques such as ochi complicated things, taking the fun out of rakugo. Indeed, after reading scholarly books by well-known rakugo reserachers, one is bound to think, “How could I ever understand something so complex as rakugo?!” People should not be intimidated by rakugo. After all, it is a comical narrative art. It is an art for the masses by people from the same group. It is neither an art for nor by scholars. General people have gone to the yose for generations for the purpose of being entertained. When listening to rakugo stories it is doubtful that people are concerned with things like, “now was that a ‘make-you-think’ (kangae) ochi or a ‘gesture’ (shigusa) ochi?” What they are most likely concerned with are, “is this guy funny or not?” and “did I get my money’s worth tonight?”

I have read books that lay out more than twenty kinds of ochi. As far as Somemaru is concerned, all this categorization is nonsense. In his mind there are two: the ochi that make you respond with “na aho na!” (That’s ridiculous!) or “Aanaruhodo…” (Ohh… I get it.)

All this goes to say that rakugo should be allowed to exist on its own terms, and not on the terms, or categories, of non-hanashika and their regular audiences.

Special Words from a Fan

On night an older woman showed up at the restaurant where Somemaru was having an after-show dinner party. She asked to see Somemaru for just a moment. He thought it somewhat strange at first, but granted her request just the same. What she had to say reminded him of exactly why he originally decided to become a storyteller. “I was simply walking by,” she said. “it looked like something was going on at the yose, so I decided to stop in to see if rakugo was anything it used to be. To my surprise and pleasure, it was just as fun as I remember it being.” With that, she thanked Somemaru and was on her way. Since that first brief meeting, Somemaru has seen her any number of times at shows. To him this is the true meaning of the yose; it is a place where people can feel comfortable to drop in at any time. It is a place where they should feel at home; a place where they would want to return to with their family and friends. The simple words that the woman gave Somemaru confirmed in his mind that rakugo, and the yose, were still serving their originally intended purpose, and that his job as a hanashika was as meaningful as ever.

Trust and Playing Catch in the Yose

If a person enjoys rakugo once, they are bound to invite their family and friends along the next time they go. Somemaru referred to this phenomenon as “kaeri ga aru” (lit. there is a return, or, if one is satisfied they’ll come back for more). Making one-time visitors into regulars should be the goal of every hanashika. Of course this means that they have to put everything they have into every stage appearance, into every story they tell.

Trust (shinrai), Somemaru says, is a very important part of rakugo. Neither the hanashika nor the audience can fully relax until they have each other’s trust. Trust for what? Trust that the audience will be attentive and laugh when something is funny, that they will give the hanashika a fair chance to succeed on stage. Trust that the hanashika is coming to the stage fully prepared and that all humor will be enjoyable, if not worth the price paid at the door. This trust is almost always established during the makura, the prelude to the story proper. This is really the only time when hanashika and audiences are allowed an extended period of time (typically five minutes or so) for “one-on-one” communication, or at least something close to it. After the makura hanashika enter the hondai (featured story) and the dialogue becomes that between characters therein. Truly, the makura is the best time for building trust. It is a time for playing catch–a back and forth exchange of sorts. It is a time for making friends with the audience, which ultimately ties back into what I mentioned above, ensuring that audiences feel at home and want to keep coming back (kaeri ga aru) for more.

Patience (shinbô) During Apprenticeship

Today the period of apprenticeship is one of shinbô: patience, perseverance, endurance, if not simply grinning and bearing it–for the shishô that is.

Somemaru spent some time tonight talking about his experiences with various deshi. He offered a number of anecdotes, most of which were entertaining, some surprising. Keeping confidentiality in mind, I won’t repeat any of them here. One thing I will repeat is that, as I wrote above, deshi seem to be much different in the twenty-first century than in the past. Years ago (most) deshi looked out for their shishô‘s every need, and seemed to be able to read his very mind and heart. Deshi seemed to have much more discipline in the past. These days, Somemaru says half-jokingly, it seems to be the job of the shishô to read his deshi, in hopes of keeping them in a good mood and helping everything going smoothly day in and day out during apprenticeship. In some ways, for better or worse, the roles have been reversed.


Rakugo Laughing Fits 落語泣き笑い

This morning Somemaru needed to do some more recording for his book, so we planned to meet at the Hanjôtei–about a mile from my place–at 9 a.m. He trusted me to take his performance shamisen home with me last night and bring it this morning. This was an honor, yet quite a responsibility. I’ve heard that this particular shamisen is worth around $20,000USD, but it is most certainly priceless to Somemaru and his artistic school. I’m sure some of his pupils would have cried if they knew he sent this shamisen home with me…

There were too many people around at the Hanjôtei today for me to go on another “exploration,” so I enjoyed  the live music while reading a couple reference books that zenza use to look up stories, hanashika names, and spelling when filling out the neta-chô during shows.

These books are Rakugo jiten (The Rakugo Encyclopedia, Tôdai Rakugokai 1969) and Kamigata rakugoka meikan (The Kamigata Rakugo Storyteller Directory, Hanjôtei and Kamigata Rakugo Kyôkai [eds.] 2006, 2010).

We returned to Somemaru’s house in the afternoon for a couple rakugo lessons, for Somekichi and Someza. I wrote about Somekichi learning the story Yadoya gataki in a recent blog. Today was his third practice session. To my untrained ears it sounds like he is making good progress. According to Somemaru this is a very challenging story, and very long. Depending on the version, it can last as long as 45 minutes!

Somemaru can be a strict master, but he is also compassionate, as I witnessed once again today. For some reason Somekichi got caught up in a giggle fit that lasted about 15 minutes! Somemaru didn’t loose his temper or anything. In fact, he couldn’t help himself from joining in (to the point of tears at times) and letting the laughter run its course. I guess if hanashika can’t enjoy fun like this in their art, there’s no way they can expect their audiences to.



昼から師匠の家に戻り、染吉さんと染左さんの噺のお稽古がありました。以前、染吉の「宿屋敵」のお稽古についてブログを書きましたが、今日は第三回でした。染丸師匠によるとこの噺はとても難しいし、とても長いそうです。場合によっては、45分かかるときもあります。 もちろん、師匠は厳しいときもあるんですが、とても思いやりのある方です。今日、それをまた改めて感じました。お稽古中に、なぜか、染吉さんが笑ってしまって、15分間くらい止められなかったんです。それに怒らず、逆にそのまま流して一緒に泣き笑いしてあげました。噺家さんが自分自身の芸を楽しむことができなかったら、お客様を楽しませることこともできないでしょう。