Freedom from Dissertating 論文からの解放

Since moving to Tokyo last September, I have spent most of my time in the Waseda University library, writing my dissertation. I finished last week and sent copies to my committee. I had a great time researching and writing about Kamigata rakugo, but am happy to be wrapping things up.

I still have some things to do to prepare for defense next month, but I took the last few days off to recharge. I’ve been meaning to go to the Edo-Tokyo Museum for some time, so yesterday, I decided to ride my bike over and spend the day there. 

Gojō Tenjin Shrine annual matsuri, UenoI live pretty close to Ueno Park. As I rode around Shinobazu Pond, I heard some Japanese drums, bells, and flutes playing in the distance–my kind of music! As I neared the south end of Ueno Park, I found the Gojō Tenjin Shrine matsuri (festival) in full swing. The timing could not have been better. 

After watching for a few minutes, I peddled west on Kasuga-dōri, crossed the Sumida River, then headed south to the museum. I parked my bike and walked past the Ryōgoku Kokugikan (also known as the Sumō Hall). I was just in time to see a procession of rikishi (sumō wrestlers) making their way into the Hall. I later learned that the yokozuna Hakuhō won his 29th title at the Emperor’s Cup that day. 

Edo-Tokyo MuseumThe Edo-Tokyo Museum complex is huge and the exhibits are fabulous. Two of the attractions are life-size replicas of the Nakamura-za, a kabuki theater, and a section of early modern Japan’s most famous bridge, Nihonbashi. My favorite part of the museum are the exhibits featuring early modern Edo chōnin (townsman, i.e., commoner) life. This is because they give me better ideas of the kinds of places where rakugo stories take place.

Hayashi Shōzō otoshibanashi-goyaSpeaking of rakugo, the art did not have this name prior to the Meiji period (1868-1912). Popular comic storytelling was referred to by a number of names over the past three hundred years or so. One of the more recent ones was otoshibanashi. In a wonderfully detailed model of the Ryōgoku area, one of Edo’s greatest entertainment districts, there is a otoshibanashi hall featuring the storyteller Hayashiya Shōzō I (1781-1842). Assuming that the model is accurate, yose in the past were much smaller than the yose we know today, which seat around 200 to 300 people. Hayashiya Shōzō’s yose looks like it could hold about fifty people, or one hundred at the very maximum. Of course there were many more yose in those days. In the immediate vicinity are a number of other theaters small and large, and a row of hairdressers. 

Katsura Utasuke, Edo-Tokyo MuseumThis was really my lucky day. As if the day was not good enough already, today turned out to be one of the few days each month when rakugo is presented at the museum! Today’s rakugoka was Katsura Utamaru’s second deshi, Katsura Utasuke. He performed a shinsaku piece called Ramen-ya (The Ramen Shop). Yanagi Nangyoku was also on hand to present kyokugoma (top spinning tricks). 

I had a great time at the museum, but hardly had enough time to look at all of the exhibits as long as I would have liked. I will just have to go back again. The Edo-Tokyo Museum is very reasonable at just ¥600 for general admission (¥480 for students).

Kaiten-zushiAll of that traditional Japanese culture made me want to have Japanese food for dinner. I rode my bike back to Ueno and enjoyed a few plates of sushi. The perfect way to wrap up a my “field trip.”

I think I am now fully recharged, ready to set my mind on defending my dissertation in Hawaii next month. It is hard to believe that my life as a graduate student will soon come to an end. I am not yet sure where I will work yet, but I do know that Japanese culture and food will continue being important parts of my life.  



Ryōgoku Kokugikan僕は上野公園の近くに住んでいます。不忍池を回っているところで、大好きな和太鼓、鉦、笛の音が耳に入り、上野公園の南側に着くと、なんと、五條天神社例大祭の最中ではないですか!なんといういいタイミングでしょう。



Otoshibanashi-goya落語ということばですが、明治時代以前は「落語」と呼ばれていませんでした。300年ぐらい前から大衆滑稽話芸・舌耕芸はそれぞれの名前がありまして、わりと最近のは「オトシバナシ」でした。博物館には、江戸の盛り場であった両国辺りの詳細な模型に、落しばなしの小屋があります。のぼりに林家正蔵(初代、1781-1842)の名前が見えます。模型が正しければ、昔の寄席は今の寄席より小さかったです。現在の寄席は200人~300人も入れますが、模型の中の林家正蔵の小屋は50人(無理して100人?)ぐらいしか入らなさそうです。まあ、確かにその当時の寄席は今より多かったですが… 落しばなしの小屋の周辺には他の劇場、大きいのも小さいのも、色々あります。髪結いさんもたくさん並んでいます。

Rakugo from old Nihonbashi今日はいいことがたくさんありましたが、これで終わらなかったです。博物館では、中村座の前でイベントをやるんですが、今日は偶然落語が一席ありました。今日の落語家は桂歌丸師匠の2番弟子である桂歌助さんで、「ラーメン屋」という新作落語をしました。これにやなぎ南玉さんの曲駒までもあって、本当にラッキーでした。




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





My Brother Loves Japan’s Plums 我が弟梅好き

Yesterday Philip and I went to Osaka Castle Park to enjoy the beautiful and fragrant plum tree orchard, which is now in full bloom. So far he has enjoyed trying new foods, riding trains, and exploring supermarkets, but he seems to have loved the plums trees in full bloom more than anything. He was thoroughly impressed and took many pictures.

Today we will go watch day one of the Osaka Grand Sumô tournament.

We will also be thinking of all the victims and families affected by the 3/11/2011 Tôhoku Megaquake and subsequent tsunamis and nuclear disasters. Today marks one year since the tragedies, but there are still many people displaced, and affected areas are still in the process of recovering. Please consider making even a small contribution to relief organizations such as the Japanese Red Cross (link on side bar →).

Ushiro Kamikiri and Sumô 後ろ紙切りと相撲

Here’s a post just in time for the Osaka Grand Sumô Tournament, which will get underway on March 11.

In a recent post, I mentioned the yose art kamikiri (artistic paper cutting, an iromono act) and I thought it was no longer performed in the Kansai area. Well, browsing Twitter last night, I found a Kamigata hanashika who performs kamikiri, though with an interesting twist. Hayashiya Emimaru (Somemaru’s #9 deshi) does kamikiri, but he does it backwards! I guess this makes sense for somebody known for doing backflips on stage… (By the way, Emimaru also plays ukulele, the right way.)

Take a look below at the Tweets and pictures (all property of Hayashiya Emimaru).




林家笑丸 @emimaru_rakugo, 10:44pm February 25


At Baruto’s appreciation dinner. I was invited as a guest, to perform ushiro kamikiri. Sitting next to Kôriyama, Baruto has a huge smile on his face (Jeez, you can’t see his face!)(LOL).

林家笑丸 @emimaru_rakugo, 11:11pm February 25
At Baruto’s appreciation dinner ②. I too was appreciated–a little too much–by a liquored-up older man. Once I got past that, I did kamikiri. Some of the guests watching said, “There’s a pro for you, making an old man like that part of the act.” *It wasn’t me using him! (LOL) Anyway, this is a fun memory.

林家笑丸 @emimaru_rakugo, 11:17pm February 25


With the sumô pro Kôriyama. A gentle-tempered powerhouse. This sumô wrestler is also powerful at drinking.

林家笑丸 @emimaru_rakugo, 11:28pm February 25


The sumô pro Baruto. He is a very open-hearted and cheerful sumô wrestler. He is an ôzeki [wrestler of the second-highest rank].

Matt Shores @KRakugoMe, 12:25am February 27

@emimaru_rakugo 笑丸さん、おはようございます。本当に楽しそうな仕事ですね。実は、僕の弟は少し把瑠都関に似ているかも… 相撲は無理ですけどね。逆紙切りてすごいですね。着物の方は大丈夫でしょうか。(^ー^)ノでは、おつかれさまでした。

Good morning, Emimaru. This looks like a really fun job. My brother kind of looks like Baruto… No way he could do sumô though. Wow, reverse kamikiri, impressive!  I wonder, is your kimono still in one piece? (^ー^)ノNice work!

林家笑丸 @emimaru_rakugo, 2:12am February 27

@KRakugoMe 着物は大丈夫でしたよー。気さくなお相撲さんとセレブなお客さんと、そこになぜか混じっていたやかましい酔っ払いのおじさんのハプニングストレスのおかげで、とても刺激的な一日でした(笑)。

Ye〜sss! My kimono was fine. Thanks to the time with friendly sumô wrestlers and celebrity guests, mixed with the stress from the run-in with the loud, drunk man,  it proved to be a very stimulating day (LOL).