Whirlwind Week 駆け足の一週間

This was an eventful week. I spent just about every day at Somemaru’s, and here are some of the highlights:


This was a practice day, and I helped with the regular routine: breakfast, housecleaning, greeting students, serving tea, and staying within earshot of Somemaru in case he needed something. Somemaru usually decides what he wants for dinner during the last couple lessons, sending Aisome or I out for groceries. Today he felt like kasujiru (sake lees soup), which I haven’t had since last winter, and absolutely love. I have a special memory about kasujiru, which you can read a bit about here: Sunday and Sake no kasu.


I was in charge of breakfast on this day. When I make breakfast at Somemaru’s house, I try to make something just as it would be served at my parent’s house. On Wednesday I departed from my regular omelets, opting instead for eggs sunny-side-up, hash browns, bacon, toast, and orange slices. In the afternoon, Somemaru and I made ponkan (Chinese honey orange) marmalade and had a wonderful talk about his life and rakugo.

In the evening we met a group of friends at the Suzunariza Theater for an exciting Taishû Engeki production featuring the troupe led by the young and handsome Satomi Takashi.


Today was another practice day. In addition to the regular practice-day routine, I had a shamisen lesson of my own. To say the least, this is always a humbling experience. I did my best and just have to make sure I do better next time, improving on all the areas Somemaru told me to work on. During other students’ lessons, I also spent some time practicing taiko (drums) with Aisome. I’ve recently felt a new urgency to practice more since I will be leading a yose workshop in Portland, Oregon this summer. Fortunately, I still have some time left in Japan, and I’m around the right people.

Bunshi ichimon kai

I asked Somemaru if I could be excused before dinner tonight because there was a special rakugo show being put on at the Hanjôtei in the evening. It was a Bunshi ichimon kai, but not one of the typical variety. Tonight was a special charity show to raise money for the Kumano River World Heritage Site marker that was severely damaged in Typhoon Talas last September.

Katsura Bunshi V played a role in this site being built. On his sickbed prior to dying in 2005, he brushed the characters 熊野川 (Kumano River), which were replicated and enlarged for the site marker. Prior to this Bunshi also composed the instant classic Kumano môde (Pilgrimage to Kumano), this being the the last story I heard him perform.

For some reason, I felt “called” to the show tonight. I felt called to support the charity event, and to hear Bunshi’s story narrated by his #4 pupil, Katsura Bunta, the only hanashika who performs Kumano môde today. Bunta did an incredible job. In a touching moment, when he took his final bow, somebody in the audience shouted “Roku daime!!,” indicating they would rather see Katsura Bunta become Bunshi VI than Katsura Sanshi, who is set to ascend to the historic name this July.

It was a wonderful, action packed week. I am now gearing down for a quiet weekend with my books.





この日は僕が朝食を担当させていただました。師匠のお宅で朝食を作る際、必ず自分の親の家で出るようなアメリカンなメニューを用意することにしています。水曜日はいつものオムレツから離れ、その代わりに半熟(目玉) 焼き、ハッシュブラウン、ベイコン、トーストとカットオレンジにしました。昼からはポンカンのマーマレードを作りながら、落語と師匠の人生についての素敵なトークを。









Crying and Laughing with Somemaru 師匠と泣いたり笑ったり


Today Somemaru invited me to see a special taishû engeki production featuring the troupe of Hasegawa Takeya. Today Takeya’s wife, Ai Kyôka, starred in a play as “Okichi,” a woman who, legend has it, was forced to become a mistress against her will for the first American Consul in Japan, Townsend Harris (1804-78). In today’s version, Okichi reluctantly submits to the “call of duty,” but she and her true love, Tsurumatsu (Takeya), reunite years later. As happy as this reunion is, they pay for it dearly in a life filled with tragedy after heartbreaking tragedy. The couple never loses in the eyes of the audience though, because the couple’s love is undying in the truest sense. They maintain utmost dignity by refusing to let go of the one thing they value more than life: one another. Needless to say, I was deeply moved by the performance.

This  play was a tear-jerker indeed. At points the entire theater was in tears! There were also happy points in the play where the audience (a completely packed house, some standing) could not help laughing out loud.

Can something like taishû engeki discussed side by side with rakugo? On the surface, they do not seem to have a single thing in common. In taishû engeki, audiences just have to sit back and enjoy the wonderful spectacle of bright lights, blaring music, fabulous makeup and kimono, and sex appeal. In traditional (denshô) rakugo, much more imagination is needed, along with a little knowledge about early modern Japan. Yet, there are some things these arts have in common that warrants discussing them together.

While taishû engeki is decidedly dramatic and rakugo comedic, they can also be the opposite. Themes of plays and stories are often similar, as are the periods (usually Edo and Meiji) represented. Another important thing they have in common is that they are both forms of taishû geinô, or arts for the masses. Both have their roots in the lower ranks of society, and were meant for people of the same class. While entertainers in both worlds occasional become wealthy, and it is not uncommon for the rich patronize them, taishû engeki and rakugo can still be considered arts of the taishû variety.

After having a good cry, along with some good laughs at the show, Somemaru and I got Chinese for dinner and parted for the evening.

Thank you for a great Monday Shishô!







Taishû engeki 大衆演劇


Today was a free day, so Aisome (#13 pupil [of 13]) and I accompanied Somemaru to the Meisei-za Theater in Momodani for a taishû engeki show featuring the troupe of Miyako Wakamaru. The play and the dance numbers were all great. For those who don’t know what taishû engeki is, it literally means theater for the masses, and some call it working-class kabuki. From my point of view as an American, it reminds me of good drag shows (though taishû engeki actors, predominantly male, play both roles superbly) and revue. Interaction between the actors and audience is key to the show’s success. I’ve seen especially popular actors receive over ¥1,000,000 during a 5-minute dance number, while those who are not so talented are close to ignored. Audiences seem to be made up, for the most, of women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. Watching these women is yet another fun aspect of taishû engeki. While pictures are technically not allowed, since all of the obachan (older women) were taking picture after picture, I followed suit today.