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~!」










Okotohajime 御事始

Last year at this time I wrote about (0)kotohajime. It’s hard to believe a year has already passed since then. But here we are.

Kotohajime takes place on December 13 in the Kamigata area (Dec. 8 in Tokyo) and is the day when preparations for the New Year formally begin. In the world of arts that are “practiced,” (keikogoto), members of artistic families often pay a formal visit to their master on this day, bringing with them a present of kagamimochi, usually eaten in a zenzai sweet bean dish on the eleventh day of the New Year.

Kotohajime is a is a day-long event at Somemaru’s house, combined with morning ôsôji, a deep cleaning of his house, and a banquet that lasts into the evening.

Today I arrived at Somemaru’s house at 10 a.m., an hour before everybody else, to have breakfast and help with preparations. Somemaru’s many pupils began showing up one by one at 11 a.m. Everybody came with a gift, presented it to him, bowed deeply, and thanked him for the previous year, also asking him for his generous favors in the year to come.

After the morning greetings were made, straws were drawn Japanese-style to determine everybody’s cleaning duties. This year I landed on the front door area (genkan do). This is a pretty easy job compared to, say, cleaning the bathroom, so I was also asked to tend to the garden outside. Everybody cleaned the house in good spirits, laughing and carrying on.

Of course, with so many pupils, the cleaning goes fast. As I helped, I thought about the importance of everyone being here for ôsôji. Taking care of Somemaru in such a way is one way of performing ongaeshi, paying back one’s personal debts.

Every bit of work that we did today are things Somemaru won’t have to do himself. Personally, it made me feel good that I could be there to show my respect and gratitude for all he’s done for me over the past year. I am still in his debt, as are all of his formal pupils, but us being there for ôsôji helps show Somemaru that we haven’t forgotten our debts to him.

Soon we were done cleaning and it was time to change out of our work clothes and into our suits for kotohajime. Somemaru was helped into his kimono.

Everybody sat Japanese-style before Somemaru, in order of seniority. One by one, we reflected on the year (hansei) and proposed how we might make the coming year better. This is a highly formal event, but humor is permitted at  times too. Depending on the pupil, Somemaru offered heartfelt advice, or critique.

As usual, he presented each pupil with a gift, something they will have use for as they work in the coming year. Last year he presented folding fans, this year we received shikigami, (mats on which to fold kimono, so they won’t get dirty).

After kotohajime proper, we had a great banquet, with delicious sushi and other foods, and of course plenty of alcoholic drinks. It was great fun to enjoy the time with Somemaru’s artistic family.

I stayed a couple hours after everyone left, to clean up, and relax a bit with Somemaru.

It was a busy day, but it went by incredibly fast, just like the year.

Thank you for including me in kotohajime Somemaru shishô.












Karuwaza Dôrakutei 軽業動楽亭

I read on Somemaru’s blog yesterday that he will be performing for the next few days at the Dôrakutei, a small yose run by Katsura Zakoba. This is apparently Somemaru’s first time performing at this venue, and, since it was the first time I had heard of it, I decided to go for today’s show.

First, a little bit about the yose.

I heard today that it has been in operation for the past few years. If that is the case, this is one Kamigata rakugo’s best kept secrets. It may be because this is a “home-ground” of sorts for hanashika contracting with Beichô jimusho (i.e., members of the Katsura Beichô artistic school). I have hanashika friends in the Beichô ichimon, but I never heard about Dôrakutei. (No foreigners allowed perhaps?)

Dôrakutei is in the heart of Osaka shitamachi (traditional working-class neighborhood), just a short walk from Shinsekai, through Jan-jan Yokochô, and under the train tracks. Or, steps from Dôbutsuen-mae Station (subway, exit 1).

Dôrakutei is on the second floor of a rather new condominium complex (manshon). The yose was obviously originally a condo unit, but professionally remodeled to be a yose. It is surprisingly nice, and I suppose this speaks to the taste of Zakoba. It looks like it could fit an audience of 100 or so, perfect for rakugo. There is Katsura Beichô and Beichô ichimon memorabilia throughout the yose, including on stage behind the kôza, where a framed sheet of paper with Beichô’s writing — the word raku (ease, relax, enjoy) written several times — hangs. I think this may be the sheet on which Beichô practiced for the real product, which went to the Hanjôtei stage.

Dôrakutei is a great yose because it is small, and comfortable. It was a great to be in such an itimate space with talented performers today.

By the way, today’s lineup was Taizô, Jakugorô, Asakichi, <Naka iri> Koharudanji, and Somemaru.

Somemaru did a story that I have never heard him do before, Karuwaza kôshaku. This made me remember that Katsura Bunshi V performed this story once or twice when I was with him — but I could hardly comprehend it at the time. Today I understood it much better. I could see just how complex a story it is, and how much energy is needed on the part of the hanashika, no matter who s/he is.

Karuwaza kôshaku, a story about a pompous kôshaku storyteller blowing up in anger after repeatedly being muted (he can’t hear his own voice) by loud, neighboring show booths (misemono goya). The climax toward the end of the story and think-for-yourself punch line (kangae ochi) are wonderful. This story has been categorized as perhaps the busiest and noisiest of all stories in both Kamigata and Tokyo repertoires.

Today after Somemaru’s appearance, everybody in the audience looked thrilled with his big story. Afterward, I went to the dressing room to greet Somemaru, and he said, half-jokingly, the most stylish thing: “Well, I heard you were coming today, so I thought I would do a rare story for you.” Now that’s Somemaru for you. (Wow.)

Dôrakutei event info (external link in Japanese)







今日の出演者ですが、鯛蔵さん、雀五郎さん、あさ吉さん、枝女太師匠、<中入> 小春團治師匠、染丸師匠でした。





Let’s-go Shôji レッツゴー正児 師匠

Today I attended the “Open Lecture,” hosted by the Japanese Society for Humor and Laughter Studies (Nihon warai gakkai). The speaker was “Let’s Go Shôji” of the manzai trio “Let’s Go Sanbiki.”

“Let’s Go Shôji” treated the crowd to a wonderful 90-minute talk, entitled “My Life as an Entertainer” (Waga geinin jinsei). He made us laugh and cry numerous times. Truly, he is a talented speaker, probably a good thing for one whose profession is manzai.

He has had an amazing life filled with many ups and downs. But his story is truly one of success. He is a positive thinker, a hard worker, and incredibly resilient.

One case in point was when he tripped and fell hard on his way up to the stage after being introduced. Some thought it was a joke and laughed. He immediately made it into a joke himself, saying, “Now I couldn’t let the emcee be funnier than me, right? …” Still, upon learning he has bad knees after a major surgery, one has to wonder. A regular man in his 70s probably would have had to be taken to a hospital after a fall like that… In any case, this served as a metaphor for his life; he’s not the kind of person to let a fall keep him down.

In his talk he mentioned meeting Katsura Bunshi V on several occasions in yose dressing rooms. On my way out, I approached “Let’s Go Shôji,” thanked him for a wonderful talk, and told him I studied  for some time with Bunshi. It’s a small world, we both agreed. We talked for a few more minutes and I was on my way.

A very interesting man to say the least. I hope to hear him speak again in the near future.

If you are interested in hearing some great “Let’s Go Sanbiki” material, I recommend the following: “Let’s Go Sanbiki” on YouTube. (in Japanese)








Stamping Forever 永遠の印鑑

Today at Somemaru’s house, I was shown some precious memorabilia: personal seals and stamps used by Hayashiya Somemaru II (1867-1952) and Hayashiya Somemaru III (1906-1968). It was wonderful to hold them and see them up close. Truly, I could feel Kamigata rakugo history right in my hands.

今日、師匠のお宅で大変貴重な遺品を拝見させていただきました。二代目林家染丸師匠 (1867-1952)、そして三代目林家染丸師匠 (1906-1968) がお使いになっていらっしゃいました印鑑やゴムスタンプでした。自分の手に持ち、目近で拝見させていただけるなんて、まことに贅沢な経験でした。自分の手に上方落語の歴史を感じさせていただきました。