Konnyaku Debate and Frozen Shoulder

Konnyaku (蒟蒻, こんにゃく) is one of the ingredients for Japanese cooking. It’s made from “Konnyaku Potato” or konjac roots in English.

It’s quite chewy like really firm jelly and almost always used for savoury cooking, but it could also be used for fruit-flavoured confectionery like “konnyaku jelly”.

A few months ago, I started learning a rakugo story called “Konnyaku Debate”.

In this story, the owner of a konnyaku store, Rokubei, pretends to be a zen master to beat a travelling monk in a “zen debate”.

In the olden days in Japan, the travelling zen monks challenged the head priests of temples in zen debates, and if the head priests lost, they were kicked out of the temples- it was like a serious quiz battle.

So, how would a konnyaku maker try to win a debate?

By pretending that he could not hear nor speak.

Therefore, the debate was conducted in gestures instead…

I’ll save the punchline, but you know who the winner of the debate was.

As you can see, this story involves a lot of physical movements unlike most other stories in rakugo, sometimes forming a large circle with arms over the head.

Life is ironic.

When I just started learning this kind of unusual story, I was diagnosed with a frozen shoulder…

It is literally impossible to do some of the movements at the moment, thanks to my unmovable (and painful) left shoulder!

Unfortunately, all of the painkillers I have tried have side-effects on me like knocking me out at noon for a nap and can’t stay awake past 9:00 PM.

So I couldn’t use any strong painkillers, which prevented me from writing this blog for a while.

Fortunately, my shoulder seems to be coping well today, so I thought of saying hi to you all.

If you can, don’t get old.

Photo Credit


My Post-Twitter Experiment

Admittedly, I have been a “Twitter person”.

I have always loved the concept of microblogging, and the content limit of up to 280 characters for a tweet has really resonated with my penchant for haiku.

I have met many of the crucial partners in my rakugo journey through this SNS platform, too. I really hold them dear, and they have become some of my best virtual and real friends.

It became even better when a certain president of a certain country (finally) got kicked out.

However, I have to say I am not too sure if I am still on the same wavelength with this platform after its takeover by the… richest person in the world.

Some of the Twitter users have already started emigrating elsewhere like that one that sounds like a dinosaur.

I have considered moving myself, but where to?

After some thought, I’ve realised I don’t like other alternatives, either.

Yet, I need some online presence for my work.

Is there a way to stay connected with people without relying on a SNS?

How about this blog?

Sure, my posts are kept on the wordpress.com server, but at least I don’t get unwanted posts that affect my mental well-being…

My art is very, very niche, so if this blog becomes the only space you can connect and interact with me, those who (really) want to get hold of me will probably visit here? Or not?

So… here’s my little experiment to see if this blog can act like a SNS.

For the rest of 2022, I have decided to post things only on this space and see what will happen!

Time will tell!

The List of Untold Stories

This morning I was looking at the list of my repertoire of rakugo stories and realised that quite a few of them have not yet been performed in public.

These are the stories that I learned during the pandemic when public performances were not possible. Some of them have been “demonstrated” at the rakugo club, which no longer exists, but not in public performances.

Here are the stories that have not yet seen the light of day:

  • Gush Gush (だくだく)
  • Habits of Four Men (四人癖)
  • Stupid Neighbours (粗忽長屋)
  • Gonbei and the Raccoon Dog (権兵衛狸)
  • Chiritotechin (ちりとてりん)
  • Yawning School (あくび指南)
  • The Matsuyama Mirror (松山鏡)

These are some of the masterpieces in the rakugo tradition, and I have to give them life by performing them in public!

Canary Rakugo Company’s 30th Anniversary

My master’s rakugo school, Canary Rakugo Company, has recently celebrated its 30th anniversary!

Considering the rakugo club that I established in Auckland lasted only for 3 years (mainly due to my poor leadership skills) … this is an amazing accomplishment!

Canary Rakugo Company actually opened its door in 1991, but the celebration was delayed by a year due to the pandemic. I had been planning to attend the anniversary party myself but gave up in the end as Japan still had many travel restrictions that prevented me from organising my trip on time 😢

Here are some photos from the party on my master’s website!

This school initially only taught rakugo in Japanese for the first 15 years.

The first teacher was now legendary rakugo performer and celebrity, Tatekawa Shiraku (立川志らく). He taught rakugo there for 4 years.

But what was truly revolutionary about this school was that my master, Kanariya Eiraku, decided to also start teaching rakugo in English to take this loveable art to the world in 2007.

Rakugo was first performed in English in 1983 by Katsura Shijaku II, and he established this art until his unfortunate passing in 1999. His will was carried on mainly by Kamigata Rakugo (Osaka/ Kansai Rakugo) performers.

But what distinguishes my master from others is that he has introduced non-farcical stories as well to the world.

As you may know, rakugo is not just a comedic expression. It began as a comedy tradition, but it also includes tales such as love stories, historical stories, human-interest stories, and even tragedies.

My master has introduced many, many stories in English for the first time ever, I dare say, in human history.

He has published 3 books on rakugo in English along with Kristine Ohkubo, and he also established the English Rakugo Association, which now I am a member of.

I am aware that there are still many skeptics and naysayers who believe performing rakugo in English doesn’t work or even sacrilegious.

In my personal opinion, only the audience members will decide!

Farewell to Aoteya Rakugo Club

With a very heavy heart, the Aoteya Rakugo Club has closed its doors due to the lack of interest and participation as of today.

Now that the Covid restrictions are gone, the members’ priorities and commitments have changed- some taking up new jobs and responsibilities, and others training for the national wall climbing championships!!!

I would like to thank the Auckland Council, Onehunga Community Centre, and all the staff who have helped us along the way. Without your supports, we would’ve never survived for the last 3 years. Thank you so very much!!!

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank you, all the current and past members of the club, for the last 3 years. All the very best for your endeavours!!!

Meanwhile, this man can only think about rakugo that he will keep following his path- a boring man he is!

May our paths cross once again someday!

Best regards,

Kanariya Eishi

Ideal Environment to Perform Rakugo

Now many of the Covid restrictions are gone here in NZ, it is finally time for me to get back to stage!

However, I have unfortunately had to turned down a few rakugo performances because the stages offered were not suitable to perform rakugo.

This inspired me to write this article about an ideal environment for performing rakugo. I am not too fussy about the appearance or size of the stage, but there are some important requirements that need to be met.

Please read this first if you are planning to invite me or the rakugo club to an event 😊

The most important thing I need to emphasise is that rakugo is a form of theatre.

It is an art that attempts to paint pictures in the audience’s minds with only words and very few props without any elaborate sets or costumes. It is only possible when both the performers and audience can concentrate on the stories without interruptions. It is, in fact, the audience members who depict pictures in their own heads. Rakugo can only exist in partnership between the performers and audience members.

This means that rakugo performers need:

  • A quiet, enclosed space where both performers and audience can focus only on rakugo. This means a stage near stalls or people walking around isn’t suitable. Outdoor performances should generally be avoided unless it’s a purpose-built space like an amphitheatre.
  • A space where performer’s voice can easily travel such as a theatre, a school classroom, a lecture hall, etc. If the space is large, you might need a microphone as rakugo simply does not work if the performer’s voice can not be heard clearly…

You might have noticed by now, but this is just like any other theatre performance.

But the beauty of rakugo is that it requires very little as long as the conditions above are met.

All you need is a zabuton (Japanese cushion, which I will bring), a red cloth (which I will bring), and perhaps a place to hang up a mekuri (a calligraphy with the performer’s name; I often hang it off a music stand).

Looking forward to hearing from you! My schedule is very empty as of today 😁

Photo Attribution

vera46, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons