This is probably the first time in history for an English Rakugo master to perform AND teach in New Zealand. You really don’t want to miss this rare opportunity as I don’t know when he will visit here next time.
He is an internationally recognised performer and has toured in US, UK, Denmark, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Laos. His work has been introduced in various media in the world including NHK World and Rafu Shimpo. He is kindly dropping by Auckland on his way to performances in Sydney.
This show will be very significant for me as well because it will be an “Oyako-Kai” (Master-Disciple) performance, just the two of us. This is considered an immense honour in the rakugo world, and I really want to have a full-house to honour him. The capacity is smallish and only 50 (possibly extended to 60), so be quick to secure your seats!!!
I performed rakugo at the Consul General’s residence for the Auckland Consular Corps, a group of consul generals from various countries. The Consulate General of Japan Website has a few photos from the performance.
I have launched the rakugo club, and we now have 5 active members. Also, we have been offered to use Albert Park Keepers Cottage as our base.
I got involved in developing a play called “The Wall” with Babel Theatre and delivered a rakugo master class for them.
One of the most common characters in rakugo is Inkyo (隠居 いんきょ). He appears in a countless number of stories, and many rakugo start by a visitor knocking on the door of Inkyo’s house.
“Inkyo” literally means “to retire”, but it usually means a retired old man when it is used as a title.
Inkyo is the elder, the go-to person in the community. Everybody respects this gentle and wise leader. He is the source of wisdom.
However, he can also be vain and superficial. He sometimes has hard time accepting his ignorance. He can be misleading to cover up his lack of knowledge though it is often not on purpose.
As I wrote in the article called The Definition of Rakugo?, almost all characters in rakugo have flaws, and Inkyo is not an exception. Their flaws make them real and immensely likeable and approachable. They are like us, doing their best to live and enjoy this thing called life.
If you have missed the first two characters, here are the links:
It has been almost exactly two months since I organised the first English rakugo club meeting.
We now have five core members along with some one-off participants here and there, and we have even been offered a free venue! It has been growing much faster than I had expected before taking that dreadful first step.
We decided it was about time to choose our rakugo family name (teigou/ yagou) to nurture a sense of belonging.
We really wanted something very New Zealand, a name that would sound Japanese yet reflect the essence of this country.
Luckily, the Japanese language shares the identical vowels and most consonants with Māori, so we decided to find a Māori word to inspire us.
The most obvious word was Aotearoa, the Māori name of New Zealand, which means “the land of the long white cloud”. We considered “Aotearoya” to make it sound more like a rakugo family name, but it was a bit mouthful and didn’t quite flow.
Then, we decided to explore the origin of the name “Aotearoa”.
It is said that when the first Māori explorer Kupe discovered New Zealand, his wife said,
“He ao, he ao! He aotea! He aotearoa!”
“A cloud, a cloud! A white cloud! A long white cloud!”
“Aotea” is a beautiful word!
I checked the Māori dictionary and found that it also meant a kind of greenstone. One of their ancestral canoes (waka) was also called “Aotea”.
It was a perfect word for our family name.
However, as it lacks respect to use such a precious word without their permission, we decided to get an inspiration from the word but turn it into a different word.
our name was finally chosen.
Announcing our rakugo family name…
Here are the names of our performers who have already chosen their names:
This is just the beginning! We will rock Auckland, New Zealand, and beyond!!!
As I am one of the few people in the world who runs a rakugo website in English, I sometimes receive enquiries about rakugo from all over the world.
Here are some questions I have received recently. I’ll attempt answering them though they are very broad questions to be answered in a single post. Please note that these are not THE answers 🙂
It is going to be a little technical today, but hope it will help you understand and enjoy rakugo better!
Q1: What are some key points or important points that are vital in practising rakugo? Are there any specific rules?
To me, what makes the rakugo format unique is the concept of “kamishimo” (上下). It is the technique to distinguish multiple characters clearly without confusing the audience. This is crucial as rakugo is performed by a single performer.
It is a very complex technique, but you only need to understand the two rules below to enjoy rakugo:
Rule 1: “Shimote” (下手: Stage Right; from the performer’s perspective) is outside the house, and “kamite” (上手: Stage Left) is inside the house.
For example, when a character faces “shimote”, s/he is talking from inside the house (facing toward outside). On the other hand, if a character is talking to someone inside the house or knocking on the door, s/he always faces “kamite” (Stage Left). This rule developed because in traditional Japanese theatre, the entrance is always located on Stage Right.
Rule 2: If the situation does not involve a house (i.e. everyone is inside/ outside the house), a character in a lower social status faces “kamite” and vice versa.
For example, if a samurai and a farmer are having a conversation outside, the farmer faces to “kamite” and the samurai to “shimote”. However, if a samurai is talking to a farmer inside his/ her house, Rule 1 applies… Confusing enough?
Refer to my master Eiraku’s youtube clip for more details (skip to 4’35”).
Q2: What are the basic skills you need to know in order to perform rakugo?
Some of the basic skills (I think) you need to know are:
“Kamishimo”: Refer to Q1 above.
“Shigusa”: Specific movements to describe certain objects or actions, including the use of a fan (“sensu” or “kaze”- wind) and a towel (“tenugui” or “mandara”- mandala).
Fan is often used as: pipe, calligraphy pen, chopsticks, oar, sword, letter, microphone (in modern rakugo), etc.
Towel is often used as: wallet, paper, book, cigarette case, etc.
Characters: There are specific ways to act out characters (e.g. child, woman, animal, etc.)
Voice: Just like any other theatre format, you need to develop a strong voice with good diction, pronunciation, and projection that reaches to the back of the audience.
Eye level(s): As rakugo is performed by one person, the eye level(s) (where you look) defines the height of the character. For example, you would look down if an adult character is talking to a child. A child would look up if s/he is talking to an adult. Also, in my personal opinion, eyes can carry a lot of emotions.
Hand position: A subtle change in where and how you place your hands on your lap changes the character and his/ her emotions and personalities. You need to minimise hand movements as they can be distracting (which I struggle very much as someone who has lived in the west for more than half his life).
Q3. Could you give me any more information about practising rakugo and how to ensure that the performance is as traditional as possible?
The best way, of course, is to become an apprentice of a rakugo master, but this requires a (more than) full-time commitment and you also have to be able to speak Japanese very fluently. There have been a few non-Japanese performers who went through/ are currently going through the traditional pathway, but this is definitely not for everybody.
I would say finding someone with rakugo experience and learning it directly from him/ her is the only way to ensure its authenticity.
Fortunately, a shin’uchi (master) rakugo performer, Yanagiya Tozaburo, has just moved to New York to spread rakugo, so you can possibly learn the skills directly from him if you are based in US.
My master, Kanariya Eiraku, offers a correspondence course, so you could also contact him. He is considered one of the experts in English Rakugo.
Though I am still learning the art myself, you can join my rakugo club if you are based in New Zealand. We currently have around 7 people in the club. It is free to join though financial support is always appreciated!
To begin with, I recommend you to watch rakugo in Japanese, which is available all over the internet. Even if you don’t understand Japanese, you can see how the techniques mentioned above are actually used.