Our very first international online rakugo club was held on Saturday 30 April 2022!
We had participants from three countries including America, Japan, and New Zealand. As some of the Kiwi members could not participate, it was a small group, but I thoroughly enjoyed the fun and cozy session.
There are three highlights in this session for me.
I finally met my American rakugo brother, Kanariya Chusei (鹿鳴家中西)! He performed a story called ‘Gonbei and the Raccoon Dog’, and I performed ‘Chiritotechin’.
We had two English language teachers from Kagoshima, Japan, and they were so friendly and funny! I hope they will come back again!
We tried Ogiri (大喜利) or a traditional Japanese game show during the session. Once we have enough games and performers, I am thinking of hosting an online Ogiri! It will probably be the first time in human history where Ogiri is performed in English!
As we resume our face-to-face sessions of Aoteya Rakugo Club in Auckland, we have decided to also keep running the International Online Rakugo Club. I’m already plotting an online performance once we are ready!
Now that this is a borderless thing, you are welcome to join us wherever you are on this planet.
Next time we are planning to learn about makura. Makura literally means a pillow, but join us to find out what it actually is in the context of rakugo.
The meeting is held roughly monthly whenever yours truly is available to host it. If you would like to join the club, please message me here or via Twitter or Facebook (click on the icons below).
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 😁
On 22 January 2022, another beautiful soul has departed from this world.
Since my teenage years, this great zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh, has been one of my spiritual role models along with Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Dalai Lama, and Desmond Tutu.
Even though he was probably less known compared to the other figures that I listed above, he was the quiet presence and the solid foundation in promoting nonviolent solution to conflict and deep ecology throughout the world.
He was one of the most prominent peace activists to end the Vietnam War that claimed the lives of over 1.3 million people. He believed in complete nonviolence, and he was the very person who encouraged Martin Luther King Jr. to publicly denounce and question the US involvement in the Vietnam War.
King himself nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.
He was a true man of peace, and I respected and adored him so much as a human being.
In the letter of condolence from the Dalai Lama, he concluded his letter as follows:
I have no doubt the best way we can pay tribute to him is to continue his work to promote peace in the world.
I cannot agree with him more.
His passing gave me a renewed courage to take my small part in making the world a better place.
I don’t see why we have to say “I will die,” because I can already see myself in you, in other people, and in future generations.
My resolutions this year will be a bit different from usual, but bear with me for the next 500 words or so.
As of today, I am unemployed.
See? It’s already a bit different 😁
All performers in the world work on a project basis. Unless you are a Hollywood powerhouse actor, most of us often write, rehearse, and perform without a guarantee of income or recognition, scraping through barely making ends meet.
I am used to this roller-coaster lifestyle, but the difference this year, thanks to Mr. Delta and Mrs. Omicron, is that I have literally no income-generating project lined up as of today.
Now… I find this situation quite intriguing!
The silver lining is that I can truly empathise and walk along with people who have lost their jobs and businesses due to the grumpy spiky couple aka Mr. D and Mrs. O.
Sure, I may have to take up a day job or moonlight, but I have this rootless sense of hope that from here onward it will be up and up! 😁
With this in mind, here are my goals for this year:
1. Treat my own life as a big jokeand document my journey
Good rakugo performers and comedians know that their own lives are the best sources of comedy. They know how to make people laugh at the expense of their own tragedies, so why not?
I’ll be open about my temporary joblessness and document how I eventually get out of this situation so that I can hopefully walk along with and give courage to people in a similar situation as mine.
2. Write as many original rakugo stories as possible
With the recent passing of Sanyutei Enjo III(三代目 三遊亭 圓丈), the godfather of Shinsaku Rakugo*(新作落語) on 30 November 2021, I was inspired to start producing more original stories.
As some of you may remember from my last year’s resolutions, I have already written some stories based on Edogawa Ranpo‘s mystery novels and fairytales by the BrothersGrimm, but I am still trying to figure out how to present them- the mystery rakugo being too long while the fairytale rakugo being too short for stage…
Meanwhile, I have finished translating a rakugo story into Māori (Jugemu). Once I completed 2 or 3 more stories, I will find a cultural adviser and a Māori translator so that I can work with them to create something that is respectful to te ao Māori (the Māori world/ worldview). Hopefully, I will make some progress in this area this year, too.
* New/ original rakugo as opposed to classical rakugo (古典落語). Shinsaku rakugo literally means “newly written rakugo”.
3. Become a Laughter Yoga Leader
As some of you may know, I am a Laughter Yoga enthusiast. It has helped my family stay happy and healthy through this pandemic, and I would like to be certified as a Laughter Yoga leader this year!
I will definitely be talking more about the benefits of laughter here!
Laughter Yoga, by the way, is a health exercise and NOT affiliated with any religion.
4. Continue with my Māori Full-Immersion Journey
Last year, I completed my first year of Te Ataarangi (Māori Full-Immersion) programme. Oh boy, it was super challenging and I thought of discontinuing my journey so many times last year, but I have decided to continue on to the advanced level this year.
These are my goals for now.
I don’t know when I can get back to stage yet. Being a one-person gig without a regular producer, it is still too risky for me to produce shows. Schools and other organisations haven’t invited me back yet.
So everything is unclear and unwritten at this stage.
Natasha Bedingfield’s Unwritten would be a great BGM for me right now.
I completed a full-immersion Māori programme (Te Ataarangi through Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi; continuing on to the advanced level, Te Kaupae 5& 6, next year!)
Note: One of my dreams is to perform rakugo in Māori someday so that I can give my taonga to this beautiful Aotearoa!
As you can see, this year indeed was a very crucial year in my rakugo journey regardless of all the lockdowns and my current status as an unemployed performer. All this was possible especially thanks to all the people like you… who are still reading this article all the way down here 😁
We never live alone.
Thank you so very much for being a part of my life!
May 2022 be a year of unity, empathy, and some good stories and uproarious jokes!
Here’s my special thank you to:
Asia New Zealand Foundation, Creative New Zealand, Auckland Council, Christchurch Art Gallery, University of Auckland, Embassy of Japan, Auckland Council Libraries, Onehunga Community Centre, NZ Japan Society, Paul, Echo, & “Kazuma” Janman, Yasheeka Bertram, Kirsty Sharp, Bevan Chuang, Athena Dennis, Kristine Ohkubo, Miki, Alex, Fiona Amundsen, Dr Valance Smith, Kanariya Eiraku Shisho, Kanariya Jincho, Kanariya Aimu, Kumiko Imai, English Rakugo Association, Aoteya Rakugo Club (Pukeko, Raki, Sakura, Ichigo), Fookes Family, Yee Yang ‘Square’ Lee, X, M, & M, and my supportive family members!
* This list is in a random order and not conclusive. I hope I didn’t miss out anyone…
In this episode of the Japanese Street Wisdom Podcast, I will talk about a quote by Yanagiya Kosanji X (十代目 柳家小三治) who just passed away last month on 7 October 2021. He was one of the three rakugo performers to have ever been awarded the status of the Living National Treasure of Japan (人間国宝).
I was inspired to talk about the wisdom of this legendary performer after listening to an interview between him and Hayashiya Shozo IX (九代目 林家正蔵). As my diction of the Japanese quote was horrible (I’ve been away from Japan too long!), here is the actual quote:
上手くなろうと思わないことですよ。もっと下手でいいの。普通の声でやんなさい。自分の心の声でやんなさいよ。Don’t try to improve. It’s OK to be ordinary. Use your own voice. Listen to your inner voice, and let it out.
As you can see, this episode was recorded 11 days after his departure, and I found it interesting to listen to the recording now as my English translation reflected my interpretation of his message back then.
If I’m to translate it again today, I would probably say “listen to your inner voice, and let your heart speak”. I guess I understand what he meant better now.
This episode has some extra rambling and turned out like Japanese Theatre 101, but hey it’s me, my brain is pretty chaotic inside!
Thank you again, Curtis, for reminding and encouraging me to record another episode!
I am always looking for topics for the podcast, so please do comment below if you have anything you want me to talk about.
Finally, if you know where the high-fiving idea came from, please let me know also!