Japanese Street Wisdom Podcast Episode 5 [Listen to Your Inner Voice 自分の心の声でやんなさいよ。]

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!

You can also listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and YouTube.

See you in the next episode!

Is This a Miracle? Superstitious Japanese!

We Japanese are superstitious people.

Regardless of our everyday high tech life, many of us still follow our traditional ways and beliefs, which I guess is one of the reasons why many people are still drawn to my country of birth.

One of the superstitions that we have is that it is good luck when a tea stem stands up in your green tea.

Deep down, we know that it is not scientifically sound to assume that a piece of stem would affect our future, but many do get overly excited whenever this phenomenon occurs to us.

If you live in Japan long enough, you will eventually hear the following phrase:

見てみて!茶柱が立ってる!(みてみて!ちゃばしらがたってる!)

“Look, look! A tea stem is standing up! (literally means “a pillar of tea is standing up”)

With this in mind, I just witnessed a miracle.

I like to burn incense when I work to get into the zone, and, lo and behold, the following sight interrupted my work!

I screamed with joy.

うおっ!線香立ってる!(せんこうたってる!)

OMG, incense is standing up!

This, my wise readers, is a phrase that you will probably never hear or use for the rest of your life.

This is not a well-timed picture. It kept standing up like this for good few minutes!

A miraculous day is waiting for me and hopefully for you, too!

My Love Letter to Te Ao Māori

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It is 12:00PM on 14 September 2021. It is the Māori Language Moment!

I will try some whīwhiwhi (tongue twisters) with my tamariki later, but I have decided to celebrate this occasion by writing a love letter to te ao Māori.

Now… writing a love letter is always awkward.

I don’t even know if anyone still writes love letters.

But I grew up in a generation where love letter writing was still the thing, so I will take this opportunity to write one.

Dear te ao Māori,

I literally had no idea how deeply in love I would be with you when I first met you at Te Ara Poutama (AUT) in 2007.

I was still fresh off the boat, and my wise Kiwi wife told me that the most important thing to really understand Aotearoa was to learn at least the basic of te reo Māori me ōna tīkanga and Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

But, the moment the kaikaranga called the manuhiri at my very first pōwhiri, I fell in love with you.

I had not known anything about you, but the sound of karanga was charged with wairua that it brought tears to my eyes. It reminded me of the Shintoist chant back home in Japan that is deeply rooted in Nature, and I finally felt at home in this foreign land.

Your respect for elders and ancestors resonated in my Japanese heart, and whakawhanaungatanga helped me feel less homesick.

Your manaakitanga really humbled me and made me want to reciprocate when you visit my whenua.

Thank you also for helping our indigenous people, Ainu, regain their mana.

And your hākari! You pour so much love into cooking hangi! It is just so divine!

Finally, your kaitiakitanga like the concept of rāhui. You have always known the solution for the global warming! I really believe that following your way is the only way for human survival.

All my kaiako have generously imparted me with their knowledge, wisdom, and passion for te reo, and I am eternally thankful to them.

I am also thankful to my classmates who have taught me so much about te ao Māori.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I feel immensely privileged to be allowed to take Māori classes, but at the same time I am fully aware that I am also taking away a chance for one Māori person to learn his/ her own language. I always keep this in mind and never take this opportunity for granted.

My journey has just begun, but someday I would like to give back to te ao Māori by promoting te reo Māori me ōna tīkanga among our migrant communities particularly among the Asian communities in Aotearoa.

My progress might be slow, but I am committed to you!

I was wondering if you are free this Thursday night?*

Warm regards,

Eishi

* My Te Ataarangi class is held on Thursdays 😁

Old-Time Radio (OTR) and Rakugo

As some of you may know, New Zealand has just gone into another lockdown as of today.

As I was searching for something to do during this time of isolation, I remembered about the Old-Time Radio (OTR) that my friend and author, Kristine Ohkubo, had introduced me to a while ago.

One of her recommendations was The Great Gildersleeve, a radio sitcom that was originally broadcast from 1941 to 1958.

The entire series is available for free on Spotify, and I am currently listening to one of the episodes as I write this.

It is amazing how this series reminds me of rakugo so much.

Its humour is derived from the dialogues and situations as opposed to stand-up comedy that is often a compilation of random jokes.

Rather stereotypical and caricature-like, wholesome characters.

The same nostalgic place where your dreamy self can belong and go back to.

I can relate to the OTR almost exactly in the same way as I connect with rakugo.

By the way, Ohkubo is an Old-Time Radio enthusiast who turned a rakugo enthusiast herself.

She even went so far as publishing a book about rakugo and becoming a fellow member of the English Rakugo Association.

As I listen to Gildersleeve giggle, I can now clearly see why she became so passionate about rakugo.

Are you an OTR enthusiast? Please give me more recommendations in the comment section below!

Who Invented the Legless Japanese Ghosts?

One of the rakugo stories that I’ve always wanted to listen to is called “The Ghost of Ōkyo” (応挙の幽霊).

In this story, an antique art dealer came across a picture scroll by Maruyama Ōkyo (1733-1795), a famous realist painter from the Edo period (1603-1867), and sold it to one of his clients for 10 Ryo.

The client left 1 Ryo for the bond and went home to pay the remaining amount the following morning.

That night a beautiful ghost came out of the scroll, and she thanked the dealer for offering her sake and chanting a Buddhist sutra for her.

They enjoyed sake together, and the ghost even sang some dodoitsu poetry for him.

The morning arrived, but the ghost was still asleep, being exhausted from the previous night.

The client wondered why the scroll wasn’t delivered and asked the dealer.

The dealer answered, “I’d like to let her sleep a bit longer, sir.”

Now…

This is one of those stories that I probably wouldn’t perform myself as a lot could get lost in translation.

But what really fascinates me is that it is said Ōkyo invented the legless Japanese ghosts.

As you may know, it is traditionally believed in Japan that ghosts do not have legs.

That is why ghost characters in Japanese manga and anime are usually legless.

It is a widely accepted theory that Ōkyo was the one who was responsible for inventing the convention of legless ghosts.

If this is true, it is relatively a modern invention that is less than 300 years old.

On the left is The Ghost of Oyuki by Ōkyo.

Picture Attributions

The Ghost of Oyuki: Maruyama Ōkyo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Yuurei: Brigham Young University, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What is a “Pillow” in Rakugo?

Can you spot his pillow? And… I wonder who the creepy man under the vase stand is…

Today I learned that the Māori word for a pillow is urunga, which also means “act of entering”, according to Te Aka dictionary.

I don’t know about you, but I found this extremely fascinating!

As some of you may know, the prologue for a rakugo story is called a makura (まくら, 枕), which also means a pillow.

Delivering a good makura is an art form.

You are allowed to talk about literally anything in it.

Some use it to explain some words or old customs that are now hard to understand.

Others use it to warm up themselves and the audience.

You can talk about what happened to you on your way to the performance.

You can make a political statement or even tell some dirty jokes if you wish (though you may lose your fans).

Some performers are so good at makura that they sometimes only do their makura without performing rakugo stories.

This is just my personal interpretation, but I’ve always thought it is called a “pillow” because it acts as the portal to guide the audience members to the dreamlike world of rakugo.

Just like a pillow is the portal to the dream world.

Like the Māori word urunga, makura is the entrance to the world of rakugo.