ALL Stories Were Once Brand New

『本来の落語は古典ではなく全てが新作だった。』

There was originally no classical rakugo, but all the stories were newly written.

『やさしい落語』柳家花緑 (“Easy Rakugo” by Yanagiya Karoku)

Today, rakugo stories are divided into two groups: “classical rakugo” (古典落語) and “new rakugo” (新作落語=newly written rakugo).

But I just learned today that this classification hadn’t existed until the beginning of the Showa period (1926-1989).

Throughout the three previous periods i.e. Edo, Meiji, and Taisho periods, rakugo performers simply talked about the now. *

As you may know, a rakugo performer (落語家) is also known as a “hanashika” (噺家) or a storyteller. The kanji “噺” used in this expression, in fact, means “saying something new”.

Rakugo performers, then, were NOT some defenders of a traditional art but trendy entertainers and social commentators who were ahead of the time and dealt with the current events.

At the beginning of the Showa period, it is said that they performed stories from the Edo period (1603-1868) by replacing the old expressions and contexts to the new.

They told them as new stories.

It is fascinating that since the term “classical rakugo” was invented, those “old” stories were suddenly put on a pedestal and became something that had to be protected dearly.

Of course, I love classical rakugo and would like to learn and perform it as authentically as possible. However, I have to also remember that rakugo performers must stay ahead of the time and speak of the now.

* During these eras, people were either born during the Edo period themselves or had family members who had been born in Edo. Edo was still very much a part of people’s lives, so Edo rakugo still belonged to the now. Early Showa was the time when the remnants of Edo started disappearing.

Rakugo Retold: The Art of Latin American, Maori, and British Rakugo

Stories are universal.

As long as they are told by humans, they inevitably carry human truths regardless of their cultural origins.

They encapsulate our love, hate, joy, despair, greed, lust, wisdom, stupidity… No matter how different we think we are from “them”, we are really not that different.

Rakugo specialises in our imperfect nature, being full of flaws and mistakes (a perfect format for someone like me!). In fact, rakugo was defined as the “acceptance of human nature/ karma” (業の肯定) by the rakugo legend, Tatekawa Danshi V (technically VII).

About a month ago, I did a little experiment with Babel Theatre to prove that the essence of rakugo is universal.

I am a bit of a rebel, but as a rakugo performer and an actor, I could not resist this experiment. It was too tempting.

Here is the rather unconventional approach I took in my experiment:

  1. Participants externally explored the stock characters from rakugo through “shigusa” (set movements), postures, hand positions, etc. while sitting down in the seiza position
  2. Participants internally experienced and processed these characters in the sitting position
  3. When the characters were fully internalised, actors stood up and performed improvised scenes as rakugo characters
  4. Using characters developed in 1-3, actors reenacted 3 folktales from New Zealand, England, and Latin America

The result of the experiment?

Look at the photos, and decide for yourself.

But I am personally very pleased with it!!!

“A Fortune Teller” is Born!!!

I have just finished writing a new rakugo story called “A Fortune Teller”.

It involves “karoshi” (death from overwork or work-related exhaustion), two fortune tellers, and a superhero.

Rakugo is both a traditional art and a popular art at the same time, which gives it a very unique status among the Japanese traditional arts.

It is something to protect as a cultural heritage and also something to evolve so it stays relevant now and in the future.

I’ve always wanted to write something that reflects the early 21st century, and this is it!

It is really absurd (it’s my work after all) and lacks depth at this stage, but I hope it will eventually evolve into something that other English Rakugo performers would want to perform.

As an experiment, I will perform it at my next public performance in December.

As usual, I’ll appreciate your feedback!

(I’m writing this as I wait for my turn at a barbershop. Hope my new haircut will be OK!)

(祝) Rakugo Club Is Born. Finally!!!

I did it!

After 3 years of planning, I have finally launched the first rakugo club in the history of New Zealand!!! (*Please contact me if you want to contest this claim.)

As far as I know, I had been the only rakugo performer permanently based in New Zealand as of 5 October 2019. But this tragic statistics changed in a matter of a day.

Three brave people, two from New Zealand and one from Japan, joined this movement to make this world a better place by the power of stories. I am pretty sure they had no intention whatsoever other than having fun learning rakugo, but hey 🙂 I am infamous for exaggerating things a bit- I must be a rakugo performer or something.

We learned the basic of rakugo such as “kamishimo” (the technique to distinguish characters), stock characters (Hachi, Kuma, Inkyo, etc.), and some protocols. They even got to learn and perform a “kobanashi” (short stories).

Thus, the rakugo population of New Zealand quadrupled overnight on 6 Oct. I now proclaim 6 October as the National Rakugo Day©! (Someone is exaggerating again…)

You are still welcome to join the club, and you don’t have to participate in the “movement” per se…

Just come have fun with us!

The next meeting will be held 2:00-4:00PM, 20 October at a venue to be confirmed 🙂

Contact me via the “contact” page if you are interested!