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.

㊗️ Eishi is Now a Member of the English Rakugo Association!!!

Last month when I had a rakugo performance in Wellington, one of the audience members asked me if I was a member of the English Rakugo Association.

My answer was no…

He looked almost confused as I had just told them how excited I was that the association was established… by my very own master Kanariya Eiraku!

But I was slack at taking an action until my master himself invited me (this, by the way, is a bad thing in Japanese/ rakugo culture… as I didn’t take the initiative to discuss with him…)

Anyway… making a long story short, I have finally joined the association as of today!

For those who know me well, I am a bit superstitious when it comes to choosing the right timing to begin something new.

I began my training under Eiraku on my 40th birthday.

I especially asked him if I could start on that particular day.

Today 15 August is the 76th anniversary for the end of the WWII. By surrendering to the war, Japan began her new journey as a more peaceful nation.

The restrictions for rakugo performances were lifted, therefore rakugo came back fully.

Peace is a prerequisite for art to thrive.

As a reminder of this, I hereby became a member of the association as of today to promote rakugo further to the world.

By the way, I was given Special Membership B (which I don’t know much about but sounds cool) 😃

Weird Professions of Edo No.2: Ear Wax Remover

I have a confession.

I once was an ear cleaning addict until my specialist ear nurse rather strongly told me to stop using the traditional Japanese ear pick.

It is usually made of bamboo, and it often has a “fluff” made of bird feather on one end.

Traditional Japanese Ear Pick

If you are into Japanese film, manga, and anime, you might have seen that a couple cleaning each other’s ears (usually a man laying his head on a woman’s lap, getting his ears cleaned by the woman).

Somehow ear cleaning is considered an intimate act, even romantic, in Japanese culture.

By the way, my western wife doesn’t think it’s romantic and just tells me to stop using it, but this is another story.

Ear-cleaning being such an important part of Japanese life (slightly exaggerated), some people even made a full-time living from cleaning people’s ears during the Edo period (1603-1867).

In fact, the profession of Ear Wax Remover (耳垢取) is recorded in Kotto Shu (骨董集) by Samuru Iwai (岩瀬醒), which was published in 1814/ 1815.

Japanese life in Edo seems to have been much more laidback than how it is now.

What are some of the strange professions from your country? Please let me know in the comment section below. I am very keen to learn about them!!!

Photo Attributions

Ear Pick: Mochi, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

Kotto Shu: National Diet Library Digital Collection