Curtain Call: Life is Full of Curve Balls

As we all have witnessed in the last 2 1/2 years or so, life is full of curve balls.

Before this pandemic, I’d encountered my share of unpredictable people- myself included- but the pandemic has proven to be moodier than the moodiest of those unreasonable people.

Most of my colleagues in the creative industries have suffered from this unfathomable creature akin to a shivering chihuahua in a designer handbag i.e. it just doesn’t make sense.

I am not an exception, and my rakugo work has also suffered so much that it completely exhausted last month…

I became officially a jobless performer.

Everything has an end.

As such, as of 19 June 2022, I will retire from a full-time English Rakugo performer.

Thank you so much for all your support for the last 5 1/2 years!

I will go back to my old lover aka librarianship and work as a part-time librarian.

I mean… part-time.

By the way, I said I will retire from being a full-time performer.

Sorry the photo and what I’ve written so far was a clickbait, really.

Of course, I will still remain a part-timer English Rakugo performer!

Nothing can take away rakugo from me even if I have to turn into a shivering chihuahua (I got nothing against this breed).

The funny thing is that as soon as I got the librarian job, I have been asked to perform rakugo at 3 different places!

Yes, it’s always a struggle to stay being a performer when you are well into your middle-aged years, but hey the world will be a boring place if everybody grows up completely.

Idiots like us keep the world sane.

“The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.”

Dalai Lama

Farewell to Thich Nhat Hanh

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.

Thich Nhat Hanh (1926- 2022)

Photo Attribution

Duc (pixiduc) from Paris, France., CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Eishi’s New Year’s Resolutions 2022!

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 😁

Anyway…

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 joke and 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 Brothers Grimm, 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.

Oh, so much freedom, and I feel alive!!!

To life!!! 🥂

Eishi’s Year 2021 Wrap-Up

What a roller-coaster of a year!

The year 2021 began peacefully, almost too peacefully, here in New Zealand as if we were completely intact from the you-know-what.

Then, we (mainly us Jafa‘s) rejoined the rest of the world .

Sure, it absolutely sucked to home-school my children for 1/3 of the year, but this year also turned out one of the most glorious years in my English Rakugo journey!

Here’s the timeline of the GREAT things that happened this year:

January 2021

I FINALLY completed my Creative NZ-funded project after requesting for an extension

March 2021

English Rakugo Association had its launch at Edo-Tokyo Museum

Fiona Amundsen and I produced an Asia NZ Foundation-funded video project Half-Life, which became the prototype for our later project An Ordinary Life (commissioned by Christchurch Art Gallery)

May 2021

Rakugo Association of America was born

June 2021

Talking About Rakugo : The Japanese Art of Storytelling by Kristine Ohkubo was published

July 2021

I had my first Wellington performance at NZALT conference

An Ordinary Life was exhibited at Christchurch Art Gallery (until November)

August 2021

I was accepted as a Special Member of the English Rakugo Association

December 2021

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…

㊗️ 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) 😃

Departed Souls: Things That Shape Us

I got caught off guard.

As I went through the entrance of the Christchurch Art Gallery, I was greeted by the gigantic picture of…

myself…

I was there for the opening of the “Things That Shape Us” exhibition that began yesterday on 24 July.

As those who know me will know, I am a very private person and do not always enjoy “publicity”.

I am aware that it is a necessary evil to keep doing what I love to do, which is to devote my life to rakugo until my very last breath, but it did make me feel a little uneasy and exposed if I’m to be honest.

But I was there to witness the story that my creative partner Fiona Amundsen and I wanted to tell through our work “An Ordinary Life”.

This work is based on actual and imaginary dialogues with my late grandfather, who was a witness of the bombing of Nagasaki.

Before I talk about this work, I’d like to be clear that it is NOT our attempt to victimise Japan or Japanese; I am deeply ashamed of our colonial past and what my ancestors did particularly to other Asian and Pacific nations.

It is our attempt to capture something universal, regardless of our race, nationality, belief, or religion, through my personal experience with my grandfather whom I deeply adored and respected.

It is a very personal account that is now open to the public.

My grandfather was an unconventional man for his generation.

He turned an artist (calligrapher/ shakuhachi, bamboo flute master), a teacher, a pacifist, and even a feminist after the war.

He was the funny grandpa who always made people laugh even in the toughest of circumstances.

He was a flamboyant man and…

a very bad driver.

He was an excellent liar, too.

He had hidden most of his experiences in Nagasaki where he lost his father and siblings.

Very, very well.

Painfully well.

Until his departure.

The inspiration for this work came when my mother told me about his journals on his deathbed.

They were full of darkness.

My mother destroyed all of the journals “to protect his honour”, and I was told what was written in there very selectively.

This made me want to know who this funny, cultured man really was.

I don’t even remember why, but Fiona and I talked about where my grandfather would be now before the opening.

My answer was, “He must be still on this side of the Sanzu River” (in the limbo state, somewhere between the worlds of the dead and the living, in the Japanese worldview).

At 4:00PM, all the artworks were blessed by karakia (Māori prayer).

Fiona said something like “Your grandfather is now blessed through karakia”.

I felt like my grandfather had finally moved on, but I was not too sure.

That night I was woken up in the middle of the night by a strange sensation as if some form of transformation was taking place.

Like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon.

Rebirth.

I was convinced that he had finally gone to the other side of the river and fallen asleep peacefully.

The next morning, I woke up to a text from my wife to tell me that our last remaining family member from the WWII generation had passed away.

Now all the family members who witnessed the war are gone.

A circle has been completed.

We must keep telling their stories on their behalf so that we will not repeat the same mistakes.

So that we will not lose our “ordinary life” that, after all, matters the most.