This morning I was looking at the list of my repertoire of rakugo stories and realised that quite a few of them have not yet been performed in public.
These are the stories that I learned during the pandemic when public performances were not possible. Some of them have been “demonstrated” at the rakugo club, which no longer exists, but not in public performances.
Here are the stories that have not yet seen the light of day:
Gush Gush (だくだく)
Habits of Four Men (四人癖)
Stupid Neighbours (粗忽長屋)
Gonbei and the Raccoon Dog (権兵衛狸)
Yawning School (あくび指南)
The Matsuyama Mirror (松山鏡)
These are some of the masterpieces in the rakugo tradition, and I have to give them life by performing them in public!
My master’s rakugo school, Canary Rakugo Company, has recently celebrated its 30th anniversary!
Considering the rakugo club that I established in Auckland lasted only for 3 years (mainly due to my poor leadership skills) … this is an amazing accomplishment!
Canary Rakugo Company actually opened its door in 1991, but the celebration was delayed by a year due to the pandemic. I had been planning to attend the anniversary party myself but gave up in the end as Japan still had many travel restrictions that prevented me from organising my trip on time 😢
Here are some photos from the party on my master’s website!
This school initially only taught rakugo in Japanese for the first 15 years.
The first teacher was now legendary rakugo performer and celebrity, Tatekawa Shiraku (立川志らく). He taught rakugo there for 4 years.
But what was truly revolutionary about this school was that my master, Kanariya Eiraku, decided to also start teaching rakugo in English to take this loveable art to the world in 2007.
Rakugo was first performed in English in 1983 by Katsura Shijaku II, and he established this art until his unfortunate passing in 1999. His will was carried on mainly by Kamigata Rakugo (Osaka/ Kansai Rakugo) performers.
But what distinguishes my master from others is that he has introduced non-farcical stories as well to the world.
As you may know, rakugo is not just a comedic expression. It began as a comedy tradition, but it also includes tales such as love stories, historical stories, human-interest stories, and even tragedies.
My master has introduced many, many stories in English for the first time ever, I dare say, in human history.
With a very heavy heart, the Aoteya Rakugo Club has closed its doors due to the lack of interest and participation as of today.
Now that the Covid restrictions are gone, the members’ priorities and commitments have changed- some taking up new jobs and responsibilities, and others training for the national wall climbing championships!!!
I would like to thank the Auckland Council, Onehunga Community Centre, and all the staff who have helped us along the way. Without your supports, we would’ve never survived for the last 3 years. Thank you so very much!!!
I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank you, all the current and past members of the club, for the last 3 years. All the very best for your endeavours!!!
Meanwhile, this man can only think about rakugo that he will keep following his path- a boring man he is!
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 😁
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.