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

The FIRST International ONLINE Rakugo Club Meeting Report!!!

Our very first international online rakugo club was held on Saturday 30 April 2022!

We had participants from three countries including America, Japan, and New Zealand. As some of the Kiwi members could not participate, it was a small group, but I thoroughly enjoyed the fun and cozy session.

There are three highlights in this session for me.

  1. I finally met my American rakugo brother, Kanariya Chusei (鹿鳴家中西)! He performed a story called ‘Gonbei and the Raccoon Dog’, and I performed ‘Chiritotechin’.
  2. We had two English language teachers from Kagoshima, Japan, and they were so friendly and funny! I hope they will come back again!
  3. We tried Ogiri (大喜利) or a traditional Japanese game show during the session. Once we have enough games and performers, I am thinking of hosting an online Ogiri! It will probably be the first time in human history where Ogiri is performed in English!

As we resume our face-to-face sessions of Aoteya Rakugo Club in Auckland, we have decided to also keep running the International Online Rakugo Club. I’m already plotting an online performance once we are ready!

Now that this is a borderless thing, you are welcome to join us wherever you are on this planet.

Next time we are planning to learn about makura. Makura literally means a pillow, but join us to find out what it actually is in the context of rakugo.

The meeting is held roughly monthly whenever yours truly is available to host it. If you would like to join the club, please message me here or via Twitter or Facebook (click on the icons below).

Ideal Environment to Perform Rakugo

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 😁

Photo Attribution

vera46, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/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) 😃