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

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

Is This a Miracle? Superstitious Japanese!

We Japanese are superstitious people.

Regardless of our everyday high tech life, many of us still follow our traditional ways and beliefs, which I guess is one of the reasons why many people are still drawn to my country of birth.

One of the superstitions that we have is that it is good luck when a tea stem stands up in your green tea.

Deep down, we know that it is not scientifically sound to assume that a piece of stem would affect our future, but many do get overly excited whenever this phenomenon occurs to us.

If you live in Japan long enough, you will eventually hear the following phrase:

見てみて!茶柱が立ってる!(みてみて!ちゃばしらがたってる!)

“Look, look! A tea stem is standing up! (literally means “a pillar of tea is standing up”)

With this in mind, I just witnessed a miracle.

I like to burn incense when I work to get into the zone, and, lo and behold, the following sight interrupted my work!

I screamed with joy.

うおっ!線香立ってる!(せんこうたってる!)

OMG, incense is standing up!

This, my wise readers, is a phrase that you will probably never hear or use for the rest of your life.

This is not a well-timed picture. It kept standing up like this for good few minutes!

A miraculous day is waiting for me and hopefully for you, too!

My Love Letter to Te Ao Māori

News_MLM.png

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