Konnyaku Debate and Frozen Shoulder

Konnyaku (蒟蒻, こんにゃく) is one of the ingredients for Japanese cooking. It’s made from “Konnyaku Potato” or konjac roots in English.

It’s quite chewy like really firm jelly and almost always used for savoury cooking, but it could also be used for fruit-flavoured confectionery like “konnyaku jelly”.

A few months ago, I started learning a rakugo story called “Konnyaku Debate”.

In this story, the owner of a konnyaku store, Rokubei, pretends to be a zen master to beat a travelling monk in a “zen debate”.

In the olden days in Japan, the travelling zen monks challenged the head priests of temples in zen debates, and if the head priests lost, they were kicked out of the temples- it was like a serious quiz battle.

So, how would a konnyaku maker try to win a debate?

By pretending that he could not hear nor speak.

Therefore, the debate was conducted in gestures instead…

I’ll save the punchline, but you know who the winner of the debate was.

As you can see, this story involves a lot of physical movements unlike most other stories in rakugo, sometimes forming a large circle with arms over the head.

Life is ironic.

When I just started learning this kind of unusual story, I was diagnosed with a frozen shoulder…

It is literally impossible to do some of the movements at the moment, thanks to my unmovable (and painful) left shoulder!

Unfortunately, all of the painkillers I have tried have side-effects on me like knocking me out at noon for a nap and can’t stay awake past 9:00 PM.

So I couldn’t use any strong painkillers, which prevented me from writing this blog for a while.

Fortunately, my shoulder seems to be coping well today, so I thought of saying hi to you all.

If you can, don’t get old.

Photo Credit

toyohara

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

What’s Up With Eishi? [Voiceless Edition]

Hi all, how have you been? Hope everything is well with you over there!

I usually post my monthly updates on my YouTube channel called “What’s Up With Eishi?”, but this month I am writing one instead because I was literally voiceless for about 3 weeks and my voice is still around its 80% capacity as of today…

It all started during Auckland Lockdown 2.0.

One morning, I woke up with this violent pain in my throat, and I was convinced it probably would be… the virus.

Resigned to my fate, I let this super friendly nurse with super beautiful smiles stick a stick in my nostril.

Really… REALLY deep… which made me teary.

I remember feeling a sense of respect and fear at the same time for her to keep smiling all the way through the procedure.

Anyway, it turned out negative!

But this virus or bacteria caused the worst throat infection in my entire life…

The swollen larynx blocked my air pipe in my sleep the first 4-5 nights, which kept me awake most of the night.

Excuse my drivelling, but I just noticed…

You are not really here to read about my sufferings, are you?

In conclusion, my voice is back to about 80%, and I have started performing rakugo as usual!

I kicked off this week with a rakugo workshop for language teachers at my alma mater, the University of Auckland.

This morning I ran an online rakugo workshop for an intermediate school in Wellington.

I am working as an actor this Saturday and doing a play reading for Babel Theatre. It will be held at TAPAC, but I am not sure if it will be open to public.

You can probably gatecrash if you are really desperate (no guarantee!).

But the biggest news this month is…

The funding for developing a documentary film/ art installation has been granted!!!

I will be working with a very established documentary filmmaker.

It will deal with the concepts of war, aikido, and rakugo.

We are about to start this project next week!!!

And of course, I have to finish my Online Rakugo Project, which is due on Christmas Day!!!

I forgot to add that the rakugo club is returning at the end of the month! The venue is moving to Onehunga.

Busy life ahead!!!

Online Rakugo Project Starting Next Week!

As some of you may know, I spent the last two months recovering from a major-ish disc injury.

I am not writing this to get your sympathy, but I am just telling you why my “Online Rakugo Project” did not happen for so long.

Having said that, I am glad to announce that I have finally filmed two of my rakugo stories, and I will start posting them from next week!

In this Creative New Zealand funded project, I will post 10 very different rakugo stories on my online platforms, mainly YouTube and possibly Vimeo and IGTV.

If you still haven’t, please follow my YouTube channel as it will be an incentive for me to keep posting videos after this project is over. Please share about it with your friends and family as well.

I was initially not too sure whether to post videos as it is a consensus among rakugo fans that rakugo would not work in the video format. It is much more suited for the audio media.

Also, it would inevitably expose my limited skills and make it open to criticisms from rakugo purists (please be easy on me!), but I decided to post them for the following reasons:

  • I have been requested by quite a few people over the last few years. If that’s what my supporters want, I will provide! I perform rakugo for those people, not for critics 😃
  • As the world faces the Covid crisis, I want to cheer up people through my project, even if it is for a slightly bemused chuckle. Throughout my childhood, my peers always told me I had a “bored-sounding voice” (つまらなそうな声) but had a funny face. I probably should make the most of my “gifted” face.
  • It will be a good record of how primitive my skills were, looking back 10 years from now.

Finally, I was torn whether to have a small live audience for recordings or not. It is now possible to have an audience in NZ, and it is so much easier to perform in front of one. But I decided to talk straight to the camera instead, in solidarity with people in countries that are still majorly affected by the virus.

The first story “Chotan” is a little unusual pick to kick off the project with, but I couldn’t resist as I like performing quirky stories. It is translated as “Long-Tempered vs. Short-Tempered”, and it is a story about two best friends, one being extremely laidback, the other being quick-tempered. Hope you will enjoy it!

I will post it sometime next week!

Murder, Cursed Sword, and Rakugo

Hi all, Eishi here! How are you all doing?

Last night, I listened to a rakugo story called “Daimaruya Soudou” (大丸屋騒動 だいまるやそうどう) based on a real murder case that took place in 1773.

It is unusual for a murder to become the theme of a rakugo story, so I was quite fascinated by this tragedy.

I will not write about the details of this case, but if you are interested and understand Japanese, you can find more information here.

Though it is not clear what kind of sword was actually used as the murder weapon, in the rakugo version, it says that a sword called Muramasa was used.

If you ask any Japanese person what the most famous sword would be, they are likely to answer either Masamune or Muramasa.

You see a lot of references to these two swords in Japanese literature, movies, and even manga/ anime.

Masamune is often described as a sword that protects while Muramasa is a sword that harms and kills.

Muramasa to most Japanese people is a “cursed sword”.

Muramasa got a bad reputation as Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543- 1616), the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, was said to have lost his grandfather and eldest son by this sword.

Photo Credit: Ihimutefu – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18271854

Pinky Promise- Japanese Style!

Hi all, Eishi here! Hope you are doing well 🙂

As you might’ve noticed, my blog is very random.

It is a pure reflection of who I am as a scatterbrained Japanese comedian.

Yes, everything here is written from the perspective of an English Rakugo performer, but the topics may vary from rakugo and Japanese language/ culture to wellness, positive psychology, and philosophy.

Today’s post is about pinky promise/ swear.

The other day my son asked me to pinky-promise to take him to a certain fast food restaurant once this chaos is over.

Pinky promise is cute, but do you know how it is done in Japan?

The action of a pinky promise is the same (as in the photo above), but we say the following phrase as well.

ゆびきりげんまん、うそついたらはりせんぼんのます。ゆびきった!

指切りげんまん嘘ついたら針千本飲ます。指切った!

This roughly translates as…

Pinky promise, if you tell a lie, I will cut your finger, hit you with the fist 10,000 times, and make you swallow 1,000 needles…

Kids often don’t know the whole meaning of this phrase, but this is what it actual means…

So, ladies and gentlemen, if you are pinky-promising with a Japanese kid, think twice.

Deliver what you promise, or else…