ALL Stories Were Once Brand New

『本来の落語は古典ではなく全てが新作だった。』

There was originally no classical rakugo, but all the stories were newly written.

『やさしい落語』柳家花緑 (“Easy Rakugo” by Yanagiya Karoku)

Today, rakugo stories are divided into two groups: “classical rakugo” (古典落語) and “new rakugo” (新作落語=newly written rakugo).

But I just learned today that this classification hadn’t existed until the beginning of the Showa period (1926-1989).

Throughout the three previous periods i.e. Edo, Meiji, and Taisho periods, rakugo performers simply talked about the now. *

As you may know, a rakugo performer (落語家) is also known as a “hanashika” (噺家) or a storyteller. The kanji “噺” used in this expression, in fact, means “saying something new”.

Rakugo performers, then, were NOT some defenders of a traditional art but trendy entertainers and social commentators who were ahead of the time and dealt with the current events.

At the beginning of the Showa period, it is said that they performed stories from the Edo period (1603-1868) by replacing the old expressions and contexts to the new.

They told them as new stories.

It is fascinating that since the term “classical rakugo” was invented, those “old” stories were suddenly put on a pedestal and became something that had to be protected dearly.

Of course, I love classical rakugo and would like to learn and perform it as authentically as possible. However, I have to also remember that rakugo performers must stay ahead of the time and speak of the now.

* During these eras, people were either born during the Edo period themselves or had family members who had been born in Edo. Edo was still very much a part of people’s lives, so Edo rakugo still belonged to the now. Early Showa was the time when the remnants of Edo started disappearing.

Rakugo Retold: The Art of Latin American, Maori, and British Rakugo

Stories are universal.

As long as they are told by humans, they inevitably carry human truths regardless of their cultural origins.

They encapsulate our love, hate, joy, despair, greed, lust, wisdom, stupidity… No matter how different we think we are from “them”, we are really not that different.

Rakugo specialises in our imperfect nature, being full of flaws and mistakes (a perfect format for someone like me!). In fact, rakugo was defined as the “acceptance of human nature/ karma” (業の肯定) by the rakugo legend, Tatekawa Danshi V (technically VII).

About a month ago, I did a little experiment with Babel Theatre to prove that the essence of rakugo is universal.

I am a bit of a rebel, but as a rakugo performer and an actor, I could not resist this experiment. It was too tempting.

Here is the rather unconventional approach I took in my experiment:

  1. Participants externally explored the stock characters from rakugo through “shigusa” (set movements), postures, hand positions, etc. while sitting down in the seiza position
  2. Participants internally experienced and processed these characters in the sitting position
  3. When the characters were fully internalised, actors stood up and performed improvised scenes as rakugo characters
  4. Using characters developed in 1-3, actors reenacted 3 folktales from New Zealand, England, and Latin America

The result of the experiment?

Look at the photos, and decide for yourself.

But I am personally very pleased with it!!!

(祝) Rakugo Club Is Born. Finally!!!

I did it!

After 3 years of planning, I have finally launched the first rakugo club in the history of New Zealand!!! (*Please contact me if you want to contest this claim.)

As far as I know, I had been the only rakugo performer permanently based in New Zealand as of 5 October 2019. But this tragic statistics changed in a matter of a day.

Three brave people, two from New Zealand and one from Japan, joined this movement to make this world a better place by the power of stories. I am pretty sure they had no intention whatsoever other than having fun learning rakugo, but hey 🙂 I am infamous for exaggerating things a bit- I must be a rakugo performer or something.

We learned the basic of rakugo such as “kamishimo” (the technique to distinguish characters), stock characters (Hachi, Kuma, Inkyo, etc.), and some protocols. They even got to learn and perform a “kobanashi” (short stories).

Thus, the rakugo population of New Zealand quadrupled overnight on 6 Oct. I now proclaim 6 October as the National Rakugo Day©! (Someone is exaggerating again…)

You are still welcome to join the club, and you don’t have to participate in the “movement” per se…

Just come have fun with us!

The next meeting will be held 2:00-4:00PM, 20 October at a venue to be confirmed 🙂

Contact me via the “contact” page if you are interested!

Rakugo From the Middle East!

Recently, I have been introduced to the tales by Nasreddin, a Seljuk satirist from the 13th century. It was my writer friend’s recommendation, and I got hold of this quirky wise man’s books mainly out of curiosity.

The very first story I read was about Nasreddin’s most unexpected response to a robber who had just stolen his belongings. I couldn’t believe my eyes as he acted as if he’d been straight out of the rakugo world!!!

This story can be easily developed into a rakugo script. I read on and found so many others that tickled my funny bone!!!

Yes, it was my complete ignorance, but I hadn’t expected something this comical would come out of this part of the world. (They would say the same about my country Japan… haha!!!)

It was really eye-opening.

This led me to explore other tales from the Middle East, and I bumped into the Tales of Juha. This one is a bit harder to develop into a rakugo story, but I can see some universal humour that can work anywhere in the world.

Come to think of it, some of the classical rakugo tales are of foreign origin.

“The God of Death” (死神), which was made famous by the manga masterpiece “Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju”, was based on a story by the Bothers Grimm of Germany. “The Zoo” (動物園) written over 100 years ago was originally from a British humourous story.

Good stories are universal and find their place wherever they are introduced to.

The power of stories!

English Rakugo Club IS Happening!!!【英語落語研究会始動!】

(日本語の記事は一番下にあります。)

I’m very excited to announce that English Rakugo Club IS happening!!!

The three exclamation marks might make this sound more exciting than it actually is, but I have just booked a performing arts space for the first Rakugo Club meeting!!!

The first meeting will be in the workshop style, covering the basic of Rakugo, so you don’t want to miss the first one if you want to get involved!!!

Please let me know EARLY if you are participating. As the venue cost is covered by yours truly, I would like to cancel if there is not enough interest.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity!!!

VENUE: Kete Aronui (80 Onehunga Mall, Onehunga)

TIME: 10:30AM-2:30PM, Sunday 6 October 2019

COST: $10 koha to cover the venue hire and other expenses

Please let me know if you can’t afford the cost. Also, it is free for minors. Once community is established, I will apply for funding so you won’t have to pay.

I will eventually apply for funding so that you won’t have to pay a koha to join the meeting, but we gotta start somewhere!

If you happen to know a free venue I could use, please let me know as well.

皆さんお元気でお過ごしでしょうか。

今日は英語落語研究会へのお誘いです。2年程前から落研を始めようと色々な場所に働きかけていましたが、なかなか話が進まないので、この際思い切って一人で立ち上げてみることにしました。

とはいっても、自腹で会場を確保し、どれだけ人が集まるか試してみるというだけの事なので、あまり大したことはありませんが。(笑)

といわけで、英語落語研究会の初ミーティングへのお誘いです。

落語に興味がある人はもちろんのこと、英語落語を通して英語力を伸ばしたい人も大歓迎です。参加に興味のある人は日本語のできない人がほとんどで、落語の翻訳や日本文化を正しく説明するのに、日本人のメンバーがいるとプラスになると思います。

会場 Kete Aronui (80 Onehunga Mall, Onehunga)

日時 10月6日(日) 10:30AM-2:30PM

費用: 会場費や運営費用を自己負担しておりますので$10 程の寄付を頂けると助かります。


会場費を自己負担しているため、9月末日までに必要人数が集まらない場合キャンセルになりますので、参加をご希望の場合は早めにご連絡下さい。

お会いできるのを楽しみにしています!

2 Rakugo Shows Coming Up Soon!!!

Hi all, hope you are doing great!!!

My apology I am so terrible at updating this website, but I am letting you know that two rakugo shows are coming up soon!!! This is just a notice, but I promise to post something more interesting next time!!!

One is at the Auckland Zen Centre on Saturday, 31 August. I will be sharing the stage with the super talented artist (writer, musician, poet, filmmaker, and the list goes on)/ zen teacher Richard von Sturmer!!! What an honour!!! I am also interested in the Q&A session afterwards to hear how rakugo would be received by Kiwi Zen Buddhists.

The other is my main show at The Spreading Tree on Fri 13 September. As usual, I will be doing my new stories, which I hadn’t performed anywhere else!!! It is often experimental, so come enjoy watching me struggle or soar. In the past, I’d recorded a video message to myself two weeks prior to the show and showed it at the performance… I’ve also attempted improvising a rakugo story on the spot… which didn’t go very well…

Hope to see you there!!!