My Love Letter to Te Ao Māori

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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 😁

㊗️ 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) 😃

Book Review: Talking About Rakugo

I am embarrassed.

I had completely underestimated the newly published book, “Talking About Rakugo: The Japanese Art of Storytelling”.

When I was interviewed by the author, Kristine Ohkubo, for the book, I thought to myself in a fake British upper-class accent:

“Oh, it’s so lovely she’s writing a book for rakugo newbies.” (* I don’t think the aristocrats use the word “newbies”… or “rakugo”.)

Oh my gush, I was so, so, so wrong!

This book is a gem full of rakugo knowledge. It is a one-stop-shop for rakugo newbies and connoisseurs alike!

The book opens with how rakugo began its journey and evolved into its present format. It introduces most of the legendary masters including Kokontei Shinsho V, Sanyutei Ensho VI, and Tatekawa Danshi V.

The truly unique feature of this book is that it covers such subjects as female rakugo performers, rakugo in other languages, and even Sign Language Rakugo!

But its biggest feature is that it includes 16 of my master’s rakugo scripts in English!!!

Now… let me sidetrack for a minute.

The author, Kristine Ohkubo, somehow managed to keep it a surprise for me that my master was actually her co-author until very recently!!!

So did my master Eiraku…

Now I know these two people are excellent at keeping secrets… something I had not known…

Getting back to the rakugo scripts, the following stories are included in this book, with which you can enjoy and/ or perform yourself:

  • Another Bottle of Sake (Kawarime)
  • The Summer Burglar (Natsu Doro)
  • Browsing in the Pleasure Quarter (Nikai Zomeki)
  • Faceless Ghost (Nopperabo)
  • The Father and Son Who Love Drinking (Oyako Zake)
  • Foxes in Oji (Oji no Kitsune)
  • Gonbei and the Racoon Dog (Gonbei Danuki)
  • Gonsuke’s Lantern (Gonsuke Jochin)
  • Okiku’s Dishes (Okiku no Sara)
  • Peach Boy (Momotaro)
  • Test Sake (Tameshi Zake)
  • Time Noodles (Toki Soba)
  • King Lear (Lear Oh)
  • The Replacement of Enma (Enma no Irekawari)
  • Scary Hamburgers (Hanbaga Kowai)
  • Japan Milk Corporation (Nihon Miruku Kosha)

Did I mention that the book also includes extensive interviews with English Rakugo superstars like Katsura Sunshine, Tatekawa Shinoharu, and my master Kanariya Eiraku?

There is an interview of a lovely New Zealand-based performer called Kanariya Eishi, too.

Without any bias, I can confidently say that this is probably the best rakugo book that has ever been written in the English language.

I sincerely hope that this book will spread rakugo to the end of the world!

This is the beginning of a new chapter in English Rakugo.

You can purchase the book from here.

Things You Need to Know About Aoteya Rakugo Club

Please read the entire article if you are planning to join Aoteya Rakugo Club.

Funding Approved!

The funding for Aoteya Rakugo Club has just been extended until December 2021!

I am really excited about this and extremely thankful for the Onehunga Community Centre for continuing their support for the club!

Thank you so very much, Auckland Council, for your continued support!!!

This Could Be Your Last Chance To Join Us

Before talking more about the club, I would like to inform that this could be your last opportunity to join the club.

At the end of last period, I (Eishi) had a heart-to-heart talk with the current members, and we agreed to go on until December and only continue after this period IF we double our active membership to around 10 by the end of the current period.

Our aim has always been to promote rakugo to as many people as possible, but if the current situation (only 5 active members) continues, I (Eishi) feel like it would be more effective for me to have more public weekend performances instead (unless the club becomes a hub for rakugo enthusiasts).

I really love the members and am very thankful for all the support we have received from the community, but I have come to this decision.

This is not a marketing tactics 😃, and if you want the club to keep going, please do join us now!

What You Learn at Aoteya Rakugo Club

  • Rakugo history
  • Rakugo techniques (distinguishing characters, props, etc.)
  • Memory techniques
  • Kimono knowledge (there will be a field trip to a Japanese antique shop to purchase kimono; cheap ones cost less than $20)
  • Characterisation unique to this tradition
  • Storytelling in general (not only bound by rakugo)
  • Writing and/ or translating rakugo scripts
  • Japanese culture in general (and also learn from different cultures)

Location, Time, Dates, & Cost

Location

Maungakiekie Room, Onehunga Community Centre (83 Church Street, Onehunga)

* Enter from the main entrance of the building, turn right and go into the community centre, and go down the stairs right after the office=> In short, the room is located downstairs of the building!

TIME

2:00-4:00PM on the following Saturdays

DATES

21 August, 28 August, 11 Sept, 18 Sept, 9 Oct, 16 Oct, 6 Nov, 20 Nov, 11 Dec

COST

It is 100% free, thanks to Onehunga Community Centre!

Recommended Book

Talking About Rakugo by Kristine Ohkubo and Kanariya Eiraku (my master)

Even though the purchase of the book is NOT required, it is highly recommended as it covers a lot of what is taught at the club, and it also includes 16 of my master’s rakugo scripts! I am introduced in the book, too. You can purchase the book from here.

Departed Souls: Things That Shape Us

I got caught off guard.

As I went through the entrance of the Christchurch Art Gallery, I was greeted by the gigantic picture of…

myself…

I was there for the opening of the “Things That Shape Us” exhibition that began yesterday on 24 July.

As those who know me will know, I am a very private person and do not always enjoy “publicity”.

I am aware that it is a necessary evil to keep doing what I love to do, which is to devote my life to rakugo until my very last breath, but it did make me feel a little uneasy and exposed if I’m to be honest.

But I was there to witness the story that my creative partner Fiona Amundsen and I wanted to tell through our work “An Ordinary Life”.

This work is based on actual and imaginary dialogues with my late grandfather, who was a witness of the bombing of Nagasaki.

Before I talk about this work, I’d like to be clear that it is NOT our attempt to victimise Japan or Japanese; I am deeply ashamed of our colonial past and what my ancestors did particularly to other Asian and Pacific nations.

It is our attempt to capture something universal, regardless of our race, nationality, belief, or religion, through my personal experience with my grandfather whom I deeply adored and respected.

It is a very personal account that is now open to the public.

My grandfather was an unconventional man for his generation.

He turned an artist (calligrapher/ shakuhachi, bamboo flute master), a teacher, a pacifist, and even a feminist after the war.

He was the funny grandpa who always made people laugh even in the toughest of circumstances.

He was a flamboyant man and…

a very bad driver.

He was an excellent liar, too.

He had hidden most of his experiences in Nagasaki where he lost his father and siblings.

Very, very well.

Painfully well.

Until his departure.

The inspiration for this work came when my mother told me about his journals on his deathbed.

They were full of darkness.

My mother destroyed all of the journals “to protect his honour”, and I was told what was written in there very selectively.

This made me want to know who this funny, cultured man really was.

I don’t even remember why, but Fiona and I talked about where my grandfather would be now before the opening.

My answer was, “He must be still on this side of the Sanzu River” (in the limbo state, somewhere between the worlds of the dead and the living, in the Japanese worldview).

At 4:00PM, all the artworks were blessed by karakia (Māori prayer).

Fiona said something like “Your grandfather is now blessed through karakia”.

I felt like my grandfather had finally moved on, but I was not too sure.

That night I was woken up in the middle of the night by a strange sensation as if some form of transformation was taking place.

Like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon.

Rebirth.

I was convinced that he had finally gone to the other side of the river and fallen asleep peacefully.

The next morning, I woke up to a text from my wife to tell me that our last remaining family member from the WWII generation had passed away.

Now all the family members who witnessed the war are gone.

A circle has been completed.

We must keep telling their stories on their behalf so that we will not repeat the same mistakes.

So that we will not lose our “ordinary life” that, after all, matters the most.

1000 Podcast Downloads!!!

Maybe I am someone with very low expectations about what I do, but…

I’m genuinely surprised to find out that my Podcast ‘Japanese Street Wisdom– A Rakugo Performer’s Musings’ has already been downloaded a little over 1,000 times!!!

Thank you so very much for all your continued support!!!

Your support means so, so, so much especially for someone like me who is engaged in the most indie art of pretty much all the indie things!!!

I am sorry that I have long neglected it, but now I feel obliged to record the next episode as it seems like a lot of people are actually listening to it without my knowledge!

If you still haven’t listened to this rather short and sweet (& rough-cut) podcast, you can find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and YouTube.

Or you can listen here on my website:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4