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.
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 😁
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 jokeand 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 BrothersGrimm, 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.
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…
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?*
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.