Weird Professions of Edo No.1: Cat’s Flea Remover

I recently heard of a Japanese movie called “Flea Remover Samurai” (のみとり侍), which was released in 2018.

It is based on a short novel by Shigeo Komatsu by the same title (the original title uses a kanji for the word flea: とり侍).

The premise of this story is that the main character, who once was an elite samurai, resorts to the side hustle of removing fleas from cats to supplement his income.

But here’s a twist.

His real business is a male courtesan.

I’d love to watch the movie sometime, but did you know that the profession of flea remover (蚤取り屋) actually existed during the Edo period (1603-1867)?

As far as I know, they were not covert courtesans, though!

This strange occupation is sometimes introduced in rakugo, usually in a makura or a free talk before commencing rakugo.

According to what I have heard in rakugo, they wrapped up a flea-infested cat with wolf’s fur, which was warmer and more comfortable than the cat’s, so that the fleas abandoned the cat for the wolf’s fur.

It is said that they made enough money to make a full-time living.

What are some of the strange professions from your country? Please let me know in the comment section below. I am very keen to learn about them!!!

Japanese Concepts of “Hare” and “Ke”

Onbashira Festival

If you have ever visited Japan, you probably know that we are quite mellow people.

Those dead quiet trains make us look well-behaved and civilised.

Yet, when it comes to festivities, we go overboard and know how to celebrate (not in the Latin American, Spanish, or Italian ways, but hey…).

Celebrations have kept Japanese civilisation going since time immemorial.

You may have heard of a festival called Onbashira Festival (御柱祭) where 16 fir trees (16-19 metre-long each) are pulled downhill by a group of people.

Every year, many people get injured and sometimes even die… but they still keep going regardless as festivals are crucial in Japanese life.

According to Kunio Yanagita (1875-1962), a renowned scholar and folklorist, all our activities can be divided into two categories: Ke (け; 褻) and Hare (はれ; 晴れ; 霽れ).

Ke refers to the ordinary.

Things or activities that you do every day like family life, work, school, etc.

Hare, on the other hand, refers to things and activities that are out of the ordinary such as festivals and rituals like wedding, coming of age, and Shichi-Go-San.

It is the balance between these two kinds of activities that have maintained Japanese life.

Even though many people assume that ke is from the word kegare (impurities), but this is not the case.

The concept of kegare was only added in the 1970’s to this hare-and-ke dichotomy.

Working hard on the ordinary (ke) and looking forward to the out-of-the-ordinary (hare) is how Japanese have coped with our rather stressful social life.

Photo Credit

Si-take. at Japanese Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Reference

Onbashira

ハレとケ

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.

Superstitious Japanese: Lucky Numbers

Japanese are superstitious people.

One of the most traumatic experiences in my life was when I was asked to MC at my sister’s wedding.

Sure, it was a happy occasion, but my mind was constantly on the edge as I was not allowed to utter a single word that was not auspicious.

At a Japanese wedding, you cannot use words such as “break”, “end”, “separate”, or any expression that implies that the newly-formed relationship would not last… even if it is used in a completely different context.

At the end of a wedding, we cannot say “This is the end of the ceremony.” but instead we say “we open the ceremony.” (お開きにいたします。)

We have to be careful with the use of numbers as well.

Numbers 4 and 9 are considered unlucky in Japanese culture.

4 (四; Shi) rhymes with “death (死; Shi)”, and 9 (九; Ku) rhymes with “hardship” (苦; Ku).

Even numbers (2, 4, 6…) are considered less lucky compared to odd numbers (1, 3, 5…) as they can be split in half.

If you pay attention to the number of letters used in kabuki/ bunraku titles, nearly all of them are in odd numbers with a very few exceptions (here is the list of kabuki titles in Japanese if you are interested).

For example, the kabuki/ bunraku play “Hirakana Seisuiki” is written “ひらかな盛衰記” even though it would normally be written “平仮名盛衰記” as the former has 7 letters and the latter has 8.

They really made sure that the number of letters used are in an odd number.

Now…

Me being me, I did accidentally use a few inappropriate expressions at my sister’s wedding, but she is still with her childhood sweetheart, so really…

Superstitions are superstitions after all.

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.