My Rakugo Journey 2018

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As I am going camping to an area without internet/4G connection straight after Christmas, I have decided to post this article a little bit early.

For people outside of New Zealand, yep, it is actually possible to go nearly completely unplugged in some parts of the country.

The video at the very bottom summarises what Year 2018 was like to me, so I will just list the highlights and discoveries/ learning in bullet points.

HIGHLIGHTS OF MY RAKUGO JOURNEY 2018

  • After a very long hibernation period, I am fully back to Rakugo.  My skills are coming back!  Though this was my third year back, it was the first year to REALLY commit to it as my LIFEWORK!!!
  • Collaboration with Auckland Tsugaru Shamisen 音緒 -Neo- developed into an AMAZING friendship/ partnership (you can watch a little bit of our first collaboration project in the video below— I just realised I didn’t mention them in the shout-outs!!! Typically my kind of thing to do… My very sincere apology!!!)
  • My major-ish back injury!  It’s a highlight, all right?  You can read why here.
  • I had an exciting (& slightly awkward) encounter with one of my Rakugo rockstars, Tatekawa Koshira Shisho!
  • I have finally understood the why of what I do!  (Sorry about being a bit vague…)

WHAT I LEARNED THIS YEAR

  • Rakugo DEFINITELY IS my lifework!!!
  • My dream is to eventually create “New Zealand English Rakugo” that is uniquely Kiwi, inspired by my Japanese heart.  Something no one else can copy!!!
  • Humans are fundamentally good regardless of our flaws, mistakes, and weaknesses.
  • Every cloud has a silver lining!!!

That’s enough, isn’t it?  If you have read this far, you are qualified to join my fan club, which doesn’t exist just yet.  But you are qualified.  Aren’t you lucky?

Thank you so much for your AMAZING support this year!!!  You are all sincerely appreciated from the bottom of my heart!!!

Happy holidays, everybody!!!

Special thank you to Auckland Council, Creative New Zealand, The Spreading Tree, Auckland Libraries, Auckland Playback Theatre, Auckland Tsugaru Shamisen Neo, Canary English Rakugo School, New Zealand Japan Society, Julia & Tessa Clement, Kristine Ohkubo, Shinya-san, Togashi-san and all my friends and family members who are always there for me 🙂

My Once in a Lifetime Encounter with a Rakugo Master

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I am a skeptic.

I am not fully convinced if the Law of Attraction or Murphy’s Law would deliver what they promise to.

But at the same time, I am a hopeless romantic.

I know there are things that our eyes cannot see.

Fairies and dragons?  They are totally real.

It all started in a conversation with my math teacher friend.

“Have you heard of a Rakugo performer called Tatekawa Koshira (立川こしら)?  He is involved in promoting green living through his Rakugo”.

I was very excited to hear this because one of my goals as a Rakugo performer is to promote causes like peace, conservation, and equality through my Rakugo.

That was a few months ago.

I started listening to his Rakugo, and soon he became my Rakugo superhero.

For those who do not know him, he is an apprentice of the multi-talented celebrity Tatekawa Shiraku, a student of late Rakugo Legend Tatekawa Danshi VII.

Koshira is Danshi’s “grand apprentice”, a true thoroughbred.

Then, about a month ago, not-so-random-obviously-algorithm-generated-targeted-advertisement popped up on my Facebook.

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“Tatekawa Koshira…IN NEW ZEALAND?????”

I couldn’t believe my eyes because we rarely get visits from Rakugo performers from Japan.

I recall Katsura Zakoba Shisho came here nearly 15 years ago, and that was it.

What is the chance of this specific performer visiting New Zealand?  Only a few months after I became his big fan?

The Law of Attraction might be true.

I had a Pavlovian response of a drooling dog and snapped up the ticket as I do whenever someone dangles anything Rakugo-related in my face.

I arrived early.

In fact, I was actually the first person to get to the venue.

Two super friendly organisers welcomed me with smiles.

More people arrived, and one of them recognised my face from an interview I’d done a few months ago.

“So you do English Rakugo?”

With my shy-ish off-stage persona, I admitted: “Yes, I do.”

This converstion spread like a wild fire.  Now EVERYONE in the audience knew that I was a Rakugo performer.

I had been planning to just enjoy and learn from this amazing gig and go home… that was my plan.

I was too embarrassed and reluctant to share about my Rakugo journey with this Shin’uchi, a Rakugo performer in the highest status…

His performance was immaculate.

His razor-sharp focus and ability to read the audience were pure genius.  His obviously improvised “makura” (combination of banters and one-liners) was 20 or even 30 minutes long.  The audience was completely engrossed by this talented raconteur.

The 2 1/2 hr long show flew by.

Koshira gave us a chance to take photos with him, and I blatantly asked him to act out a samurai warrior who is duped to drink pee, believing it was sake, from a story called “Kinshu Banya” (禁酒番屋).

Here’s the photo of him drinking pee…

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Then, an unexpected thing happened.  One of the organisers told Kashira Shisho that I did English Rakugo.

So, I DID end up talking about what I do here in New Zealand after all.

I felt like a love crazed teenager all over again.

I had a dry mouth and even stuttered when I talked.

He also asked me what stories I would be doing in my performance planned the following week.

“‘Praising a Child’ (子ほめ) and ‘Okiku’s Dishes’ (お菊の皿)”

“Are you coming to the evening show as well?  If so, I can do those two stories for you.”

He offered me to do these stories very casually.

This.

Almost NEVER EVER happens.

Of course, I was very, very tempted and really wanted to come to this once in a life time event, but I had to look after my wife who had just injured her neck.

I didn’t go back.

That evening I received a message from one of the organisers.

“Koshira Shisho actually did those stories for you!”

I missed this once in a life time opportunity.

But I was unimaginably moved by his “iki na hakarai”, his extraordinarily generous action for a nobody like myself.

This, Ladies and Gentlemen, is something a real Rakugo performer does.

Rakugo performers do something like this very casually as if it’s something trivial.

This is the beauty of Rakugo.

I wept that night.

Rakugo, Guitar Legend, & Not Quite the Last Performance

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This is it!

My final Rakugo performance of the year!

I arrived extra early at “The Spreading Tree” to get ready for one of the most independent, independent theatre performances in the world.

I am rarer than a liger or a takahe, or just slightly lunatic to believe that Rakugo can work in New Zealand. A lone English Rakugo performer in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Sure enough, a few hundred fans were queuing up in front of the venue, anticipating my appearance.

“I’m a rockstar!”

My ego boosted. Finally, my time has come.

It had been a long journey.

Believe me, you can achieve anything if you dedicate your life to what you love. I wept with gratitude.

Casting a glance slightly to the right, I noticed a billboard and recognised a name on it.

“Joe Satriani”

What?

Whaaat?

JOE SATRIANI???

Like the legendary guitarist who has worked with Mick Jagger and Deep Purple?

Is he playing right next door??? On the same day???

AWESOME!!!

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Of course, I’d known that they were not there to watch my Rakugo (I’m not that deranged, believe me or not), but I was so excited to perform right next to the concert!

It turned out a cozy, intimate Rakugo performance that I like the most. Real connection, warmth, and support- everything positive filled the air.

I was so thankful that they came to see my Rakugo though there were numerous other options like watching Joe instead, eating curry at Satya, or perhaps having a cup of coffee at Circus Circus.

You are legends! Thank you all for joining me to share our journey into the fantastic world of Rakugo!

It was also amazing that audience included people from so many different countries: New Zealand, Canada, Britain, Japan, and two more European countries (I couldn’t recognise their accents).

They gathered to listen to the tales of our ancestors. We became one as I acted as a conduit of these ancient stories.

I am all for keeping traditions. I am not doing Rakugo in English to disrespect the 400 year-old tradition. But it needs to be translated and modified if necessary if we are to share this amazing tradition with the world.

Rakugo is so much bigger than just being confined in Japan.

Oh yes, I’d thought this would be the final performance of the year, but I have just been invited to do another one.

It is unfortunately a private function, but oh I love this feeling of getting an unexpected gift!

Two performance requests already coming in for early next year.

My journey as a Rakugo toddler continues.

Waddle on!

Finally Back to Stage!!! Thank You Onehunga Library!!!

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Right now I am filled with gratitude that I am finally back to stage!

It was a very long journey.

Can I get a little emotional for a second?

Oh, I love Rakugo and really can’t imagine my life without it!

Thank you so very much, all the amazing people, who came to my Rakugo performance at Onehunga Library this morning.  You were all so friendly and smiley, and really made my day!

There is no Rakugo without the audience, so thank you, thank you, and thank you!!!

I hope you enjoyed the performance as much as I did, but it was an extra special occasion for me.

Here’s a little confession.

I hope you didn’t notice, but I was actually a bit of a wreck from the spine injury that I had had about a month and a half ago.  It was the first time to get on stage since, and it was the longest break I’d ever had.

I hadn’t even been able to do seiza, the Japanese traditional sitting position, for over 20 minutes…

until yesterday…

But voilà!

You witnessed me sitting through nearly an hour today all because of your fantastic support!

What I have learned through this injury is that everything has a silver lining if you are willing to see it. 

Thanks to this injury:

I appreciate life more.

I thank people and everything around me more.

I have learned about my body (its limits and potentials) and perhaps about aging as well.

Here’s the amount of exercise I have done this year.

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Can you see that the amount of exercise dramatically increased in October when I got injured?  It’s all because of the rehab.  This may sound a little strange, but I exercise more because of the injury.

Don’t question how come I’d been such a lazy blob between February and September (and how I was so motivated in January… it’s just like you!), but isn’t this exceptional?

Life is good.  Can you tell from my smile in the picture at the top?

That origami medal hanging from my ear was a gift from a little Japanese/ French/ Kiwi girl.  She came up to the stage and gave it to me.  How special is that!?!

Unfortunately, the string was a bit too short for my massive head, so I instead hang it on my ear, saying “Thank you for the beautiful earring!”

The girl gave me a big smile 🙂

My journey continues.

Slipped Disc, Middle Age, and Upcoming Shows!

Ohisashiburidesu!  Long time no see!

As some of you are aware, I injured my back a few weeks ago while mowing the lawn… therefore joining the league of extraordinary middle aged men.  I am very much proud of my accomplishment.

It was not just a sprained back but a full-blown slipped disc, and I was incapacitated for a while and even ended up cancelling a performance 😦

But my rehab is going really well, thanks to my amazing physiotherapist, and I can even sit in seiza position now!

So I’m finally back to performing Rakugo!

The bright yellow poster at the top is for my last performance of the year.

The show will held 7:30 PM, Tuesday 4 December 2018 at “The Spreading Tree” in Eden Terrace, Auckland.

As a lead-up to this, I am doing another show at Onehunga Library on Wednesday 28 November.  It starts at 10:00 AM.

I will do the same stories for both of these shows, so it would be cool if you could join one of these two.

Hope to see you there!