Rakugo is Simply an Excuse to Learn

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“I see reality in another way with a camera. Looking through the lens, I peer into another world… For me, the camera is simply an excuse to learn.”

“Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide” by Isabel Quintero

I know I should really be writing about the “Rakugo& Tsugaru Shamisen” performance and my recent visit to a retirement home where I performed Rakugo for 90 year-old plus audience.

But I wanted to record this thought before I lose it.

The other day when I was browsing through a graphic novel about Graciela Iturbide, I stumbled upon the quote above.

I am not sure if it was an exact utterance by Iturbide, but it really explained why I have been pursuing Rakugo, very much a minority art, alone in New Zealand.

Allow me to heavily plagiarise…

it surely isn’t plagiarism as long as I mention the source, right?

The reason I do Rakugo is because…

I see reality in another way with Rakugo. Looking through the Rakugo stories, I peer into another world… For me, Rakugo is simply an excuse to learn.

I finally understood why.

Introducing Rakugo Characters No.2 [Kumagoro 熊五郎]

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Along with Hachigoro (八五郎), one of the best known stock characters in the Rakugo-verse is Kumagoro (熊五郎).  He is usually referred as “Kuma-san” (熊さん) or simply “Kuma” (熊) , which means a bear.

As the name suggests, this “Edokko” (江戸っ子)* is quick tempered, not someone to mess with!  He is usually a carpenter in Rakugo tales and loves drinking sake.  He is almost an alcoholic and gets into trouble when he drinks a little too much.

He is not the smartest person in Rakugo, but he is immensely likeable, someone with a very big heart.  He is one of my favorite characters as he reminds me a little bit of myself.  No, I do not have drinking problems!

* “Edokko” or “Edoite” is the term for those who lived in “Edo”, the old name for Tokyo, which was used during the Edo Era (1603-1868). They were known for their hospitable yet feisty temperament.  I actively promote these terms so that they will be recognized internationally someday!

Introducing Rakugo Characters No.1 [Hachigoro 八五郎]

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In Rakugo, there are some stock characters that show up over and over in multiple stories.  One of such Rakugo-verse dwellers is Hachigoro (八五郎).  His nicknames are usually: “Hachi”, “Hats-an”* (八っつぁん), or “Garappachi”* (ガラッ八).

Hachi is a happy-go-lucky clown type.  He is usually quite likeable but an infamous scatterbrain.  He is a bigmouth and has a tendency to act on half-baked knowledge.

Wherever he goes, chaos ensues.

In one story, he ends up becoming a monk.  In another, he gets promoted to be a samurai warrior.  He is possibly the best known character in Rakugo along with Kumagoro (熊五郎) and Inkyo (隠居) (whom I will introduce in other articles!).

This man mainly appears in Edo Rakugo (Tokyo Rakugo) but barely gets a cameo appearance in Kamigata Rakugo (Osaka Rakugo).

* These spellings are for pronunciation purposes only.

My Near Enlightenment Experience at Titirangi Library

The circle has been completed.

The 20-something me, who casually walked into Titirangi Library, would have never imagined that he would someday perform Rakugo at this very library 16 years later.

It was a hot summer day in February.  My Day 2 in New Zealand.

I was walking up Titirangi Road, feeling the scorching UV-infused sun on my skin.  My mission was to sign up with the library at the top of the hill.

Admittedly, I hadn’t known much about New Zealand before moving here- except for the All Blacks, kiwis, sheep, and a few other random Kiwiana.  After all, my move to this country was purely accidental; my gonna-be-wife happened to be from here.

To impress my future in-laws, I decided to adapt myself quickly to the Kiwi ways.  I did.  Thanks to all the wonderful books and information provided by this cosy storehouse of “kōrero” i.e. stories.

Excuse my sentimental mumbo-jumbo here, but it was a very special occasion for me to perform at this particular library as I could somehow feel I could give back a tiny bit to the place that had given me so much.

I may have lost half the readers by now… but if you are still reading, you are my kindred spirits!  You deserve an intermission 🙂

These beautiful origami works are done by Origami Workshop NZ.  All of them are inspired by Rakugo and especially “Jugemu”, one of the stories I did on the day.

The performance was somehow very spiritual.

Perhaps more laughter would’ve done justice.  Rakugo is supposed to be a comedic expression.

But it unexpectedly brought this magical oneness, unity, or whatever you call it… that shared “flow” you have when you are having good time with your best mates.  The feeling of the audience and performer… me!… being one.

Sometimes I act more like a “comedian” and pursue laughter.  Other times, I am a pure storyteller and see where the Rakugo stories would lead me and the audience.

The Q&A session was very fascinating.

They were mainly questions about Rakugo stories and Japanese culture.  I always learn something new from their unique insights and perspectives.  I am especially curious about finding out how Rakugo is perceived by people who did not grow up in Japan.

One audience member Tweeted me a lovely comment after the event.  She liked the way coins were kept in the kimono sleeves back in the olden days 🙂

I forgot to mention.  My favourite question at the Q&A session was something I had not expected at all:

“How do you stay so happy?”

Thank you for asking the question.  I can stay happy because of people like you.

A new circle has begun 🙂

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Rakugo & Tsugaru Shamisen Collaboration!!!

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For those who cannot make it to the English Rakugo performance at Titirangi Library this Thursday, here’s good news!

I will be collaborating with some of the AMAZING Tsugaru Shamisen performers from “Auckland Tsugaru Shamisen 音緒 -Neo-” on Thursday 9 August!

Tsugaru Shamisen is quite different from Edo Shamisen (Tokyo style Shamisen), and it is very upbeat and almost reminds me of a Japanese Rock& Roll!

I was told that there will be a Japanese drummer and a singer as well, so I am very much looking forward to it!

(Can you tell from the fact that I ended all last 4 sentences above with exclamation marks?)

As it is a collaboration project, I have decided to do arguably the most physically demanding, almost slapstick like Kamigata/ Osaka Rakugo piece to match their energy.

As I am trained in Edo Rakugo (Tokyo style Rakugo), it will be so much fun to try something entirely new.

See you there!