What is a “Pillow” in Rakugo?

Can you spot his pillow? And… I wonder who the creepy man under the vase stand is…

Today I learned that the Māori word for a pillow is urunga, which also means “act of entering”, according to Te Aka dictionary.

I don’t know about you, but I found this extremely fascinating!

As some of you may know, the prologue for a rakugo story is called a makura (まくら, 枕), which also means a pillow.

Delivering a good makura is an art form.

You are allowed to talk about literally anything in it.

Some use it to explain some words or old customs that are now hard to understand.

Others use it to warm up themselves and the audience.

You can talk about what happened to you on your way to the performance.

You can make a political statement or even tell some dirty jokes if you wish (though you may lose your fans).

Some performers are so good at makura that they sometimes only do their makura without performing rakugo stories.

This is just my personal interpretation, but I’ve always thought it is called a “pillow” because it acts as the portal to guide the audience members to the dreamlike world of rakugo.

Just like a pillow is the portal to the dream world.

Like the Māori word urunga, makura is the entrance to the world of rakugo.

㊗️ 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) 😃

Weird Professions of Edo No.2: Ear Wax Remover

I have a confession.

I once was an ear cleaning addict until my specialist ear nurse rather strongly told me to stop using the traditional Japanese ear pick.

It is usually made of bamboo, and it often has a “fluff” made of bird feather on one end.

Traditional Japanese Ear Pick

If you are into Japanese film, manga, and anime, you might have seen that a couple cleaning each other’s ears (usually a man laying his head on a woman’s lap, getting his ears cleaned by the woman).

Somehow ear cleaning is considered an intimate act, even romantic, in Japanese culture.

By the way, my western wife doesn’t think it’s romantic and just tells me to stop using it, but this is another story.

Ear-cleaning being such an important part of Japanese life (slightly exaggerated), some people even made a full-time living from cleaning people’s ears during the Edo period (1603-1867).

In fact, the profession of Ear Wax Remover (耳垢取) is recorded in Kotto Shu (骨董集) by Samuru Iwai (岩瀬醒), which was published in 1814/ 1815.

Japanese life in Edo seems to have been much more laidback than how it is now.

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!!!

Photo Attributions

Ear Pick: Mochi, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

Kotto Shu: National Diet Library Digital Collection

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.