Tokyo Tech News

RAKUGO Live at Tokyo Tech 2013


Published: August 18, 2013

Mr. Shinoharu Tatekawa performed two Rakugo stories at Tokyo Tech on August 1, 2013. Despite the intense heat, the turnout was double that of last year when he gave his first performance at Tokyo Tech. As most of the audience members were international students, Mr. Shinoharu began by explaining the meaning of several Chinese characters written on the blackboard behind him. He then demonstrated how he plays various kinds of roles ranging from children to elderly adults, both male and female. Each of these characters came alive through a single word, "Hello."

"Rakugo is an art of the imagination, so we do not describe or explain too much," Mr. Shinoharu said. After his brief introduction, Mr. Shinoharu performed the classic comic story of Tenshiki. The plot revolves around a Buddhist priest who felt ill and called for the doctor. After examining the priest, the physician asked, "Do you have a Tenshiki?" The priest did not know the meaning of Tenshiki. However, not wishing to appear ignorant, he pretended to know and answered that he did. After the doctor left, the priest called for his disciple in order to try to find out the meaning of Tenshiki without revealing that he himself did not know....

This is a classic story of an arrogant and wiseacre priest and his clever disciple. The participants enjoyed the humor and subtle actions of Mr. Shinoharu's performance. During the ensuing question and answer time, the participants eagerly asked more about the world of Rakugo.

The second story, Yabu-iri, is also a classic story and one typical of Edo. It begins the night before a son returns home after a three-year absence. The son had gone to a large merchant's house as a disciple at the age of nine and is only now coming home for the first time. This was a typical phenomenon in the Edo period. At the beginning of the story, the father's comical words and anxious state in anticipation of his reunion with his son drew laughter. Gradually the warm affection between the father and son became quite moving. One member of the audience asked whether or not there is local color in the Rakugo world and Mr. Shinoharu answered "Tenshiki is a very, very funny story which you can usually see in the Osaka area. It is Kansai style Rakugo. Yabu-iri is a funny, but also very human and moving story that is more representative of Edo Rakugo."
The day's event presented a rare opportunity for international students to see a live performance of this art form in English.