English-Rakugo What's Rakugo ? Books English-Rakugo
English-Rakugo Performers BBS English-Rakugo
English-Rakugo History of performance Mail English-Rakugo
English-Rakugo Information Top page English-Rakugo
米公演パンフレット 米公演パンフレット
What is Rakugo?

Rakugo can be best described as Japanese "Sit-down" comedy. Performers sit on a small mattress in front of an audience and act out stories with a comic style and structure. A performer plays the part of several characters in a single sketch. The stories reflect traditional concepts and values which nevertheless remain meaningful and entertaining today.

Rakugo actors apprentice for three or four years with a Rakugo Master. They usually live in the Master's house and do everything that the Master orders. They are not allowed to have any privacy and must learn everything following the Master. When the apprenticeship is completed, they are given their names as professional Rakugo performers by the Master. They take Master's family name and one syllable from his first name. A performer's name immediately signals his artistic lineage. There are only a few "families" of Rakugo performers, and there are only some five hundred Rakugo performers in the world.

Rakugo comedy is an excellent tool for introducing Japanese culture, society, and communication style to the outside world. I hope the audience will find the universal humor in Rakugo. Please enjoy the traditional Japanese performing arts!

RAKUGO in English USA Tour '98
Tour Producer Kimie Oshima

二人羽織の写真 Two for one at California State University. It is much harder to play the arms (Asakichi).

1. What is RAKUGO? 落語について Kimie Oshima
Musical Interlude お囃子 Hayashiya, Kazume, others
2. "Chili-tote-chin"「ちりとてちん」 Katsura, Kaishi
3. "Time-noodle"「時うどん」 Katsura, Asakichi
4. "Ninja"「忍者」 Shofukutei, Kakusho
Intermission 仲入り
5. Two-for-one 二人羽織 Shofukutei, Kakusho/ Katsura Kaishi
6. Tama-sudare 玉すだれ
* The program may vary by show


・お囃子(Ohayashi): Musical Interlude
・三味線 (Shamisen): The three-stringed lute-like instrument. There is no written music for the Shamisen; rather, music is conveyed by sound. Becoming a professional Shamisen player takes about ten years of training with a Master.
・ ちりとてちん (Chili-tote-chin): It is how the sound of Shamisen is expressed.
・ 時うどん (Toki Udon): Time-noodle
・ 忍者 (Ninja): The undercover guard and spy for a Shogun or a powerful personnel.
・ 二人羽織 (Ninin-baori): Two people perform on stage, acting as one; one person plays the arms and the other plays the head. They attempt to accurately match the motions with the monologue. We will ask the audience to join this performance.
・ 玉すだれ (Tama-sudare): Bamboo blinds are transformed into various shapes.

笑う客の写真 ←The audience of University of Colorado at Boulder. The range of audience was wide from seniors to small children. It was such relief to see people enjoying for the first show.
OSAKA-A group of ambitious Rakugo comic story tellers are planning to attempt to demonstrate Japan's unique sense of humor in the United States. The four Rakugoka will set out on a U.S. tour this autumn, which will se them performing in English at Stanford University and several other prestigious colleges throughout the country.
- skip -
"I want to demonstrate (to Americans) that Japanese people can be omoroide (fun)," added group member Kakusho Shofukutei, 37, in a heavy Osaka accent. The U.S. tour was inspired by the success of Kakusho's rakugo performance at an International Society for Humor Studies (ISHS) conference in Oklahoma last July. The society has thousands of members worldwide.
For that performance, Kakusho spoke in Japanese. But there were English subtitles and "a lot of exaggerated gestures," he said. "At first, there was a time lag before the audience laughed at my gags because they had to read the English subtitles first," he said. "But after a while, I found they were laughing at the right times. So I thought, 'Wow, Rakugo can immediately cross national borders.'" "This time, it's more challenging because we'll perform in English," he added.
Kimie Oshima, a researcher of ethnic humor and member of the humor society, came up with the idea of her friend Kakusho performing a rakugo story at the Oklahoma conference.
Oshima is also the driving force behind the planned rakugo U.S. tour in October. Oshima, 27, majored in intercultural communications at the University of Colorado and at Aoyama Gakuin University's graduate school. She forcuses on the idea that humor and laughter are the most effective tools for cross-cultura communications.

リハーサルの写真 Rehearsal of musical interlude at Holy Names College. Since Rakugo is individual performing art and we are so used to it, group performance REALLY needs a serious rehearsal.
"I've attended ISHS conferences twice to give presentations on humor in cross-cultural communications," she said. "On these occasions, I felt there was a bias that Japanese have no sense of humor." "I want to fend off that bias. I also want to demonstrate Japnese rakugo's rare narrative style where one performer portrays various characters of both sexes." she said.
Once it was decided which rakugo stories will be performed on the U.S. tour, Oshima said she will translate these pieces into English while trying to maintain their original Japanese rhythm. The two youngest rakugo storytellers in the group, Kaishi Katsura, 28, and Usagi Hayashiya, 30, are similarly enthusiastic.
Bold attempt
"I like English. I even once dreamed of becoming an interpreter," said Kaishi, whose avant-garde cropped hairstyle ensures he looks quite unlike a typical rakugo storyteller. "I've only recently finished my apprenticeship, so some people may criticize me for making such a bold attempt to perform in English before my rakugo storytelling skills in Japanese. But I do want to give it a try as part of my search for my identity as a rakugoka," he said.
- skip -
At this point, the group plans to visit several U.S. universityeis, including the University of California at Berkeley, California State University and the University of California at Los Angeles. As part of rehearsals for the tour, the group will perform rakugo in English in Osaka in July. Oshia said funding is still the most serious problem facing the U.S. project, but her group expects to win financial support from business associations, including the Association for Corporate Support of the Arts. If things go well it will be one of the biggest international steps forward for rakugo since veteran comic Shijaku Katsura pioneered performing the traditional comedy in English a decade ago.

笑福亭鶴笑・パペット落語の写真 Kakushow, performing puppet Rakugo "Ninja" at California State University. This is the most popular performance among children.
いざ、アメリカへ いざ、アメリカへ いざ、アメリカへ いざ、アメリカへ


オチでも笑い パワー届いた


客入れの写真 Entrance of Old Main Theater at University of Colorado at Boulder. This was the very first place to perform English Rakugo in US.

質問を受けている写真 Oshima gets many questions and comments after the show at UCLA. He asked if an American can become a Rakugo performer. That was a difficult question!
公演成功 裏から支え

 一行の荷物はとにかく多い。太鼓二種類をはじめ、銅鑼や毛せんがある。上方落語独特のひざ隠し、演者の前に置く見台、座布団も持ち込んだ。さらに、それぞれの衣装に持ち物。レンタカー一台では収まりきれない人と荷物を、浅野さんたちが運んでくれた。 ―中略―




米公演朝日新聞11月19日 米公演朝日新聞11月19日 桂あさ吉・時うどんの写真

お囃子紹介本番の写真 The stage of musical interlude. Good thing we did the rehearsal. From left, Katsura Kaishi (drums), Katsura Asakichi (Japanese flute), Hayashiya Kazume (shamisen), and Shofukutei Kakushow (bells).
Copyright 2002 Kimie Oshima