The first time I heard of rakugo I was at the weekly Japanese conversation club at MER Cafe in Nagoya in 2011, and the teacher / awesome boss lady Akiko-sensei was telling me about an event they were holding the following week.
"This man Sunshine-san is very famous," she told me. "He does traditional Japanese comic storytelling in English."
"Pfft," I thought to myself. "I don't want to see a show in English. I didn't come to Japan to watch stuff in English!"
Well, six years later I saw that same show right here in Brighton, and boy was I wrong.
Akiko wasn't lying when she told me that Katsura Sunshine is famous. He's the first ever western storyteller in the history of the “Kamigata” Rakugo tradition, and the second western Rakugo performer ever in the history of Japan.
Rakugo means "falling words", which makes little sense in English but a bit more sense in Japanese.
Raku (落) means fall, and the same kanji as ochi 落ち which is the Japanese word for "punchline". Each comic story ends with an abrupt turnaround - a punchline.
The storyteller sits on stage in seiza (that kneeling position people in Japan do in formal situations) and tells stories using only a fan and a little cloth as props.
So I thought this might be an ideal spring trip for my students - accessible and fun! Plus, I really wanted to go and see what all the fuss was about.
We went last Sunday, the last night Sunshine was playing at the Brighton Fringe. There were thirteen of us and the theatre was super tiny, so we took up about half the seats.
I needn't have worried about the show being in English - the subject matter is basically all Japan! And there were plenty of jokes about the complexity of the Japanese language, and the entertaining perils of being abroad in Japan. That got a lot of laughs from our group...
A lot of the stories (dialogue etc.) is actually left untranslated from Japanese, which is great I think. You can pick up some Japanese words from context, but the show makes sense even if you don't speak Japanese.
The first half of the show was kind of like stand up (except of course he's sitting down) and the second half is storytelling. It was way more fast-paced than I expected.
↓ Post-rakugo pint
I should probably have gone and seen him in Nagoya six years ago...but I'm glad I got a second chance!
I won't spoil the show for you - you should go and see it if you get the chance - but you can check him out on YouTube if you'd like to hear what rakugo in English might be like.
Happy Friday! 素敵な１日を過ごしてください〜
Top picture and bottom pictures are mine; the others are Sunshine's, but you probably guessed that ^_^