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Rakugo Story in 7 languages: Sanyutei Ryuraku First Visits Chicago 

• Sanyutei Ryuraku performed English rakugo on September 26 at Fifth Third Bank Auditorium and Japanese rakugo on the following day at Schaumburg Prairie Center for the Arts. Rakugo is traditional Japanese comedy in which a performer plays several characters in a story by using different tones of voice, facial expressions, and pantomimes to evoke the audience’s imagination. Rakugo performers use only a paper fan and a hand towel as tools to help their pantomimes. For example, a paper fan turns into chopsticks or a shallow sake cup, and a towel turns into a letter or a cellular phone on a different occasion.
• What makes Ryuraku very unique is his performance in seven languages: Italian, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, English, and Japanese. He showed the difference among languages and cultures by telling the beginning of rakugo “Miso Beans”. It is a story of snitching cooked beans.

• Ryuraku said that Italian language was cheerful and Italian people laughed a lot; on the other hand, French didn’t laugh often, and when they did it, the laughter was chic. Portuguese language was busy while German sounded angry.
• After small talks called “kobanashi” in rakugo, he performed the full story of Miso Beans.

• Ryuraku’s second piece was a story of rotten tofu “chiritotechin”. A master in Edo era has been bored by a know-it-all-attitude man. One day, he finds a piece of rotten tofu and named it chiritotechin. He invites the man and asks if he knows about chiritotechin. The man says, “Of course I know it! It’s very delicious.” Finally, the man faces up to eat it. Ryuraku naturally performed the awful taste of chiritotechin.

• Between Ryuraku’s rakugo performances, Nyuyoku-ka Cent, Chairman of New York Rakugo Club, entertained the audience with his ukulele comedy. He sang a rakugo story with jazz beat. He originally came to New York as a jazz singer 34 years ago and founded the Club 20 years ago. He has invited rakugo performers from Japan and held shows in New York. This time, he arranged Ryuraku’s visit to the U.S.

• Sanyutei Ryuraku Interview

• Q: How did you start foreign language rakugo?
• Ryuraku: I happened to be asked to come to Italy as a volunteer by an Italian. He said that I had to pay for air fares. I didn’t have much money, but I decided to go. He also said, “Can you do a kobanashi in Italian?” I was vainly pretentious and said, “I’ll do everything in Italian.”

• Q: Who does write a script in foreign language?
• Ryuraku: Most scripts were written by scholars of Japanese Culture. Italian for example, a professor in University of Rome, who had studied rakugo, translated my rakugo pieces. After that I began to receive e-mails from other countries. A German professor, who had studied comedies in Osaka, asked me to come. I believe that only those scholars are able to translate rakugo stories.

• Q: How was your English rakugo in Chicago?
• Ryuraku: I was nervous because Chicago was the first place for me to perform English rakugo in an English speaking country. It turned out very well. The audience made a big laugh at each point.
• Besides rakugo, I explained about haori jackets and kamon (family crests). Can you see drawings in my lining of haori jacket? Japanese enjoyed this kind of hidden fashion in Edo era. Usually haori jackets were made of silk. Because of density of the fabric, a stroke of a sword couldn’t cut the jacket. That’s why samurai wore silk haori. So when we perform the role of samurai, we wear haori. When we perform as other people like a carpenter, we remove it. We choose kimono too much for a rakugo story.

• The full story is available in Chicago Shimpo’s October 24th issue.
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• The rakugo events were hosted by the Japan America Society of Chicago in collaboration with the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Chicago and Fifth Third Bank

Sanyutei Ryuraku relaxes at the lobby of Schaumburg Prairie Center for the Arts after he played rakugo performance.

A know-it-all-attitude man faces up to eat rotten tofu "chiritotechin", and Sanyutei Ryuraku performs the man's role in a rakugo story.