Rakugo Show Brings Cool Time to Chicago-Area Fans
Two Rakugo Masters Return to 11th “Chicago Yose”
• Two master performers of Rakugo, or Japanese comic storytelling, returned
to the Chicago suburb of Palatine on July 23 for the 11th annual Chicago
Yose Rakugo show.
• Masters Yanagiya Sankyo and Hayashiya Shozo are now
regulars at the Chicago Yose, the annual rakugo show which has been hosted
by M Square Global, Inc. since 2008. They each presented two stories this
• The 300-seat J Theatre at Harper College was almost filled with the
audience, many of whom were returning fans of the two popular storytellers.
• This year, the two also performed at the show in Indianapolis,
co-organized with the Japan America Society of Indiana and the Consulate-General
of Japan in Chicago. The 170-seat event was sold out, with more people
on a waiting list.
• Rakugo is a traditional art form of Japanese storytelling,
where a performer (rakugo-ka) sits on the stage and tells stories while
playing the role of multiple characters. The performer typically uses
a Japanese hand towel (“tenugui”) and a paper fan, standard props for
rakugo to help depict the scenes from the story.
• A simple tenugui in the performer’s hand could turn into a plate, a
tray, a notebook, or anything else in the audience’s imagination. Similarly,
a white fan could be used as chopsticks, a writing tool, scissors, etc.
• Yanagiya is a highly respected Rakugo master known
for his skills to bring back to life the bygone days of the Edo period.
He has been active as a Japan Cultural Envoy, promoting cultural exchange
and international friendship through Rakugo. He has also been honored
with numerous awards, including the Medal with Purple Ribbon (April 2017).
• Hayashiya joined Yanagiya three years ago in Chicago
• Currently the Vice Chair of the Rakugo Kyokai Association, he is widely
known for his appearances in TV dramas, movies, and anime shows as a voice
actor, in addition to his dedication to the classical rakugo storytelling.
He is the recipient of a number of awards, including the Excellence Award
of Arts Festival by Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs.
• Yanagiya began the show with a small talk about summer
in Japan, reminding the audience that Japan has a way of “concealing the
sweltering heat of summer” by appealing to senses that help us feel cool,
such as the sound of a wind chime and the light, dry feel of “yukata”
• Vegetables such as eggplants, tomatoes and cucumbers used to tell us
that summer was here, but they are available all year around now.
• Soba noodles, made from buckwheat flour, are also available all year
around, but the freshest are those made from the new crop of buckwheat,
and it’s harvested from the end of summer to early autumn.
• Yanagiya’s first tale was “Soba Sei,” one of the classical
titles about a soba lover and his misadventure.
• The custom of soba eating originated in Osaka, which then spread east
to Edo (modern-day Tokyo). The story began at one of the countless soba
diners in Edo.
• A guy shows up there one day and tucks in 10 servings of soba in front
of all the regular patrons.
• Impressed, the regulars challenge the guy to eat 20 servings to win
some money. The guy, putting up a show of reluctance, agrees and easily
finishes 20. The bet goes up to 30 servings – and the result is the same.
• The guy in fact was “Soba Sei,” famous soba eater who has been rumored
to have built three houses with all the money he had won in soba challenges.
• The regulars of the diner now raise the bet to 50 servings. Unsure,
Soba Sei holds off the challenge and finds a special medicine to help
digestion during his business trip.
• Now returned to the diner with the secret weapon, Soba Sei accepts the
challenge and starts eating 50 servings of soba . . .
• What fate awaits him in the end?
• After the break, Hayashiya appeared on the stage to
share a humorous story about his experience in Hokkaido.
• Hayashiya had never been to the city of Muroran, Hokkaido until he visited
there on his rakugo tour.
• Muroran is famous for a lovely white flower called “lily of the valley.”
There, Hayashiya purchased 20 of the “Muroran limited-version” lily-of-the-valley-scent
• At home, he discovered the air fresheners were all “produced in Tokyo.”
• “Traveling is fun and hard at the same time. Today, I’ll take you all
to go find a waterfall with me,” Hayashiya said and began the tale called
“Tsuzumi-ga-taki” (hand-drum falls).
• A traveling poet finds a waterfall called Tsuzumi-ga-taki
and makes a short poem about its beauty. Tired, he then falls asleep.
When he wakes up, it’s completely dark. Following a single source of light,
he comes to a house where an old man and old woman live with their granddaughter.
They invite him in to stay the night.
• The traveler proudly recites his newest poem to them. The old man (who
claims to be a poetry lover) suggests some changes in the poem “to make
it better.” The traveler follows the advice.
• Then the old woman offers her advice for further changes. The traveler,
now miffed, still accepts the offer.
• Now, the granddaughter says: “Even a baby can utter words like that;
why don’t you change . . .” The exasperated traveler protests this time
but accepts the suggestion in the end. The final product was a superior
work of poetry, much improved from the original work.
• Then the traveler is woken up by a woodcutter; it was all a dream. The
woodcutter tells the traveler about the Three Gods of Poetry that appeared
in his dream.
Q&A with Two Masters
Q: How did you choose the titles for today’s show?
• Shozo Hayashiya: It’s summertime, so I included a ghost
story. This event has been going on for many years, so Master Yanagiya
and I discussed and chose titles we had not done before.
• Sankyo Yanagiya: Actually, it’s our custom to decide
which story to tell on the day of performance by looking at the audience.
Chicago Yose is no different.
• Hayashiya: The audience here has been getting better
at enjoying Rakugo. There’s a saying that goes: “A poor performer is helped
by good listeners.”
• Before going on the stage with “Tsuzumi-ga-taki” today, I asked Master
Yanagiya if he thinks that the audience knows “tsuzumi” [Japanese hand
drum]. He assured me, “It’s absolutely OK [to do it] today.” So I did
• Yanagiya: There’s a word “uwabami” [means a monstrously
large snake], for example. Even if you don’t know what it means, you can
simply imagine what it might be like while watching the performer’s moves
depicting it. That’s perfectly acceptable. That’s what’s good about Rakugo.
Q: Thank you very much.