Katsura Kaishi is the premier performer of Rakugo in English. He was recently awarded the Ministry of Culture award for Cultural Exchange. He has won numerous prestigious awards for Rakugo, including the NHK Japan National Television Award for Young Artists, the Ministry of Culture Yew Artist Award, The Hanjoutei Yose Theatre Award for Explosive Laughter, and others. He is one of the most popular storytellers in Osaka, Japan. Up until now, Rakugo could only be seen in Japan. But, in order to bring this art form to the world, Kaishi has, since 1997, performed in over 12 countries including England, Australia, Canada, India, Brunei, and The Phillipines. In all he has performed abroad over 200 times! In 1999 he made his debut at the Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal, Canada. In 2007, he presented a full “Yose” lineup Off-Broadway, a full week of sold-out shows that drew the attention and acclaim of both the Japanese and American media. He is currently touring the United States on a Ministry of Culture grant for cultural exchange.
Having been awarded the Japanese grant for cultural exchange, for the purpose of introducing Rakugo to the world, Kaishi begins his journey on April 1, 2008 in New York. From there, he will travel by car to Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Los Vegas, Chicago, and other cities and towns on a grand American tour ending again in New York.
Piling just his living essentials and his Rakugo tools kimono, fan, hand towel, cushion, and unique sense of humor, Kaishi will perform Rakugo in English in more than 30 States.
And not just in theatres! Comedy clubs, schools, on top of bar counters, on the back of tractor trailers... Kaishi can turn almost anything into a platform for Japanese traditional comedy! America, prepare to laugh your heads off, Japanese style!
One of the biggest annual spring events in Seattle is the Seattle Cherry Blossom & Japanese Cultural Festival. This annual event showcases traditional Japanese culture and Seattle's deep relationship with Japan.
The event takes place at the Seattle Center, which is well-known as the home court for NBA's Seattle SuperSonics.
Each booth gives visitors the opportunity to experience activities that are typical of Japanese culture.
My English Rakugo performance was this year’s main event. The prepared hall was huge,
able to accommodate more than 200 guests.
I was very nervous that there would not be enough audience to fill the hall. In the end I had nothing to fear; it was a full house and they even had standing room only guests!
I started the show with the cartoon movie which I prepared before I left Japan for this USA tour. In the movie, my own anime character explains what "Rakugo" is. The popularity of Japanese animation culture is evident everywhere. The audience was captivated by the movie.
In keeping with the flow of my anime character, I entered the stage and everyone cheered. First, I performed "The Zoo."
Next, I played the VTR that introduces Rakugo in depth with historical records; meaning of gesture in Rakugo, its rules, and how to enjoy stories as well as its family hierarchy system "SHITEI-KANKEI."
The finale was "A Man in a Hurry."
Though I think the show still lacks unity as one performance, I will try to make it better!!
I am just thankful for the big success of my first show in U.S.!!