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!
The day after the Cherry Blossom Festival, I visited Japanese-American nursing homes, Nikkei Manor and Seattle Keiro.
I performed Rakugo both in Japanese and English.
One of the residents (she was 100 years old!!) asked the staff, "A Rakugo performer is coming? Who? Kingoro Yanagiya?"
Now remind you, Kingoro Yanagiya was one of Japan's major comedians/Rakugo performers at the beginning of the Showa era which was about 100 years ago. Those residents' memories were still back in those good old days of Japan.
The 100 year-old-grandmother still remembers all the words from HYAKUNIN ISSHU (an anthology of 100 Japanese poems by 100 different poets which is used as a traditional card game in Japan) and her Japanese is very old-fashioned but refined.
Even miles away from home, she still maintains old Japan's aesthetic sense and virtue which we, the Japanese, in these days tend to forget. I was very impressed.
She thanked me for taking her back to her old days in Japan by Rakugo. Her granddaughter, who speaks only English, also thanked me for reminding her of the beauty of her roots which are grounded in Japanese culture.
This visit made me realize that introducing Rakugo in English was really a worthwhile activity.
I was very touched by the "Welcome Mr.Kaishi" sign that they prepared for me!!
by usarakugo | 2008-04-20 03:01