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!!
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.!!
4/20(Sun) 1pm Seattle Cherry Blossom & Japanese Cultural Festival
4/21(Mon) 10am Nikkei Manor
4/21(Mon)pm Seattle Keiro
4/22(Tue) 6pm House of Consul General
4/23(Wed)7pm University of Washington Performance & Work-Shop
4/24(Thr) 7pm Welcome Reception @ The Japanese Cultural Center
4/25(Fri) 6AM KHQ-TV
4/25(Fri)～26(Sat) Spokane Falls Community College & M.F.W.Institute
4/27(Sun) 2pm Gonzaga University
4/29(Tue) 7pm The University of Montana
5/1(Thr) 4pm Western Washington University
5/3(Sat) 7pm Portland State University
5/4(Sun) 7:30pm Oregon State University
5/11(Sun)2:30pm San Francisco Public Library
5/13(Tue)1:00pm Kimochi Home
5/17(Sat)1:00pm Japan Society& Business Association
5/17(Sat)7:00pm UC Berkeley
5/23(Fri)6-9pm Gardena Buddhist Church by LaLaLa
5/25(Sun)2pm Pacific Asia Museum
5/31(Sat) 8:00pm Goulding Lodge @ Monument Valley
6/20(Fri) pm Chicago Hanjyo-Tei
6/21(Sat)7:30pm Chicago Hanjyo-Tei
6/24(Tue) pm Indianapolis
6/26(Thr) pm Milwaukee (Iowa)
6/29(Sun) pm Minneapolis（Minnesota）
7/1(Tue) pm Des Moines(Iowa)
7/10(Thr) pm Washington DC
8/28-31 St Luis Japan Festival
9/27 (Sat) Kansas City Japan Festival
Hello, my friends!!
I'm Kaishi Katsura, the professional Rakugo performer, from Japan.
Thanks for visiting here.
For those of you who saw Rakugo and who never seen Rakugo,
I'd like to update Rakugo information here.
Currently, I'm on English Rakugo tour for my project of Cultral Ambassador
assigned by Department of Cultral Affair in Japan.
I'm driving RV, accrossing the US from Las Vegas to Chicago
with my family members and producer.
I have 40 performances in the US and 20 more performances are left
on way to New York.
So far, I think that I'm doing pretty good.
My happiest moment is to see people's laugh, not just laugh,
but big laugh.
Well, I just wanted to say hello to everyone and
hope you guys will check this out often.
Thanks! Anyway, I speak English only on stage....
so... I cannot write you many here. hee hee.
There is a Japanese joke that goes like this:
How do you get a Japanese guy to laugh on Monday? Tell him a joke the previous Friday.
For some reason, Japanese have a reputation for humourlessness.
But, but, but, that is a big mistake!
The Japanese answer to stand up comedy is Rakugo, Japanese sit-down comedy! A traditional comic storytelling art that has been entertaining the Japanese for over 400 years and is still wildly popular today!
One dose of Rakugo and you will never again associate the word humorless with the Japanese!
Rakugo started about 400 years ago in the Edo period.
It may be traditional, but it is anything but old-fashioned. Throughout its history, storytellers have always put their own modern stamp on the old stories, and are always coming up with new stories as well!
Rakugo is a very special form of comedy. The storyteller kneels on a cushion on a stage called a “Koza”, and plays any number of characters.
Samurai, geisha, merchants, farmers, thieves, drunkards, ghosts, and even dogs all come to life in Rakugo, and the storyteller does this alone.
The storyteller may work alone, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have friends! It that kind of show!
It’s a lot like a one-man play.
The Rakugo storyteller uses only two small props a Japanese fan and a hand towel, plus, the most important aspect of all the audience’s imagination.
In Rakugo, all kinds of characters and scenes from daily life in Edo period Japan come to life.
In the Edo period, theatres called “Yose” (yoh-say) were built especially for Rakugo. Along with Kabuki and Bunraku puppet theatre, Rakugo became one of Japan’s most popular entertainments for the people.
Four hundred years have passed, but Rakugo remains popular today, Yose theatres in Tokyo and Osaka presenting Rakugo 365 days a year, and the shows are regularly sold out!
Rakugo is usually performed only in Japanese, but Kaishi is turning Rakugo into an international entertainment by presenting Rakugo in English!
Come on out and see Kaishi’s English Rakugo, and experience this unique Japanese traditional comedy for yourself!