Rakugo story-teller Katsura Kaishi will give an English-language performance on Nov. 7 in Shimokitazawa, Tokyo. Originating in the Edo Period (1603-1868), this traditional form of Japanese entertainment sees a lone rakugo-ka (story-teller) sitting on a stage in kimono relating a long and complicated comical story. Equipped only with a paper fan and a hand towel, used to express all items in the story, and by changing the pitch and tone of the voice, the performer acts out all the characters of the story and narrates.
Rakugo became more accessible as the Edo Period merchant class flourished, and there are about 300 stories, which are still performed as classic rakugo today.
Katsura Kaishi, born in 1969 in Amagasaki City, Hyogo Prefecture, became a professional rakugo performer in 1994.
Besides classical and modern rakugo, Kaishi started performing rakugo in English in 1997, following a lifetime ambition to work in that foreign tongue. Since his first performance in the U.S. in 1998, he has taken this style of Japanese comedy to 31 cities in 12 countries. Most recently, his show “New York Hanjotei” at the Sage Theater, Broadway, attracted many New Yorkers last month.
The reason he started performing in English was to try to change foreigners’ image of Japanese as “economic animals” or “workaholics” who do not understand jokes, by making people all around the world burst into laughter with this unique, 400-year-old style of storytelling art.
This coming performance features classical stories “Irachi Guruma (A Man in a Hurry)” and “Dobutsuen (The Zoo).” The stories are told in simple English, at the level of the first grade of Japanese junior high school.
The performance is on Nov. 7 at Kitazawa Town Hall, 2-8-18 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku in Tokyo, from 6:30 p.m. The venue is a 4-minute walk from the South Exit of Shimokitazawa Station, Inokashira and Odakyu lines. Tickets are ¥2,500 in advance on (03) 5210-6688.