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'Rakugo' artist takes his yarns to Thailand, gets new audience chuckling

Kyodo

Japanese rakugo comic storyteller Katsura Takemaru was reminded of his boyhood in Osaka in the 1960s when he visited Thailand for the first time in 2007.

Katsura, 57, was so intrigued by Thailand that he began learning the Thai language to become better acquainted with the Southeast Asian nation. He soon became a repeat visitor, traveling there three or four times a year, and finally performed there last year.

It was during his latter days at university that Katsura embarked on a rakugo career, eventually joining the ranks of shin-uchi, or rakugo masters, in 1993.

But as there are an estimated 800 or so rakugo storytellers, Katsura found it difficult to stand out. That’s when he decided to perform in Thai, encouraged by the fact that rakugo circles looked favorably on promoting the art overseas.

“I thought that, if I can perform rakugo in Thai, I could be the only one,” he recalls.

A native of Kagoshima Prefecture, Katsura studied Thai intensively for two months and visited Bangkok last autumn to perform before university students studying Japanese, including those at the elite Chulalongkorn University. He chose modern stories rather than classics to make it easier for foreign audiences to follow.

Katsura felt the same stage fright he experienced on his debut performance back home, knowing he was still a novice at speaking Thai, but was relieved and pleased when he heard the audience laughing.

For this year, Katsura has purchased seven round-trip air tickets for performances in Thailand.

While introducing Japanese culture to Thais through rakugo, he is taking pains to help promote exchanges between the two countries in other fields.

Katsura donated equipment to show Japanese animation movies to children in slum areas, where he also put on performances.

Katsura is looking to create rakugo stories based on Thai culture.

“As the official name of Bangkok is long, I wonder if I can do a take on ‘Jugemu,'” he said, referring to one of the best-known rakugo stories involving the repetition of an absurdly long name.

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