National

‘Keiko sensei’ plots overseas ‘rokyoku’ debut in N.Y.

by Yoshinori Yagi

Kyodo

Celebrity Keiko Haruno’s dream of spreading the traditional storytelling art of “rokyoku” to the world is set to come true when she performs overseas for the first time in New York in March, thanks to a crowdfunding campaign.

Haruno, a University of Tokyo graduate, first came to prominence playing the private tutor “Keiko sensei” (Teacher Keiko) on TV. But in the midst of her hectic life as a TV personality, she found her life’s calling in rokyoku (literally “narrative singing”) and became an apprentice in 2003 to Yuriko Haruno II, a female rokyoku master from Kamigata, an urban region comprising the cities of Osaka and Kyoto.

About three years ago, a German at one of her performances in Kyoto was very impressed by the melodious storytelling of rokyoku — a genre of narrative singing hailing from the early Meiji Era and accompanied by shamisen — and recommended she consider performing abroad. That was when she started plotting her international debut.

In spring 2013, Haruno’s confidence got another boost when her first full-scale rokyoku show in English received good reviews in Osaka.

To raise funds for her New York show, she kicked off a crowdfunding campaign on the Internet in October and soon had enough pledges to reach her goal of ¥3 million.

The March 5 performance will be held at JaNet Hall. A rokyoku workshop in English is also planned that will allow the audience to learn shamisen melodies. This will be followed by another show in English, and another in Japanese with English subtitles.

Amid the ongoing decline in government subsidies for rokyoku artists, “I wanted to create a successful example using this kind of channel for fundraising in the entertainment industry,” Haruno said. She also feels the fundraising campaign has helped promote rokyoku both domestically and abroad.

New York is especially significant for Haruno because she lived in the United States between the ages of 4 and 6.

Around 2002, she visited the Big Apple to take a break from her exhausting TV appearances. It was after returning from that trip that she encountered rokyoku and became fascinated by its dynamic way of storytelling.

Her decadelong pursuit of the art is starting to bear fruit. In late 2013, she performed at a show in Osaka featuring master artists of the trade, drawing the audience into her storytelling and impressing them with her improved skills. She now represents the new blood in the industry.

“Germany will be next,” Haruno said of her future goals. “I want to spread the style of rokyoku around the world.”