Renowned rakugo storyteller Katsura Utamaru dies at 81

Kyodo

Rakugo comic storyteller Katsura Utamaru, known for his superb skill in telling classic humorous stories, died Monday of a lung illness, an association of rakugo storytellers said. He was 81.

Utamaru, whose real name was Iwao Shiina, was also popular outside of rakugo, and was known as the emcee of the long-running comedy TV show “Shoten” that started in 1966. According to the association, Utamaru died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease shortly before noon at a hospital in Yokohama.

The Yokohama native received the Order of Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette, from the government in 2007, as well as numerous prizes and commendations over the course of his long career. Utamaru became a rakugo storyteller under Kokontei Imasuke when he was 15 years old, and later studied under Katsura Yonemaru.

He became the fifth emcee of “Shoten” in 2006 after appearing as a popular regular member of the show. He left the show in 2016, citing his health.

Utamaru also served as the head of the Rakugo Arts Association and worked to nurture young comic storytellers.

He had been in and out of the hospital lately due to health issues, including broken bones and pneumonia. His last live rakugo performance was April 19 at National Engei Hall in Tokyo.