Traditional ‘sit-down comedians’ joke in English
Whoever said “Dying is easy, comedy is hard” knew a thing or two about trying to make an audience laugh. An intrepid group of amateur performers known as Tokyo Eigo Rakugokai is taking it one step further by bringing the traditional Japanese art of “rakugo” to English-speaking audiences.
Rakugo is a form of humorous Japanese storytelling that is over 400 years old that became popular during the Edo Period (1603 to 1867). Although some English-language rakugo has been around for awhile and has gained popularity with foreign audiences, its roots are purely Japanese.
Ayumi Tokoro, 42, became interested in rakugo four years ago after seeing an act with a group of friends. She said she found it very funny and was invited to watch the group perform again.
Tokoro said that she was not really familiar with rakugo as a child because her parents never watched it or exposed her to it. But after seeing her second performance she decided to join the troupe.
“I like to make people laugh,” Tokoro said. She went on to explain that nowadays rakugo is not considered cool with the younger Japanese generation. “I hope to change this,”she added. She also wants to spread this style of Japanese culture to English-speaking people.
As opposed to stand-up comedy that most Americans are used to, rakugo is more of a sit-down comedy style. The storyteller stays kneeled in the middle of the stage for their 10- to 20-minute monologue and uses facial and voice expressions to convey the different characters in the story.
The storyteller must use their imagination to convey the many puns and deliver the punch line that each story ends with. Most rakugo stories are well-known, but newer stories are being created that reflect modern society.
The troupe’s shows are free and Tokoro said that in previous performances the audience really appreciated the humor that survived the translation from Japanese to English.
“I was glad to see them laughing at traditional Japanese humor.”
Did you hear the one about the man who dressed up in the tiger suit for his new job at the zoo? Well, you’ll have to go hear it for yourself.
Tokyo Eigo Rakugokai’s next free performance is May 21 at Nogata Kumin Hall, Tokyo. Doors open at 2:30 p.m., and the show is from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. For details on this and other shows, including maps and directions, visit <rakugo-in-english.com> or email <email@example.com>.
Note: This story was originally published in Stripes Kanto, May 20, 2011 edition.