Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 12 – Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours 3: (South America)
Spanish Shinnai

Except in Brasilia, which was the first of the five places that we performed in Brazil, I sprinkled Portuguese into the performances in the way that I’ve described.
Latino people are lively and cheerful, and express their feelings in a straightforward way, so we enjoyed our experiences there. Exhilarated by their cheerfulness, we performed in high spirits.
In Rio, we climbed the mountain that has the big statue of Christ on the top. Despite my student’s worries, I took a sightseeing helicopter ride. Looking down from the helicopter, I could see Copacabana Beach. It was very enjoyable. On another one of our days off, we went to see Iguazu Falls.
After finishing our highly successful concerts in five cities in Brazil, we next went to Uruguay.
I think that most people in Japan are not familiar with Uruguay. Among the countries in South America, Uruguay is economically and politically stable. In area, it is about the same size as Kumamoto prefecture.
We performed in the capital, Montevideo, and another city.
When we entered the first theater in Uruguay, we realized that their language was Spanish, not Portuguese. In South America, Portuguese is spoken only in Brazil.
Again, I asked to have an interpreter come as soon as possible. I had the interpreter translate into Spanish the lines that I’d delivered in Portuguese in Brazil, and I got a lesson in pronunciation and how to produce the sounds of Spanish. It was just before the performance, and I concentrated hard on studying. Portuguese and Spanish resemble each other, so it was easy to remember what the interpreter had taught me.
Here, again, the performance was well received by the audience. When I attended the reception after the performance, I was surprised to be welcomed with loud applause. The beautiful wife of the President of Uruguay greeted me with a smile and a big hug. “The performance was wonderful. Especially because you spoke Spanish well, we could understand the story. The work was very interesting and amusing, and I laughed,” she said to me.
A Japanese man standing nearby, who looked like he must work at a trading company, also praised me. “Your Spanish is really good. You must have studied very hard”, he said. How could I answer him? I thought about it for a second and replied, “Well, to tell the truth, all the Spanish that I know I learned from our interpreter in the three hours before the performance.”
“Really…?” he exclaimed in surprise. I think that his comments were sincere, and not just flattery.
After that, we went to Chile. We performed in the capital city, Santiago, and one more city, and returned to Japan after another great success.
A few years later, in 2008, I was again invited to perform in South America. This time, too, I went together with the Kuruma Ningyo troupe of puppeteers. We performed in three countries: Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. In all three of these countries, the people are poor, and security was extremely bad.
After a long flight from Japan, we arrived in Peru. Because this tour was the result of an invitation from the Japanese Government, it was essential to pay a call on the Japanese Ambassador. I clearly remember the terrorist attack on the official residence of the Japanese Ambassador to Peru that started in the end of 1996. The terrorists occupied the Ambassador’s residence for four months.
We were invited to the official residence. Of course, it had been rebuilt. The entrance was protected by a double layer of gates. It felt as if we were entering a prison. The soldiers standing guard at the gate had stern faces and guns resting on their shoulders, but the Ambassador greeted us with a friendly smile. That brought us some relief, but at the reception, not only I, but others in our group, felt uneasy.
We checked in at our hotel, worrying as to whether the next day’s performance in this dangerous city would be all right.
In the city, there were terrible traffic jams, and I was surprised to see that the drivers didn’t stay in their lanes. I was amazed at the bus drivers’ reckless driving. I didn’t know whether those were municipal buses or buses of private companies. I think that there must be a lot of traffic accidents.
Alpaca sweaters were being sold at cheap prices. When I bought many, my student scolded me.
Next, we went to Ecuador.

(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, Feb. 2015 – March 2015 issue, issue #78).

Revival of Shinnai in a Milestone Year

(From the printed program, February 28, 2015, concert)

If the Showa calendar were continuing now, this would be the 90th year in the Showa system. Furthermore, it is a milestone year, because this year marks 70 years since the end of World War II.
Triggered by its defeat in the war, great changes have occurred in Japan. Our daily lives have become comfortable. No one can foresee how far people will go in the pursuit of their self-interest from now on.
However, even if material civilization progresses further, people cannot truly live if they have lost their culture. We should be conscious of the great power that culture has.
In this milestone year, the Shinnai Association has decided to revive a concert format that was discontinued some years ago. In recent years, only the iemoto have performed, but in the restored format, starting with today’s event, young shinnai artists will also be performing. We hope that this will promote the development of shinnai.
In order for the shinnai traditions that we have inherited to continue, it is important to hold many concerts.
On behalf of all of those who love shinnai, it is my deepest hope that the traditional Japanese narrative form of beautiful shinnai music that we have inherited will be passed on to future generations.
Thank you for your continuing support and cooperation.
Tsuruga Wakasanojo
President, Shinnai Association


(From the printed program, February 1, 2015, Traditional Japanese Culture Class for Parents and Children)

Japan, unlike every other country in the world, does not treat its own traditional entertainment, particularly traditional music, as important. That’s sad and miserable, isn’t it? It’s also embarrassing. I’ve performed shinnai in more than forty countries. The people in all those countries respect and admire Japanese traditions.
How did our country come to neglect its own traditional music?
At the time of the Meiji revolution, government bureaucrats had a blind devotion to Western culture and a disdain for their own country’s music. They changed the music education curriculum in the schools to Western music, and had the pupils taught the staff notation system. But I think that government officials have now realized that this was a problem. They understand the importance and necessity of including traditional Japanese music in the school curriculum. Recently, they have started activities in order to promote the traditional cultural arts in many fields. The parent-child traditional Japanese culture class performing here today has received support from the Agency for Cultural Affairs.
When this project started, it was difficult to find people who wanted to participate. Fortunately, because I am a graduate of Tsukudo Elementary School located in this area, the principal and parents of children at that school gave me their support, and I could offer this activity, even though there were only a few participants.
Traditional music accompanied by shamisen is difficult and not easy to memorize. So when I started training the children, I changed the usual way of performing shinnai so that there would be less singing and more emphasis on the spoken lines.
When we began, the children were probably confused. However, children’s sensitivity is sharp. I was surprised at how quickly they learned. They had only nine lessons before today’s performance. I think that you will understand their accomplishment when you hear them perform the shinnai setting of Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s “Kumo no Ito” (“The Spider’s Thread”). This was the children’s first exposure to traditional Japanese music. For those of us who taught them, it was also a new experience.
I am keenly aware that in order for shinnai to continue in the future, this kind of steady effort is essential. I hope to continue this project from now on.
I appreciate your support very much. Thank you.
Tsuruga Wakasanojo (Living National Treasure)
11th Iemoto of the Tsuruga School of Shinnai
President of Shinnai Association

Ensuring the Continuation of Traditional Music, Fitting in with Modern Motivations, Creating a Legacy for the Future

(From the printed program, January 11, 2015, Yuzuruha no Kai concert)

Happy New Year.
In the general election that was held in the busy time at the end of last year, the Liberal Democratic Party won a big victory. At the end of the year, while looking back at the year just past, you probably enjoyed bonenkai (year-end parties) and Christmas parties with lively music. Congratulations on welcoming the New Year with good health and a refreshed spirit.
Today, in this New Year, a new group has started.
These young performers are aware of their responsibility and mission to pass traditional music on to the next generation. They have brought together their ability and dreams in order to create new projects. It is the birth of a hopeful, promising, fresh group of artists.
These three young women named their group “Yuzuruha no Kai”. That is a powerful name.
The performers include one gidayu tayu (narrator-singer), one shamisen player, and one shinnai tayu. Gidayu joururi originated in Osaka, which is in the western part of Japan, whereas shinnai was born in Edo (now Tokyo), in the eastern part of Japan. Today’s concert will contrast these two forms of joururi.
Gidayu, from the western part of Japan, is considered to be the leading type of shamisen music, whereas shinnai, from the east, is said to be refined and delicate. Both of these narrative arts have captured the hearts of the Japanese people. What is their charm? What is the source of their beauty? I believe that the objectives of this new group are to pursue these questions and to think about how to transmit these excellent Japanese traditional arts to the next generations.
Today, 70 years after the war, Japan is, in many ways, in a period of transition. The country faces various problems in politics and the economy. The world of Japanese traditional music should not stay unchanged.
In order to keep traditional music alive, I believe that it is essential to come up with innovations. We should do that in the spirit of the saying, “By studying the old, one becomes able to understand the new.”
At this time of the birth of Yuzuruha no Kai, I have many expectations for this group of artists. I will be watching their success, development, and achievements.
I would like to thank the audience for coming today. I look forward to your continued support of this group.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 11 - Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours: 2 (South America)
Portuguese Shinnai

Well, how did I solve the problem?
I will explain a little about the problem for those who did not read the previous essay. At the first of our joint shinnai-Kuruma Ningyo performances in Brazil, the audience could not understand the story at all. I received a complaint from staff of the Japanese Embassy. Hmm. How should I deal with this problem from then on?
In order to come up with a solution, I scrutinized the content of the work we were performing, and changed and clarified some of the language. Also, I asked the person who would be explaining the story to the audience before our performance to make sure that the explanation was understandable. But still I wasn’t satisfied. I thought about it some more, and finally came up with a good idea.
Shinnai performances are a combination of singing and spoken lines. I decided to use the local language for some of the spoken lines. Since the next performances were going to be in Brazil, Portuguese was the local language. The only words I knew in Portuguese were “castella” (a sponge cake brought to Japan by Portuguese merchants in the 16th century) and “tempura”. But I decided to challenge myself and give this performance method a try.
Immediately, I asked the interpreter to come to my room, and I explained my idea. “What?! Really? Do you know any Portuguese?”
“No, none at all…,” I replied. The interpreter was surprised, and said, “Are you sure? What you want to do is impossible.” I explained my serious commitment to this decision. Finally, he was convinced.
We didn’t have much time, so we started right away. The first spoken lines in the work that we were performing, Yaji-Kita, are “‘Ahh. I’m tired, very tired’… How can I say that?” “Kansa’do”. “And ‘sorry, very sorry…’?” “Perdon, perdon.” Like that, he gave me the translations phrase by phrase, and I wrote them in katakana (one of the Japanese syllabaries) in my daihon (the script that I read from when I’m performing). “Horseshit?”
“Koko de kava’lo” (maybe that’s not correct).
“How about ‘stinks’?” “Tafeshi’do.” We translated about 50 expressions into Portuguese for the 30-minute performance.
Writing the Portuguese words in katakana made them easy for me to read. It seemed to me that Portuguese was an easier language than English.
Only about 3 hours remained until the performance. I practiced frantically. There wasn’t time to even think about having a shinnai rehearsal.
Even though Portuguese was easy for me to pronounce, this was my first time to use the language in front of an audience of people from a Portuguese-speaking country. I was tense and dripping with sweat. It was as if I was fighting with the katakana on the stage. And I wasn’t the only one having a hard time. It was also tough for the Kuruma Ningyo puppeteers.
The movements of the puppets in a puppet play have to coordinate with the words and music of the story. In a shinnai work with the Kuruma Ningyo puppets, the puppeteers are guided by the shinnai narration and song. Yaji-Kita has extensive spoken lines, and the puppets’ actions are supposed to match what I’m saying. Because I was now speaking many of my lines in Portuguese, the puppeteers were confused. In addition, I used many ad libs, which made it even more difficult for them.
However, when I said, “Kansa’do, muinto kansa’do,” there was a huge burst of laughter, which continued with each of the katakana (Portuguese) lines. Yaji-Kita was originally a humorous work, and it was received very well. Indeed, the laughter of these cheerful Brazilians was so loud that it practically drowned out the sound of the shamisen.
It was completely different from the first performance. This time, the audience was delighted; we performers were even more delighted. After that, we got the same reaction from the audiences in Rio, Sao Paulo, and other cities. At every performance, we had 4 or 5 curtain calls. The Embassy staff were also very satisfied: “You can use this method wherever you go in the world,” they said to us. Actually, after this experience, I did use the method in many places around the world… “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, Dec. 2014-Jan. 2014 issue, issue #77).

Hectic December…

(From the Printed Program , December 7, 2014)
In the past, people used to be very busy at the end of the year, settling their accounts. However, these days, this custom seems to have faded away. This may be because the national and corporate fiscal years no longer end at the end of the calendar year. Also, households don’t close out their accounts on New Year’s Eve.
Many rakugo stories, haiku, and kyoka (comic poems) refer to the year-end laughter and sadness of the residents of the old-fashioned row houses. However, these days, many people cannot understand the subtleties of common people’s lives in the past.
Furthermore, nowadays, many people who have debts are chased by money lenders all year round. It’s as if New Year’s Eve comes every day for them.
The traditional expression for the hectic time people have in December is shiwasu, literally, teachers (sensei) are running. Members of the Diet, who are generally addressed as “sensei”, this year are having an especially busy time, because a general election will be held on December 14. The candidates are running around their constituencies, appealing for votes.
We artists should not neglect politics. We should think and act as people of culture and as Japanese, and elect representatives who will work sincerely for Japan and contribute to world peace through the power of Japan’s wonderful culture.
As December is the month for clearing up one’s obligations and moving on to new activities, I’d like to clean the soot from my mind and body, and, while listening to the toll of the temple bells, start the New Year with fresh feelings.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo
President, Shinnai Association

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 10 - Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours: 1 (South America)
At My Wit’s End at the First Performance in Brasilia

When I was a child, we rarely saw foreigners, especially not in Kagurazaka.
When I was in the 5th grade at Tsukudo Elementary school, a Japanese girl who had returned to Japan after living in a foreign country was enrolled in my class. I was fascinated with her pencils and the fragrance of her erasers, which were made in America.
That’s about all I can remember about foreign countries from my childhood.
But now, there are surprisingly many foreigners in Kagurazaka. They aren’t tourists; rather, many foreigners live in Kagurazaka. Especially, there are many French people, and you can hear French words flying around in the streets. For quite a while, there’s been a French school nearby. The French must like Kagurazaka. Also, in this traditional area, there are now a lot more Italian and French restaurants than ones serving Japanese food.
Japan wants to be a destination for tourists. More and more foreign tourists will come, and we can expect local areas to be revitalized as a consequence of such economic activity. That’s natural, because Japan is a wonderful country.
Setting aside the topic of foreign visitors to Japan, I want to return to the topic of my overseas expeditions and write some anecdotes about my experiences.
In order to popularize and promote shinnai, I have performed in almost all the prefectures of Japan, except for Tottori, Yamaguchi, Kochi, and Saga. I’m hoping that I’ll eventually get to those prefectures as well….
Also, I’ve gone to about 60 cities in approximately 40 countries.
This includes my first overseas performance, more than 30 years ago, which was in the International Theatre Arts Festival in Avignon, and my performances in Paris this coming November (2014). It seems that, as a native of Kagurazaka, I have a relationship with France….
It was, however, around 15 years ago when I started going overseas frequently. I began to do performances together with the Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo Puppet Troupe, and they have been included in most of my foreign performances. I can’t write about all of our experiences, but I’d like to describe some that especially impressed me.
We started by going to three countries in South America: Brazil, Uruguay, and Chile. The tour was truly enjoyable and interesting. It was packed with unforgettable memories. At that time, the Japanese economy was good, and all of us flew business class. The hotels were also quite nice, and we were treated well. We toured five cities in Brazil, plus one in Uruguay and two in Chile.
When we had some time off, we went to see the Iguazu Falls. When I’d seen Niagara Falls, I’d been impressed and excited, but I was so overwhelmed by the scale of the Iguazu Falls that my recollection of Niagara became hazy.
Because I’ve heard that Victoria Falls in Africa is even grander, I want to see it. Absolutely, I hope to see the three greatest falls in the world.
The first performance was held in Brasilia, the capital city of Brazil. The program included a humorous work, Yaji-Kita, and a tragic one, Kuzunoha.
On the first day, I was enthusiastic. Because Brazil is a cheerful country, I expected the audience to enjoy the comedy of Yaji-Kita, and to laugh joyfully at the humor in the work. Then the curtain went up.
Can you imagine? The audience’s reaction was completely contrary to my expectations. From the silent seats, here and there, members of the audience started to walk out. Kindly, about half of the audience stayed to the end. Afterwards, one of the Embassy staff, with a worried expression, came to our dressing room in order to talk with me. “With this situation on the first day, I’m worried about what will happen in the next performance. Do you have any suggestions?”, he asked me. “I agree with your concerns,” I told him. “Give me a night to think about it.” After that, we had a cheerless, quiet opening night party. That night, I thought about many things, including characteristics of the production and how to explain the story to the audience. Among various ideas that I came up with, I hit on a good one: “That’s it! I’ve got a good idea!” My idea worked very well, and the performances after that were a great success. There’s an old saying in Japanese that’s like the English saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” That’s certainly true. Since then, I’ve continued to use this method in my performances.

(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, Oct-Nov 2014 issue, issue #76).

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 9 - Misora Hibari’s Performance and Shinnai

“Genius” refers to a person who has a God-given talent at a level unreachable by ordinary human endeavor.
Among the entertainers that I’m familiar with, Misora Hibari was such a person.
To commemorate Misora Hibari’s having performed there continuously for 20 years, special performances were to be held at Shinjuku Kona Theater. Again (see Part 8), Toho contacted me. There were to be performances for two months, November and December. This was in 1983, so it’s an old story now, but for me, it’s an unforgettable memory.
It was a different kind of joy from what I felt from my experience with Isuzu Yamada.
Needless to say, the performances were sold out; the theater was filled every day with enthusiastic fans. Even now, after so long a time, I don’t have to describe her popularity. I saw the situation very closely at the theater and was absolutely overwhelmed.
Given her artistry, personality, and popularity, we can’t expect that another singer like Hibari will appear. Truly, she is worthy of being called a genius.
For the commemorative performances, Hibari proposed to perform Takekurabe, a musical by Ichiyo Higuchi.
I got a telephone call from Tadashi Sawashima, the scriptwriter and director.
In a work titled Suisen no Uta (Song of the Narcissus), a character named Midori becomes the student of a shinnai teacher, and then performs shinnai, doing joururi and playing shamisen. Of course, Hibari would be playing the leading role. So I was being asked to teach Hibari shinnai. Sawashima also liked shinnai.
In the past, when I was drunk, the only karaoke songs that I sang were Hibari’s Kanashii Sake and Sado Jowa. Nowadays, I hardly ever sing karaoke, but among Hibari’s songs, those two are my favorites.
Incidentally, the other day, in a bar in Kagurazaka, I sang those two songs for the first time in a long time. Or rather, I should say that I was forced to sing. I think that those two songs are really masterpieces. Even though I sang with drunken energy, I still felt good.
Well, I had to teach shinnai to Hibari, the genius. It wasn’t entirely a good feeling. There was pleasure and happiness, but at first I was nervous.
Together with one of my students, I went to her home with a shamisen. I remember that she was wearing a muumuu when she greeted us.
The joururi in the lesson was Rancho, and the shamisen lesson was chukan, which is a typical shinnai prelude. Hibari had me sit with my back to her Buddhist altar; giving me the best seat showed her respect to me as her teacher. Her manner never changed, no matter how many times we met after that. Her attitude showed that she was a super top-notch star, and I was impressed. I felt that it showed her respect for the traditional arts.
For the lesson, I gave her tapes of the two works, and asked her to practice and memorize them when she had time. That’s the same teaching method that I use now with everyone. I went to her home several times to teach her.
I was impressed that, in a short time, she learned both joururi and shamisen. However, right before the first performance, she decided not to perform joururi, and, instead, only played the shamisen. She might have thought that it would be discourteous to her fans if she didn’t perform shinnai accurately and properly. Maybe she was a perfectionist. From my point of view, I’d hoped that she would do the joururi.
For two months, there were performances at the Shinjuku and Umeda Koma Theaters. During that time, I admired her attitude toward music and artistic skill, and her giving her fans the highest priority, as well as her modesty and broadmindedness. Even now, I treasure the shamisen case that she gave me.
An encounter with a great person enlightens me. Jinsei’te subarashii mono desu ne… (“Life is a wonderful thing, isn’t it”: a line from one of Misora Hibari’s most popular numbers). Anyway, a happy experience, the mystery of an encounter…
Starting in the next issue, I’ll write about my once-in-a-lifetime experiences performing in around 40 countries.

(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, Aug-Sept 2014 issue, issue #75).

Greetings from the Sponsor of this Performance

(From the Printed Program of the October 26, 2014, Concert Introducing New Shinnai Natori)

Tsuruga Wakasanojo

A good season has arrived, and the mountains are covered with gorgeous fall colors.
I am delighted that you are here with us today.
Thank you very much for your support of our shinnai events.
Also thank you very much for coming today, although surely this is a busy time for you.
This is the first time in five years that we’ve had a performance to introduce new natori.
This time, the new natori include four of my students, one of Tsuruga Ise’ichiro’s students, and six of Tsuruga Isekichi’s students. Those two teachers have worked hard to develop their students to the level of natori. All together, eleven students, including mine, have been selected to be natori.
In order to produce natori, both the teacher and the student must invest considerable time, patience, and energy. They achieve this while repeatedly accumulating and releasing stress.
The relationship and interpersonal chemistry between teacher and student creates art and mutual trust; this enables them to improve their artistry together. Today’s event is the product of that process.
Tsuruga Isekichi, who has accompanied me on domestic and overseas tours as my shamisen player, has changed her name from Tsuruga Isejiro to Tsuruga Isekichi in order to expand her genre as not only a shamisen player but also a tayu (joururi performer) in future performances.
So this performance also commemorates her name change.
For today’s event, I invited Sachiko Kobayashi, the number one singer of Japanese popular music, whose 50th anniversary as a performer is this year, to do the Yushima Keidai scene from Onna Keizu with me, as the crowning touch of the performance.
Today’s event is enhanced by many congratulatory addresses from experts, guest appearances by distinguished artists, and the encouragement of many people. I am greatly honored to have received this support and would like to express my deepest gratitude.
In November, I will be going to Paris and Bordeaux to perform, in order to spread the appreciation of shinnai.
I greatly appreciate your continued support.
I hope that you will relax and enjoy all of today’s concert.

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 8 - Shinnai Shone on the Toho Stage

For one month, the performances of shinnai with the two major actors, Isuzu Yamada and the kabuki actor Shoroku Onoe, were joyfully received with great ovations, and not only from shinnai fans. Shinnai itself also was a big star.
Shortly after the war, Isuzu Yamada came to Kagurazaka at the request of the Isuzu traditional sweets shop to promote the shop. I remember that she went to the shop riding through the streets of Kagurazaka on a palanquin.
When I talked with Yamada about that, she had a faint memory of it.
The shinnai work that was to be performed in Tsuruhachi Tsurujiro was originally the Akasaka Namiki scene from Tokaidochu Hizakurige. However, as that music was not very exciting to listen to, I proposed using the Yukizeme section of Akegarasu Yume no Awayuki. That work has many wonderful passages for both shamisen and joururi, and it shows off the beauty of shinnai, so it is well worth using. Inui, the director, agreed to my suggestion, and that was what was used.
Shoroku was anxious and, on the first and second days of the performances, he asked me to stand behind the gold folding screen that was in back of the platform on which the actors performed shinnai.
As a performer, he naturally thought that failure was unforgiveable but, in the end, his concerns were groundless. I was truly impressed with his top-notch performance of this classic work.
On the middle day of the month of performances, I visited Shoroku’s dressing room to greet him. He gave me a long box, saying, “Master, this is a token of my gratitude.” “Thank you very much,” I replied when I received the present. I’d gone to his dressing room with the late Yanagiya Tsubame, a woman rakugo performer who was my best friend.
I thought it must be a box of chocolates and almost gave it to Tsubame. When I got home and opened the box, I found a luxurious Corum watch. It was lucky that I hadn’t given it away. Because my father was a big fan of Shoroku, I was especially happy. My mother was also very pleased. I suppose I felt a touch of devotion to my father. I am still using that watch carefully, and it is now being thoroughly cleaned. I received a diagonal band (a man’s narrow obi) from Yamada. As yet, I haven’t used it; rather, I’m taking good care of it. The obi and the watch are treasures of my lifetime.
The opening night party for the Tsuruhachi Tsurujiro performances was held at Shoroku’s home in Kioi-cho; many people gathered in his grand hall. Meat was grilled right there; Shoroku himself cooked it for us.
I drank rather a lot and got very drunk. In addition, I played mahjong with Yamada, Gonjuro, and others. As I rarely played and so wasn’t very good at it, and besides I was drunk, I lost a lot.
All those people are now dead; these are happy, sweet memories for me.
Even now, I can still hear Shoroku’s nice voice, pleasant phrasing, and good, crisp lines spoken with an Edo accent.
Since establishing a deep relationship with Toho thanks to Shigetami Enomoto, I have been involved in traditional shinnai and the promotion of shinnai. I am very grateful for his support; he was truly my benefactor. Furthermore, because of that, I got a chance to help with Misora Hibari’s performances (described in the next essay).
In order to popularize shinnai, Enomoto wrote scripts for five shinnai plays. I had been thinking for a long time that the most effective way to get many people to listen to the minor art of shinnai would be to ask famous artists to perform it.
Performances of Enomoto’s original scripts for shinnai plays were done with supporting appearances by actors and rakugoka. They drew big crowds every time, and made a good contribution to the promotion of shinnai. They were interesting events, and I was happy to perform with my friends. For the first time, I too appeared wearing a wig.
Even though all the performers were my friends and so received only low fees, we were in the red for every performance. Each time, I borrowed money from my mother, but I never paid her back. I appreciate the sponsorship of my mother’s restaurant, Kikuya, in Kagurazaka.

(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, June-July 2014 issue, issue #74)

Music is vibrating energy

(From the printed program, September 21, 2014)

Since music is a matter of listening, it comes into the body through the ears and, affecting the five senses, it reaches the hearts and minds of the listeners.
Shamisen music, too, comes into the body through the ears, is recognized as sound, and, as a melody, is transferred to the sensitivity of the heart. And, because sound is transferred by vibrations, it is unlikely that it is received only by the ears. Comfortable vibrating energy must be received as music by listeners’ internal organs, blood, and every cell in their body.
The Japanese word for music, ongaku, is written with characters that mean “enjoying sound”. The pleasant vibration of music can heal the heart.
This is true not only for people; beautiful music also heals grasses and flowers, animals, and water.
The voice and musical instruments produce sound in the same way. We musicians should work diligently to improve our pure and beautiful hearts and our technique and practice every day in order to move our listeners’ hearts.
In that respect, musicians feel happiness, anguish, and responsibility.
Young musicians learn classic techniques from their master in the oral tradition, through their ears.
They must listen carefully, banishing distracting thoughts from their hearts, and be transparent and flexible receivers of the lessons.
Takemoto Gidayu, the originator of the gidayu genre, taught as follows:
“Oral tradition depends on the master, and practice depends on the beauties of nature.” That is a profound lesson.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo
President, Shinnai Association

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 7 - Recollections of Isuzu Yamada and Shoroku Onoe: I

Although I have no memory of who suggested my name to them, I got a telephone call from the production department of Toho asking me whether I would perform in one of Shigetami Enomoto’s productions.
“It’s the April performances at the Imperial Theater of Isuzu Yamada’s Japan beauty scroll series, produced and directed by Shigetami Enomoto,” the person explained to me.
Then, and still now, I’m confident that Isuzu Yamada is the greatest movie and stage actress of the early modern time.
The request was to perform shinnai degatari in Yamada’s production. Degatari refers to performing joururi on a platform on the stage in front of the audience, rather than from behind a curtain. It’s commonplace to do that in kabuki performances, but this would be the first time since the Showa Era began in 1925 that it would be done at the Imperial Theater.
I was in my early forties, and was surprised and excited. It was like a dream. At that time, Enomoto was in his prime.
Enomoto had a many-sided career as a producer and director for the Shinpa, Shinkokugeki, Kabuki, and Toho theaters. He had a thorough knowledge of Edo literature and drama, and also had done research on rakugo. Furthermore, he had a profound knowledge of the classical performing arts. When he was young, he had worked at Nikkyohan in Korakuen. In those days, employees of that company came to Kikuya and drank a lot, and Enomoto often came with them. Therefore, he and I must naturally have met there. (I’ll write about my memories of Enomoto in the next essay in this series.)
At that time, Enomoto was writing plays for the popular theater called the Japan beauty scroll series, which starred Isuzu Yamada. The third play in this series was Osakaya Hanadori, co-starring Tomijuro Nakamura.
For that work, Enomoto wrote the lyrics, and I wrote shinnai music, because Enomoto wanted the music to be in traditional style, even though it was newly written.
From the beginning of our work on this play, we rehearsed every day. Although I was then a young person not afraid of anything, I can still remember that I was tense and excited about working on the same stage with two big stars. Somehow I managed to complete this historic month-long series of performances at the Imperial Theater.
The way that shinnai was included in this work was neither like bunraku, in which the gidayu artist performs all the lines, nor like kabuki, where the actors perform degatari. Rather, at various points in the play, the shinnai performer described the scene and the psychological conflicts of the protagonists in an easily understandable way. The staging was also elaborate; this was Enomoto’s best style as a director.
For shinnai, appearing in this kind of performance was excellent advertising which would have been difficult to obtain otherwise. Ever since those performances, Isuzu Yamada and I were good friends, and from that time on, I occasionally went backstage to visit with her.
After that, probably because we’d become acquainted, I helped out with the shinnai parts of Matsutaro Kawaguchi’s hit kyogen work, Tsuruhachi Tsurujiro, at the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater. The director, Ichiro Inui, liked shinnai. In the play, Isuzu Yamada played the part of Tsuruhachi, a shamisen player, and Shoroku Onoe played Tsurujiro, a shinnai performer. As the motif of the play was shinnai, shinnai appeared through out, and those two, as part of the play, actually performed shinnai.
I was in charge of their shinnai training.
As Yamada could play shamisen fluently, I didn’t have to worry about her. Shoroku, too, because he was a kabuki actor and the iemoto of the Fujima school of traditional dance, was good at traditional Japanese music. However, because kabuki and shinnai are barely related, he wasn’t particularly familiar with shinnai, and he seemed apprehensive. The shinnai work that was performed in the play was Akegarasu Yume no Awayuki: Yukizeme; as expected, both of these great actors gave excellent performances.
I was terrifically happy to meet a top-name kabuki actor and a famous actress.
To be continued in part 8.

(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, April-May 2014 issue, issue #73).

Japan is a Country with Abundant Water

(From the printed program, August 3, 2014)

It's as if the Japanese archipelago is tortured by water. There is a spring rainy season (natane tsuyu in Japanese), and, after that, another rainy season (tsuyu) in June, typhoons in the summer, an autumn rain front, and snow in the winter. However, it can be said that this abundant water has developed the hearts of the Japanese people. I feel very sorry for people who have been affected by flooding, but the geographic and natural conditions in Japan have cultivated the national character, and from this came Japan's wonderful culture, arts, and technology. 

The air and the water of Japan are the source of everything, including the beauty, kindness, and richness of spirit of the people and the country.

Japan's superb aesthetics have fostered the Japanese people's world-acclaimed arts and technology.

When I travel abroad, I realize the excellence of Japan. Shinnai, too, is one of the arts of Japan, beautiful Edo joururi.

I wish that, together with everyone, shinnai would be something that we would love forever.

Thank you very much for coming here today, despite the terribly hot weather.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo
President, Shinnai Association

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 6 - Recollections of Kuniko Mukoda

In those days, we went up to our teacher's second floor studio by an external staircase.
From the sound of geta on the stairs, we realized that someone was coming up.
It was a cute young girl wearing a kimono. She said, "I have a message from master Shincho." When I asked her what his message was, she replied, "As the master is busy today, he would appreciate it if you would replace him as an entertainer.
It's for a woman customer at a ryotei (traditional Japanese restaurant) in Kagurazaka. "OK," I said, agreeing to do it. I don't remember if I went that evening or a few days later.
I went to the restaurant with a student. In the room, three pretty middle-aged women were seated, drinking. How did those three women feel about getting a shinnai performer instead of a rakugo one.... Shincho-san and I were the same age, but shinnai and rakugo.... I don't really remember what we talked about, but the various topics might have included the shinnai genre and the world of shinnai.
Maybe my explanation about the crisis in the shinnai tradition, my promotional activities for shinnai, or my commitment to shinnai tugged at Kuniko Mukoda's heartstrings, or maybe she thought that it was interesting. From then on, she cooperated with me in various ways. As this was around 1975, she wasn't yet so popular a writer, but she was writing essays, such as for magazines.  
The next year, I was interviewed by a reporter from the monthly magazine "An'an" for a column called "How to Appreciate Men". Even today, it can be found in a collection of her essays published as "Rose in the Morning". She also came to my shinnai performances and to the parties after the performances. One time, I got a special delivery letter from her. Wondering why she hadn't telephoned, I read the letter right away. It was an invitation to the opening of a small restaurant run by her sister in Akasaka, called Mamaya. By now, Mamaya has been closed for quite some time. I went there the first or second day after it opened, but Mukoda-san wasn't there. I called her on the phone: You weren't there.... She seemed to have been writing, but she soon came over, and we drank until the wee hours.
There was a Japanese restaurant named Koyama'tei in the Daikanyama area of Shibuya, in back of Ogawaken. It was opened by Kan'o Koyama, the originator of the earphone guides used at kabuki and bunraku performances. A dinner show at a restaurant serving Japanese food was a rarity at that time. The artists who performed at Koyama'tei were all top-notch performers. I had the opportunity to perform there thanks to an introduction by my best friend. I was still young, just in my forties, and inexperienced. It seemed presumptuous, but I agreed to perform.
Also, the dinner show was two nights in a row. Since then, I've kept in close contact with Koyama-san.
On one of those days, Mukoda-san came for dinner with a friend.
That evening, other prominent people, such as the first Yaeko Mizutani (now deceased) and Shigetami Enomoto also came, and I got nervous.
That evening, when Mukoda-san came, she was wearing a black suit, the kind that women wear to a funeral. I was so strongly impressed by this that it is still fresh in my memory. Later, when I read one of her essays, I found that it had truly been an expression of mourning. That essay can be found in bookstores now, in a volume of her collected essays. She was a talented person, very mischievous.
One day, some time after that, I received a telephone call. I was invited to appear with her in a commercial for a magazine. The sponsor was an apparel company, and I was pleased to agree to do it. Unfortunately, on the day of the photo shoot, I had to be in Hokkaido. The cameraman was available only on that particular day, so it was impossible. I'm very regretful. Thinking about this now, I regret that I didn't change the schedule of my work in Hokkaido. I couldn't have imagined that, soon after this, Mukoda-san would be killed in an airplane crash. 
Both of these geniuses, rakugo master Kokon'tei Shincho and Kuniko Mukoda, are no longer alive. A person with ordinary talents should live long and do everything possible for shinnai...right? Alas, all worldly things are transitory.

(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, February-March 2014 issue, issue #72).

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 5 - Coincidental Colorful Encounters That Affected My Artistry (1)

I wrote in an earlier part of this series that my mother's restaurant, Ki
kuya, had sponsored us two shinnai entertainers, my father and me. H
owever, Kikuya didn't just provide us with essential financial support. F
rom among the patrons of the restaurant came my supporters, sponsors, and p
eople who understood shinnai, as well as my fans, all of whom were my b

I was influenced by some of the regular patrons of the restaurant, i
ncluding people who were shinnai beginners hearing shinnai for the first t
ime and who gradually became my fans and lovers of shinnai. Other c
ustomers included people from the Japanese musical and theatrical worlds, a
nd heavy drinkers and various other colorful people who introduced me to m
any famous writers. From that time to this, my network has continued and b
roadened, enlarging my world.

In what follows, I look back at my nostalgic encounters with those Kikuya r

In the Kagurazaka area, there were many publishing companies such as Shinchosha, Obunsha, and Tohan, and their employees came frequently to the restaurant. Chuokoron had a warehouse in the neighborhood, and all their young employees were Kikuya customers. Among those men were several Waseda University alumni who had been members of the university's prestigious swimming club. They were the same generation as the athletes Yamanaka and Yoshimuta. Even so, I suppose that they were not as well known. But anyway, they were Japan's leading swimmers. One of them introduced me to Mr. Tomoda, the president of Nippon Culture Broadcasting [an AM radio station in Tokyo], who was also the chairman of the alumni swimmers' club at that time. When I went right away to visit him at his office, he welcomed me and introduced me to a staff member in the performing arts department. As a result of my encounter with that man, my friendships widened considerably.

The person I'd been introduced to was Mr. Hisahiro Suzuki. He was an excellent director of dramas for radio and television, which were popular at that time. He was selected for the [Agency for Cultural Affairs] Arts Festival Award every year for ten years. We've been friends from then to now, nearly forty years.

The first person to whom Mr. Suzuki introduced me was Mr. Obayashi. He was a very popular writer who was often a candidate for the Naoki Prize. He dominated the world of broadcast writers after the war. His NHK serial radio drama, "Nuclear Dreams", and a TV drama, "To the End of That Wave", were big hits.

I met Mr. Obayashi for the first time at a bar on the lower ground floor of a building in Shinbashi, where he was drinking, sitting casually on a bar stool.

Although that was more than 30 years ago, I can still clearly remember my first impression of him, which was that he was a dandy, a handsome elegant, gentle, and calm person.

We were friends for about thirty years, and I received innumerable kindnesses from him. We often had good times together, and drank and traveled together frequently.

Mr. Obayashi had founded and was the chairman of the Asia Broadcasting Culture Association, and he put up my name to be one of its directors. The directors besides me were prestigious executives of various broadcasting companies. I was the only one who was a performer. We often went on domestic and overseas trips for the association. They were all luxurious complimentary trips. We spent a wonderful week in Korea, receiving VIP treatment.

We made countless domestic trips. Every time, we were driven around the city to visit sightseeing spots. One time, we stayed two nights at a luxurious ryokan in the Okuyugawara hot springs, where we had a wonderful time. In the morning of the third day, when we were leaving, Mr. Obayashi said, "Tayu [that is, me], let's stay one more night", and while the other members of our party went back home, the two of us went to Ohnoya Ryokan, where we hired a geisha who entertained us that night. The next morning, when we went to pay our bill, we discovered that we didn't have anywhere near enough money. As we could not stay there any longer, we called the accounting director and asked him to come there from Tokyo. Then, that morning, relaxed, we started to drink again, and when the accounting director arrived with the money, he joined us, and we three stayed to enjoy one more night there. Mr. Obayashi was an unusually heavy drinker. Until he was close to death, he finished a whole bottle of whisky every night.

Mr. Obayashi was a genuine Edokko [man born in Tokyo and brought up in Tokyo's traditional ways], born in Shiba, with good spirit, subtle, and hearty, and with refined tastes. I never heard him shout or saw him get angry. Even now, I continue to respect this fine gentleman who had such a splendid personality.

One evening when we were drinking with some old friends, Mr. Obayashi suddenly started to read us his farewell message. It astonished us, as he didn't seem to have become frail. I shed many tears. That was around ten days before he died.

After his passing, poems dedicated to his wife were found, in which he wrote that he had caused her a lot of trouble.

(fifth of twelve parts)

(to be continued)

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 4 - Traditional Edo Music: Crisis of the Decline of Shinnai

I graduated from Tsukudo elementary school. My grandfather, my father, my son and daughter, and my grandchildren - five generations of my family - graduated from that same school. This may be rare in Kagurazaka.

My junior high and high schools were the Seijo school in Ushigome Haramachi. I don't know how it is now, but in my time, many students from Kagurazaka went on to Seijo junior high from Tsukudo elementary. Even now, when I meet old schoolmates whom I remember, I feel at home.

My path in shinnai has not been smooth in spite of following my father.

In the midst of the fierce war, on June 6, 1944, I was 6 years old. For some years after the war, we were not able to do shinnai. My father started doing shinnai again around 1949, when I was in the fourth grade of elementary school, and I can say that I began my career at that time. However, that doesn't mean that what I was given was real training. At that time, because we lacked adequate food and clothing, it wasn't possible to put power and passion into the arts.

I continued to do shinnai even after I graduated, but it wasn't possible to earn enough to live on just from performing. Concerned about my future ability to take care of a family and of my parents, I helped out in my mother's restaurant.

One day, I found out that the NHK Hogaku [traditional Japanese music] Training School was accepting applications. My father was not so interested, but my mother strongly recommended that I take the exam. I rushed to the NHK test site at Tamuracho in Hibiya. I went wearing western clothes, but most of the other young students came with their teachers and were wearing kimono.

Because I went without knowing what kind of test there would be, I didn't take anything with me, but just went as I was. When my turn came and I entered the room, I found the examiners and NHK traditional music staff lined up there.

Suddenly, they asked me, "What are you going to play?" As I had nothing with me, I said, "Excuse me, but may I borrow a shamisen and a plectrum?" Everyone seemed amazed.

Furthermore, when I asked, "What shall I play?", they were even more astonished.

"This isn't a nightclub. Play something you like," the examiner replied, with an amazed look on his face.

"OK, then I'll do Rancho", I answered, and I played the shamisen and performed that work.

Besides that, I heard some difficult things that I didn't understand.

I thought that I must have failed, and went back home in a dignified way.

Why did the wind blow in my direction? Maybe they thought I was an amusing entertainer. Anyway, I received notification that I had been accepted. Later I found out that it had been thanks to a strong recommendation by the late Yoshikawa Eiji, who mentored me, starting at that time.

It is no exaggeration to say that admission to the NHK Training School was the real start of my shinnai life. I'd been living in the narrow world of shinnai, like a frog in a narrow well. I began, for the first time, to see the value of other genres compared to shinnai, and came to realize that the world of shinnai was weak and there was a shortage of successors, although that was my fault because I hadn't studied enough.

Although I was ashamed that I had realized the crisis of shinnai only because of seeing others' situation, even so, looking at it objectively and calmly, I firmly established my way of living, if I can say that with a little exaggeration. This was my turning point.

Who else could do this but me! I was really steamed up.

Starting then, when I was in my mid-twenties, I became a daredevil young shinnai performer.

The mass media also cheered me on in this struggle. I was called a "revolutionary", "biker gang member", and so on.

Starting after my father died at 66, when I was 33, I had a hard time. I had to work twice as hard as everyone else. In a sense, it was good for me. It was both happy and sad ....

Moreover, I got a lot of support from some famous writers, including Obayashi Kiyoshi, Mukoda Kuniko, Enomoto Shigetami, and Miyagawa Ichiro, all of whom have already passed away. They were great benefactors of my shinnai life.

Now, I completely devote myself to the dissemination, promotion, and traditions of shinnai, and travel around both domestically and overseas to give performances. I'll write in the next installments about the novelists and my overseas performances.

Temporary flowers and genuine flowers

(from the printed program, March 23, 2014)

The Olympic Games, a sports festival occurring once every four years, have come to a spectacular conclusion.
People used to say that it was meaningful simply to participate in the Olympics, but it seems to me that that has changed these days, so that what is meaningful is winning medals.
Countries invest in the development of athletes in order to gain national prestige by capturing medals. The Olympics seem to have deviated from amateurism, but they still delight us because the Games represent a pure, noble-minded sports festival of young athletes.
In the world of artistic skills, it is, on the other hand, difficult to reach a high level of maturity during one's youth, despite devoting oneself to practicing and rehearsing from childhood. That is a difference between the skills of sports and artistic performance.
Zeami, the famous late-14th century playwright who created the Noh theater, distinguished "temporary flowers" and "genuine flowers" in his treatise on Noh drama, Fushi Kaden (The Book of the Flower), in which he used flowers as a metaphor for the sophisticated skills needed by performers and, more broadly, in people's lives.
Zeami contrasted temporary glamour, such as a sweet voice and beautiful appearance, which he considered to be the flowers (or artistic skill) of youth, from genuine flowers, that is, artistry that continues at a high level even in aged persons, resulting from years of practicing.
In other words, it is necessary for young people to be objective about their own artistic skill, and not be misled by achieving a level of "temporary flowers". It is important for them to be aware of this.
Performers should continuously practice when they are young, in spite of the allure of temporary beauty.
Support from the Agency for Cultural Affairs has made possible today's recital by young performers who are seriously practicing in order to carry shinnai into the future. We at the Shinnai Association, and many other people as well, expect a great deal from them. We hope that this will be an opportunity for them to improve their artistic skill and develop shinnai, and that it will be the foundation for the blooming of genuine flowers.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo


Message from Tsuruga Wakasanojo

 (From the printed program at the March 1, 2014, recital of his students)

 Thank you very much for coming today.

We had a lot of snow, didn't we. I had to work diligently to shovel snow for the first time in a long time.

This year, for the first time in 5 years, I will introduce new natori at a concert at the National Theatre. There will probably be 6 or 7 new natori (students who have been given a shinnai name).

As shinnai is a type of joururi, each number is very long and requires patience to master. But all the students have worked very hard.

In May, I will hold a formal natori ceremony. In that ceremony, the new natori will be given a certificate that has the traditional names of the Tsuruga school of shinnai written on it, have dinner with the iemoto, and join the Tsuruga professional family, which has continued for 300 years. The ceremony will be conducted in a solemn atmosphere in front of a hanging scroll that was handwritten by Tsuruga Wakasanojo I.

In the event at the National Theatre, in addition to the announcement of new natori, we will be performing many enjoyable works, so please come.

Besides that, there will be many other concerts which we hope that you will attend.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo's Concert
Place: National Theatre
Date: October 26 (Sunday), 2014

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 3 - My Mother's Restaurant Was the Sponsor of My Father's and My Shinnai

In the Muromachi Period, the Noh theater had the protection and backing of the family of Shogun Ashikaga. All the arts, including music and painting, were cultivated by sponsors.

Compared to that history, my father's and my situation was much, much briefer, but it was similar.

My father's shinnai activities extended from the first part of the Showa era (mid-1920's) through the war. Those were harsh times. It wasn't a time for entertainment. Entertainers who didn't enter the military were sent to work in munitions plants. At that time, a newspaper carried a story about a shinnai performer working in such a place. In those circumstances, five family members couldn't survive on the income from entertainment. After the war, the situation became even worse. In 1946, we returned home from the place that we had evacuated to. My uncle was a carpenter, and after he was demobilized, he built a house for us at our current address on the burnt ruins of our old home. In those days, we could see the platform of JNR Iidabashi Station from our house.

Beyond that, the "koshi" kanji of the sign on the roof of Mitsukoshi department store was visible, and we could also see the fireworks shows held in Ryogoku. Now, it is unbelievable that we could have had such a view.

In the condition that Tokyo was in then, we did what we could.

Meanwhile, because my mother was skilled in business matters and a hard worker, she reopened her bar immediately, even though at that time, only a few people lived there. However, because there was no business, she temporarily closed it, but she reopened it a few years later. My father also began to give shinnai lessons, but too few pupils came to enable him to support our family with the income from that.

So, my mother's restaurant, Kikuya, played an active part in our family's life.

As it was a small restaurant, there was no need to hire a chef. Instead of playing the shamisen, my father cooked simple food. This lifestyle was the same as before the war. In those days, unlike the present time, there were not many drinking places, and Kikuya became quite popular.

During the war, because of the price controls, it was not easy to obtain sake. However, because my father was a union president, he could get it without any problem.

Even when Kikuya was closed, he served sake to his regular customers.

In the entrance to the alley in front of where the Resona Bank is now, there was a vaudeville theater called Ushigome'tei. Comic storytellers who had performed at that theater often came to Kikuya. Among them, the biggest name was the late Kokon'tei Shinsho.

Shinsho, who was well known as a lover of sake, often visited Kikuya with other entertainers who were his friends. Because it was when Kikuya was closed, they drank secretly or came to our house to drink. They were very familiar customers.

My mother told me that, before going to Manchuria to entertain the troops, Shinsho came to Kikuya and said, "I am going to Manchuria with Ensho now. I came to say goodbye, because I'm not sure if I can come back alive. Stay well, Toki-chan," and then he left.

Shinsho returned safely to Japan, and after the war, he often came to Kikuya. He also went to Honmoku'tei in Ueno to join my father's shinnai events, and often performed shinnai.

I still treasure a tape of his performance there.

While performing shinnai, Shinsho suddenly said, "Enough shinnai. Now I will sing Dodoitsu," and he sang three numbers. He voice was low and tasteful, and his singing was light and witty. The tape of that is pleasant to listen to. If Shinsho's fans knew I had this tape, they'd be jealous. My other treasures include his signature on a shikishi board and his handwritten business card. In addition, his son's oldest son, the late Kingen'tei Basho, held a reunion of Shinsho's students.

Shinsho's second son, the late Kokon'tei Shincho, was the same age as me, and we were good friends from when we were young. Toward the end of his life, because he lived in Yarai'cho, we often got together in Kagurazaka. In my opinion, he was the last and best rakugoka, being orthodox in his performance style, tasteful and entertaining. I deeply regret that we have lost such a person.

I also treasure his signature on a shikishi board that he wrote when he took the name Asata.

Besides those people, I met many wonderful people at Kikuya.

Meeting those professionals made me what I am today.

This, too, was because of my mother. I appreciate her very much for that.

Eventually, I took over the restaurant. For a short time, I worked at an acquaintance's restaurant in order to get some brief training. After that, I obtained a license as a restaurant cook. After my mother's death, while continuing the restaurant, I concentrated on shinnai. And this is how I became what I am now. The sponsor of my father's and my life as entertainers was my mother's small restaurant, Kikuya.

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 2 - Tsuruga Isedayu I and Izumi Kyoka

According to my family's register at our temple, my great-grandfather was born in Gifu (formerly Mino). When he was young, he came to Edo by boat.

I don't know why, but his son (my grandfather) had a rickshaw company.

His shop, called Musashiya, was on the right as you entered Honda Alley. At its most successful, he had upwards of 50 employees. He seemed to have had a monopoly on transporting the geisha in the pleasure quarters of Kagurazaka.

My grandfather had 6 children, all boys. If any one of them had had a flair for business, I might be the president of a taxi company now.

The youngest of the 6 children was my father, who became Tsuruga Isedayu I. He was a stylish, shy, and unconventional entertainer. He always tied on a long loincloth and wore a kimono. He was a nice looking man with a slender face; no doubt he was very popular with women.

It's a pity that my siblings and I don't resemble him. But because my voice is much like his, I'm satisfied.

I never asked my father why he went into shinnai. He was taught by a woman teacher named Tsuruga Chiyokichi who played shamisen and performed at Ushigome'tei vaudeville theater.

My father married a fellow student, Tsuruga Chiyonosuke. They lived in the same place where I live now, and had 3 children. It is strange that I, the youngest, came to be my father's successor in shinnai. Chiyonosuke was, of course, our mother.

My father passed away in 1971, at the young age of 66. I became Tsuruga Isedayu II in 1973. Before the performance at Mitsukoshi Theater in which I would formally take that professional name, a small problem occurred.

The problem had to do with Onna Keizu, a story by Izumi Kyoka, which I was going to perform at that event. A few days before the performance, someone from Mitsukoshi Theater called me and said, "Meigetsu-san, Izumi Kyoka's niece, has complained about your performance of Onna Keizu. You should go and visit her as soon as possible."

Now I was at a loss. This was serious. At that time, it was less than 50 years since the death of Izumi Kyoka. Nevertheless, I was going to perform his work without authorization. It was totally my fault, and there was no excuse for what I was doing. In the worst case, I would have to cancel the performance. However, I had thought that because this work had been composed before the war and had been performed many times, any problem would have already been resolved.

The composer of the shinnai version of this story was the late shinnai master Tsuruga Tsuruga'sai, who was the master teacher at Shinchiyo, a geisha house in Kagurazaka. I had heard that she was a close acquaintance of Momotaro, the wife of Izumi Kyoka, who had been the model for Tsutakichi, the heroine of Onna Keizu, and I had carelessly assumed that she had got permission from Izumi Kyoka to use his story.

In an attempt to make excuses and apologize, I gingerly rang the bell at her house in Zushi, holding a box of candy.

Although I had expected a demon to come out, instead, a gentle Bodhisattva greeted me with a smile.

"Thank you for coming today. Please come in. I didn't complain. I just tried to ask Mitsukoshi about.... Please go on with your performance. Kyoka loved shinnai, and especially because you are a native of Kagurazaka...." When she said this, it was as if she had a halo.

I went back home on a train from paradise.

Fortunately, the name-changing performance was a great success. Even now, I appreciate the connection between Kagurazaka and Izumi Kyoka. At the time, I was around 35 years old.

Incidentally, my father told me that he often saw Kyoka and his wife. It may have been when Kyoka visited the scary teacher Ozaki Koyo, who lived in Yokodera. It's now nearly 45 years since I lost my father, who was a fine entertainer. The time has gone by quickly. Long ago, I passed the age at which my father died.

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 1 - I Love the Old Kagurazaka

Although rivers continue to flow, the water in them is never the same. Bubbles appear, gather, and disappear, never persisting for long...... The people dwelling in this world are like that.

This passage, exuding a feeling of the transience of worldly things, is the beginning of Hōjōki, a well-known work written in the Kamakura Period by Kamo no Chōmei.

I am the fourth generation of my family that was born and raised in Kagurazaka. I have lived here for 74 years, except for the period that my family was evacuated from Tokyo during WWII. While I have lived here, I have seen Kagurazaka undergoing transitions. Many of the established shops disappeared, new residents replaced the old, things changed at a rapid pace, and the atmosphere changed completely.

My home is located in the same place as it was before the war. Strictly speaking, the house was located at the entrance to an alley next to the current Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office Board of Education Building (it was Akagi Elementary School before the war). In part of our house, starting in 1928, my mother ran a small restaurant called Kikuya. The restaurant closed in 1998. Even before the war, this small street, which I call Shinnai Yokocho (Shinnai Alley), was busy. Next door to Kikuya were a fish shop and a sushi restaurant. Across from our house there was a Chinese restaurant, and at the end of the alley, there was a café. I've been told that my mother's restaurant was very popular. That is how things were long ago.

On the Akagi shrine side of Okubo street (between Shinjuku and Banseibashi on metropolitan street car line #10) is Kagurazaka 6 chome, which used to be called Tsuuji-cho. In this area, there still exist shops that have been there since before the war, such as Hanatoyo, Yamamoto Tofu Shop, Mikuri's goban shop (selling items related to the game of go), Ouchi's barbershop, Wada's photo studio, and the Kato-ya footwear store. The Fujimura-ya coffee shop called Koban has also continued from the pre-war time, but its business has changed; it used to sell traditional jimanyaki sweet snacks and azuki ice in summer time. Both were very delicious. I often bought and ate them when I was a child. Later they started a bistro called Sho-Ichigo, which was also very popular. There were others, but most of them have disappeared.

In the Bishamonten shrine neighborhood, some long-established shops that are still there include the Somaya stationery shop, Ryukou-tei, the Natsme photo studio, and the Sukeroku shoe store. Other shops have survived by changing their business. Shops that opened after the war are, from my point of view, not "long established", but they are getting busier and becoming famous as representing Kagurazaka. That is very encouraging.

There are several shops that often bring back memories to me to such as the Shiose yokan shop, the Meigetsu ramen shop, and Uokin near Bishamonten, Nishida liquor store, the Tahara-ya restaurant which served western food, all of which were located in front of Bishamonten, and the shichimi red pepper shop located near the present A3 exit of the Oedo subway line. At Honda Yokocho, there were the Hoseido pharmacy, the Meiji-en Japanese tea shop, Takezawa furniture shop, and the Musashino movie theater (the Yoshiya supermarket is in that location now), and Tomasa. Especially, Tomasa's kogori (food prepared in natural gelatin) and suji (boiled tendons) were consistently delicious, and I have never found better. Absolutely!

Even though I have fond memories of those shops, Kagurazaka's special character is thanks to its pleasure quarters. If gorgeous, seductive women disappear from its cobbled paths, no longer walking there while holding up the hem of their kimono, the real Kagurazaka will be finished. If the lively sound of the shamisen and Japanese drums are no longer to be heard from behind its black walls, the lights of Kagurazaka will be extinguished. No matter how busy the streets are and how full of people, Kagurazaka will not be Kagurazaka any longer if the sound of rustling clothes and geta when people leave restaurants is no longer heard, and white tabi are no longer seen.

Even if Japanese youngsters and foreigners are strolling on the slopes of the hills of Kagurazaka, and no matter if the shops there are flourishing, the pleasure quarters are always what represents Kagurazaka.

Kagurazaka is sustained by you. That's why I want to support it.

It's because I like the pleasure quarters. Because I love Kagurazaka. No matter how the rivers of the world continue flow, no matter how much they change.

As a Kagurazaka native and shinnai professional, I will write in this series of essays about my life history up to now, including descriptions of my travels for overseas performances.

From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, April-May 2013 issue, issue #67.

Job opening for strikers of the wooden clappers at shinnai performances

(From the printed program, December 8, 2013)

Now that the third Tori-no-ichi (Festival of the Rooster) of November is over and December has started, everyone has become extremely busy.

This year, there was a lot of damage from floods. Rather than the causes being natural disasters, the floods must be due to the abnormal climate that is a result of people's activities. It is becoming difficult to live on this earth.

What kind of year did you have? I hope that this year will end peacefully.

An essential part of the performance of every shinnai work is the sound of the striking of wooden clappers at the beginning and end of the work. The important role of striking the clappers has for many years been filled by Shinnai Ume'hachi'dayu. Sadly, he passed away this past summer. The Shinnai Association has a serious problem, as we have no successor to take over this role. If no clapper strikes before and after the performance of a shinnai number, the performance seems incomplete and unfinished. Thus, the Shinnai Association is searching for someone to fill this job. Striking the clappers is not so easy, but, on the other hand, not so difficult. After some practice, anyone can do it. Doing this job for the Shinnai Association provides a modest income. Moreover, because striking the clappers is not physically demanding, people holding this position can participate in shinnai performances regardless of their age. This is a valuable opportunity to cooperate with shinnai professionals in contributing to traditional Japanese culture, and it is also a pleasant thing to do. If you are interested, please contact the Shinnai Association. We hope to find several people to share this important job.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo
President, Shinnai Association

Learning from the virtuosity of skilled master performers

Tsuruga Wakasanojo, Chairman of the Shinnai Association
(From the printed program, September 29, 2013)

My favorite performing arts, besides Shinnai, are gidayu and rakugo.

Among the various types of shamisen music, gidayu is said to be the leader.
Gidayu music is truly wonderful, outstanding joururi. People have told me that when I was a child, I was always listening to gidayu. Even after I got somewhat older, I listened to gidayu while I was studying. I was particularly fascinated by the skill of the master Toyotake Yamashiro Shoujo, who was said to be the master of masters, and I earnestly listened to his performances.

Although shinnai is different in many respects from gidayu, in both genres, stories are narrated. In particular, the skill of expression of the master's kotoba (spoken lines) can be so marvelous and elegant that the essence of the story is transmitted to the listeners' hearts as if they were actually seeing it, or more than seeing it. It is simply a kind of miracle. The depth and breadth of a master's art moves the listeners' hearts and makes them tremble. Listening makes them sad, rather than happy.

Shinnai builds on the condition of the characters in the stories -young people and old, men and women, people of various ranks in society, with differing emotions, in all kinds of situations. The skill of the performance of the kotoba, not only of the music, overwhelms the audience and thrills them.

As a genre of joururi, shinnai works typically include more kotoba than musical lines.

It would be confusing to the audience if the male characters Sogoro, Inagawa, Minekichi, Yaji, and Kita all sounded the same. Of course, the lines spoken by female characters who are oiran, geisha, okamisan, and musume should sound different. Their age, emotions, place, and time are different. We must train our voice, understand and study the music in various ways, and practice day and night. The most essential part of training is to learn from the virtuosity of skilled master performers.

One starts by imitating a master, and then gradually builds up one's own performance style and skill, always aiming for further improvement.

Performing is not a competition with others. We performers dedicate our entire life to understanding our own heart and training to perform.

From now on, please support and encourage the young professional performers who are making every effort, always aiming to be better performers tomorrow than they are today.


Message from Tsuruga Wakasanojo

(From the printed program at the September 7, 2013, recital of his students)

Thank you very much for coming today.
It was terribly hot this summer. Despite the intense heat, were you OK?
Somehow I got through it, getting energy from shinnai-related activities.

As I had no overseas performances this year, I composed a few new works.
Starting this month, I will be a little busier, with a performance in Tokyo, my annual performance in Hakusan City in Ishikawa Prefecture, and other activities.

Next year, on October 26, for the first time in several years, I will hold a name-changing ceremony and performance at the National Theatre. I will introduce 5 or 6 new natori (students being given a shinnai professional name).

Please relax today and have a good time.

The Rainy Season, Hydrangeas, and Tanabata

Comments by Wakasanojo from the Printed Program
(July 7, 2013, Shinnai Godo Kenshu Concert, Kagurazaka Theater)

Now, in the middle of the year, it is the rainy season, the season when hydrangeas are in bloom. Don't complain that it is too damp and too annoying. We should be very grateful for the moisture that the rainy season brings to Japan. Ahead of the intense summer heat that is to come, the pooled water in the rice paddies makes it possible for rice--the main food in Japan--to grow. Moreover, this water is a valuable resource that is essential for our lives.

The typhoons of autumn and the snows of winter also contribute to create a rich country and foster the true spirit of Japan. From this combination of climate and geography were born the cultural arts of Japan.

Shinnai, with its delicate, vivacious, and beautiful music, is one of those arts. Together with other professional performers and with amateurs, with everyone who loves to hear shinnai, I want to convey this rich tradition to future generations.

Today is July 7, so this evening is the Tanabata (Star) Festival, a festival that has been celebrated for a long time, starting with the aristocracy in the Nara Period. This is the one night in the year when the two stars, Altair and Vega, which are usually separated by the Milky Way, meet in the heavens. Because it is said that if, at Tanabata time, women pray that their arts will improve, their wishes will come true, let's pray. But what about men?

Tsuruga Wakasanojo
Chairman, Shinnai Association

Report on Performances in Poland and Latvia in 2012

(from "Hogaku no Tomo", January 2013)

Last year, just after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, I performed in Poland. There's a report of that trip in "Hogaku no Tomo" and also in this blog (see the entries dated March 31 through April 5, 2011 below). One result of last year's performance was that I was again invited to Poland. I was asked to perform there in July of this year.

Stary Sacz, Poland
In a quiet old village called Stary Sacz, about 120 kilometers south of Krakow, an annual early music festival is held. This year's festival was titled Music Contrasts: Europe and Asia. The purpose of this festival was to introduce Asian culture and customs through concerts. The organizers had started planning this year's festival a year ago. Last year, for the first time, performers came from China and Iran. This year, performers came from Japan and India. The Artistic Director of the festival decided to invite us after he saw our performance in Krakow in July 2011. When my friend who was living in Krakow contacted me last year about this, I told him that I would be willing to participate.
The participants from Japan this time included three from shinnai, two from Noh, a Kuruma Ningyo puppeteer, a Japanese traditional dancer, a shakuhachi player, a koto player, and an interpreter, for a total of ten people.
I dramatized the work we performed based on the shinnai work Hidakagawa Iriai Zakura, combining it with the Noh and Japanese dance settings of the same story, generally referred to as Dojoji. The part of the story that we performed included the section describing Kiyohime running after Anchin, then leaping into the Hidaka River, swimming across, and finally attacking the bell in which Anchin is hiding. The underlying theme of the dramatization was to show the charm and beauty of the Japanese traditional arts through a collaboration of shinnai narrative song (joururi) with traditional dance, puppetry, Noh, shakuhachi, and koto.

1301111.pngPerforming in Stary Sacz, Poland

Performing shinnai overseas
When I perform Japanese traditional arts overseas, my concept of the performance changes according to the situation. I think that it is very, very important to perform old works in their pure form. In my opinion, when I perform these wonderful old pieces, it gives the audience a valuable opportunity to understand Japan. In addition, it is very important that the performance be enjoyable, and that the contents are easy to understand. It is my mission as an ambassador of Japanese culture to spread understanding of Japanese culture. To achieve that purpose, the audience needs supertitles that provide a detailed explanation of the contents of the works being performed, or else someone summarizing the story of the work prior to its being performed. In Japan, we have such aids for the audience. Nowadays, it's accepted that Japanese have about the same level of knowledge of these old works as non-Japanese.
I am searching for enjoyable material that is not so difficult to understand, which I can then set in shinnai style so that audiences can get a deeper understanding of the method by which traditional performers perform the old works. Although I've heard that in Europe, works that are difficult to understand, or which do not have a good story, or conceptual works are acceptable to audiences, I don't have the ability to compose or perform such works, and I don't want to try. I want my performances to express the beauty of Japanese culture.
In order for audiences to have a good understanding of the works that I perform, I've used the local language many times when performing shinnai. Up to now, I've performed in about forty countries. In about half of them, I've used the local language in at least part of my performance. Whether I do that depends on the work I'm performing. But as much as possible, I include some sentences in the local language in my joururi. I'm no linguist, and so this is hard for me, but I've enjoyed it.
However, on this trip, the Polish language was too difficult. People say that it's the most difficult language in the world. I gave up trying to use it in the performance. I also gave up trying to use the local languages in Russia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania because their languages are so difficult.
Perhaps I have wandered too far from my purpose of reporting on this trip that included Stary Sacz. In Stary Sacz, I could fulfill my mission to the traditional Japanese arts because in this friendly small town, I had good communication with the audience. As an ambassador for Japanese culture, I was able to introduce several traditional Japanese arts. Occasionally, I get e-mail from people I met in Stary Sacz. They tell me that they want me to go back again to perform there.
While we were in Stary Sacz, in addition to the performance, there was a seminar in which I explained about the shamisen and demonstrated its sound.
I didn't see any other Japanese in Stary Sacz besides our group. I met a teenage Polish girl, around 15 years old, who was studying Japanese. The people there have a great interest in Japan.

Krakow, Poland
From Stary Sacz, we were driven to Krakow. It took about 1 1/2 hours. Krakow was the capital when Poland was ruled by a king. Even now, a part of Krakow retains the atmosphere of the Middle Ages. Many tourists visit the old part of the city. When I was there in March 2011, it was very cold, and we didn't do much sightseeing. This time, it was July. People told us that this is the best season for visiting Krakow. Day and night, when I had free time, I went sightseeing. Last year, I performed at the Manggha Centre of Japanese Art and Technology, and the performance this year was also held there. This year's performance commemorated a visit to this theater ten years ago by the Emperor and Empress of Japan. The commemorative event was sponsored by the Manggha Centre.
The performance was held on July 11, which happens to be my birthday. Before the performance, the chef of the Centre's restaurant presented me with a birthday cake. I was moved by this warm gesture in a foreign country.
Our performance was sold out. We performed the same works as in Stary Sacz. For the curtain call, each group of artists improvised a brief performance showing off their genre.
People at the reception after the performance included the Mayor of Krakow and Ambassador Makoto Yamanaka and his wife, in addition to many people who are active in arts related to Japan. The famous movie director, Andrzej Wajda, was also there. Wajda directed many movies, including Kanal, Ashes and Diamonds, and Katyn. He has many fans all over the world. His movies are realistic. I am a fan of Wajda's, and had been looking forward to meeting him. Wajda likes Japanese things, and ranks Japanese culture very high. He told me that he had studied Nihonga in Kyoto, and that he continues to paint.

1301112.pngAt the reception for the Krakow performance with film director Andrzej Wajda

Unfortunately, because of the language barrier, our conversation had to be through an interpreter. Even so, I could understand when he told me that he had been looking forward to our performance. We performers from Japan were all very happy to hear that, and it is a good memory for us.
My birthday this year was really special. I'll never forget the experiences of that day--but I've forgotten how old I am.
Late that same night, actually it was the next day, I was woken up at 3 a.m. for our 4 a.m. departure. We were driven by bus to the Warsaw airport. We went by bus in order to save money. We arrived in Riga, Latvia, after a 1 1/2 hour flight.

Riga, Latvia
Last October (2011), I performed with the Kuruma Ningyo puppet troupe in Latvia. At that time, I got to know the Japanese Ambassador, Takashi Osanai, and his wife. After that, I occasionally had dinner with them in Kagurazaka. The performance this year in Riga was a result of that relationship. We realized that it isn't far from Poland to Latvia, so it was possible for our group to drop in at Riga on the way back to Japan from Poland.
The performance in Riga wouldn't have been possible without a lot of help and support from the Ambassador. I appreciate his and his wife's great kindness to us. I was deeply moved and impressed by their generous support.
July 13 was the day of our performance. We had to have a rehearsal in the afternoon and perform in the evening even though we were still tired from having arrived late the previous afternoon from Poland. If I were young, I could do this without any problem, but as I am not so young, I couldn't conceal my tiredness. When I had some free time, I rested for a while, but I also had to prepare for the performance.
The works we performed were almost the same as we had done in Poland. (Incidentally, the works I performed with the Kuruma Ningyo troupe in 2011 were Yaoya O'shichi and Sakura Sogoro: Jinbei no Watashi.) This time, the big hall was completely filled. I'm grateful that the audience was quiet throughout our performance.
The people in Poland and Latvia seem deeply interested in Japan. Especially they seem to have a deep respect for Japanese culture and want to learn about it and experience it more. Surely they love Japan.
The applause was so enthusiastic at the end of our performance that we were given a curtain call. Ambassador Osanai and his wife were very happy with the outcome. We too were very happy and also relieved that it had gone well.

1301113.pngPerformers and guests after the performance in Riga, Latvia
The next day, some of the performers returned to Japan, while others stayed to enjoy vacationing in Latvia.

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania
The three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania all face the eastern shoreline of the Baltic Sea. Each of these countries is about the size of Hokkaido. The land is generally flat, and there are no high mountains--the highest is only about 300 meters. There are many rivers, and more than a thousand ponds and lakes. Because these three countries are small, they've had a difficult time historically. In 1991, they became independent of Soviet Russia, and in 2004, they joined NATO and the EU. The climate in all three is very similar, but their nationality, language, culture, and history are different.
Baruto, the ozeki sumotori, comes from Estonia. In Lithuania, Jews were persecuted by the Nazis at the time of World War II. A Japanese diplomat in Lithuania, Chiune Sugihara, issued transit visas to Lithuanian Jews, thus rescuing more than 6,000 people. His wonderful deeds are still remembered.
Last fall (2011), I performed in all three Baltic States, together with the Kuruma Ningyo troupe, traveling around by bus.
Latvia is the most wonderful of these three countries. Riga, the capital, is especially fashionable. Riga's historical area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the city has many good restaurants. Young people are attracted to the charm of Riga.

1301114.pngChildren's clothes in Latvia are fashionable!!

Few travel guides available in Japan introduce Riga, and we saw almost no other Japanese tourists while we were there. Actually, I would like to keep Riga as my own special secret.

1301115.pngBy the Baltic sea in the light of the setting sun, with the wife of the Japanese Ambassador to Latvia

We stayed five days in this country. It was so charming that we felt that we would like to stay there to live. We enjoyed learning about their history and experiencing their culture. Ambassador Osanai and his wife were extremely kind to us, and made possible many special experiences. They took us to many wonderful places that we would never have known about otherwise. It would be impossible for ordinary tourists to find these places. We had a wonderful holiday in Latvia.

1301116.pngWith Latvian folk dancers at the residence of the Japanese Ambassador to Latvia

Concluding Comments
I have performed in more than forty countries. In almost all of them, I felt that the people there were friendly toward Japan. They seemed to have a deep interest in and respect for Japanese history, culture, and traditions. Also, many people in these countries have studied some aspect of Japanese traditional culture, and so they understand it. Many students whom we met want to study more about Japan and to visit Japan.
In contrast, young Japanese nowadays don't understand Japanese traditional culture. They don't know about the high quality of Japanese traditions. As a result, they cannot have pride and self-confidence.
I think that the Japanese people are the best in the world, but, on the other hand, there is no other nation in which, like Japan, the people do not know and appreciate their own traditions. I am very sad about that.
I've heard that when Japanese people go abroad, they have trouble answering questions about the Japanese traditional arts. That's terrible. I think that such people cannot be called truly international people.
In this chaotic and uncertain world, a stable spirit and a warm heart are needed. In that context, it is my opinion that the value of the cultural arts should not be forgotten. I expect that we, as traditional performers, should now become more active, and that the government should support us.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo XI

Comments by Tsuruga Wakasanojo from the Printed Program

(December 22, 2012, Tsuruga Wakasanojo Shinnai Recital, Kioi Hall)

Stepping aside from my busy life, this year, too, I went overseas to perform in three countries: Poland and Latvia in July, and Singapore in November.

Because both of those trips were made not at the request of the government of those countries, but rather as a result of offers from local organizations, there were a lot of problems in the preparations before my departure. I have never had that experience before. In particular, the negotiations with the people in Poland were confusing because they had to be done entirely in English. However, when we were actually performing in each country, many pleasant and meaningful meetings furthered cultural exchange.

Today, I am going to perform Dojoji, which was the main work that I performed in those three countries. I arranged this work combining four elements. It is based on the shinnai work Hidakagawa Iri'ai Zakura, to which I added Kane'iri, which is the Noh version of part of that story. The overall performance is a collaboration of four genres: shinnai, Noh, Kuruma Ningyo puppetry, and traditional Japanese dance.

In addition, su joururi of the famous classic work, Akegarasu Yume Awayuki, will be performed. I will do the first part, and Tsuruga Isekichi will perform the latter part.

Tsuruga Isekichi is the new professional name of Tsuruga Isejiro. Although today's performance commemorates her name change, a formal name-changing performance will be held later. I hope that you will join us at that time.

Political change has begun in Japan. What kind of social reform will take place next year? The national crisis is likely to continue, but our health is most important.

I sincerely wish you and your family all the best in the coming year. Thank you very much for coming today, even though this is busy time because of the year end.

Comments by Wakasanojo from the Printed Program

(December 2, 2012, Shinnai Godo Kenshu Concert, Kagurazaka Theater)

Already there is only one month left in this year. There have been many notable events this past year, both domestically and overseas.

To balance various harsh and sad news, some good news relates to the development of iPS cells by Prof. Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University. His research overturned what had been thought to be common sense in the life sciences. From iPS cells can be made many kinds of cells and organs. This is very good news for patients with what had been thought to be incurable diseases. It's said that this development will result in a revolution in medical treatment.

Maybe this is a sign of human wisdom in god's territory.

Prof. Yamanaka is 50 years old; that is, he is still young, but he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work. He was also awarded the Order of Culture by the Emperor.

Sometimes when someone receives a medal, we don't understand the reasons for the selection, but in this case, all Japanese are proud and happy about Prof. Yamanaka's achievements.

I too was happy to hear this news. If possible, I would like to use iPS cells to change my vocal cords into younger ones. But I wouldn't want to return my overall skill to what it was when I was younger...

I am proud of the status of Japanese history, culture, entertainment arts, and national character in the world.

Shinnai is among the cultural achievements of Japan. I want to have confidence and pride and take responsibility for our art. I want to ensure its continuation into the future. I want to practice hard.

Only a few days remain in this year. Please spend them cheerfully and have a Happy New Year.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo
Chairman, Shinnai Association

Chatting with Sumo Ozeki Kisenosato

The ozeki and I were a little bit drunk.

Do your best, Japanese sekitori!!!

1210291.png 1210292.png

A Memorial Stone Honoring the Founder of Shinnai, Tsuruga Wakasanojo I

Tsuruga Wakasanojo I, the founder of the shinnai genre, was born in 1716, in what is now the city of Tsuruga in Fukui prefecture. When he was young, he moved to Edo (present-day Tokyo), and lived in Takanawa, which was a part of an area called Shiba.

He became a student of the Miyakoji Bungonojo group, studying with one of Bungo's top students, Fujimatsu Satsuma, who had been one of the master practitioners of the Bungo genre of joururi. His professional name at that time was Fujimatsu Tsuruga. After he was no longer studying with Fujimatsu Satsuma, he changed his professional name to Asahi Tsuruga'tayu. However, in 1751, when the government issued a prohibition on the use of the professional family name Asahi, he changed his name again to Tsuruga Wakasanojo, using his birthplace in the name, and created the shinnai genre.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo made his living as a singer-songwriter; his genre became very famous. He composed many works, including Akegarasu Yume Awayuki, Wakagi no Adanagusa (Ran'cho), and Idahachi.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo died in 1786.

On October 22, 2012, a memorial stone honoring the first Tsuruga Wakasanojo was unveiled in front of the main torii gate of Kihi shrine, a famous shrine in the city of Tsuruga in Fukui prefecture. The stone is 120 cm. high, 150 cm. wide, and 30 cm. thick. It is made of natural granite, and was placed on a pedestal. On the front of the stone, sentences have been carved in a handwriting style.

On the back of the stone are carved my name and the names of the people who worked hard so that this monument could be realized. The monument will be the pride of the city of Tsuruga for a long time.

On the day of the dedication of the stone, the mayor of the city of Tsuruga and many other citizens gathered for the ceremony. I performed a memorial concert with Tsuruga Isejiro in front of the stone monument.

At Koryuji Temple in the town of Chitose-Karasuyama, where Tsuruga Wakasanojo, the founder of shinnai, is interred, a Wakasa festival is often held, but this is the first time that a memorial stone has been set up.

Nowadays, fewer and fewer people are professionals in shinnai. I am deeply grateful for the city's actions, and appreciate very much the establishment of this memorial stone. I'm sure that Tsuruga Wakasanojo I and other shinnai artists of past days must also be very pleased.

By Tsuruga Wakasanojo XI
From "Hogaku no Tomo".


(Left) In front of the memorial stone with Mr. Kawase, Mayor of Tsuruga City

(Left below) Tsuruga Wakasanojo XI speaking at the unveiling ceremony

(Below) The back of the memorial stone

1210295.png 1210293.png

Comments by Wakasanojo from the Printed Program

(September 18, 2012, Concert by New Shinnai Professionals)

This year, the late summer heat was very severe, and it lasted a long time. Even though I like summer, it was too much for me. I remember that it was like this last year, too. Maybe it is a result of global warming. But there are some scientists who theorize that the earth will become very cold in the near future. Anyway, the weather always changes. I am very optimistic about this, because the change in the average temperature is not so great.

A change that worries me is that the number of people who like Japanese traditional music continues to decrease every year.

The Agency for Cultural Affairs is also concerned about this and, starting last year, they decided to support events to showcase the next generation of performers in the traditional arts, including shinnai. We are very appreciative of this support.

The first of these shinnai events was held earlier this year, in March. Today's performance is the second one. We teachers in the Shinnai Association have been training new shinnai professionals. Today's concert will show you the results.

In this year's London Olympics, Japan earned the largest number of medals ever for our country. This was a result of the strategy of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of developing measures to ensure broad support from Japanese society for training our athletes and strengthening their skills.

We too are receiving support from the Agency for Cultural Affairs. We want to make an effort of pass on the wonderful Edo traditional shinnai genre to the next generation. This responsibility is our duty.

I ask all of you who like shinnai to strengthen your support of us in these activities from now on.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo
Chairman, Shinnai Association


A Message from Tsuruga Wakasanojo

A Message from Tsuruga Wakasanojo
From the Program Notes for the September 2, 2012, Yukata Kai

Thank you for coming today in such hot weather.

This year, everyone has been fussing: "It's hot! It's hot!" But summer is my favorite season. The sun is always shining brightly. The towering summer clouds, the sound of the cicadas and traditional wind chimes, and other typical summer things, such as watermelon, handheld fans, and yukata, all give me a nostalgic feeling.

In July, I went for two weeks to Poland and Latvia to perform shinnai. The people in both countries had good characteristics, such as patience and kindness. I felt an affinity with them. The performances were a big success.

In Krakow, Andrezej Wajda, the director of such movies as "Ashes and Diamonds" and "Katyn", came to our performance. I was delighted to have the opportunity to talk with him about Japanese traditional culture.

In November, I'll be performing in Singapore. Before that, I'll have a performance at the National Theatre in Tokyo, together with other shinnai iemoto.

We used to have a performance there every year, but recently we haven't done that, so this will be the first time in a long time for us to perform there. I'm glad that this custom is being revived this year. It's strange that we stopped doing that for more than ten years.

We perform shinnai enthusiastically so that our audiences can experience the special beauty and charm of shinnai works.

There are also other shinnai concerts scheduled. Please come!

Information about upcoming shinnai events is included in this blog.



Tsuruga Wakasanojo is selling special yukata material!!

1208151.pngIt is hot these days, isn't it!

The performances in Poland and Latvia were a big success. Later, I'll write about them for this blog.

This year, for the first time in a long time, I decided to design a new yukata pattern for my students.

The material is indigo in color. As you can see in the photo on this page, the pattern is unique, with a special feeling suitable for shinnai. Big advantages over typical yukata material are that it can be washed at your home in your washing machine, and it does not need ironing.

I really hope that you will take advantage of this opportunity to order this material for yourself.

On September 2, my students will be performing in this year's Yukata Kai. (You can see more about that elsewhere in this blog.) At that time, let's all wear new yukata!

Price of 1 bolt of cloth, including the delivery charge: 15,000 yen

We can give you the name of a shop that will make this material into a yukata, using your own measurements.

To order (in English is OK):


jiro-changenki@i.softbank.jp Isejiro-san's cell phone)

tel/fax: 03-3260-1804

Tsuruga Wakasanojo

Showing is Better than Telling

Best wishes for your health in this hot season.

In the past, people probably practiced every day. That must have been very hard work for both the teacher and the students. Teachers had to know many pieces. If they didn't, they'd soon run out of material and would have nothing more to teach their students. So it seems to me that it must have been difficult for both the teachers and the students.

In the past, teaching was not systematic. In the lessons, discussion was considered to be unnecessary. If students asked about the theory of the art they were studying: "Why   ?", "How   ?", they didn't get an answer.

Teachers' attitude was that students should remember exactly what their teacher had showed them, and should perform exactly what they had studied.

Both art and skill do not progress if theory comes before the skill or the art. This was true in the past, and is true now as well.

If students do exactly what their teacher tells them, some day they may, possibly, reach the level of skill of their teacher.

In order to improve, students should do exactly what their teacher demonstrates in their lessons. As the saying goes, "Showing is better than telling."

Combining aesthetic appreciation, aptitude, and talent is the challenge for students.

After they have made a little progress, some students think that they are really terrific. Such people are actually at dead end, and will never truly improve their skill.

The most important thing when studying the arts is to practice hard, continuing that for a long time, while enjoying yourself.

Through their art, both teachers and students train their spirit and aim at a satisfying life.

Teaching is learning, or in other words, learning is teaching. That is, teachers and students both improve through working together.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo
Chairman, Shinnai Association
July 29, 2012

Shinnai Performances in Poland and Latvia

Poland_E.png Latvia_E.png

Sachiko Kobayashi and Tsuruga Wakasanojo


May 27, 2012, Television Program

Recently, I've been interviewed a lot on TV.

This time, the program I was interviewed for is a talk show hosted by a famous enka star, Sachiko Kobayashi.

For this program, well-known people in various fields choose someone they want to meet and have a productive conversation with. The program is one that can be enjoyed by adults.

The program was taped in my studio in Kagurazaka. It will be broadcast on one of the Japanese satellite channels. Please watch it.

Channel:  BS12 (TwellV)
Program:  Talks That Rock
Date and time:  Sunday, May 27, 2012, 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Title of this program:  10th episode: Sachiko Kobayashi (singer) and Tsuruga Wakasanojo (shinnai joururi, Living National Treasure)

Essay by Wakasanojo from the concert program

March 28 Concert by the Next Generation of Shinnai Professionals

The Serious Struggles of Traditional Japanese Performance

We traditional performers have been worried for a long time about the future of traditional Japanese music, because all of the genres lack successors. The extent of the crisis regarding succession differs slightly depending on the genre, but for all genres, the crisis of the future is almost the same. I suppose that, right now, in all fields, all performers are worried about the future of their genre.

Each school is trying to come up with measures to resolve this crisis. Because of their feeling that there is an impending crisis, some individuals and some groups are working actively on this problem.

As a result, I believe, the government has become aware of the problem of succession, and has recognized that the decline of traditional Japanese entertainment is a grave matter. Therefore, there had been a plan to increase the budget for culture in the fiscal year that started April 2011.

However, soon after that budget was decided, the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster on March 11, 2011, caused an unprecedented national crisis. Naturally, a huge amount of the government's resources will be needed for the recovery and rebuilding of the devastated areas. In that case, it seems likely that the budget for culture will be the first to be cut. That is inevitable.

Even so, despite the restrictions on its budget, today's performance is being sponsored by the Agency for Cultural Affairs.

The aim of today's event is to support the Shinnai Association's efforts to cultivate and train the next generation of shinnai performers. We at the Shinnai Association greatly appreciated the offer of support from the Agency for Cultural Affairs, and we made the training of the next generation of shinnai performers the central focus of this event.

Young people who are learning traditional arts from the previous generation of teachers and other performers, and who plan to pass them on to the next, always make an effort to master their art and improve their skills and to learn how to improve the traditional forms. They also attempt to adapt the traditional genres to entertainment suitable for modern tastes and to expand the shinnai fan base among young people. In addition to that, they are always working to improve their performance skills through continued training under the guidance of their teachers.

The Agency for Cultural Affairs has advised us that young performers should work together with experienced professionals so as to ensure the continuation of shinnai.

In today's performance, young professionals will demonstrate how they have progressed as a result of their efforts.

It is impossible to improve and master the skills involved in traditional entertainment in a short period of time. People's skills improve as the result of daily practice and their directing all their energy into their art.

Joruri performers train their voice and master a beautiful and charming tone; shamisen performers master their skill so that they can play any work. As these performers improve the skill of their voice and their hands, they begin to ascend to the level of profound art. In addition, as performers continue on their path toward a goal that is infinitely far away, they should enhance their human feelings and cultivate their sensibility.

Without skill, it is impossible to express the heart of a story, the feeling of a character or a scene, or the lyricism of a work. First of all, performers have to learn the skills needed for their art from an appreciation of tangible things and visible things, not just abstract ideas.

Our society tends to have a bad habit in which misunderstandings arise from theoretical disagreements.

Art is a struggle with oneself, not a competition with other people, so performers should not use their art as a way to make money. If a performer appears to be obsessed with self-advertisement or greed for success, the quality of that person's art will deteriorate. We should face our art with a pure mind.

As the saying goes, the arts truly express our humanity. Not only young performers, but experienced ones should know this.

I wish that all performers would, through their art, walk on their own path of training, with the goal of improving their skill in their art.

In order to ensure the continuation of our art, all the members of the Shinnai Association, both new and established performers, should make an effort to work together to address the goal of improving their skill in our art.

I sincerely hope that you will love shinnai forever.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo
Chairman, Shinnai Association


A Message from Tsuruga Wakasanojo

A Message from Tsuruga Wakasanojo
(From the program notes for the February 26, 2012, student concert)

The cold weather this winter reminds me of how cold it used to be in the past.

Last year, I performed with the Kuruma Ningyo Troupe in the three Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Japanese people are not familiar with those countries, and so it is hard for us to imagine it looks like there. I was impressed by the beautiful, peaceful atmosphere of the historic town centers. People there were interested in and understood other cultures, and were very kind. Also, they seemed shy. Unexpectedly, I found that we got along well.

This year, too, I have been invited to perform overseas. I will report on that at some future time.

Comments by Tsuruga Wakasanojo XI

From the Program of Recital December 18, 2011

There are only two weeks left in this year, which has been an ordeal for Japan. During the national crises, I was in foreign countries, in order to perform shinnai.

I went to Poland in March, just after the great earthquake and tsunami hit the Tohoku area, when conditions in Japan were especially hard. In October, I went to the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) at the request of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in order to perform shinnai.

In Poland, I performed four shinnai works: Ran'cho, two numbers with traditional Japanese dance, and Kumo no Ito. I will be performing the latter work here today.

In Krakow, we Japanese performers received a generous donation from the audience for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami disasters. The members of the audience gave cordially and with full hearts for this cause. When I returned to Japan, I took their donation to one of the Japanese newspaper companies.

In the Baltic countries, I performed two works together with the Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo puppet troupe: Yaoya Ohichi and Sakura Giminden no Jinbei no Watashi.

In these two trips to four countries, every performance was a great success, and we were welcomed warmly. The members of the audience seemed to have a good understanding of our traditional Japanese entertainment. They were impressed by our performance. On the other hand, we were impressed to receive endless applause and standing ovations.

I am convinced that friendship through the diplomacy of entertainment cultivates a natural understanding between countries, and establishes warm relations and a bond between people through the ties of friendship.

I have been thinking that, as a representative of the Agency for Cultural Affairs, I could take the role of introducing Japanese culture and be a diplomat for peace.

By now, I have performed shinnai in more than fifty cities in over thirty countries. From the start, I've enjoyed performing overseas and visiting other countries. I'm always delighted to visit foreign countries. I've never felt uncomfortable overseas.

I want to take care of my health so that I can introduce shinnai and other Japanese traditional forms of entertainment to many people, continue working for international good will, and cultivate friendships through sharing wonderful experiences with many people.

Also in 2011, I presented events for children at more than ten schools in Japan. This too was sponsored by the Agency for Cultural Affairs. These events were arranged so that children, who are the next generation, could experience high quality traditional Japanese culture.

Among the schools I visited was an elementary school that is going to be closed at the end of the school year (March, 2012), and a school that was damaged by the March 2011 earthquake.

This project is excellent for children who, as the next generation, will be carrying out an important role in Japanese society, and for the popularization of shinnai as one form of traditional Japanese entertainment.

However, sadly, I've heard that the budget allotted by the government for cultural activities is getting smaller and smaller each year. It's deplorable that the budget for cultural projects is one of the first to be reduced when the economy is bad.

It is said that people get satisfaction from material things, but that their spirit gets satisfaction from immaterial things. For human beings, both are necessary.

Today, I am concluding my professional activities for 2011 by performing traditional Japanese entertainment. The first work that I will perform today is Kumo no Ito, which I also performed in Poland. The story on which this work is based was written for children by Ryunosuke Akutagawa; it is included in the textbooks used in elementary schools in Japan. When I adapted this short story for shinnai, I especially hoped that children would appreciate it. All the artists who are performing this work with me contributed to the stage adaptation.

The second work is based on the classic story, Ishikawa Goemon. That work has three parts, but today, I will be performing only two of them: Mamako Zeme and Otaki Goroshi. I'm planning to perform the third part, Kamairi no Dan, in a future recital.

Some people think of the shinnai genre as consisting primarily of light music, but I disagree. I hope that you understand that there are various kinds of joruri.

I wonder how Japan and the rest of the world will change from now on. I do not want the dawn to be dark.

I hope that my personal situation will be all right, regardless of the situation in the world.

Best wishes for a Happy New Year.

Thank you for coming to our performance today, even though this is a busy time of the year for everyone.

Shinnai Association-sponsored concert December 4, 2011

A Year of Natural and Man-Made Disasters
Comments from the program of a Shinnai Association-sponsored concert December 4, 2011

There is only one month left in 2011. I would like to extend my deepest thanks to all of you who love shinnai and provide great support to our shinnai events.

This was a difficult year. For those of us who dedicate ourselves to studying the traditional art of shinnai, our life depends on trends in the world.

This year was the first time since World War II that Japan has suffered so much.

Needless to say, the great earthquake and tsunami natural disasters that hit East Japan resulted in many victims and immeasurable losses. The surviving victims will bear lasting scars.

After those disasters, heavy rains drenched the same area. Many people died, and others lost property in the resulting floods. Thus, the area suffered further severe damage.

These natural disasters, together with the man-made nuclear plant accident which polluted the air with radiation, plunged the country into a financial crisis. Japan's ratio of public debt to gross domestic product is the highest among industrialized nations. What to do about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). And so on.

There are now many problems in the world, such as the sudden appreciation of the yen as a result of the financial crisis in European countries. Everywhere in the world, there are problems, including relations with China and North Korea, and the uprisings of the Arab Spring.

Like many other countries, Japan has a financial crisis. It's not surprising that the country is on a dangerous course.

I cannot predict what is going to happen.

I cannot imagine what next year will be like, or our future after that... We might return to the way Japan was after World War II.

We who love our art and strive to progress in our field cannot be unconcerned about what is going on in the world, but even so, we want to continue to perform in front of audiences and continue to improve our skills, with good health in body and spirit, detached from current events.

Thank you for coming to our performance today, even though you are surely busy.

Please spend the rest of the year with good cheer and a positive spirit. Best wishes for the New Year.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo
President, Shinnai Association

Charity Performance for the Benefit of Earthquake and Tsunami Victims

Thoughts About This Charity Performance for the Benefit of Victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

By Tsuruga Wakasanojo XI, Chairman, Shinnai Association

I would like to express my deepest condolences to the people who lost their lives or are missing as a result of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. Also, I would like to express my sincere sympathies to the people who are suffering because of those disasters.

In the afternoon of March 11, there were simultaneously a massive earthquake, a giant tsunami, and the start of problems at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. This was unprecedented. It was the dawn of a national crisis. It's said that disasters hit us suddenly, when we have forgotten previous disasters. However, although we had been somewhat prepared, the scale of the damage from the disasters was so great that it vastly exceeded our expectations.

Human beings cannot know the full power of the natural world. We have to realize that we are born in the natural world and we live in that world. We should have great respect for the natural world. We human beings may have been arrogant in our relationship with the natural world because of the development of civilization. It's important that we analyze this latest natural disaster wisely and carefully, and bring our experience to bear.

Earthquakes are caused by movements within the earth, so they are impossible to prevent. Tsunami, too, are inevitable. However, because we have data on past tsunami, it is possible to lessen the damage from tsunami to some degree by proper preparations.

On the other hand, even though we were not able to prevent serious damage from the nuclear power plant disaster, we shouldn't say that what occurred there was beyond our expectations. We can understand why this is so by reading books about nuclear power plant safety. The accident at the Fukushima nuclear power station was caused mostly by human beings.

The response to the nuclear accident by the government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has been criticized. Their lack of understanding of the prediction that an accident might occur was extremely irresponsible and inadequate.

Damage from the radiation from this accident will affect not only the people living in that area, but also the future prosperity of all of Japan. The Japanese people should be aware that we have had a delusion that we can live in comfort and wealth because of this country's plentiful resources. Now we have to reduce waste and live modestly without excessive desires. We also have to grapple with problems such as the deterioration of the economy and an inadequate amount of electric power. We should be satisfied with what we have.

Right after the disaster, the Shinnai Association donated one million yen through NHK. From now on also, we, as entertainers, will make an effort to do what is really needed. I'm sure that each of the members of the Shinnai Association will, in his/her own way, support efforts for the recovery from the disaster in the affected area. It seems likely that this crisis is gradually going to affect all the people of Japan.

I have great sympathy for the victims of the disaster. I am at a loss for words to console them when I learn about their misery. The Japanese people have to hope and dream, to make every effort to face the problems of recovery, and to change from disaster to happiness. That is our mission and responsibility. I think that the people of this historical country will exercise their wonderful wisdom and effort with great pride and strong power. I hope that will enable us to restore the Japanese people's traditional virtues.

I had considered canceling today's performance because of the current crisis, but instead, I decided to hold the performance as a charity event.

I hope that you will understand and cooperate. Thank you for coming to our performance today.

June 5, 2011 13:00

Tsuruga Isejiro's Diary "Our Guide in Auschwitz"

I am Tsuruga Isejiro. I want to introduce myself a little for people who don't know me. I am a student (deshi) of Tsuruga Wakasanojo shishou whose web site this is, and a shinnai performer. My shishou has written a four-part essay in this blog about the performance in Poland and the disasters in Japan.

I went to Poland with him. The trip impressed me deeply. It was an unforgettable experience. In that context, I want to write first about Auschwitz.

I didn't know many details about the extremely cruel history of Auschwitz, but my shishou insisted on going there. I was interested, but I hesitated to go because I knew that I would be easily moved by going to such a place. When I was a teenager, I went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, and I remember that for a while after that, I had nightmares.

When we arrived at Auschwitz by bus, it was already 3 p.m. There were few tourists there. We were introduced to our guide, Nakatani-san, and all of us started to follow him.

I was tense. I wondered why Nakatani-san, a Japanese, was working there as a guide. It seemed like a trivial thing for me to be thinking about. Nakatani-san must have been in his mid-forties. That's about the same generation as me, so for sure he didn't experience World War II. Why would he go so far from Japan, to a strange country, and especially to Auschwitz.... Why was he there?

We saw a group of junior high school students. Nakatani-san told us that they looked Jewish. Their great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers were killed in Auschwitz. This place is their grave, too.

It was very difficult to see all of the concentration camp in one day because it is very big. Nakatani-san chose the places that we would see. Because my shishou has already described it in his diary in this blog, you probably already have a clear image of it, and I won't go into detail.

Nakatani-san's explanations were easy to understand, and not opinionated. He spoke very calmly, and did not describe his personal situation. He simply described the facts, from beginning to end. But, in his calm presentation, I could feel his very serious view about this place and its history.

Nakatani-san explained the historical involvement of Germany, Russia, and other countries in Europe, Japan, and the Jews. He spoke only the truth. Why did people, and why did one country do such extremely cruel things? Nakatani-san must have studied very hard. I've continued to speculate about that. Some guides give their own opinions heatedly, but because of Nakatani-san's calm presentation, I could walk cool-headedly behind him to the end of the tour.

I was scared that I'd be tortured by the huge number of ghosts in this place, but, to the contrary, now I want to study history more. I've become brave enough to continue to think about it without being scared. I talked with Nakatani-san about that. He answered, "Many types of people come here. At a minimum, I become energized here."

I didn't ask Nakatani-san why he went to Auschwitz to be a guide. If I ever have a chance to see him again, I'd like to try to ask that question.

If you go to Auschwitz, I recommend that you use Nakatani-san as a guide!! I've heard that he is so famous that he is mentioned in a very popular guidebook, Chikyu no Arukikata (How to Walk on the Earth).

If many people visit Auschwitz, maybe that will purge the bad spirits from the place.

アウシュビッツ 中谷氏.jpg On the right, Nakatani-san, our guide
アウシュビッツの門.jpg Over the famous gate to Auschwitz, "ARBEIT MACHT FREI" (If you work, you will become free). It was the Nazi's deception.



Tsuruga Wakasanojo's Diary: "The Massive Disaster in Japan and Performing in Poland"

"The Massive Disaster in Japan and Performing in Poland"
Fourth part

By the time I was writing this fourth part, I'd returned to Japan and recovered from jet lag.

I am still thinking seriously about what I can do for the victims of the great disaster, and what kind of action I should take. Both the Agency for Cultural Affairs and the Japan Council of Performers' Organizations have called for support for the relief of disaster victims.

I too have said that I want to participate actively in that. I want to express my condolences to the families of those who died in the disaster and pray for the souls of those who died. As soon as possible, I want to support the reconstruction of the disaster area, and provide relief and comfort to the many victims. I'm thinking about starting such a plan together with artists from various genres.

There are serious problems now all over the world, and people in many places are suffering. People are materially and morally exhausted. Japan is facing something of an economic crisis. But most Japanese people think of Japan as a peaceful and stable country.

Many Japanese people are not satisfied with their daily lives. They want this, they want that. They want others to do this for them, to do that for them. They complain constantly and have endless desires.

It was in this social context that the massive earthquake and tsunami disaster occurred. I hope that, with their ability, Japanese will reconstruct the affected area, little by little.

But the situation in that area continues to be very serious, because of the nuclear power plant accident that happened at the same time.

From now on, it's impossible for Japanese to lead a life of luxury. The economy is getting worse, and there are shortages of resources, including water, which is the basis of our life. Electricity, gas, and food cannot be supplied in sufficient amounts. Japanese people will be forced to lead a lifestyle of economizing and forbearance.

In this very difficult situation, which is like wartime, how will the people of Japan react? How will they survive? It is not other people's problem. It is our problem as well.

I too must reflect about this. Now that the earthquakes and tsunami are over, I think that people in Japan should re-evaluate their lifestyle. We should re-examine our attitudes. This is a critical national emergency, in my opinion. Japan is suffering. Japan is sad.

In the past in Japan, people used to have the spirit exemplified in the saying, "Even if we lack many things, we should be satisfied". To say this another way, people nowadays want to have more and more, and are never satisfied. People don't feel satisfaction, and are only interested in their own desires. People are always striving for an ever more comfortable life. For a feeling of satisfaction. People who don't know satisfaction cannot be happy. Their hearts are poor, tough, and pitiful. They are poor in spirit, have a difficult life, and are pitiful.

Let's learn how to be satisfied. Let's cooperate with an appreciative spirit. Let's continue to live with a rich spirit, and let's keep the light of hope in our hearts. Shouldn't we change our spirit, and go forward together to a new world? Let's live more cheerfully.

We cannot guess how much damage will result from now on as a result of the disasters, including the nuclear reactor accident. Hard times is coming for suffering Japan.

Together, let's stand up to that challenge with Japanese people's wisdom, effort, courage, thoughtfulness, kindness, diligence, sincerity, team spirit, patience, and so on, with a display of Japanese grace. Japanese people are excellent. Let's use the opportunity of this disaster to recapture Japanese people's grace. Japanese never give up. As soon as possible, let's achieve the recovery. Japanese are never defeated.

Finally, in connection with the performance in Poland, I want to express my gratitude to the Japanese Ambassador and the staff of the Japanese Embassy in Poland; Ms. Bogna Dziechciaruk-Maj, Director of the Museum of Japanese Art Manggha; our interpreter, Viola-san; the American Consul and his wife; and to Matsuzaki-san and the other staff who took care of us throughout our stay and helped with the performance; and to the President of ID, Funakoshi-san, and to the Chief Operating Officer of Sumi Company, Nakayama-san, who sponsored the performance. To them, and to everyone else who helped us, I express my deep appreciation. Thank you very much.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo



Tsuruga Wakasanojo's Diary: "The Massive Disaster in Japan and Performing in Poland"

"The Massive Disaster in Japan and Performing in Poland"
Third part

The Director of the Manggha Museum and her staff decided to set up a donation box to raise funds for the victims of the great disasters in Japan. Approximately 300,000 yen (more than US$3,600) was collected. Most of the members of the audience were university students and young people, so it was especially meaningful that they gave so much. Can you imagine such warm kindness? It was heartwarming.

After our encore, speaking as a representative of Japan, I thanked the audience in Japanese. Holding their money in my hands, I promised that I would deliver their generous donation to the affected area or to a relief organization.

I also promised that, after Japan recovered from the disaster, I would go back to Krakow in order to give a performance as my way of thanking them. They gave me a big round of applause. I vowed in my heart that absolutely I would go back...

マンガ館の館長さんより義援金を受け取る.jpg Receiving the donation from the Director of the Manggha Museum
観客からの義援金領収書にサイン.jpg Signing the receipt for the audience's donation
マンガ館舞台上で.jpg On stage at Manggha Centre


The previous evening, our group was invited to a reception at the residence of the American consul. The wife of the Consul was eager to have us Japanese for dinner, and we all went.

The Consul's wife had originally planned to have only the eight of us who had come from Japan. But because important people in Krakow knew about the terrible disaster in Japan, more than fifty people gathered.

The American Consul spoke about the current situation in Japan as a result of the disaster, saying, "Let's support the revival of Japan." He also asked the guests to make donations.

To show our appreciation, we performed shinnai, and also Japanese traditional dance and shakuhachi music. I gave a brief speech, thanking them.

All the countries in the world have offered support, but especially many Poles love Japan, and were deeply concerned about the great disaster. While I was in Poland, I could feel their anxiety.

在クラクフアメリカ領事ご夫妻と.jpg With the American Consul and his wife in Krakow
在クラクフアメリカ領事館でのチャリティパーティ.jpg Charity party at the American Consulate in Krakow
在クラクフアメリカ領事館で.jpg In the American Consulate in Krakow


We'll never forget these impressive experiences in Krakow.

After the rehearsal, we returned from the hall to our hotel. When we got to the hotel, we started to pay the taxi driver. The driver, who was probably in his forties, said to us, "Japan has had a big disaster. The fare isn't much, but anyway you don't have to pay me. Please make every effort to restore your country."

I was speechless. I was astonished. I was moved. One of the women in our group cried. What a warm heart! This wasn't an ordinary thing to do. I don't know if I could do what he did if I were in his situation. I don't know if I could express my feelings by giving a donation like that.

After we thanked the driver and got out of the cab, I was thinking about the driver's warm heart. At the same time, I felt somewhat embarrassed.

A result of this experience was that my view of life changed a little. This beautiful experience remains alive in my heart.

(continued in the fourth installment)



Tsuruga Wakasanojo's Diary: "The Massive Disaster in Japan and Performing in Poland"

"The Massive Disaster in Japan and Performing in Poland"
Second part

Krakow is 300 kilometers south of Warsaw. It's an ancient city, similar to Kyoto.

Soon after we arrived at our hotel, we went by car to Auschwitz. Before this trip to Poland, I had asked especially to have a chance to see Auschwitz.

At Auschwitz, we saw that, even now, buildings where the genocide occurred are still standing. This was the location of the worst tragedy of the twentieth century, in which innocent Jews and Poles were arrested and taken to be killed in the gas chambers. People were packed into cattle cars on trains, not knowing where they were going.

The mournful railroad tracks are still there. This place was the terminus for the train and for the lives of those people, too. Most of them went directly from the train to the gas chambers. Cute, innocent little children, too....

On display in the concentration camp buildings are many belongings of the prisoners. Plain wooden beds in a building like a stable, simple toilets in a row, torture chambers, gas chambers, a barbed wire fence, guard towers--even now, the hellish atmosphere of these buildings was hair-raising.

Why did human being do such terrible, evil things? Their actions were too unreasonable, too cruel. For what kind of purpose could God have allowed such actions? From the beginning of time, people have committee atrocities such as these.

We went back to our hotel in Krakow with mournful expressions.

アウシュビッツにて 1.jpg アウシュビッツにて2.jpg In Auschwitz


In Japan, there had been a tremendous amount of destruction, and we were relieved to hear the news that the Krakow performance could be held. As I had expected, the performance would be held as a charity event.

Every day, there was news about the massive earthquake and tsunami disasters in Japan. Our group's visit was also written up in the newspapers, featured on television, and so on, and, in addition, I was interviewed by TV and newspaper reporters.

As a result of this coverage, when the day of the concert arrived, many people rushed to the hall, and the place was full.

The performance was held at the Manggha Centre of Japanese Art and Technology, which was designed in 1987 by a Japanese architect named Arata Isozaki for the purpose of introducing Japanese art and technology. "Manga" was the title of a series of ukiyoe sketches by Hokusai. "Manggha", a transliteration into Polish of the Japanese word, was the pseudonym adopted by a wealthy collector of Japanese art in the early 20th century.

At Manggha Museum, we could understand how deeply Poles are interested in Japan.

The organizing theme for the concert was "the beauty of Japanese traditional music and dance".

I was the head of the group visiting from Japan and performed shinnai joururi (narrative song). Tsuruga Isejiro and Shinnai Katsushizu played shamisen. Traditional dance was performed by the deputy head of our delegation, Fujima Jinsho, and by Hanayagi Kihi. Tomimoto Seiei played koto; the shakuhachi player was Yoshioka Tatsumi. Tou'sha Akane performed on traditional Japanese drums called ko'tsuzumi and o'tsuzumi. Our group was a total of eight people.

The four works we performed were: Ran'cho, a shinnai su joururi work; Yuki, a dance number with shinnai music, danced by Hanayagi Kihi; Banzai, a ji'uta work danced by Fujima Jinsho with vocal and koto music by Tomimoto Seiei, shakuhachi by Yoshioka Tatsumi, and traditional drums by Tou'sha Akane. The whole group of us performed Kumo no Ito (The Spider's Thread), which I have adapted for the stage from a famous work by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. I designed the production, as well as writing the music and the libretto.

Because this event was held in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Chopin's birth, I chose rather more quiet and serious works.

Poles like Japan very much. They study and understand the Japanese cultural arts very well. Polish and Japanese people's temperament and sensitivities seem to resemble each other. Although this first visit to Poland was very short, I got that feeling. I felt very close to them.

I was satisfied with my selection of the works to be performed. At the concert, supertitles were not used, but the audience (99% of whom were Polish) seemed to understand the contents of the works correctly. I realized this at the party held after the performance. Their hearts were moved by our performance. I'm sure that the event was a big success.

Andrzej Wayda, a world-famous Polish movie director who has many fans in Japan, had been looking forward very much to seeing our performance, and he was very disappointed that the Warsaw performance was canceled. In his place, his wife, Krystyna Zachwatowicz, a theatre costume designer and actress, came to Krakow. She was moved by our performance, and complimented us. We were touched by her reaction.

(continued in the third installment)

新聞社の取材・マンガ館にて.jpg Being interviewed by a newspaper reporter (at Manggha Centre)
クラクフ公演・蘭蝶演奏.jpg The Krakow performance of Ran'cho
クラクフ公演のレセプション・ワイダ監督の奥様(右手前).jpg At the reception after the performance. Wayda's wife is in the right foreground



Tsuruga Wakasanojo's Diary: "The Massive Disaster in Japan and Performing in Poland"

"The Massive Disaster in Japan and Performing in Poland"
First part

Grief comes suddenly.

We tend to forget past natural disasters. No! Japanese never forget.

Japan is a country of disasters. Every year, every year, there are earthquakes, typhoons, and floods in many parts of the country. But this time, the disaster was more enormous than anyone could have imagined, far beyond people's expectations.

Nature's great power is beyond people's imagination and ideas. On the basis of data from the past, people can only guess what might happen.

Nature's blessing and nature's anger are in God's realm. In other words, there is nothing that people can do. In the natural world, human beings' power is futile. However, it is possible for people to minimize the bad effects.

Would it have been possible to do that in this recent disaster?

From now on, the most important thing is to think about prevention, and to use the data and knowledge from this experience as much as possible within our limitations as human beings.

In World War II, the firebombing of Tokyo occurred on March 10, and it was in the afternoon of March 11, which is, of course, the next day, that this latest great disaster happened.

We in Japan face the most serious crisis since the war. It is an awakening of the Japanese spirit.

It was two days after the earthquake, on the 13th, based on a plan made last year by the Japanese Embassy in Poland, that I flew to Warsaw to perform concerts being held in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Chopin's birth. I want to give a simple report about that here.

When I went to Narita airport, my feelings were very complex. On the previous day, all flights had been canceled, and I thought that maybe the cancellations would continue on the 13th. We were able to drive on the expressways to the airport, because the roads had re-opened. The Finnair flight departed on schedule.

I was worried about Japan and the family members whom I had left behind. But at both locations where we were to perform in Poland, the tickets had already been sold out, so as a performer, and as a Japanese, I couldn't cancel... The eight of us, thinking those same thoughts, left Japan behind us.

We changed planes in Helsinki, and finally landed in Warsaw.

I had expected it to be extremely cold there, but on our arrival, it wasn't so cold. We were relieved about that.

The next day, after lunch, we met at the concert hall with the local staff, in order to prepare the lighting, sound, and props. After that, we were going to start our rehearsal.

A staff member from the Japanese Embassy arrived with a mournful expression. Her message was that we had been ordered to cancel the performance. The reason was that the Foreign Ministry had sent instructions to all the Japanese embassies in the world, telling them to cancel all the cultural events that they had planned for the time being (but with no information about when they could resume them).

But why... It would have been all right if it had been done as a charity event... The eight of us were disappointed. But there was nothing we could do about it, and we sadly left the stage.

ワルシャワの劇場にて打ち合わせ Group meeting at the theater in Warsaw
公使より公演中止を告げられる Being told by the Embassy staff member that the performance was canceled.
公演中止決定の後皆で演奏 Performing after finding out about the cancellation.


Because the performance on the 15th was canceled, we didn't feel very cheerful, but even so, we did a little sightseeing in Warsaw.

Warsaw was destroyed by the German Army in World War II, and nothing remained of the city. This is the same as the current situation in northern Japan, where towns on the Pacific coast were totally destroyed by the giant tsunami. Warsaw was rebuilt by the great effort of the people of the city, and little by little is recovering. Nowadays, almost all of the city has been reconstructed. However, even now, the reconstruction continues.

The cancellation of the Warsaw performance was unavoidable, but because we were told that it would be possible to hold the performance in Krakow, our spirits were renewed, and the next morning, we took the train to Krakow. Riding in a compartment in a train for the first time in a long time, I arrived in Krakow.

(continued in the second part)



I'm going to go to Poland to perform.

ポーランド1.jpg ポーランド2.jpg

From March 13 to March 20, I'll be in Poland for performances.

In commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Chopin's birth, many competitions and other musical events are being held there. We were invited by the Japanese Embassy in Poland. Our concerts will be a good opportunity to introduce Japanese traditional music.

One of the works in the program will be Tsuruga Wakasanojo's musical staging of Ryunosuke Akutagawa's short story, Kumo no Ito (The Spider's Thread), that was premiered in 2010. This is primarily a shinnai work, but includes other Japanese instruments besides the shamisen, as well as Japanese traditional dance. In addition, I will perform Ran'cho, a typical su joururi shinnai work. Another work will be a ji'uta dance number, Yuki, which will be sung by Tsuruga Wakasanojo. Yuki is a very nice number, rather like shinnai.

Poles are Japanophiles, and seem to be interested in understanding Japanese culture and spiritual ideas in depth. Noh performances are held there often, I believe, but this must be the first time that shinnai will be performed there. I'm looking forward to seeing their reactions to our performances. This is a pleasant kind of nervousness... Please check this blog for my report about the trip.

Members of the group going on this trip:
Shinnai: Tsuruga Wakasanojo, Tsuruga Isejiro, Shinnai Katsushizu
Traditional dance: Fujima Jinsho, Hanayagi Kihi
Koto: Tomimoto Seiei
Shakuhachi: Yoshioka Tatsumi
Drums: Tou'sha Akane

Yesterday was Mother's Day


Yesterday was Mother's Day. Mother's Day has a much warmer image than Father's Day, I think. Everyone has a mother, everyone had a mother. I had a wonderful mother. From my birth, we were never separated. We always lived in the same house. However, suddenly, when she was 79 years old, she died. The day before that, she seemed fine, but the next morning, she lay cold in her bed. It was entirely unexpected. That day, I was away working.... People say, "Performers can't be with their parents when they take their last breath" ...I guess that was my last lesson from my mother. Now, when I remember my mother, I feel terribly sad. I'll remember her for the rest of my life. I have two children and three grandchildren now, and I've become the head of my family. For as long as possible, I want to do as much as I can for them. For that reason, I not only have to take care of my health, I have to lead a healthy lifestyle. That's for my own sake as well

Yesterday, our daughter sent flowers to my wife. Our son and his family came over bringing flowers, and so we six went out to a restaurant for dinner. My two young grandsons were cheerful and boisterous, and ran around. It was a happy occasion, but they tired me out. I keep wondering which of my grandchildren will continue shinnai after me.I'm asking them, please do that for me.