Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley
Part 23 – Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours 14: England - Part 3
Shinnai Performance of a Poem in Scottish English in the ancient city of Edinburgh, capital of Scotland
Shinnai Performance of a Poem in Scottish English in the ancient city of Edinburgh, capital of Scotland
During my time as Special Cultural Envoy, when we went to various places for our performances, although I did some of the driving, my student Tsuruga Isekichi was the main driver, and I was the navigator. Even though she had got her driver’s license just before the trip, she did quite well. I imagine that she got more tired from the driving than she does when she is working as a shinnai professional.|
How to get around in the streets in the center of London is very difficult for strangers to understand. Often we got lost and were stranded because we couldn't understand where we were. However, outside of London, there were almost no traffic lights. I was impressed with the system of roundabouts (rotaries), which is very rational. Japan should make more use of that system.
We drove straight north from London to Scotland. Watching the map, we drove through a countryside with gentle hills, and entered Scotland. Along the way, we toured the ruins of a medieval castle, and did a shinnai workshop at an elementary school. Then we arrived in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh was the place that I most wanted to visit during this overseas trip. The old town and the castle retain a medieval atmosphere that is unchanged in these modern times. Walking on a cobblestone road past a quiet row of houses, I forgot modern times. Edinburgh has a different flavor from the old cities in Japan. Walking up the slope to Edinburgh Castle, I felt as if I'd entered a time capsule and was a medieval knight.
|at Edinburgh Castle|
Before I left for this trip, my daughter told me to eat haggis at an Edinburgh restaurant that she recommended. She was sure that I'd enjoy it. “Well, the taste of haggis is something that people either like or dislike.” As for me, it was OK. |
I was very satisfied with other restaurants, where we ate mussels and drank wine and Scotch whisky.
I should return to the main topic.
The first thing we did in Edinburgh was to go to a reception held for us at the Japanese Consulate, followed by a smaller party at the Consul's residence for around 20 people. Besides the Consul General and his wife, the guests included faculty from the University of Edinburgh, representatives of Japanese companies located in the Edinburgh area, and others interested in the arts of Japan.
|With the Consul General, his wife, and Tsuruga Isekichi|
I performed the shinnai work Rancho in the drawing room of the residence. There was no stage. First, I briefly explained the story of Rancho. Because most of the people in the audience were Scots, my comments were translated. Then I performed the work in Japanese. |
The performance lasted about 15 minutes. I could see, sitting in the front row, a woman using her handkerchief to wipe tears from her eyes. She must have been moved by the story of Rancho and by its sorrowful melody. She must have been a sensitive person. That experience increased my fondness for Scotland.
The next day, I performed at an auditorium at the University of Edinburgh. There were about 150 people in the audience, including some whom I’d met the previous evening at the Consul’s residence. The audience waited for me quietly in the lovely, historic hall.
|Before the concert at the University of Edinburgh|
After I had performed two shinnai works in Japanese, I wanted to perform something in Scottish English. I decided to improvise a shinnai version of one of Robert Burns’ most famous poems, A Red, Red Rose. The famous Scots poet is well known among Japanese, because everyone knows Auld Lang Syne. Moreover, I wanted to narrate it in Scottish English. I think that many people know that Scottish English is quite different from standard English. I was worried that performing in Scottish English might be a difficult challenge for me, but as soon as I knew that the University of Edinburgh would be included in this tour, I made up my mind to try it. |
After I told the audience that I was going to do an improvisation, they waited with special interest and curiosity. This performance was unique. I concentrated deeply as I played the shamisen and narrated the poem. The performance lasted around 10 minutes. I was tense, and it seemed to me that the audience members were tense too. I finished performing the Burns poem. What was their reaction…?
I stood up and bowed. The audience gave me enthusiastic applause and a standing ovation. I believe that they were expressing their appreciation and thanks for my effort and enthusiasm in performing a work by their beloved poet in shinnai style and in their own language. Frankly, I was delighted. I felt that this was mutually understandable goodwill diplomacy.
After the performance, a professor who specialized in Robert Burns' poetry said to me, “I would like to stage a Robert Burns musical in Japan two or three years from now. The script is already finished. I would really appreciate your cooperation with this project.” Unfortunately, I never heard any more from him about that. I guess that he wasn't able to implement his plan.
Incidentally, in English-speaking areas, Auld Lang Syne is sung on New Year’s Eve, just as we do in Japan.
After this visit, I felt respect for the history and arts of Scotland. I had a feeling that a good relationship had been established through music.
We then drove back to London.
Even though there always seem to be various difficulties during overseas performance tours, these tours give me experiences and excitement that cannot be obtained on a sightseeing trip. As a Special Cultural Envoy, I was expected to make all my own arrangements. I had to plan the activities that I would engage in while overseas and consider what was most likely to result in success. Now, looking back at these 45 days overseas, I realize that I have unforgettable pleasant memories of many valuable experiences.
|(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, December 2016 - January 2017, issue #89)|
From the printed program for the concert in honor of the 300th Anniversary of the Birth of Tsuruga Wakasanojo I, and Ceremony in honor of Tsuruga Isekichi becoming iemoto of the Bunke branch of the Tsuruga school of shinnai, November 20, 2016
This year is the 300th anniversary of the birth of Tsuruga Wakasanojo I, the founder of the shinnai genre. As the 11th Tsuruga Wakasanojo, I feel very fortunate to have the great honor of holding this celebration concert. I am deeply moved by this.
Since the time of Tsuruga Wakasanojo I, shinnai has been handed down to the present as a traditional musical form. A school comes into existence only when it has a founder. Today’s concert is dedicated to Tsuruga Wakasanojo I, the great founder of shinnai, with my deepest appreciation for his work. I would like to honor him with this concert in which most of the works being performed are ones that he wrote.
My student Tsuruga Isekichi has continually trained hard for many years. Today, I acknowledge her remarkable progress as a performing artist and her awareness of the continuity of Tsuruga shinnai by appointing her as the iemoto of the Bunke branch of the Tsuruga school. For the rest of her life, in addition to continued study for her own artistic performances, she will be responsible for conveying the art of Tsuruga shinnai to the next generation. I hope that you will give her your continued support, as you have done for me, so that she can deepen her skills as a performer.
In today’s concert, the past, present, and future of shinnai are displayed, both in the works being performed and in those who are performing. For this auspicious occasion, I am honored that many professionals will be performing, contributing to make this a wonderful event, including Takemoto Komanosuke (Gidayu, Living National Treasure), Wakayanagi Juen IV (iemoto), Kiyomoto Umekichi IV and his wife Kiyomoto Shiyo, Hanayagi Kihi, Otani Shoko, members of Nishikawa Koryu IV’s Kuruma Ningyo Puppet Troupe, and Mochizuki Bokusei V and his associates. I am also grateful for the support of Shinnai Nakasaburo (Living National Treasure) and other Directors of the Shinnai Association. The MCs, Ichi’ryusai Teishin, who is a master of the traditional story-telling art of kodan, and Fujima Jinsho will contribute to making the concert enjoyable and cheerful.
I am deeply grateful to all of you for your long-term support. It is because of that support that I am able to hold today’s concert. My students and I appreciate you very much.
Incidentally, this year is the 45th anniversary of the death of my father, Tsuruga Isetayu, and the 30th anniversary of my mother’s passing. In addition, it is the 300th anniversary of the birth of both the Edo Period painter Ito Jakuchu and the poet and painter Yosa Buson. I am particularly struck by these coincidences, which make this an especially memorable year.
I’ve become a little older, but I will continue to devote myself to shinnai, and will take care of my health. I sincerely wish for your continued patronage in the future.
Today, I would like to join with all of you in a happy celebration of the 300th birthday of Tsuruga Wakasanojo I.
Thank you for taking the time to come here today during the busy days of late autumn. Please relax and enjoy the concert from beginning to end.
My job as a Special Cultural Envoy began. The first thing to do was to find a place to stay. It had to be suitable for an extended stay. I asked the Japanese coordinator whom I’d hired locally to take care of the necessary arrangements. The first place we were lodged was so terrible that we left immediately and changed to another place. From the beginning, we had various problems. Somehow, we were able to settle down.|
Then we had to get a rental car. This, also, was not easy to do. Because we didn’t keep the same car for our whole stay, we had to take a bus to the rental office each time we needed a car. Many of the rental car company’s office staff were immigrants, and their English pronunciation was difficult to understand (according to my American student, Tsuruga Isefani). Each time, renting the car was complicated, but we managed to arrange the rentals, and I drove everywhere.
|Meeting with SOAS Prof. David Hughes in London|
My performance at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) University of London was a success, with a full house and many people standing. First, Dr. David Hughes, Research Associate in the Department of Music at SOAS who had lived in Japan, gave a broad presentation about Japanese culture. After that, Prof. Timon Screech, a specialist in Japanese traditional culture, gave a detailed background about the Edo Period, explained how music like shinnai came to be created, and summarized the 300 years’ history of shinnai. I was impressed by his excellent commentary, and it was very helpful. |
This fantastic introduction created a good atmosphere for the audience to hear my performance of Rancho and Sekitori Senryo Nobori. After my performance, as usual, there were many questions. One of the members of the audience asked about gender equality in the shinnai stories. I answered, “Always, everywhere in the world, it’s men who are bad, isn’t it? I’m sorry…” I got a big laugh. The relationship between men and women in stories is a universal concern, regardless of whether the audience is Eastern or Western.
I conducted a workshop for 10 students in the Ethnomusicology Department at Goldsmiths, University of London, prior to my performance at Goldsmiths. The students were music majors. Even though this was the first time that they’d tried to play the shamisen, many of them were quite good at it. They asked professional questions, which made the workshop especially enjoyable for me. I had a dream that young people like these would feel the charm of shamisen music, become interested in the shamisen, take lessons, and perform, and shamisen music would become more popular… After the workshop in the afternoon, there was a shinnai concert for an audience of around 60 people in an old auditorium at Goldsmiths. I performed two works; the audience listened attentively.
Other places that I went to in England included Purbrook, Eastbourne, the Kaetsu Educational and Cultural Centre in Cambridge, Durham, the Heritage School, and the Japanese Saturday School in London
|At the Kaetsu Center, Cambridge|
|The Japanese School, which serves children of Japanese living in London, has classes only on Saturdays. The students range from elementary school through high school. They study the Japanese language in order to maintain their ability in spoken Japanese. In the school building, the use of English is strictly forbidden. In the school, traditional items such as folding fans, kokeshi (wooden dolls), paper lanterns, and Daruma dolls are displayed. After I gave some explanation about the shinnai genre, I performed Hidakagawa Iriai Zakura for around 150 pupils, students, and their parents and guardians. After the students gave me a souvenir, I made a speech in which I told them what I felt was most important for them to hear.|
|With participants in the shinnai workshop, Durham|
I said, “Maybe you think that you are international people because you can speak English. But if you have that idea, it’s a big mistake. Simply speaking in English doesn’t make you a truly international person. You should start by knowing your own country well, acquiring knowledge about it from a serious study of Japan’s history and culture. I know a lot of Japanese people who don’t know anything about the Japanese traditional arts and are embarrassed when they can’t answer questions that people from other countries ask about them. When you study your own country and understand it, you will then have the imagination necessary for understanding the people and cultures of other countries. That’s what makes a truly international person. With pride and confidence because you are Japanese who have a wonderful tradition, then, as international people, you can fulfill the mission of disseminating Japanese culture to the world and promoting mutual understanding. Once again, let’s review and reconfirm Japan.” When I got back to the waiting room, the principal thanked me, saying, “Thank you for saying what I can’t say.” I wasn’t sure whether I should feel pleased or unhappy…|
After I returned to Japan, questionnaires completed by the students after this event were sent to me. I enjoyed reading their comments. For example, some said that after being exposed to the Japanese traditional arts for the first time, they were moved by what they had heard or had a new interest in the traditional arts. Others said that they were ashamed of their ignorance of Japanese culture. And others said that because of this event, they had a renewed pride in Japan.
|(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, October-November 2016, issue #88)|
Tsuruga Wakasanojo, President, Shinnai Association
It is sad but true that the traditional cultural arts of Japan are disappearing. This is well known. Among those traditional arts are the musical performing arts. For a long time, people have worried that those arts will become extinct. Some people are optimistic and don’t worry about this trend, but, even though I may be too pessimistic, I’ve been expressing my misgivings about this situation.
Whatever the reason is for this crisis, we must consider how to make a breakthrough in the development of shinnai, as well as in the maintenance of its traditions. Creating new shinnai works is one important solution. Based on the classical melodies, we are presenting new works with content that people can easily understand and enjoy. The classics, when they were first performed, were also new. Even though it is not easy to create a masterpiece immediately, it is important to widen the doors of shinnai by repeated trial and error, so that, though our efforts, people will gradually be exposed to the splendor of the classical works.
Shinnai performers understand the importance of having new works, and are making efforts to create them. In today’s concert, based on that point of view, the artists will be performing both classical works and new ones. In the current challenging environment, we at the Shinnai Association are working seriously to maintain and develop the shinnai genre.
Thank you for your support and cooperation.
In order to help people around the world have a deeper understanding of Japanese culture, and to form and strengthen networks between Japanese and non-Japanese, the Agency for Cultural Affairs annually designates artists and cultural figures as Special Cultural Envoys. The Special Cultural Envoys come from a wide range of genres, and include performers of the Japanese traditional performing arts, performers of Western music, writers, players of go and shogi, calligraphers, ikebana artists, tea ceremony and incense ceremony teachers, designers of gardens, plasterers, dyers, taiko drummers, and performers who play shamisen in the Tsugaru style.
|Gassing up the rental car|
We visited a total of 18 educational institutions: ten elementary schools, six universities, a school for Japanese students, and a school for youth with disabilities. The program in all those places was more or less the same, consisting of a shinnai performance, workshops, and a lecture followed by questions and answers.
|Shinnai workshop at an elementary school in England|
In addition, when I performed joururi, they listened wide-eyed, with blank looks on their faces.
|(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, August-September 2016, issue #87)|
This summer was exciting because of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, wasn’t it. I was encouraged by the Japanese athletes’ performance.
The fragrance of summer is lingering into September. Thank you for coming today despite the heat.
On November 20, I will hold a special concert in honor of the 300th Anniversary of the birth of Tsuruga Wakasanojo I. However, before that, I wanted to give my students a chance to show you the results of their regular practice, so I’m holding this Yukata Kai as I do every year.
The performers, from beginners to veterans, will make their best effort. Today, my new work, Suigetsu Jowa, will be performed for the first time.
Please relax and enjoy the whole event.
The Summer Olympic Games are now being held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Watching the Japanese athletes, I’ve fluctuated between joy and disappointment, but I’ve cheered for them even in the midst of the summer heat of Tokyo. Because Brazil is in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s winter there now, so it may not be hot. However, public security has been said to be very poor there, so that both the athletes and their supporters went at the risk of their lives.
In the intense heat in Japan this summer, I’ve dreamed of a vacation at the seaside or in the mountains where I could find some cool air. In summer in Japan, there are special summer sounds. What sounds do each of us associate with summer? Summer’s special sounds that linger in my ears include the singing of cicadas, the ringing of wind chimes, the blasts of fireworks, the sound of taiko (Japanese drums) at OBon festival dances, the sound of evening rain, and the sound of the broadcasts of high school baseball games. In the past, we could hear the calls of itinerant salesmen of goldfish and wind chimes as they passed by in the street.
The sounds of summer are different in the cities and in the countryside. In rural areas, people become relaxed as they listen to the sound of the sea, the chirping of wild birds, the buzzing of insects, and the rustle of the wind blowing through the forests. The special smells found in country areas add to the memories of summer.
I’d like to escape from the heat and the hustle and bustle of the city and go to some place different from my daily life where I can heal my body and soul while listening to shinnai. The special quality of the sound of the shinnai shamisen is wonderful to hear regardless of the season.
After a comfortable train trip through an unchanging rural landscape, we arrived in Bordeaux.
|(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, June-July 2016, issue #86)|
Spring, with its gentle breezes, has arrived. Nature has changed its attire from cold winter to pleasant spring. One by one, the flowering trees are beginning to bloom, starting with ume (Japanese apricot), then momo (peach), sumomo (Japanese plum), and finally sakura (cherry).
In Japanese, the expression oh-bai-toh-ri, which consists of the kanji characters for sakura, ume, momo, and sumomo, uses the names of these four beautiful spring flowers to convey the meaning that each person can achieve the most by expressing his or her own individual character. It does not imply a comparison among the flowers or, figuratively, between others and ourselves, but rather refers to finding one’s own strengths and virtues and expanding one’s own specific identity. This is true in life and also in the arts.
The arts are not a matter of competition with others. We compete against our own past performances, not against other performers. In the arts, human nature appears clearly. We should strive to improve our accomplishments in the arts, make an effort to practice strenuously every day, and acquire artistic skills through such difficulties, without marring them with pride.
There is no final goal in the arts. All performers, new and seasoned, who aim to achieve in the arts, should continue to move forward while struggling toward a goal that is infinitely far away. Young people, especially, have a limitless inner potential to bloom into big, beautiful flowers.
I am grateful that we could hold today’s concert, giving the next generation of shinnai professionals the opportunity to perform, thanks to the cooperation of the Agency for Cultural Affairs.
In November, a half-year after the visit to France that I wrote about in Part 18 of this series, a group of eight people went to Paris to perform. This time, our hosts picked us up at the airport with a medium-sized bus, and we arrived in central Paris without any problems.
|(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, April-May 2016, issue #85)|
The sad fact that the traditional cultural arts of Japan are disappearing is well known. The performance of Japanese traditional music is one of the arts that is disappearing. Concern about that has been expressed for a long time. Although some people are optimistic about the future of traditional Japanese music, I am anxious about it and perhaps even too pessimistic.
Apart from that general problem, we must think about innovative ways to maintain and develop shinnai. One solution is to create new shinnai works. Using the old music as a base, we should prepare new pieces that everyone can understand, with content that is enjoyable and easy to listen to.
What is now classical music was, at first, new. It’s not possible to create an instant masterpiece, but it’s important to keep trying so as to open the door to shinnai more widely. That will, at the same time, give audiences an opportunity to appreciate the classical works.
Shinnai performers understand the importance of having new pieces, and are working hard to create them. That is the significance of having new works included in today’s performance, in addition to the usual classical ones.
In this challenging environment, the Shinnai Association is seriously taking on the task of the further development of shinnai so as to increase the chances that the genre will continue in the future.
Thank you for your support.
I went to Paris in June, 2014, for the first time in thirty years. The purpose of the trip was to plan and make arrangements for my performance tour of France that was scheduled for the following November. I was accompanied by Hanayagi Kihi, who is a traditional Japanese dancer, and my student Isefani.
|(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, February-March 2016, issue #84)|
November was warm this year. I hope that you are in good health and ready for the busy year-end period. Thank you very much for your generous continuing support.
This year was another tough year, with many unfortunate incidents and natural disasters that resulted in terrible damage.
Culture and the arts develop only in peaceful times. Also, culture and the arts play an important role and have value that is their main raison d’être.
Year by year, among participants in the traditional performing arts, as in the rest of society, the birthrate is going down and the population is aging. I, too, have become one of the elderly, but thankfully, I am healthy and have high spirits. I want to stay as strong as a person in the prime of life so that I can contribute to the further development of shinnai.
The works to be performed in today’s concert, “Women of the Meiji Era: Three Works Relating to the Moon,” are Onna Keizu, Suigetsu Jowa, and 13 Ya.
My tale of performing in France, which I started in the previous issue, was something that happened more than 30 years ago. At that time, my mother’s Kagurazaka restaurant, Kikuya, was operating, and my mother was about the same age as I am now. The shop was popular, and business was good. In addition to my shinnai activities, I helped her with shopping and cooking.|
During a time when the restaurant was busy, I went on a month and a half overseas performance tour, leaving my young children and the busy restaurant to my mother. In hindsight, I regret having caused trouble for my mother, but I had enjoyable sightseeing and unusual experiences.
As we didn’t have any work for ten days between the Montpellier International Music Festival and the Avignon Festival, we traveled around in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. Carrying “Thomas Cook” (the European Rail Timetable), we took the train from Avignon to Paris, and, from there, an international train. After visiting a friend in Bonn, we went to Switzerland and stayed overnight in Zermatt. The next morning was sunny, and we went up the Matterhorn by cable car. After we came down from the mountain, we went to Milan, Italy. The return train ran by the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. We got off in Cannes and stayed a night there, after which we returned to Avignon.
This was a spontaneous trip, made with no advance hotel reservations. We had many delightful experiences along the way. When we got back to Avignon, we found that everyone had been worrying about us.
Because the Avignon Festival had invited groups from all over the world, the city was all in a bustle during the Festival time. We enjoyed the festival-related revelry in the city, but there was no exchange of friendship with groups from other countries. Our shinnai group stayed in a newly developed, quiet residential area far from the center of town, in a house with a garden. The four of us slept there and cooked for ourselves. We made friends with the children in the neighborhood, and enjoyed our time there very much. Sometimes, nostalgically remembering those days, I wonder what those cute children are doing now…… I think that we engaged in a major diplomatic exchange of good will with those small children.
Avignon is a sacred city that has experienced many transitions since the time of the Roman Empire. The children’s song, Sur le Pont d’Avignon, is well known, but more than half of that bridge has collapsed. The historical center of this wonderful city is now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Our performance was held in an old building made of stone. Although the inside walls of the building were bare stone, we felt a whiff of people’s existence there, maybe because of our feelings or perhaps because of the darkness and the weight of history. I felt that I wouldn’t be able to stay there alone late at night. Because ours was an evening performance, it was chilly, actually cold, rather than just cool, even though it was July.
In the stone building, the sound was lively, and the reverberation of the sound of the instruments was especially wonderful. But the human voice seemed somewhat overcome by the instruments’ sound. In traditional Japanese music, the singer (narrator) is accompanied by shamisen. The shamisen sound is not loud. The joururi of shinnai, especially, is both bold and delicate, and the shamisen musician plays each note carefully and beautifully, one by one. Together, they create the musical experience. Because shinnai joururi elegantly expresses tears, laughter, anger, and sadness, with sounds high and low, powerful and gentle, too much reverberation interferes with the communication of the contents. On the other hand, it isn’t possible to convey the psychological dimensions of a story out in the open air…… The venue in Avignon had the best atmosphere and mood for narrating shinnai.
The Avignon Festival brought together groups of performers from all over the world. The hall held about 200 people, none of whom was Japanese. At that time, compared to the present, the communication system was not well developed, and I was worried as to how well the audience would be able to understand the Japanese traditional performing arts. I had expected that the audience would enjoy the sound of the shamisen playing shinnai nagashi, but I wasn’t sure whether they would be impressed or surprised by the joururi. However, an article in a newspaper at that time said that our performance was fantastique. Even now, I question whether or not I should feel happy about that comment……
|(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, December 2015 - January 2016, issue #83)|
(from the printed program, September 27, 2015, concert)
People say, “In life, there are good times and bad”, and “Comfort is a source of discomfort, and discomfort is a source of comfort”. If we tolerate discomfort and continue to make an effort, sooner or later we will have better days. If we only pursue pleasure and lazily spend our days without making an effort to work hard, sooner or later we will have some hardship. Comfort and discomfort have a reciprocal relationship, and so the results are obvious.
In every type of art, we should practice hard while we are young, and, through pain and effort, refine our technique. We should do this while our brains can still learn, just as we should “strike while the iron is hot”….
As the years pass, the decline of everything makes me very sad. Another saying is: “A young man soon gets old before finishing his studies; don’t use your time casually, even for a moment.” While we’re young, let’s devote every spare moment to polishing our technique. We should work on improving our sensibility, increasing our sensitivity, and maintaining our interest and curiosity in what’s around us.
As long as we are alive, we should continue our efforts to improve and attempt to reach the peak of our art, even though we cannot achieve that goal.
Whether performing artists are young or old, that should be their never-ending spirit. Training is painful and tough, but it is also enjoyable. Art is profound and difficult. Therefore, it is both pleasurable and painful. I hope to continue pursuing my art and never give up.
I’ve performed in America more than twenty times. I haven’t enough space here to write about my many memories of those tours, both good ones and bad ones. I’ll write about those interesting trips at some other time. In this issue, I’ll tell you about my performance tours in Europe.|
I’ve been to about twenty countries in Europe, some of them twice, and I’ve performed in more than 25 places (including events held in schools).
My first performance in Europe was in France, in 1983. That was more than thirty years ago. It’s a long time ago, but my memories of it are vivid.
It was my first trip to Europe. I was young, and it made a strong impression on me. I still have a lot of delightful memories that I will never forget. It’s as if the nostalgic memories of experiences when I was young are pages floating by me.
It all began when our group of around ten shinnai performers and dancers landed in France in midsummer. From the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, we went to the newly opened station of the French bullet train (TGV). Jolting us about, the train took us to Montpellier in the south of France, on the Mediterranean coast near Spain. We went there, prior to our performance in Avignon, in order to perform at the Montpellier International Music Festival.
That was the beginning of our experiences, which could be described by the saying, “there is no rose without a thorn”.
I first experienced summer time (daylight saving time) in Europe. I was surprised at how late the sun set.
The Avignon Festival that we participated in is still held every July. However, for us, soon after arriving there, we had a calamity. When we were in the dressing room, because of the hot, dry weather, suddenly, with a loud sound, the skin covering of the shamisen body ripped apart. I hadn’t yet performed even once….
At that time, I wasn’t used to performing overseas, and I hadn’t brought anything that could be used for emergency repairs. Nowadays, when I go abroad, I take a role of white plastic packing tape in case the shamisen skin gets torn, but I didn’t have anything like that with me in Avignon.
How did I handle this problem? “Tonight is my first performance in France. What shall I do?”, I remember thinking……
The most special feature of the shamisen as a musical instrument is the skin that is stretched over its body (resonating body). Cat skin and dog skin are used. The strings are made of silk, and the plectrum (pick) is ivory. A string sometimes snaps during a performance, and the skin, which has a limited useful life, may loosen or get torn. Cat skin tears especially easily. When this happens before a performance, performers can get very flustered. I think that most shamisen players have had such an experience.
At present, it’s difficult to get skins for the shamisen, and I’m afraid that the day is not far off when we’ll be using man-made skins. In that case, a change in the shamisen’s tone quality will be inevitable. (I’ll get back to discussing the shamisen at another time.)
At that time in France, it seems to me that we fixed the shamisen skin with Scotch tape, and then we were able to use the shamisen in our performance.
Because the theme of that performance was kabuki dance, the main event was traditional Japanese dance, and the shinnai performance was an extra.
The three of us played shinnai nagashi on the shamisen, and I remember that I also performed Rancho. I think that the shamisen sound was all right because, with the three of us playing, we were able to conceal the torn places in the skin. Because the performance had started at 10 p.m., it was cool, but on that first day, because of the problems we’d had, I was in a cold sweat.
After that, we went by bus to Avignon, but the problem hadn’t been solved.
The body of the shamisen that I’d brought with me for this tour was capable of being replaced (the neck of the shamisen could be separated from the body) …… but I’d left the replacement body in Japan. I decided to call and ask to have the replacement body sent to me. Unlike now, making a phone call at that time was terribly difficult.
Somehow, the replacement body arrived safely at the Marseille airport, but then I had further trouble. The Customs official said that because the shamisen body was very expensive, I should pay import duty on it (but actually the body was a cheap one). I had to spend money in order to be able to get my own instrument, but it was inescapable. Various things happened, and then, finally, with the help of the Consulate General of Japan in Marseille, the matter was settled somehow.
To go to pick up the body, the three of us took the TGV to Marseille. En route, we stopped at Arles for sightseeing. In scorching sunshine, we visited the ruins of an ancient Roman amphitheater, and then we returned to Avignon.
I have a lot of memories from this performance tour. I’ll write about them in the next issue.
|(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, October-November 2015, issue #82)|
(from the printed program, December 6, 2015, concert)
I’ve mentioned many times that almost all of my overseas performance tours were done in conjunction with the Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo puppeteers. However, as I haven’t yet provided an explanation of the Kuruma Ningyo puppets, I’ll describe their mechanism briefly.|
About 200 years ago, Nishikawa Koryu I originated the Kuruma Ningyo puppets in Iruma, in Saitama Prefecture. After that, many puppeteers made improvements in the puppets; some of them were helped in this by Bunraku performers. Finally, the puppets reached their present form.
At the start of the Meiji Era (late 19th century), Nishikawa Koryu II became the head of the troupe. They moved to Hachioji, which is a city in Tokyo; the troupe has remained in Hachioji since then.
Kuruma Ningyo puppets are the same size as Bunraku puppets. The distinctive difference is that whereas Bunraku puppets are each manipulated by three puppeteers, each Kuruma Ningyo puppet is operated by only one puppeteer, who is seated on a small wheeled box, called rokuro.
The puppet’s head and arms are manipulated by the puppeteer’s hands. Inverted T-shaped extensions from the puppet’s feet fit into the space between the big toe and the second toe in the tabi on the puppeteer’s feet.
The rokuro is very well designed; it can be moved freely in all directions, forward, backward, and to the right and left. The rokuro is a rectangular wooden box, 20 cm x 17 cm, and 25 cm high. Inside it, there are two narrow wheels in front and one broader wheel in back.
A kuruma is a wheeled vehicle, and ningyo means “puppet”. That is why this style is called “Kuruma Ningyo”. This kuruma is not a wheelchair.
The puppets’ heads and their costumes are works of art with a history of more than 200 years.
Because only one puppeteer manipulates each puppet, the puppets’ movements can be spontaneous and lively. Also, these puppets are the best for performance tours, because they are compact.
There will be a shinnai performance on September 6, 2015, at the Kagurazaka Theater. The Kuruma Ningyo puppets will be performing in that concert. Please come and enjoy the event. (Admission is free.)
My overseas performance tours generally include five people from the Kuruma Ningyo troupe and approximately four people who perform shinnai; typically there is a total of about ten people. We take with us as small an amount of stage properties and other equipment as possible.
Traveling with this number of people, I’ve been to America five times, performing in approximately twenty cities.
|Shinnai and Kuruma Ningyo performers and staff in America|
In tours on the U.S. East Coast, I was based in New York and Massachusetts, and performed at eight universities, including MIT, Dartmouth College, Princeton University, Smith College, Williams College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.|
I visited the University of Massachusetts in Amherst twice. There were Japanese professors on the faculty. The University of Massachusetts is located in the same city as Amherst College, which is famous in Japan as the alma mater of Dr. William Smith Clark. Later, Dr. Clark was the president of the University of Massachusetts. Dr. Clark, who established Hokkaido University, left a message for students that is well known in Japan: “Boys, be ambitious!”
Because many Japanese professors were teaching at the University of Massachusetts, the students were actively studying Japanese culture. Many students came to our performances. Their reaction was good, and we were warmly applauded. I am convinced that an important contribution to this success was the English shinnai.
Naturally, Yaji-Kita was the main work in the program for performances at American universities. We also held workshops for the students. For example, the students were showed how to hold a Kuruma Ningyo puppet, how to manipulate the puppet, and how to perform simple movements seated on the wheeled box.
|Kuruma Ningyo workshop at Dartmouth College|
In the shinnai workshops, because it would be impossible for the students to do joururi (shinnai narration), we showed them how to hold the plectrum (pick) and the shamisen, and taught them how to use the plectrum to pluck the strings of the shamisen. The students were intrigued with the novelty of the shamisen, and told us that the workshops were fun. After that experience, when they heard our performance, their appreciation increased, and they were even more impressed.|
We were well received at all the universities we visited, which made us very happy. However, at the world-renowned MIT, the students’ reactions were more moderate. Maybe that’s because they were all geniuses.
I believe that all students, both in the sciences and in the liberal arts, should maintain a good balance between their brain and their heart. I was brooding about many things, such as about people of ordinary ability and those with a different sensibility… and then we went to Princeton University.
Princeton University is a prestigious university, a leader among universities in America. The university sent a car to pick us up at our hotel in New York City and take us to Princeton. When the car arrived, we saw that it was a limousine. Well, that’s Princeton. I was more surprised than delighted. It was the first time that just the shinnai group had ridden together in such a big car.
At Princeton, rather than doing a performance for undergraduates, I lectured and performed mainly for professors, including many Japanese professors. The event was held in a classroom so, instead of simply performing shinnai, I wrote the words of a famous shinnai work on the blackboard, and then, as I performed it, I pointed to each word. I enjoyed performing for professors of a famous university. I appreciated very much this meaningful opportunity to publicize shinnai.
|Narrating shinnai in a Princeton University classroom|
|The dinner that evening was the best.|
|(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, August 2015-September 2015 issue, issue #81)|
The first time I heard rakugo was on the radio, when I was in the fifth grade of elementary school. It was Kokontei Shinsho V performing Awabinoshi. I remember clearly that I was so impressed that I told the story to my mother. Then, my mother asked me to tell the story to my father, too. After my father (Tsuruga Isedayu I) came home, I proudly told him the story. My father was happy to hear it, and said, “It’s funny, isn’t it.” I thought that my parents hadn’t known the story, but I found out later that my father was a rakugo fan and had been going to rakugo performances since his middle-school days.
I think that rakugo is in my DNA.
Since that time, I’ve been a rakugo fan. I often went with my parents to hear rakugo.
Although my first experience with rakugo was from a radio program, my mother had known Kokontei Shinsho since before World War II. In 1928, in the place where I’m now living, my mother opened a small Japanese-style restaurant called Kikuya. At the time, there weren’t many drinking places and my mother was quite a beauty, so the restaurant was popular
Before WWII, there were several rakugo theaters in Kagurazaka. Many rakugo storytellers came to Kikuya and drank a lot. One of those was Shinsho.
As the times got worse, sake became unavailable because of price controls, and Kikuya had to be closed. However, there was always plenty of sake at our house. Shinsho loved drinking sake, and often came to our house to drink.
My mother told me that one day, Shinsho came to say farewell. “I’m going to Manchuria now,” he said. My mother felt that he’d come to say farewell because he believed that he might not be able to return alive. Actually, however, he came home safely.
After WWII, Shinsho often came to the Honmokutei Theater in Ueno to hear my father’s shinnai performances. When he was in the mood, he went up on stage and performed shinnai in his distinctive style.
I still have a tape of him performing Akegarasu Nochi no Masayume. I treasure that tape. In the recording, he stops performing shinnai halfway and then sings two dodoitsu works. I have some photos of him, too. I also have some of his business cards, which he handwrote, some of his writing on shikishi (paper used for calligraphy), and other things. I’ve been thinking about having them published.
After WWII, Shinsho’s son, Basho, held class reunions several times on the second floor of Kikuya.
Shincho and I were almost the same age and had our stage debuts at almost the same time. We were friends for a long time. Late in his life, he built a gorgeous house near my home, and I often ran into him. If he’d lived longer, he too would probably have been designated as a Living National Treasure.
Rakugo is difficult. Just telling a story well is not enough, just being funny is not enough, and just having a funny story is also not enough. Nowadays, there are many rakugo performers who tell the stories well, but there are only a few who are really funny.
Incidentally, there are only four rakugo performers whom I’ve really enjoyed: Katsura Bunraku, Kokontei Shinsho, Shunputei Ryuko III, and Kokontei Shincho. All of them are deceased…
From “Tokyo Kawaraban”
(a magazine covering rakugo performances in Tokyo)
September 2015 (issue #503)
After I was designated as a Living National Treasure in 2001, I was extremely busy attending congratulatory parties not only in Tokyo but also elsewhere in Japan. Furthermore, I gave many performances. Finally, in October of that year, I had a physical breakdown from overwork.|
Also that year, the Kagurazaka Shopping Street Promotion Association awarded me the title of Honorary Member. So far, I haven’t made what I feel is a satisfactory contribution to the Association, and I’m sorry about that. However, whenever I perform in Japan and also overseas, I include something about Kagurazaka in my self-introduction, which gives Kagurazaka a little advertising.
After my health recovered somewhat, I pushed myself to start overseas performance tours.
The Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo Troupe accompanied me on most of these tours. Audiences of non-Japanese can understand shinnai more easily when seeing as well as hearing the stories performed.
However, these trips were dangerous.
The first of these tours, in February, 2002, was to Saipan, where we performed for high school students. The performances were almost entirely in Japanese, and must have been difficult for them to understand.
There were fierce battles on Saipan during World War II, and many people died there. However, during our visit in 2002, we were able to communicate in a friendly way with the high school students and other local people. But when we were taken to Banzai Cliff, I felt intense sorrow in my heart. We all prayed for the souls of the dead. It seemed to me that Saipan was not a place for people of my generation to go sightseeing.|
As soon as the performances were finished, we returned to Japan.
In the summer of that same year, even though my physical condition was still not good enough for an overseas tour, I reluctantly went to America because the tour had already been scheduled.
This time, too, the Kuruma Ningyo Puppet Troupe came with us. On this trip, because I was not confident about my health, I brought with me a cassette tape recording of the works that we were planning to perform in case my health condition did not permit me to appear on stage.
The first performance was in Seattle, and already the tape had to be used. In my dressing room before the performance, I felt dizzy. When I measured my blood pressure, I found that it was rather high, probably because of fatigue from the long trip from Japan to Seattle. I was in no condition to perform.
The evening before, we’d gone to a Seattle Mariners game. I wonder if that might have been bad for me, in my condition.
One of my students, whose shinnai name is Isefani (real name, Stephanie), came along on this trip. She was acquainted with the owner of the Mariners, and had arranged for us to be invited to see Ichiro play. During the game, on the big announcement board, WELCOME WAKASANOJO suddenly appeared. Maybe I was too excited when I saw that, and it might have worsened my health condition.
Next, we went to San Antonio. There, my health condition got even worse, and I was concerned that I might have to be hospitalized.
San Antonio is close to Mexico, and Spanish is the main language.
Now, I no longer remember the name of the theater, but I remember that I was able to perform there, although just barely.
The main work that we performed on this tour with the Kuruma Ningyo Troupe was a comedy, the Akasaka Namiki part of Yaji-Kita. I included only a little English in my performances, and I wasn’t sure how well the audience could understand the story. However, what the puppets did was so funny that the audiences laughed a lot, so they must have had a rough understanding of the story.
|With Nishikawa Koryu V|
Later, I gradually increased the amount of English, and eventually created an American version of Yaji-Kita.|
From the mainland, we traveled to Hawaii. As my health had still not recovered, I was concerned as to whether I could perform on four islands as scheduled. I was able to perform, just barely, on Oahu, but the Kuruma Ningyo Troupe had to perform with the recorded tape on Kauai, Maui, and Hawaii islands. Because we got no complaints from the audience and they seemed to be satisfied, I was a little disappointed.
|After a performance in Hawaii|
We had bad luck in our choice of restaurants. I was dissatisfied because we didn’t get to eat any especially delicious food.|
More than 10 years later, when my health was much better, I went back to Hawaii.
When I’m healthy, overseas tours are delightful, but they’re not so pleasant when I don’t feel well…
|(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, June 2015-July 2015 issue, issue #80)|
(From the printed program, August 2, 2015, concert)
Since the end of the rainy season, it has been terribly hot everywhere on the Japanese archipelago.
In the past, there was a special expression that referred to taking lessons at the worst times of the year: “lessons in summer’s intense heat and winter’s bitter cold”.
I can easily imagine that, because there were no air conditioning or heating units in those days, lessons must have been quite tough for the students. But difficult training conditions produce performers who have excellent skills. Gentle, leisurely lessons are not real lessons, but rather are just playing. Not only professionals, but also amateurs, should be strict with themselves and set themselves high standards, and should practice what their teachers have taught them. That way, they will find the true charm and enjoyment that lies in the depths of artistic performances.
In this transient world, continued effort over a long time enriches our life.
Please continue your looong support of shinnai, even in summer’s intense heat and winter’s bitter cold.
In closing, I hope that you have an enjoyable vacation in August.
After a comfortable train trip through an unchanging rural landscape, we arrived in Bordeaux.
|Waiting for the shinnai performance in Bordeaux|
The performance in Bordeaux had been arranged by the Japanese Embassy in Paris, and we were accompanied to Bordeaux by two staff from the Embassy. Actually, it was the Honorary Consul of Japan in Bordeaux who first contacted me about performing there. But he didn’t seem to be particularly interested in Japanese traditional performing arts, perhaps because he didn’t know much about them or perhaps because he didn’t understand them. I thought, “I suppose that must be something of a problem for him”.
|Performing shinnai in Bordeaux|
After the performance and curtain calls, the audience had many questions, as they do everywhere that I perform.
|On the tour bus before visiting the chateaux|
The tour took us to two small, family-managed chateaux. At each one, staff of the chateau gave the tour group a very long explanation in English. I don’t understand English, so this was very boring for me. One of the chateaux we visited specializes in sauterne, which is a sweet white wine. I thought that it was delicious. But at the other chateau, which produces red wine, we were served cheap, young wines that didn’t suit our taste. Overall, the tour was disappointing, nothing like what I’d anticipated. All of us concluded that it would have been better if we’d gone to the five major chateaux.
|Tsuruga Wakasanojo (Shinnai, Living National Treasure)|
Chairman, Shinnai Association
Translated from Hogaku no Tomo, May 2015 issue
When we returned to Paris in November, unlike our preparatory visit in June, we took heavy clothing, expecting fairly cold weather.
|Performers and staff in Paris|
We were put up in a hotel that was convenient for us, because it was very close to the Maison de la culture du Japon à Paris. Hotels in Paris are small and expensive. Even a three-star hotel there is not as good as a Japanese business hotel. The toilets in the rooms didn’t include a bidet. The elevator was small and inconvenient, and the staff at the front desk weren’t well trained.
|Shinnai Hiroshige Hakkei at Maison de la culture du Japon à Paris|
The Japanese traditional dancer, Hanayagi Kihi, had had to do all her preparations by herself, including putting on her stage makeup, dressing in kimono, and putting on her wig. For one person to do all that is very difficult, and two women helped her to dress.
|Shinnai Kodakara Sanbaso at the Paris residence of the Ambassador from Japan to France|
Later, the Ambassador e-mailed me that the guests had been very pleased with our performance, perhaps because of its novelty to them.
|Tsuruga Wakasanojo (Shinnai, Living National Treasure)|
Chairman, Shinnai Association
Translated from Hogaku no Tomo, May 2015 issue
I went to Paris in June, 2014, for the first time in ten years. The purpose of the trip was to plan and make arrangements for my performance tour of France that was scheduled for the following November. I was accompanied by Ms. Kihi Hanayagi and my student Stephanie.
|On the Champs Élysées|
Paris hadn’t changed much since I was there before, perhaps because, unlike Tokyo, there are restrictions on the building of skyscrapers.
|With staff of the Maison de la culture du Japon à Paris|
Because there were no performances, the trip should have been relaxed and pleasant, but instead, we had some very bad experiences.
|On a bridge over the River Seine|
But then we had another disaster. On Sunday afternoon, after shopping at Printemps department store, we strolled along the old streets. The weather was nice, and after we didn’t find anything that we wanted to buy at a flea market, we had a poor quality meal at a cafeteria, and then walked down a big avenue toward the Paris Opera.
|Tsuruga Wakasanojo (Shinnai, Living National Treasure)|
Chairman, Shinnai Association
Translated from Hogaku no Tomo, May 2015 issue
People associate Ecuador with the Galapagos Islands, which are famous as the natural habitat of a unique type of iguana. We flew to Guayaquil, which is the largest city in Ecuador. Guayaquil, a seaport, is the base for cruises to the Galapagos Islands. In front of our hotel, there was an iguana park, where many iguanas were living freely, that is, not in cages. Iguanas have reptilian faces and look scary, but they are gentle and don’t move much. They held still even when we petted them. The women in our group touched the iguanas and said, “Iguanas are cute!” I was puzzled by what they said. What’s so cute about iguanas?
(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, April 2015-May 2015 issue, issue #79)
(From the printed program of the April 22, 2015, concert by former Special Advisers for Cultural Exchange)
(From the printed program, March 29, 2015, concert)
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.
(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, Feb. 2015 – March 2015 issue, issue #78).
(From the printed program, February 28, 2015, concert)
(From the printed program, February 1, 2015, Traditional Japanese Culture Class for Parents and Children)
(From the printed program, January 11, 2015, Yuzuruha no Kai concert)
Happy New Year.
Well, how did I solve the problem?
(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, Dec. 2014-Jan. 2014 issue, issue #77).
(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.
When I was a child, we rarely saw foreigners, especially not in Kagurazaka.
(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, Oct-Nov 2014 issue, issue #76).
“Genius” refers to a person who has a God-given talent at a level unreachable by ordinary human endeavor.
(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, Aug-Sept 2014 issue, issue #75).
A good season has arrived, and the mountains are covered with gorgeous fall colors.
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.
(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, June-July 2014 issue, issue #74)
(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.
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.
(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, April-May 2014 issue, issue #73).
(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.
2014年8月 4日 21:24
In those days, we went up to our teacher's second floor studio by an external staircase.
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).
I wrote in an earlier part of this series that my mother's restaurant, Kikuya, had sponsored us two shinnai entertainers, my father and me. However, Kikuya didn't just provide us with essential financial support. From among the patrons of the restaurant came my supporters, sponsors, and people who understood shinnai, as well as my fans, all of whom were my benefactors.
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.
(fifth of twelve parts)
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.
(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.
2014年4月 3日 06:27
(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
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.
2014年3月 5日 09:06
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.
2014年2月 2日 05:11
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.
2014年1月 5日 06:59
(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.
President, Shinnai Association
Tsuruga Wakasanojo, Chairman of the Shinnai Association
(From the printed program, September 29, 2013)
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.
(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.
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?
Chairman, Shinnai Association
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.
|Performing 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.
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.
|At 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.
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.
|Performers 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.
|Children'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.
|By 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.
|With Latvian folk dancers at the residence of the Japanese Ambassador to Latvia|
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.
|Tsuruga Wakasanojo XI|
(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.
(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 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
(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.
Chairman, Shinnai Association
2012年10月 3日 15:06
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.
2012年9月 5日 07:30
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):
email@example.com Isejiro-san's cell phone)
2012年8月 3日 16:14
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.
Chairman, Shinnai Association
July 29, 2012
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)
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.
Chairman, Shinnai Association
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.
(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.
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.
President, Shinnai Association
2011年12月 4日 15:43
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
2011年6月 5日 13:00
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.
|On the right, Nakatani-san, our guide|
|Over the famous gate to Auschwitz, "ARBEIT MACHT FREI" (If you work, you will become free). It was the Nazi's deception.|
2011年4月 6日 16:15
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.
2011年4月 5日 13:09
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...
|Receiving the donation from the Director of the Manggha Museum|
|Signing the receipt for the audience's donation|
|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.
|With the American Consul and his wife in Krakow|
|Charity party at the American Consulate in Krakow|
|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)
2011年4月 2日 14:46
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.
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)
|Being interviewed by a newspaper reporter (at Manggha Centre)|
|The Krakow performance of Ran'cho|
|At the reception after the performance. Wayda's wife is in the right foreground|
2011年4月 1日 13:19
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.
|Group meeting at the theater in Warsaw|
|Being told by the Embassy staff member that the performance was canceled.|
|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)
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
2011年3月 7日 11:24
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.
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.