Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley
Under Paris Skies, The Sound of Shinnai Flowing Through Paris
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.|
Our group included three shinnai performers, one traditional Japanese dancer, two puppeteers from the Kuruma Ningyo troupe, a lighting specialist, and an assistant. We went straight to the Maison de la culture du Japon à Paris (the Japan Cultural Institute in Paris).
The assistant, Stephanie (shinnai name: Isefani), who is one of my students, had also participated in the preparatory visit in June. She has often accompanied my overseas performances, and has helped a lot as interpreter and stage hand, as well as being my assistant. I’m really grateful to have a student who can help me in so many ways. Furthermore, she always participates in these trips at her own expense. Even though she’s an American, she has a more Japanese character than many Japanese.
The Maison de la culture du Japon à Paris is near the Eiffel Tower and the Seine River. We were put up in a hotel that was convenient for us because it was nearby. Hotels in Paris are narrow and expensive. Even a three-star hotel there is not as good as a Japanese business hotel. I can’t say that the bidet and elevator were comfortable to use. When we ate in cafeterias, the food was terrible. Japanese who were living in Paris told us that, frankly speaking, the food there wasn’t good. I suppose that the top restaurants probably serve delicious food…
I’m saying a lot of bad things about Paris. Maybe French people who live in Kagurazaka will criticize me for mentioning bad aspects of that city. Of course, not everything in Paris is bad. People all over the world admire Paris as a center for art, a beautiful, majestic city. There is even an expression in Japanese, “Hana no Paris”, which shows the Japanese people’s admiration of Paris.
The performance was scheduled to start at 8 p.m. the following day. From that morning, we were very busy with preparations and rehearsals. We had only one staff member. We couldn’t afford to take more.
Then, the performance started. The main part of this performance was shinnai joururi. Would shinnai be accepted by Parisians? Would they understand it? How many people would come to the performance? While I was worrying about those matters, the performance started…
The program was opened by Ms. Sawako Takeuchi, President of the Maison de la culture du Japon à Paris. She greeted the audience, and gave them some explanation about shinnai. That was followed by my performance of Rancho. Although the audience area was darkened, I could see up to the last row from where I was on the stage. The theater was almost full. I was relieved.
The second number was Hiroshige Hakkei, with joururi by Tsuruga Isekichi. 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 had helped her dress.
I performed the third number, Ichinotani Futaba Gunki. The first part was su’joururi (classical shinnai); in the second part, puppeteers from the Kuruma Ningyo troupe performed the roles of Kumagai Jiro and Tamaori Hime. The audience responded very positively to the Kuruma Ningyo style of puppetry and the skillful and unusual way that the puppeteers moved the puppets.
After the last number was finished, we got a big round of applause, and when the applause continued, even though there was actually no curtain, we were given a curtain call.
Almost everywhere we perform overseas, we have curtain calls. However, this time, I was especially moved.
Under Paris skies, on the banks of the Seine, the sound of shinnai was flowing. I was delighted.
Both performances were well accepted by the audiences. I had a good feeling at the opening reception in the theater lobby.
About 80% of the people in the audience at both performances were French. I’d been worried about their reaction, but after we got back to Japan, I heard that the comments from the audience were favorable. It was too bad that we didn’t use French supertitles. The audience, too, pointed that out in their comments on the performance-evaluation questionnaire.
On the second day, Ms. Takeuchi kindly prepared rice balls and takuan (pickled daikon) for us. That was terrific. I’d felt as if I were starving, and this delicious food revived me. Really, Japanese food is the best.
Coincidentally, an exhibition of Hokusai works was being held at the Grand Palais National Galleries. When we happened to pass by the building, we saw a long line of people waiting to get in. Paris was having a Japan boom. I’m proud that Hokusai is recognized worldwide.
After the second performance, a banquet was held at the residence of the Japanese Ambassador to celebrate the success of the shinnai events. Our group of eight and a dozen or so of our supporters who had come from Japan were invited. We enjoyed a delicious Japanese meal and fine wines. It got very late. I was very grateful for the gracious hospitality of the Ambassador and his wife.
The following day, an event of an international convention of Relais & Châteaux was held at the residence of the Japanese Ambassador, attended by people from around 50 countries. I was pleased to have the opportunity to show this audience, too, shinnai with traditional Japanese dance.
|(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, April-May 2016, issue #85)|