Plum Blossoms Smell Sweet After The Bitter Cold Of Winter

(from the printed program, Shinnai Association Concert, September 30, 2018)

Around 300 years have passed since the birth of Tsuruga Wakasanojo I, and it’s about 260 years since he founded the shinnai genre. His masterpieces, including Akegarasu Yume no Awayuki and Ran’cho, and works by Tsuruga Tsurukichi II and Fujimatsu Rochu, have continued to be performed up to the present day. These wonderful classic works remain in the shinnai repertoire even after this long period of time.
When I think about how the tradition of shinnai will continue in the future, I realize that new works are needed that are easy to listen to and enjoyable for modern audiences. Young shinnai performers should energetically create beautiful, attractive works that maintain the spirit of shinnai and do not spoil its character. In order to disseminate broadly an awareness of shinnai and attract new fans, they should challenge themselves to break new ground, pioneering not only in joururi works, but also with works that include dance and drama. This does not mean that they should pander to the public, but rather that, through trial and error, they should create works that contemporary audiences can relate to.
This is exactly in the spirit of the saying, “By studying old things, one finds ways to innovate”.
Young shinnai professionals are few and they may face hardships, but their effort in the face of difficult situations will give them the opportunity to grow and become wonderful artists, as plum blossoms’ sweet fragrance follows bitter winter.
Both young and old performers will work hard together for shinnai.
I look forward to shinnai fans’ continued strong support and encouragement.
Thank you very much.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo
Chairman, Shinnai Association

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 33 - Thoughts about the “I-Ro-Ha” (ABCs) of Shinnai: 4

Translator’s Note: This essay is a continuation of the series started in #30 (see below in this blog, February-March 2018 issue of the Kagurazaka Community Magazine), in which Wakasanojo uses I-Ro-Ha and so on to label the items. The translation of the essays in this series gives the original Japanese heading in English letters (romaji) for each item, followed by the translated heading. For a fuller explanation, see the Translator’s Note in essay #30.
・の 喉(声帯)はコトバを発する楽器
No: Nodo (seitai) wa kotoba wo hassuru gakki
(26) The vocal cords are a musical instrument for producing spoken lines
It goes without saying that the voice is generated by the vocal cords, after which the sound comes out of the mouth. Musically, the voice is like an instrument that, when played, produces a melody. High tones resonate in the head and low ones in the chest, but although the point of resonance is different, the source of both is the vocal cords. It is from this instrument that Japanese sentences are narrated.
・お 音楽ではない音楽、浄瑠璃は譜面にならない浄瑠璃
O: Ongaku dewanai ongaku, joururi wa fumen ni naranai joururi
(27) Joururi is music in a sense, but it’s not music that can be written on a musical staff
Generally speaking, music is performed by an artist who reads the notes written in a musical score. Both instrumental and vocal music are performed in that way. Although joururi is “narrative song”, joururi cannot be conveyed fully by notes written on a musical staff. There are many spoken lines (vocal lines), and, most importantly, joururi artists perform using their unique melody and timing, so that the result is very much dependent on the performer, rather than on a written score. That is why joururi cannot be referred to simply as “music”.
・く 口伝は師匠にあり、テープ(電子機器)は師にあらず
Ku: Kuden wa shisho ni ari, te’pu (denshi kiki) wa shi ni arazu
(28) Shinnai training is done by the teacher’s oral instruction; tapes and tape recording equipment are not teachers
Traditional music is passed down from teacher to student through an oral tradition. Seated directly in front of the teacher, the student listens and remembers. That is keiko. (See essay #32, items 17, 18, 21, and 23.) Students learn not only from listening to the teacher’s performance, but also from the teacher’s frequent criticism. Recently, students study using electronic recording equipment. That is not keiko. Studying with a tape is like singing karaoke, in that the student receives no advice, correction, or criticism. There is no reason to improve.
・や 約束事、決め事多し伝統の世界
Ya: Yakusoku goto, kime goto oshi dento no sekai
(29) In the world of the traditional arts, there are many conventions and rules
The form of performances is set out in detail. There are also customs implicitly agreed upon by the teacher and the students. In addition, when performing on stage, artists should not wear accessories, such as rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and watches. Also, if eyeglasses are worn, they should not have a frame. Bare feet are unacceptable on stage. Neither men nor women should have bangs. There are many other rules, such as that performers’ hair should be its natural color.
・ま 前弾きは新内の特徴の一つ
Ma: maebiki wa shinnai no tokucho no hitotsu
(30) One of the characteristics of shinnai is maebiki, the shamisen introduction at the start of a work
In shinnai works, before the joururi performer starts, the shamisen players perform a kind of prelude, called maebiki. Which maebiki is used is generally set for particular works; mainly, the maebiki is one that is considered suitable for the content of the story. When the maebiki begins, the audience feels a sense of excitement about the work they are going to hear.
・け 芸は人なり
Ke: Gei wa hito nari
(31) Performance skill depends on a person’s humanity
This is the most important maxim. One’s character, not one’s performance skill, determines one’s humanity and style of living. The arts, especially, show a performer’s personality. People’s character and basic nature are directly reflected in their art. Their personality is revealed in their expression and their voice. This is interesting, but it is also scary.
・ふ 風流な新内流しは新内にあらず
Fu: Furyu na shinnai nagashi wa shinnai ni arazu
(32) Shinnai nagashi is elegant, but it is not real shinnai
When people speak of shinnai, they think of shinnai nagashi, but …… a result is that they do not think of shinnai as a serious art. Nagashi is fundamentally not real shinnai. Among the shamisen arts of the Edo Period, shinnai was the only one that did not collaborate with kabuki, traditional dance, or puppetry. As a result, shinnai performers relied entirely on income from giving lessons. Shinnai nagashi was another way for shinnai performers to earn a living. Ordinary people loved shinnai nagashi, so it has continued to be performed up to the present day. Nagashi is elegant and emotional, but it damages the image of real shinnai.
・こ 声も技も仕上がってから芸となる
Ko: Koe mo waza mo shiagatte kara gei to naru
(33) After achieving the goal of producing a true shinnai voice and mastering shinnai techniques, one becomes an artist
In the Japanese classical performing arts, discipline of one’s spirit is often considered to be a priority. To master the way of the arts, a disciplined spirit is important, but many people are more concerned about spirit and theory, and neglect the importance of technique. First, the voice should be trained and the individual should learn technique. Then, the world of the arts can be entered.
・え 演じて動かず 静に動あり
E: Enjite ugokazu sei ni do ari
(34) Perform without moving; there is movement in immobility
Of course, Japanese traditional artists kneel when they are performing. For the duration of a work, a joururi performer, wearing a kimono bearing the crest of the performer’s professional family, kneels in front of a music stand (kendai) on which the libretto is placed. During the performance, the performer’s facial expression does not change and the performer’s hands do not move. The story’s scene and the happiness and sadness of the characters are conveyed by the performer’s voice, while the performer looks straight ahead. However, when a performer is expressing feelings such as laughter, anger, or crying, the performer’s facial expressions will naturally show these emotions. Joururi is a one-person concert opera in which the performer never moves.
・て 電子頭脳には不可能な浄瑠璃
Te: Denshi zuno ni wa fukano na joururi
(35) Joururi is impossible for a computer
AI (Artificial Intelligence) is rapidly improving, and will contribute much in the society of the future. However, AI is impossible in artistic fields, especially in our world of joururi. It may be possible to teach a machine the content, setting, characters, and emotional factors of a story, but the special simultaneous breathing of the performer and the shamisen players, and how the performer’s way of life and thinking influence the performance cannot be input as information into AI. In my opinion, this difference is comparable to the difference between machine printing and calligraphy, between artificial flowers and ikebana. The greatest difficulty for AI is the expression of true love, of human love.
(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, August-September, 2018, issue #99)

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 32 - Thoughts about the “I-Ro-Ha” (ABCs) of Shinnai: 3

Translator’s Note: This essay is a continuation of the series started in #30 (see below in this blog, February-March 2018 issue of the Kagurazaka Community Magazine), in which Wakasanojo uses I-Ro-Ha and so on to label the items. The translation of the essays in this series gives the original Japanese heading in English letters (romaji) for each item, followed by the translated heading. For a fuller explanation, see the Translator’s Note in essay #30.
・た 高い音域を駆使する新内
Ta: Takai on'iki wo kushi suru shinnai
(16) Shinnai requires skillful utilization of a high vocal range
Each genre of Japanese traditional music has its own characteristic melodic line, method of vocal production, and method of playing the shamisen. These differences are the basis of the distinction among the genres. Shinnai performers use high tones to express beautiful, sensual, sensational, and mournful moods, which can be heartbreaking to listeners. Shinnai joururi is narrated using a wide vocal range and a variety of timbres, producing a graceful and powerful sound, well suited to the accompanying shamisen.
・れ 礼儀を覚える古典の世界 稽古と練習は違う
Re: Reigi wo oboeru koten no sekai keiko to renshu wa chigau
(17) Courtesy in the Japanese classical world; keiko is not the same as practice.
Complying with etiquette is a Japanese virtue. Manners are no longer taught at home or in schools. It is important to be courteous not only in our relations with those above and below us, but also with those on the same level as we are. In the Japanese traditional performing arts, and in the martial arts, courtesy begins before keiko starts. Keiko is not the same as a “lesson”. In the world of the Japanese classical arts, training, the way of training, underlies the techniques and also the spirit with which the art form is conducted.
・そ それ程難しくないけど難しい浄瑠璃
So: Sorehodo muzukashikunai kedo muzukashii joururi
(18) Joururi is not so difficult, but it is difficult
This topic is a continuation of several items on this topic in essay #31.
If a teacher is very strict, students tend to avoid keiko; it is essential that they enjoy it. In my opinion, “if you can sing karaoke, you can perform joururi.” However, this has a deep meaning. The secrets of joururi cannot be mastered in a lifetime. So it’s painful, joyful, and tough.
・つ 鶴賀若狭掾の初代が新内の祖
Tsu: Tsuruga Wakasanojo no shodai ga shinnai no so
(19) Tsuruga Wakasanojo I was the founder of shinnai.
Shinnai was founded by Tsuruga Wakasanojo I. He was born 300 years ago in the city of Tsuruga, in what is now called Fukui Prefecture. After various experiences, he went to Edo (present-day Tokyo), and became a student of Miyakoji Bungonojo. After the government forbade the performance of bungo-bushi (bungo-style joururi), the genre disappeared. Tsuruga Wakasanojo I then created tsuruga-bushi, and became the founder of shinnai. In the 250 years since then, shinnai has been passed down in rather unchanged form. Therefore, it continues to be traditional Edo Period shamisen music.
・ね 猫と犬に感謝す
Ne: Neko to inu ni kansha su
(20) Gratitude to cats and dogs
The resonating part of the shamisen is called the “body”. Stretched skin is used to cover both sides of the body. When the shamisen was imported to Japan from the Ryukyu Kingdom (now Okinawa) 400 years ago, the kind of skin that was used changed from snakeskin to cat skin. Dog skin is also used. Recently, because cat skin and dog skin are no longer widely available, alternatives, such as artificial leather or kangaroo skin, are being used, but the quality of the tones made by shamisen covered with these types of skin isn’t as good as that from shamisen covered with cat skin or dog skin.
・な 習いごとは老化を防ぐ
Na: Narai-goto wa roka wo fusegu
(21) Continuing to learn prevents aging
As life expectancy is increasing, people are living longer both physically and mentally. People want to lead healthy lives, even when they get old. To achieve that, we should continue to be interested and curious, and we should stimulate our brain by happily memorizing new things. Keiko is the best activity for that.
・ら らん蝶(若木仇名草)は新内の代表曲で基本の曲
Ra: Ran’cho (Wakagi Adanagusa) wa shinnai no daihyo kyoku de kihon no kyoku
(22) Ran’cho (Wakagi Adanagusa), a typical shinnai piece, is the basic shinnai work.
Shinnai is Ran’cho; Ran’cho is shinnai. Ran’cho is a shinnai masterpiece by Tsuruga Wakasanojo I, who wrote its words and music. The story is simple: a love triangle leads to the lovers’ double suicide. However, the melodic line fully communicates the charm of shinnai. Shinnai nagashi is a shamisen interlude excerpted from a part of Ran’cho that has no lyrics. However, shinnai nagashi is not true shinnai (see essay #33, section fu)
. ・む 無駄は有ってよし 無くてよし
  Mu: Muda wa atte yoshi, nakute yoshi
(23) Wastefulness is OK; no wastefulness is also OK
It seems like a huge amount of time is wasted in keiko, struggling, enduring hardships, and so on. The goal of keiko isn’t just to memorize classical works; after the works have been memorized, there must be further practice. Confrontation with nature is often considered useless, but it is actually nourishment of one’s art and spirit. Spending time idly can be a source of later tension, concentration, and creativity. We should live in a way that makes apparently wastefully spent time actually not wasted.
・う ウレイガカリ
U: Urei gakari
(24) Set melodic patterns
In the music for joururi works, there are many set melodic patterns. These patterns are called yaku’bushi. Each yaku’bushi pattern has a name. These patterns are used at suitable places in the story that is told in each work. The most commonly used pattern in shinnai is called urei’gakari. The urei’gakari pattern is used at the beginning of a scene in order to establish a sad mood. The shamisen player’s movements don’t change, but the feeling of the melody is different.
・ゐ 胃と肺と頭部が声の共鳴腔
I: I to hai to tobu ga koe no kyomeiko
(25) Vocalization resonates in the stomach, lungs, and head
The body cavities of the stomach, lungs, and head give resonance to the voice after it emanates from the vocal cords. The pharynx, mouth, and nose also play small parts in the overall production of sound. In addition, the stomach, lungs, and head amplify the sound, with the result that, to describe it in a somewhat exaggerated way, the entire body resonates. That is, the whole body becomes a musical instrument. When the voice is in the head, the tone is high pitched; in the chest, low pitched. The abdomen, back, and diaphragm muscles are also important.
(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, June-July, 2018, issue #98)

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 31 - Thoughts about the “I-Ro-Ha” (ABCs) of Shinnai: 2

Translator’s Note: This essay is a continuation of the series started in #30 (in this blog, February-March 2018 issue of the Kagurazaka Community Magazine), in which Wakasanojo uses “I-Ro-Ha” and so on to label the items. As was done in #30, the translation of this and the remaining three essays in this series gives the original Japanese heading in English letters (romaji) for each item, followed by the translated heading. For a fuller explanation, see essay #30.
・へ 下手と思っていれば上達する
He: Heta to omotte ireba jotatsu suru
(6) You can improve your performance so long as you evaluate your skill as needing improvement
As people say, boasting and arrogance halt progress. Of course, it is natural to express some degree of confidence in one’s own performance. If you continue practicing hard and spend much time on it, your performance will reach a level suitable for performing in front of an audience. However, that is one step in the process of improving one’s performance. Recognize the limits of your ability, and, at the same time, aim for the highest level throughout your life. Self-confidence and pride are completely different.
・と 常磐津は奥さん、清元は芸者、新内は花魁の色気
To: Tokiwazu wa okusan, kiyomoto wa geisha, shinnai wa oiran no iroke
(7) Tokiwazu is about wives, kiyomoto is about geisha, and shinnai is about sexy courtesans
From long ago, typical features of the eroticism in the works of three of the schools of bungo’bushi have been compared like that. These descriptions are absolutely perfect. Even though, when viewed from a present-day perspective, the music of each of these schools can be seen to have changed somewhat, this old description of the erotic atmosphere of each style is still mostly correct, in my opinion.
・ち 小さい芸には花がない
Chi: Chiisai gei niwa hana ga nai
(8) “Small” art is not charming or colorful
People often evaluate a performance by describing it as “small” or “large”. “Small” performances use superficial techniques. Although the works may be beautifully sung, they do not have appealing power, rich expression, or variety. Joururi, which is a narrative art form, tells stories about emotional situations in the lives of people who are men and women, young and old. “Large” performances use bold and yet delicate, relaxing, and precise techniques. These convey the beauty and charm of the work.
・り 良薬は耳に痛し
Ri: Ryoyaku wa mimi ni itashi
(9) Good medicine is painful to hear
It can be said that flattery is false words, and that true words are not beautiful. If the people around you praise and flatter you and are “yes-men”, you will feel comfortable, but you cannot improve. People who give you candid advice are doing you a real favor. Their advice is good medicine.
・ぬ 盗む芸 盗めぬ芸
Nu: Nusumu gei nusumenu gei
(10) Stolen artistic skill, artistic skill that you cannot steal
Your teacher gives you lessons. The classical Japanese arts are transmitted through an oral tradition. These days, students record their teacher’s performance for later study at home. This custom has many, many problems. In order to memorize their teacher’s performance, students imitate it. After students’ skill progresses and they become professionals, they’re no longer being taught, and they have to steal skills from themselves. To do that, they have to grasp those things that a teacher cannot teach. However, there is something that cannot be stolen from your teacher, no matter how hard you try. That is the character of the teacher’s personality. If students have talent and make an effort, they may become able to perform even better than their teacher.
・る 瑠璃も芸も磨けば光る(照らせば光る)
Ru: Ruri mo gei mo migakeba hikaru (teraseba hikaru)
(11) Both lapis lazuli and performance skills will sparkle if you polish them (if you illuminate them, they will sparkle)
Natural aptitude and talent shine only if polished. Even if you have an abundance of excellent talent, it will not develop unless you train hard. Superficial skill does not generate real art; also, it is crucial to make an effort while young. As people say, “Strike while the iron is hot…”. However, training when you have become elderly is ideal for preventing senility. As I’ve been getting older, my head has become shinier.
・を 老いては故にしたがい
Wo: Oite wa ko ni shitagai
(12) When people get old, they follow the old ways
Translator’s Note: This is a modification of a traditional saying; the original, with a different kanji for ko means “When you get old, obey your children.”
An old proverb says, “To discover new things, study the past”. When you become old, return to your original mindset. Study the profundity of the classics, and follow exactly what your predecessors taught. Do not get stuck in superficial techniques and shallow ambitions, but rather progress in the arts by calmly following the basics. Don’t rely on the traditional sound and melodies when you are performing, and don’t try to attract people’s attention, but rather keep an open mind and try to develop a new world of art.
・わ 若い芸より 若々しい芸 枯れた芸は駄目
Wa: Wakai gei yori waka wakashii gei kareta gei wa dame
(13) Youthful artistry is better than young artistry; lifeless art is no good
Young artistry is immature. However, young artistry is also promising, with unlimited possibilities. It is created from physical strength and sustained vocal power that doesn’t know fatigue. Fresh attractiveness is a result of tackling the arts with spirit, irrespective of the level of skill. That is youthful artistry. If your performance is lifeless, it’s time for you to retire.
・か 河東裃・外記袴・半太羽織に・義太ももしき・豊後可愛や丸裸
Ka: Kato kamishimo・gaiki hakama・handa haori ni ・gida momoshiki ・bungo kawaiya maruhadaka
(14) Translator’s Note: This heading is a string of untranslatable puns that make fun of some Edo Period schools of joururi.
These were expressions popular in the Edo Period, which ridiculed various traditional schools of joururi, including kato’bushi, gaiki’bushi, handayu’bushi, gidayu, and bungo’bushi. Modern Japanese people can understand these jokes almost without explanation. Of these five styles, gaiki’bushi and handayu’bushi no longer exist, but bits of these styles have been absorbed by modern joururi. Bungo’bushi (bungo-style joururi) was the origin of tokiwazu, shinnai, and kiyomoto.
・よ 吉原(遊廓)が新内の故郷
Yo: Yoshiwara (yukaku) ga shinnai no furusato
(15) The hometown of shinnai was the Yoshiwara district (in the Edo Period, the pleasure quarters in the city of Edo, which is now Tokyo)
This does not mean that shinnai was born in the Yoshiwara district, but rather that the Yoshiwara district seems as if it were shinnai’s hometown because three classic works composed by Tsuruga Wakasanojo I were set in the Yoshiwara district, and these sad and romantic shinnai works were beloved there.
(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, April - May 2018, issue #97)

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 30- Thoughts about the “I-Ro-Ha” (ABCs) of Shinnai: 1

Shinnai is one of the Japanese traditional musical performing arts, a leading school of the Bungo-style group of Edo joururi. Tokiwazu, kiyomoto, and tomimoto, which are other well-known traditional musical styles, are the artistic siblings of shinnai, sharing the same parent art form, Bungo-style joururi.
Currently, traditional shamisen music includes approximately ten genres. Each genre has substantial, or in some instances, subtle differences in how the artist performs the story, and how the shamisen is held. Among the shamisen genres, the shamisen instrument itself differs in, for example, the thickness of the strings, the balance of the three strings, the thickness of the instrument’s neck; the height, shape, and position of the bridge; the thickness of the skin covering the body of the shamisen, the size and thickness of the plectrum as well as how it is held and moved when playing, and the place where the plectrum strikes the strings. Other differences include the style of kakegoe (the vocal downbeat given by the main shamisen player to the other performers) and the way the performers sit when playing.
The method of performance of joururi, too, differs among the various styles of Japanese traditional music, such as the way that the throat is narrowed, the method of using the throat when vocalizing, pronunciation, the melodies and spoken lines, and how feelings are expressed.
I don’t plan to explain all of these points. However, because I’ve heard that the publication of the Kagurazaka Community Magazine where these essays were originally published will end with the 100th issue, I want to write in my remaining essays here as a performer of joururi (tayu) about what I have learned and experienced in my career of more than sixty years. I’ll organize my comments in i-ro-ha order (see Translator’s Note below). I want to explain how I gained my knowledge of the art of shinnai through repeated trial and error, and give advice on how to approach the study of shinnai.
Translator’s Note: In school, all Japanese study a poem written around the 9th century called I-Ro-Ha in which each character of the Japanese syllabary appears only once. This would be comparable to a sentence in English in which each letter of the alphabet was used only once. The syllables in the order in which they appear in the I-Ro-Ha poem are often used to label successive items in a list, as writers in English use “A-B-C” to indicate items in a list.
In the rest of this essay and the following four essays, in addition to using the syllables I, Ro, and Ha and the rest of the poem to label the items in the list, Wakasanojo starts the heading of each item with that same syllable. For example, the heading of the third item, Ha, is Hana Yori Dango Yori…
Retaining that style in translation was impossible. In the translations of these five essays, the I-Ro-Ha syllables and the original Japanese headings are given in romaji (English letters) for each item, followed by a number to indicate the order in the list and a translation of the heading.
It’s not my plan to present this information as maxims or proverbs.
In spite of my inadequate knowledge and ability, I want to start my essays with my own dogmatic opinions and prejudices, ignoring ridicule from my elders.
Translator’s Note: The above phrase is a portion of the i-ro-ha poem. The full Japanese text and translations of the poem into English are available in many sites on-line.
・い 一声 二節
I: Ichi koe, ni fushi
(1) Training the voice is primary; learning the musical line is secondary
What do tayu practice, what do they memorize, and how do they train? Most important is to train the voice. Of course, performers have to memorize the musical line, but the main focus should be on training the voice while remembering the music. Through training, artists learn to create the vocal quality used when performing Japanese music.
Because the voice is generated by the vocal cords, the vocal cords are essential for producing the sound of Japanese music. Like athletes who work at training their muscles, tayu should train their throat muscles, opening their mouth wide and producing a loud sound.
It is rather easy to remember shinnai musical lines, but if a person’s voice does not have a suitable vocal quality, the person cannot become a joururi performer. That is why training the voice is primary.
・ろ 論より稽古
Ro: Ron yori keiko
(2) Practice is more important than theory
This requires little explanation. It is important to dig into the contents of the story being performed, and to think about various aspects of the situation in the story, such as the age of the male and female characters, their psychological state, their occupation, the time, the place, and the relationships among the characters, so as to convey the story logically.
Rather than starting from a superficial understanding of the story, students should practice the lessons given by their shishou (shinnai teacher), without asking questions. In that way, students may be able to reach their teachers’ artistic level…
・は 花より団子より…
Ha: Hana yori dango yori…
(3) Something other than flowers or sweets…
Translator’s Note: Wakasanojo has modified a well-known phrase, “hana yori dango”. The meaning of the original expression is to prefer substance over showy things, or, to say it another way, items that are functional and useful (such as dumplings, dango) are preferable to items that are decorative (such as flowers, hana).
Members of the audience who have enjoyed my performance sometimes want to give me gifts. I’m grateful to them because they have bought tickets to my concerts; in addition, they bring me flowers, sweets, and other small gifts. Although I am pleased to accept their gifts, I have mixed feelings. Especially it’s a problem for me when I receive a lot of sweets, because I have diabetes.
Having too many flowers, sweets, and other gifts is not just my problem; the problem is common to many performers. I should apologize, though, for complaining about it…
・に 憎まれっ子世にはばかる
Ni: Nikumarekko yo ni habakaru
(4) Even if we hate them, we cannot help but envy those who influence the world
Translator’s Note: This heading is a proverb from the traditional Edo Period card game, iroha karuta.
Even if others are jealous of someone’s plentiful talent, that’s not bad. However, some people without talent and without shame often try to succeed by using their connections and money to promote their own success. This kind of person is universally disliked.
Many people lack talent. It’s a question of character.
・ほ 骨折り損のくたびれ儲けはない
Ho: Hone ori zon no kutabire mōke wa nai
(5) It’s not correct that working hard is a waste of time, the only result being exhaustion.
If students are scolded by their shishou all the time, even if the shishou’s anger seems unreasonable, even if the students are scolded about matters unrelated to their study of the art and are asked to run errands…they should not think, “Oh, I hate this…”, or have similar complaints. This is a form of training that is unrelated to logic.
Of course, students’ feelings should not be hurt…. But even if they’ve worked extremely hard, students haven’t just wasted time.
(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, February - March 2018, issue #96)

Message from Tsuruga Wakasanojo

(from the printed program, February 25, 2018, student recital)

The year flew by, didn’t it. It’s again the season for the first performance of the year.
Last year, my health deteriorated, and I took some time off to get back into shape. Even so, I was active, presenting a recital and performing in various places in Japan and also in Spain. I wrote a new work, and I performed on NHK-FM radio. I was so busy that I almost forgot how old I am.
In the beginning of February, for the first time in decades, I got the flu, but this year, too, I am planning various performances.
Probably you’ve seen the Kagurazaka Community Magazine, “Kaguramura”. Up to now, they’ve published 96 issues. The magazine should be considered a treasure of Kagurazaka. I’ve contributed 30 essays, more than half of which are about my experiences on overseas tours.
Unfortunately, the magazine will cease publication after its 100th issue. My remaining four essays will be titled, “Thoughts about the ABC’s of the Shinnai Genre”. I plan to write about my knowledge of the art of shinnai and how to approach it, on the basis of my more than 60 years of performing shinnai. I hope that you’ll enjoy these articles.
Today’s concert, which is the first concert for this year, is mainly intended to display the results of my students’ enthusiastic practice, but I also welcome as a special guest Gen Goro, a famous performer of the street entertainment Gama no Abura. Please enjoy his art, which will take you back to the Showa period.
My youngest grandson will be performing shinnai on stage for the first time today. He’s still an elementary school second grader. He and his oldest brother, who is in the eighth grade, will perform Ran’cho.
Although today’s performance is long, please enjoy it to the end. Thank you for coming today.

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 29 – Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours 18

2017 Performance in Spain, a Passionate Country

When I went to Spain in 2017, it had been twenty years since my previous trip there. This time, Spain was in turmoil because of the issue of Catalan independence.
Historically, Spain has gone through an unusual amount of major transitions. Traces have been found of human habitation dating back more than 1.2 million years. In the cave of Altamira in northern Spain, there are remains of paintings executed more than 35,000 years ago. Moreover, Spain’s territory has been repeatedly invaded and occupied by people of many different ethnicities. What is particularly interesting is the strong influence that remains on Spanish culture of nearly 800 years of Islamic rule.
Because of the conflicts in Barcelona, our performance was held in Madrid, the capital of Spain.
There were eight performers on this tour: three shinnai performers, one traditional Japanese dancer, three puppeteers from the Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo troupe, and one guitar player. The program included works that are staples of my overseas performances: the shinnai Ran’cho, the dance number Hiroshige Hakkei, and Yaji-Kita, done jointly by shinnai artists and the Kuruma Ningyo puppets. This time, besides the standard repertoire, a guitarist was added.
We left Japan from Haneda Airport, spent five hours in transit at the Frankfurt Airport, and finally arrived in Madrid. I went to bed as soon as I got to my hotel room. It was around 1:30 p.m. The next day, from my window, I saw the glorious morning sun over the top of the spire of a church across the street from the Prado Museum.
That day, we had a rehearsal at the venue. The performance was to be held in the theater of the Ateneo de Madrid. The Ateneo de Madrid building had a medieval atmosphere. I was really thankful that the venue was five minutes’ walking distance from our hotel.
The stage was so simple that it was difficult to set up the backdrops and props that we’d brought from Japan. However, the Kuruma Ningyo puppeteers are used to this kind of situation, and they made all necessary preparations skillfully. The staff of the venue were amazed and impressed.
Generally speaking, for both domestic and overseas concerts, performers do not get involved in the jobs of lighting, sound, props, changing the scenery, and so on. Rather, those jobs are handled by specialized staff. For Kabuki and other kinds of plays, a large staff is needed. However, on my performance tours, I take only a minimal number of people, so the performers have to do the work that’s usually done by such staff. Most of my overseas performances have been done that way. .

1802141.jpg Performers setting up the stage
Finally, it was time for the performance. The capacity of the venue was about 350 people. The performance was sold out in advance. We were told that quite a few people had had to be turned away. Everyone said that it was a shame that there was only one performance.
The first number was Ran’cho. Second was a beautiful Japanese traditional dance performed to the shinnai piece, Hiroshige Hakkei. The lyrics for both of these works were delivered in Japanese, but because of the explanation in the printed program and a brief summary in Spanish given by the MC prior to the works being performed, the audience mostly seemed to understand them.
Third, the Japanese guitarist played several pieces. The audience enjoyed these classical guitar works, which are different from flamenco.
Next was Yaji-Kita, which is a collaboration of shinnai with the Kuruma Ningyo puppets. I did most of the spoken dialogue in Spanish. It’s a comedy, and the audience laughed a lot. I’ve performed shinnai in Spanish many times in South America. Was my Spanish understandable? Humorous works fall flat if the people in the audience don’t understand the contents of the story.
For this event, I prepared some encores. First, accompanied by the guitarist, I sang Kojo no Tsuki in Japanese and then in Spanish.

1802142.jpg Singing an encore in Spanish
Then, Hanayagi Kihi, the traditional Japanese dancer, came on stage, still dressed in kimono, and did a flamenco-like dance to this song. She got the biggest applause of this concert.
The Kuruma Ningyo performers had brought two puppets dressed as flamenco dancers, and they danced to an excerpt from Carmen, played by the guitarist. This, too, pleased the audience.

1802143.jpg Flamenco encore by the puppets and the guitarist
I firmly believe that this kind of cultural exchange deepens the ties of friendship and understanding between countries.
The program concluded with a traditional Japanese hand-clapping ceremony.
The Ambassador from Japan to Spain and his wife stood to express their appreciation.
The performance was a great success.
The weather was fine every day that we were in Spain.
I am sincerely grateful to the Information Development Co., Ltd. (ID), whose staff were responsible for the planning and promotion of our performance.
In the Kagurazaka Community Magazine up to now, including this issue, I have written about having given concerts in over 30 countries and about my experiences on those tours. Although, due to the space limitation, I could not write in as much detail as I would have liked, I am now, with this issue, concluding this series of essays about my overseas performances.
Starting in the next issue, I will write about shinnai joururi and about some sayings related to the performing arts.
(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, Dec. 2017 - Jan. 2018, issue #95)

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 28 – Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours 17: The Baltics

Northern European Beauties: 2011 Tour in the Baltics

First, since it seems that many Japanese do not know what countries are in the Baltics and where they are located, I would like to briefly describe the location of the three countries and explain about the character of each of the countries before describing my 2011 tour of the Baltics.
The three Baltic countries face the Baltic Sea. Listing them starting from the north, they are Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, three small countries that are almost the same size. There are no high mountains; the land is almost flat. The highest point in each of these countries is about 300 meters above sea level.
The Baltics were occupied by the Soviet Union during the Second World War. They won their independence in 1991. Although the three countries seem somewhat similar, their ethnicity, history, language, and culture are different.
But is it possible that a commonality across the three countries is that there are many beautiful women? The ratio of women to men in the population is 100 women to 85 men. That makes me jealous, as the men there have a high probability of marrying a beautiful woman.
Our performances in the Baltics started in the northernmost country, Estonia. Estonia is close to Finland, and the Estonian language and customs seem to be influenced by those of Finland.
Our first performance was in the Estonian capital, Tallinn. With the Kuruma Ningyo puppeteers and the shinnai performers, we held workshops on puppetry and shinnai for university students in this city of which the historic center (Old Town) is a World Heritage site. Whatever country we go to, students there are curious and enthusiastic about our arts.
We performed the same two works in all three countries: Sakura Giminden no Jinbe’e no Watashiba and Yaoya Oshichi. Unfortunately, the languages of all three of the Baltic countries were so difficult that the performances had to be done entirely in Japanese.
In Sakura Sogoro, Sogoro asks Jinbe’e to carry him on Jinbe’e’s boat so that he can go to the Shogun to petition on behalf of the farmers in his town. If Jingbe’e helps Sogoro, he will have broken the law and most likely will be executed, but he decides to help Sogoro even at the risk of his own life.
Sogoro was a self-sacrificing person who stood up for the poor farmers, trying to get justice for them. The shinnai version of his story is mainly spoken lines, with only a small amount of singing. The content of this work is difficult, but, even so, the audiences in the Baltics seemed to understand and be moved by the story. Sogoro’s selfless actions are meaningful beyond nationalistic borders.
The story of Yaoya Oshichi was probably easier for the audience to understand because they could see the puppets portraying the actions of the characters. For example, when Oshichi climbs a fire tower to alert the fire company that there is a fire, the audience was greatly delighted to see how the puppeteers manipulated the puppet so that it could do that.
Because there were so many spoken lines in this work, I asked Kondo Yosuke (Tsuruga Iseyo’dayu), an actor, to do the narration. Thanks to his contribution, the audience found it easier to understand the story.
Next we went to Riga, the capital of Latvia. The historic center of Riga is a World Heritage site, with cobblestone streets lined with elegant shops. It is really fascinating, and is said to be a mini-Paris. The cuisine there is sophisticated, and there were many stylish restaurant.
Riga is such an attractive city. I want to visit there again. I like it so much that I can imagine living there permanently.
At the time of our visit, the then Japanese Ambassador to Latvia, the Honorable Mr. Osanai and his wife, both wonderful people, extended their generous hospitality to us. Thanks to Ambassador and Mrs. Osanai, I was able to return to Riga the following year for another performance. From those experiences, we became friends. Our friendship continues at the present time.
By the way, the second performance in Riga was a collaboration of shinnai, Japanese traditional dance, and the puppetry of the Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo troupe. The work that we performed was the Dojoji portion of Hidakagawa (Anchin Kiyohime). In this story, after Kiyohime falls in love with Anchin, he runs away and Kiyohime races after him, eventually getting to the river called Hidakagawa. To catch up with Anchin, she has to cross the river, but the boatman refuses to help her. So Kiyohime jumps into the river. She becomes a snake or dragon so that she can swim across the river. Because of her obsession with Anchin, Kiyohime becomes terrifying.
The audience reaction to the Riga performance was very enthusiastic.
Well, the last place we performed was Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. Vilnius has a special close relationship with Japan. During the Second World War, Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese consular officer stationed in Vilnius, acting contrary to instructions from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, issued visas to Jews who were being persecuted by the Nazis, saving their lives by enabling them to escape to the Far East.
His courageous behavior is still highly respected by people everywhere. The Jews who got visas from Sugihara crossed the Asian continent and then the Sea of Japan, finally arriving at Tsuruga Port in Fukui Prefecture. The story of how Sugihara risked his career to give humanitarian aid is one to be proud of. Because we artists were grateful to have been given the opportunity to perform in Lithuania, we tried especially hard in the concert.
With the Ambassador from Japan to Lithuania, I visited the Mayor of Vilnius, bringing him a letter and some gifts that the Mayor of the city of Tsuruga had asked me to deliver. Vilnius and Tsuruga have a close sister-city relationship.
The audience in Vilnius was large. From our point of view, we had a good impression of them. We were glad to see that they appreciated our traditional Japanese performance.
I purchased a few souvenirs made of amber.
Although the history of the Baltic countries has been harsh, it seemed to me that the people in each country we visited loved their country and were strongly united. They enjoyed their lives, even though the they were not affluent and the conditions in which they live were still somewhat severe. With such a strong spirit, true beauty may be fostered…..

(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, October-November 2017, issue #94)

Greeting from Tsuruga Wakasanojo, Host of this Concert

(From the printed program, Tsuruga Wakasanojo Shinnai Concert, held in Kioi Hall, Tokyo, November 29, 2017)

Only one month is left in this year. I would like to express my sincere thanks for your continuing support again this year. It has been a difficult year, both domestically and overseas. I sincerely wish for a world in which all can have peaceful and healthy lives.
Last year, I held a special concert in honor of the 300th anniversary of the birth of Tsuruga Wakasanojo I, the originator of the shinnai genre. However, by the modern calendar, this year is the 300th year since his birth, so this evening’s concert, too, is being held in commemoration of the 300th anniversary of the birth of Tsuruga Wakasanojo I.
The program includes the masterpiece Ran’cho, written by Tsuruga Wakasanojo I, and Sekitori Senryo Nobori, written by his daughter Tsuruga Tsurukichi. Ran’cho will be performed by Tsuruga Isefani, an American who has been studying shinnai for around 20 years.
Wakasanojo I could not have dreamed that an American would perform one of his works. Also, he could not have imagined that I would have performed extensively overseas with the result that people in 40 countries became acquainted with shinnai.
I think that all of that would have amazed him. Now, I guess that Wakasanojo I must be anxious about what will happen to shinnai in the future. However, so long as the world is peaceful, and truth and values remain unchanged, shinnai classical works will continue to be passed on from generation to generation.
In this evening’s concert, there will be four shinnai numbers, plus two works focusing on butterflies. In one of the latter, the life of butterflies will be portrayed by two traditional Japanese dancers; in the other, an expert in traditional sleight of hand will bring paper butterflies to life, so that they flutter in the air.
The Japanese classical performing arts are beautiful, delicate, and sorrowful, as well as colorful and glamorous.
Now, in the short time that remains before the busy year-end period, I hope that you can forget your everyday life and enjoy our shinnai concert.
Thank you very much for coming this evening.

Message from Tsuruga Wakasanojo

(from the printed program, Sept. 3, 2017, Yukata Kai)

Thank you very much for coming to today’s Yukata Kai, despite the hot weather. It’s already September, so there’s not much time left for summerlike days.
My students give a concert twice every year, but this time, the program is particularly colorful, including my new work, Japanese traditional dance, and Isekichi’s “Ha’uta Corner”. Although the program is long, please relax and enjoy it to the end.
This year, again, I am giving many concerts. I’ll be performing in various places in Japan, and also in Madrid. I’ll be busy promoting the traditions, succession, and dissemination of shinnai.

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 27 – First Attendance by The Imperial Couple at an Individual’s Recital of Traditional Music: Report, Part 2

Preparing for this important concert, I worried about the relationship between my position on the stage while I was performing and the position in the audience where Their Imperial Majesties would be seated.
The seats for the audience in the Small Hall at Kioi Hall are simply lined up in rows. There are no box seats nor was there any way to separate Their Imperial Majesties from the other members of the audience. I felt that it would be rude if my position on the stage were higher than where Their Imperial Majesties were seated. To avoid that, I had the height of the yamadai (the platform that shinnai performers kneel on) lowered from its usual height. When I performed, I was careful to be sure that my eyes were fixed on a level no higher than that of Their Imperial Majesties’ feet.

1708271.jpg Performing Ichinotani Futaba Gunki in the presence of the Imperial Couple
After the performance, all performers were invited to meet Their Imperial Majesties in a room that had been set aside for them. When the door was opened, Their Majesties were standing, waiting for us. I hesitantly entered the room at the head of our group. After paying my respects to Their Majesties, I introduced the other performers to Their Majesties.

1708272.jpgIntroducing colleagues to the Imperial Couple after the recital
After that, the Emperor and Empress individually talked with each of us in turn. All of us had flushed faces because of the excitement of this happy moment. I don’t remember what I said to Their Majesties. I’ve been tense on stage, but I’ve never had stage fright. Talking with Their Majesties, however, was somewhat more difficult, and I did have stage fright.

1708273.jpgIn conversation with the Empress
Although Their Imperial Majesties often hear Western music performed, I was wondering whether they would enjoy shinnai. I had heard that Their Majesties had never been in attendance at an individual recital of Japanese traditional music. But Their Majesties seemed to understand shinnai. I appreciated that very much. Their Majesties urged us to do our best for Japanese traditional music. I was deeply honored to receive this encouragement.
Before my part of the concert, the first work that day was performed by four artists: two doing joururi and two playing the shamisen accompaniment. All four of them were women. Their Majesties were not in attendance for their performance, but after the concert, I was very impressed when I realized that Her Imperial Majesty was spending a long time talking with those women.
We all were impressed with this precious, honorable event that will (probably) never happen to us again. When the amount of time scheduled for Their Majesties’ conversations with the performers had been considerably exceeded, Their Majesties retired at the urging of their attendants. As Their Majesties left, we bade them farewell in a worshipful fashion. My undergarments were drenched with sweat. In advance of this concert, I had some worries that came continually to mind. First, I hoped that no catastrophic disasters or major accidents would occur, and I also hoped that Their Majesties would be in good health that day.
Next, I prayed that I would be in my best health condition on the day of the concert. I was much more careful than usual to avoid accidents and not catch cold. Every day, I prayed seriously that the performance could be held without incident, and that Their Majesties would be satisfied with the concert and then return safely to the Imperial Palace.
As events turned out, I was deeply relieved that, thanks to the blessings of the gods, I was able to present a wonderful concert. For some days after the performance, I was filled with great pleasure. After that, it became time for a new start for shinnai. Every day, I braced myself for what I felt was a critical moment for shinnai.
I don’t mean this report on Their Majesties’ attendance at my recital to be boasting about myself, or even as an occurrence that is fortunate just for the shinnai world. Rather, it is a matter of congratulations for the entire field of Japanese traditional music.
This should not end as an isolated celebratory event. It was because I explained to Their Imperial Majesties about the crisis relating to the future of shinnai that Their Majesties’ attendance at my recital was realized. This opportunity should be used by all those in the shinnai world for the promotion and dissemination of the shinnai genre. We should grapple with the future development of shinnai. My own calling has now gained purpose and momentum.
The seed I had sowed with my words sprouted and bore fruit. And “new seeds” were sowed. These were the seeds sowed by Their Majesties’ hands. It is up to us whether to support the growth of these seeds or leave them to wither. I will have great regrets if we don’t raise them to be splendid and strong.
Through experiencing this concert, I realized the great significance of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Now, looking back, I think that this was a concert for a great century. Overall, I was lucky to have this great lifetime experience. I am thankful for my good fortune.

(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, August-September 2017, issue #93)

Angry Nature

(From the printed program, Shinnai Association-sponsored July 30, 2017, concert)

Floods due to torrential rains have produced heavy damage in various parts of Japan, and the lives of many people were affected. Especially in Kyushu, people had a difficult time because an earthquake that caused extensive damage was followed by the severe heat of summer. I pray for the souls of those who lost their lives in these disasters, and express my heartfelt sympathies to all those affected.
Setting aside the consequences of earthquakes, flooding has been occurring all over the world, not just in Japan. This surely must be a consequence of global warming. The Paris Agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is not being fully realized due to opposition by two major powers, the United States and China. If the earth’s climate continues to change, humans will, sooner or later, become extinct.
This may be the way to end mankind’s insatiable desires. Nature is angry, and the earth is crying.
Although in the past, the traditional fears of Japanese were “earthquakes, thunderstorms, fires, and father”, the fears of people in the present days are earthquakes, thunderstorms, fires, and floods. These result from people’s greed. I wish that “insatiable pursuit and endless passion” were limited to the world of the arts.
Thank you for coming to today’s performance despite the hot weather. Please take care to avoid heat stroke.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo, President, Shinnai Association

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 26 – First Attendance by The Imperial Couple at an Individual’s Recital of Traditional Music: Report, Part 1

From a single word, like a seed, grew a bud and then fruit.
On September 10, 2005, at the Small Hall at Kioi Hall, I was honored to hold the “Tsuruga Wakasanojo Recital” in the presence of Their Imperial Majesties the Emperor and Empress. This was the first time in the Japanese traditional music world that Their Imperial Majesties had been in attendance at an individual’s concert.
In 2001, I was designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property (Living National Treasure). That year’s honorees were invited to the Imperial Palace after the formal accreditation ceremony in which we received our awards. It was a terribly hot July day. After being graced by comments from the Emperor, we honorees were invited to take tea with The Imperial Couple. I was lucky in where I happened to be seated.
In conversation with Their Imperial Majesties, I explained what shinnai is and told them about the present situation of the shinnai world. I had been seated next to the Empress. Near the end of our conversation, I said to Her Majesty, “Please come some day to hear shinnai.” The Empress replied, “I would like to have such an opportunity.” Then Her Majesty moved away to talk with another honoree.
With my words, I had sowed a seed. I was delighted. I will never forget what the Empress said to me. Absolutely, I will never forget her words. I was sure that my dream would come true some day. Hope filled my heart.
At that time, one of my friends was the Secretary General of the Alumni Association of Gakushuin, a group called “Ouyuukai” in Japanese. He was close to The Imperial Couple, and met with them often. Every time I saw him, I told him about my dream: “When you have the opportunity to see the Empress, please talk with her about me. I’m certain that Her Imperial Majesty remembers that my invitation to attend a shinnai performance.” After few months had passed, I received wonderful news. The Empress had said, “I would like to hear some shinnai.”
The Emperor had directed my friend, “Speak to the Chamberlain about this”. At first, I couldn’t believe that this was actually happening.
But later, when I received a confidential request asking, “Please tell us the date of your recital next year,” I realized that this might really happen.
Around the middle of June, I received a call from Mr. Makoto Watanabe, the Grand Chamberlain, inviting me to his office so that I could answer various questions that he had about the shinnai event. I entered the grounds of the Imperial Palace through the Sakashita-mon Gate and, for the first time ever, entered the building of the Imperial Household Agency, bringing with me various documents, including a draft flyer for the recital. Meeting the Grand Chamberlain, I had a positive impression of him as a gracious, clean-cut individual. After our meeting, I returned to the real world.
July 1 was a day that I will never forget. On that day, I received notification from the Imperial Household Agency: “Their Majesties will be in attendance at your recital on September 10th.”
First, I nervously replied, “What? Really…?    Thank you very much.” But actually, I wondered if The Imperial Couple would really be attending the concert…Maybe someone was pulling my leg…And so on. I still couldn’t believe it. I continued to worry about that until the day of the recital.
Well, ahead of me were many difficult tasks and many meetings for dealing with the precise arrangements that had to be made. The most important matter was security. I communicated by telephone and e-mail with the Imperial Household Agency about checking Kioi Hall; confirming the name, address, and occupation of the other members of the audience; preparing a notice to be sent to the members of the audience with instructions (bring one small bag only, men should wear ties, only the invited people can come, substitutes are not allowed, and so on). The seat allocated to each member of the audience had to be decided. And there was a mountain of other preparations, including things that had to be done at the concert, the rehearsal, and so on. All these details had to be taken care of very carefully.
The historic day, Saturday, September 10, 2005, arrived
Weather – sunny   Lingering summer heat    My condition – good    World peaceful
On my side of the event, all of us were very busy, careful about each detail. Everything was scheduled to the minute.
As soon as I had started the preparations, I had known without a doubt which two shinnai works I would perform. Rancho is a famous shinnai work. It is eloquent, perfectly conveying the essence of shinnai. No other work could be substituted for that. Ichinotani Futaba Gunki is another famous shinnai work. In this piece, the joururi portrays high values, unlike many shinnai pieces, which have an erotic mood. I especially hoped that The Imperial Couple would have the opportunity to experience both hamono (works like Rancho that were originally written for the shinnai genre) and danmono (works adapted for shinnai from other genres, such as gidayu, as Ichinotani Futaba Gunki had been).
Although I’d thought that it would be impossible to perform both works within one hour, I was able to obtain permission from the Grand Chamberlain to do them both after I cut them somewhat so that the two works could fit into the allotted time. I was certain that the contrast between the two works would be interesting, and that my honored guests would not become bored.
And then ……
(to be continued)
(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, June-July 2017, issue #92)

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 25 – Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours 16: Poland - Part 2

Performing in Krakow: Moved by Their Charitable Spirit

Poland and Japan have a historically long relationship, and Poland is known to be a country that is pro-Japan. Therefore, the Poles admire Japanese culture and study it seriously. The Polish and Japanese people are said to have similar temperament and sensitivities.
I remember that, from the moment that I arrived there in 2011, I felt this, and I had a strong feeling of friendship.
Perhaps because of the particular works that I had selected to perform, the audience, which was 99% Polish people, seemed to understand the shinnai stories, even though there were no subtitles. I realized this when talking with members of the audience at the reception after our performance.
Andrzej Wajda, the world-famous film director who passed away in 2016 at the age of 90, was known to be a Japanophile. We were told that he had very much looked forward to attending our performance in Warsaw and had been disappointed when it was cancelled. Instead of the director, his wife came to our concert in Krakow. We were very appreciative when she told us that she had enjoyed the performance very much and praised the performance.
The Krakow performance was held at the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology. There, a collection box was set up for donations to those affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster. More than 300,000 yen was collected.

1705021.jpg Collection box at Manggha
Most of the members of the audience were students and other young people who must not have much money, but even so, they gave generously. I was very much moved by their warm-hearted gesture.
After our encore, I made a brief speech in which, on behalf of the people of Japan, I expressed appreciation for the donation, and I promised to give the money to people in the area affected by the disasters or to support organizations. I also promised that when restoration of the affected area had begun, I would return to Krakow for a thanks performance. My speech was followed by prolonged applause. I made up my mind that I would definitely come back…
The previous evening, we had been invited by the U.S. Consul General to a reception at his residence. The Consul General’s wife, who was Japanese, had invited us for dinner. Our whole group attended. Her original plan was to hold the dinner only for our group of eight, but more than fifty famous people from Krakow who had heard about the disasters in Japan also attended. The Consul General spoke about the current situation in Japan because of the disaster and said, “Let’s support the reconstruction of Japan.” He asked the attendees for donations. I gave a brief speech of thanks and, to show our appreciation, we performed shinnai and Japanese traditional dance, and also had an artist play the shakuhachi.
We knew that people all over the world had offered support to Japan. But in Poland, I felt especially strongly that the Poles were worried about Japan and sympathized with us at this difficult time.
While we were in Krakow, we had another unforgettable experience. After our rehearsal, we returned to the hotel from the venue by taxi. When I tried to pay the driver, the man, who was probably in his forties, said, “Because Japan has experienced a terrible disaster, I won’t accept your money. It is my way of supporting Japan. Please work hard to reconstruct the affected areas.”
For a moment, I was speechless. One of the women in our group cried. What a warm-hearted thing to do! It was by no means an ordinary thing. If I had been in his position, could I have made such a warm-hearted gesture? Would I have been able to convey my feelings by making a donation?
After we thanked the driver and got out of the cab, I was ashamed, comparing myself to this kind driver who could not be a wealthy person. My view of my life was changed a bit by this experience.
This moving experience remained alive in my memory. After I came back to Japan, I told many people about it, and everyone was impressed. It was also included in a newspaper account of our experiences in Poland.
After our trip, I gave the funds that had been collected in Krakow to the editor of the Tokyo Newspaper (Tokyo Shinbun), and he had them sent to the disaster area. I reported on this outcome to the Japanese Embassy in Poland and the Manggha Museum in Krakow.
The following year, I went back to Poland and gave the thanks performance.
(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, April-May 2017, issue #91)

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 24 – Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours 15: Poland - Part 1

Performing in Poland immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster

Happy New Year! This is the beginning of the year of the rooster.
Japan is an earthquake-prone country. In 2016, an earthquake in Kumamoto caused severe damage. Recovery from that has not gone smoothly. And almost six years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster. Sorrow arrives suddenly. We tend to forget past natural disasters. No! Japanese never forget.
Japan is a country of disasters. Every year, earthquakes, typhoons, floods, and volcanic eruptions occur somewhere in the country, causing serious damage.
However, the earthquake and tsunami disaster in the Tohoku area in 2011 was a natural disaster that far exceeded people’s imagination.
On the 13th, two days after the disasters, while everyone in Japan was still confused and worried about the consequences of the East Japan disasters, I flew to Poland to participate in a memorial event celebrating the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth. My performance had been planned a year earlier by the Japanese Embassy in Poland.
Much time has passed since then, but I would like to write briefly here about the performances and other experiences that I had on that trip.
On the appointed day, our group went to Narita Airport with mixed feelings. I assumed that our flight might be cancelled because the same flight on the previous day had been, but our Finnair flight took off on time. I worried both about Japan and about my family whom I’d left behind in Japan.
However, the tickets had sold out at both locations for our concerts in Poland, and, as a Japanese and as a performer, I could not cancel those events... Thinking about that, we eight Japanese left Japan and arrived in Warsaw.
I had expected that it would be very cold there, and was relieved to find that it was not as cold as I had imagined.
On the following day, we met with the local staff at the venue to discuss the stage lighting, sound, and props. After lunch, when we were about to get ready for our rehearsal, an envoy came from the Japanese Embassy with a grave expression on her face, bringing the news that we were being ordered to cancel the performance. She told us that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had issued a notification to Japanese Embassies worldwide that all cultural events were cancelled indefinitely. The eight of us were shocked and discouraged. We had come so far. Why…?
With sadness in our hearts, I decided that our group should do some sightseeing in Chopin’s city on the 15th, the day that would have been our performance day.
Warsaw was totally destroyed by the Germans during World War II. That was the same condition as the cities on the coast of Japan that had been destroyed a few days earlier by the great tsunami.
Since the end of World War II, Warsaw has been rebuilt, little by little, with great effort by its citizens, based on drawings, photographs, and the memories of people who had escaped the destruction. The city was restored exactly as it had been, down to the cracks in the bricks. Restoration work continues even now.
I was moved by the Polish people’s strong spirit, passion, and patriotism, and wished for reconstruction of the disaster-stricken Tohoku region.
Although we had been forced to cancel the performance in Warsaw, we were suddenly informed that the decision had been made to hold the performance in Krakow as originally planned. We were delighted, and went there by train the next morning.
Krakow is about 300 km. south of Warsaw. It was the capital of Poland until the early 17th century. Krakow was saved from destruction in World War II, and it is now the oldest city in Poland. Krakow had accepted many Jewish refugees starting in the 14th c. For hundreds of years, Jews lived freely in Krakow, where laws gave them social autonomy.
Immediately after we had checked in to our hotel, we were driven to the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum in the former German concentration camp. It was the place in Poland that I most wanted to see. In this essay, I will not touch on my impressions when I saw the traces of the place of the holocaust.
In Krakow, every day, reports on the disasters in Japan appeared in the media. In addition, our visit was covered by both newspapers and television, and I was interviewed. As a result, the performance venue was flooded with visitors, and the seats were sold out.
The venue was the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology. The museum’s collection of more than 7,000 Japanese art works includes many ukiyo-e woodblock prints by Hokusai. Feliks “Manggha” Jasieński’s donation of his huge collection of Japanese art was the impetus for the establishment of the Museum. When Jasieński published a series of miscellaneous short essays (“sketches”), he took his pen name, Manggha, from Hokusai’s sketchbook with that title.
In connection with the Krakow performance, we had unexpected, emotional experiences that I will never forget. Those experiences were, of course, related to the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. I’ll write about them in the next essay in this series.

(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, February-March 2017, issue #90)

Message from Tsuruga Wakasanojo

(from the printed program, March 4, 2017, student recital)

Pleasant days with mild spring temperatures have ben continuing.
There seems to be a lot of turbulence in the world. Please join us this afternoon for an experience of the special character of Edo Period Japan.
Having shinnai as a hobby demonstrates a love of this performance art. Students always start by learning Rancho, but it’s not easy to memorize a 20-minute work. The students each learn at their own pace, but by performing on stage, they all will improve considerably. Being challenged to perform in front of an audience naturally makes students’ practice become more serious.
Today’s concert includes a range of performers from those performing shinnai on stage for the first time to experienced performers. All of them have been practicing seriously and joyfully. Students’ performances have a different quality from those of professionals.
Please enjoy the concert from beginning to end.

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

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.

1701231.jpgat 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.

1701232.jpgWith 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.

1701233.jpgBefore 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)

Welcome Message

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.

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 22 – Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours 13: England - Part 2
Concerts That Touched British People’s Hearts

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.
1612031.jpgMeeting 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
1612032.jpgAt 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.
1612033.jpgWith 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)

Creating New Shinnai Works

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.

(from the printed program, October 2, 2016)

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 21 – Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours 12: England - Part 1
Sent Overseas by the Agency for Cultural Affairs as a Special Cultural Envoy Traditional and Proud Great Britain – Before It Left the EU

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.
I was appointed as a Special Cultural Envoy in 2009. Probably I was chosen because, in my career, I had gone to many countries on performance tours.
Those who were designated as Special Cultural Envoys could choose the length of their overseas stay, such as three months, six months, or a year, and could also choose where in the world they would go. Given this freedom of choice, I decided to go to the UK and to stay there for six weeks.
Right now, England is wavering between staying in the EU and leaving it. One reason that I decided to go to the UK in 2009 was because the daughter of one of my friends was studying at the University of London, and another reason was that for a long time, I had wanted to go there.
However, once the Agency for Cultural Affairs had selected the Special Cultural Envoys, all arrangements were left up to the Envoys. In a short period of time, I had to make all the arrangements for my accommodations, school visits, transportation, and so on. Fortunately, my friend’s daughter found a Japanese woman living in London who was willing to act as coordinator for my activities during my stay. I had to pay for her time, of course. She took care of all the arrangements for me. If I had not hired someone like her, I could not have managed this project.
In addition, one of my students, Tsuruga Isefani (an American woman), came with me for the entire period, and another student, Tsuruga Iseshige (a Japanese woman), joined us for the last 2 1/2 weeks. Both of them came at their own expense. Including Tsuruga Isekichi, the total group from Japan for this project was four people.
The main activity was workshops. We used three student shamisen. As shamisen can be disassembled into three parts (four, to be exact), they were packed together with plectrums in a large cardboard box, and sent to London from Japan.
The four of us, with our professional shamisen, our luggage, and the cardboard box of student shamisen and plectrums, traveled by rental car. We were based in London and, from there, we went to other places in England, as well as Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Ireland. I could drive there because, as in Japan, they drive on the left side of the road and the steering wheel is on the right. With the help of maps, we drove a good 4,000 kilometers on unfamiliar roads.

1609251.jpgGassing 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.
Joururi (song) is impossible to teach in a short period of time, especially considering the language barrier. On the other hand, since musical instruments can be handled with enjoyment by anyone, I had the students try playing the shamisen. Each place we went, we were busy assembling and later disassembling the shamisen.
Each student was given only about one minute, but even in that short time, the students were excited to hold the shamisen and plectrum and, with them, produce an unfamiliar sound.

1609252.jpgShinnai workshop at an elementary school in England

In addition, when I performed joururi, they listened wide-eyed, with blank looks on their faces.
At the end of each workshop, there was a question and answer session. There were differences in the questions from the elementary school students compared to the university students, but in all the workshops, the students asked a lot of questions enthusiastically, without hesitating. There was never enough time. However, I’m not sure if they understood joururi as a music form.
I explained various things about shamisen, such as what kind of wood is used to make the shamisen, and what the strings and plectrum are made of. Then I asked what material they thought was used for the skin covering the body of the shamisen. They called out answers such as “cowhide”, “horsehide”, and “rabbit skin”.
Because in Europe and the United States, animal protections are strong and many people treat their domestic animals like family members, I hesitated as to whether I should tell them that the material covering the shamisen is either cat skin or dog skin. At those times, I left it up to the teachers to decide what I should say.
As soon as I said, “This is cat skin. Dog skin is also used,” the children cried out, “Yecch” and “Ugh”. Some students were surprised; others made a face. Japanese children do that too, because many of them are not familiar with shamisen.
In the next several issues, I will describe some particularly impressive, pleasant, interesting, and exciting experiences that I had when, as Special Cultural Envoy, I visited the eighteen schools, gave concerts, and so on.

(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, August-September 2016, issue #87)

Tsuruga Wakasanojo Shinnai Yukata Kai 2016

Message from Tsuruga Wakasanojo

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.

(from the printed program for the September 4, 2016, student concert)

The Sounds of Summer in Japan

Tsuruga Wakasanojo, President, Shinnai Association

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.

(from the printed program, August 7, 2016)

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 20 – Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours 11: France - Part 5
Bordeaux, the City of Wine, Drunk on Shinnai

After a comfortable train trip through an unchanging rural landscape, we arrived in Bordeaux.
The hotel was located near the train station, which was convenient. The rooms and other facilities, and also the hotel staff, were about the same quality as in Paris. We were used to this by now. Bordeaux has trams running through the city, which was very helpful. We could get around easily without having to use taxis.
Bordeaux is world famous for wine. Although my main purpose in going to Bordeaux was for a shinnai performance and not to drink great wine, I had high expectations for the wine. But first, of course, we had to perform.
The venue was about 30 minutes’ drive from the city. It was a kind of public studio stage where the performances that were held were aimed mainly at young people. I thought that it wasn’t particularly suited to the Japanese traditional performing arts, but even so, the place had an interesting atmosphere.
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 the Honorary Consul 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. In the future, if he is the contact person in Bordeaux for cultural exchanges with Japan, that might be a problem.
After the performance and curtain calls, the audience had questions, as they do everywhere that I perform. However, perhaps because the printed program included an explanation about shinnai and notes on the works to be performed, we didn’t get as many questions as usual. But one young person in the audience asked, “I know about rakugo, so what’s the difference between rakugo and shinnai?” I was taken aback. How could I answer such a strange question? I explained that shinnai has music. The audience was interested in the shamisen and also in the kimono worn by the dancer. Audiences in Bordeaux hadn’t had much opportunity to see traditional Japanese performing arts. It seemed to me that they were more curious than impressed.
The next day, our group joined a bus tour so that I could realize my dream of visiting some chateaux. The tour took us to two small, family-managed chateaux. All of us concluded that we should have gone to the five major chateaux.
That evening, for the last dinner of this performance tour, we went back to Gabriel, the French restaurant that we’d gone to when we were in Bordeaux in June. The food and wine at Gabriel were wonderful, and I was quite satisfied.
But our trip to France did not have a happy ending. Our return route took us by TGV from Bordeaux to Charles de Gaulle Airport. Again, we had a hard time.
What happened would be impossible to imagine happening in Japan. When we got to the Bordeaux train station, we found that the track that our train would depart from had not yet been announced. The five of us, with our suitcases and other belongings, waited at the entrance to the train platforms. The train was late, and there was no notification as to when it could be expected to arrive. As soon as the track for our train was posted, we ran to the train, but it was difficult to find the car where our reserved seats were. Dragging our big suitcases, we went back and forth. We couldn’t find any station staff to assist us, and I got very upset. Even the youngest members of our group were in a sweat. Again, I’m complaining about France.
Well, wherever I’ve gone in the world, this kind of problem is ordinary. I wonder whether Japanese society might be too kind, too polite, too clean, and too nervous. Maybe life here is too convenient… And I suppose that the food is too delicious. It’s possible that it would be easier to live in a place that was somewhat less controlled. Thinking about this, I wonder whether it is difficult for us Japanese to tolerate any inconvenience and lack of a sense of responsibility because we are always living in surroundings that are too comfortable. Maybe all that comfort weakens us mentally and physically... But there’s a limit as to how broadminded a person can be…
Still, I think that Japan is a wonderful country. Many Japanese have a world of complaints about life in Japan, but if you look at life in Japan overall, I think that it’s the most wonderful country in the world. I’m proud of my country and of the talented people in it. I always have that feeling whenever I come back to Japan. I love Japan, which is such a good country, and when I return home in an exhausted state, I feel fed up with foreign touring. Even so, definitely, I want to perform overseas again.

(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, June-July 2016, issue #86)

Sakura, Ume, Momo, and Sumomo

Tsuruga Wakasanojo, President of the Shinnai Association

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.

(from the printed program, March 27, 2016, concert)

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 19 – Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours 10: France - Part 4
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)

Creating New Shinnai Works

Tsuruga Wakasanojo, Chairman, Shinnai Association

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.

(from the printed program, February 28, 2016, concert)

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 18 – Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours 9: France - Part 3
Under Paris Skies, We Encounter Some Calamities

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.
I felt that Paris hadn’t changed much since I was there around 30 years ago, perhaps because, unlike Tokyo, there are restrictions on the height of skyscrapers, or perhaps because they intend to keep the appearance of the city unchanged.
The Maison de la culture du Japon à Paris, which is near the Eiffel Tower, was where the November performances were going to be held. We went there in order to discuss with their staff details about the sound, lighting, and other facilities of the theater, and the contents of the shinnai program.
Because there were no performances, the trip should have been relaxed and pleasant, but instead, we had some very bad experiences.
On the first day, when we arrived at the airport in Paris, we had a big problem. After we got our suitcases at baggage claim, we went to the exit to get a limousine bus to the city. But there were no buses or taxis in sight. When we asked what was going on, we were told, “The taxi and bus drivers are on strike today.” Such a thing would never happen in Tokyo. Well, we were stuck. We didn’t know how to get to our hotel. When we asked what we should do, we were told that we could get to our hotel by train, but that we would have to change trains several times. We struggled with our big suitcases, and got to the subway station dripping with sweat. The escalators weren’t working, and we couldn’t find any clear guide about how to change trains. It was terrible. When we finally got to our hotel, we were completely exhausted. This was a private trip for the three of us. The purpose was only to make preliminary arrangements, yet our time in Paris had started with such difficulty. However, the two women traveling with me were strong and helpful.
June is a good time of year in Europe. During our stay in the beautiful city of Paris, I had good weather, as usual. The skies were always clear. Every day was comfortable.
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. A woman walking toward us pointed to Hanayagi-san’s backpack, and said, “The zipper is open” (of course, she spoke in French.). Immediately, Ms. Hanayagi felt that something must have been stolen, and she looked in her backpack.
Oh no! She had been robbed. Her wallet had disappeared. She’d lost 500 Euros in cash and three credit cards. We were in a panic, but it was too late to try to get her things back. We were angry, but there was nothing we could do.
An important responsibility of credit card companies is to help customers who have emergencies. But the staff of the card companies were not helpful at all. I was worried and irritated that when we finally got the cards cancelled, it would be too late. Travelers going overseas should watch out for pickpockets and be prepared with the information needed by credit card companies when there is an emergency. Urgently, I called my friend at the Japanese Embassy and asked him to explain the procedure for canceling credit cards. That solved the problem.
Thinking back now about that incident, I wonder how the beautiful woman who was walking toward us knew that Ms. Hanayagi’s backpack was unzipped... I’m thinking, “She must have been one of the crooks!” But Ms. Hanayagi had realized too late that her bag had been open. A person who has something stolen from them is bad, but the person who has stolen it is much worse. It wasn’t my problem, but it was a disappointment!
I learned a lesson from this incident. You have to keep your wits about you in Paris, or you’ll soon be taken in by some sharp practice…… However, although I’ve visited more than 40 countries, luckily, I haven’t had any money stolen even once…… Before our performance, we had learned a good lesson.
After that, we went from Paris to Bordeaux to inspect possible performance sites for November. We sampled Bordeaux wine, which we had very much looked forward to doing. Then we returned to Japan, but I continued to have a somewhat uneasy feeling.
I’ll describe the performance in the next issue.

(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, February-March 2016, issue #84)


Tsuruga Wakasanojo, Sponsor of this concert

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.

  • Onna Keizu (spring moon) is the shinnai adaptation of the Yushima Shrine section of a story by Izumi Kyoka. The performers are two of my veteran students. They will perform the roles of Otsuta and Chikara in this famous scene.
  • Suigetsu Jowa (hazy moon), a Japanese traditional dance number, is a story based on an actual murder that occurred on the banks of the Okawa River in 1887. Fujima Jinsho, a leading dancer of the Fujima School, and Hanayagi Kihi, a talented dancer of the Hanayagi School, will perform the roles of Minekichi and O’ume in this drama.
  • 13 Ya (fall moon) is a work that I composed more than ten years ago, based on a short story by Higuchi Ichiyo. When 5,000-yen notes were first issued with a portrait of Higuchi Ichiyo, a Buddhist memorial service was held in her honor at Tsukiji Hongan-ji Temple. The sponsor of the event was the former Minister of Finance, the late Masajuro Shiokawa, who passed away this fall. Mr. Shiokawa spoke in praise of Higuchi Ichiyo and delivered a Buddhist sermon, and I performed 13 Ya. Today, I am dedicating my performance of this work to the memory of Mr. Shiokawa, who always supported me.
In Japanese hearts, the moon represents a negative or passive view of the world. Japanese culture and the arts have grown through a sense of unity with this feeling that is associated with the moon. In this time of early winter, just before the end of the year, please let these stories relating to the moon be reflected in your heart.
Thank you very much for coming this afternoon.

(from the printed program, December 5, 2015, concert)

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 17 – Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours 8: France - Part 2
Participating in the Avignon Festival: II

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)

The way of life-long training

Tsuruga Wakasanojo
Chairman, Shinnai Association

(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.

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 16 – Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours 7: France - Part 1
Participating in the Avignon Festival: I

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)

Welcoming the End of the Year

(from the printed program, December 6, 2015, concert)

This year was a milestone year in many respects. If the Showa Era had continued, this would have been the 90th year of that era. It is also 70 years since the end of World War II.
All over the world, there were many disasters, accidents, and various other happenings. The resulting miserable conditions were an obstacle to the social trend of looking for a more comfortable life. People’s limitless desires seem to be destroying the world.
This year will come to an end in a month. We who are pursuing the performing arts should not only study and practice diligently in our own fields, but also, as members of society, look to the next generation and the future.
Now, we have reached the final moments of the year. Let us welcome the New Year in a spirit of reflection and hope.
Tsuruga Wakasanojo
Chairman, Shinnai Association

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 15 – Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours 6: America - Part 2
Performances at Prestigious American Universities

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.
1511171.jpgShinnai 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.
1511172.jpg 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.
1511173.jpg 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)

Lead Essay

Rakugo and Me, Me and Rakugo

Tsuruga Wakasanojo

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)

Tsuruga Wakasanojo Shinnai Yukata Kai 2015

A Message from Tsuruga Wakasanojo

(From the printed program for the September 6, 2015, student concert)

Thank you very much for coming today.
This past summer, the terrible heat continued day after day. Somehow, I survived without succumbing to exhaustion from the heat.
Looking back over the past year, I had a string of major events, including, overseas, the performances in France, and, domestically, the introduction of new natori at the National Theatre and my performance that day with Sachiko Kobayashi. As for me personally, I was delighted to perform at the National Theatre with my daughter and, for the first time anywhere, with three of my grandchildren. I was filled with joy.
Today’s Yukata Kai includes the first performance of a humorous work that I’ve written, based on a rakugo story. The performance includes the puppetry of the Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo Troupe. You can expect to see the excellent results of my students’ hard practice on this number at our retreat in Yamagata.
In addition, two students of Hanayagi Kihi - my granddaughter Mariko and Kihi-san’s niece Kurumi – will perform a lovely Japanese traditional dance together. My grandson Keigo, who is now in the sixth grade of elementary school, will perform the shinnai work, Kaerizaka Nagori no Inochige.
All of today’s performers have practiced very hard in preparation for this concert.
Please relax and enjoy the whole event.

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 14 – Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours 5: America - Part 1
English Shinnai: West Coast of the United States and 4 Hawaiian Islands

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.
1510051.jpgIn Saipan
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.
1510052.jpgWith 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.
1510053.jpgAfter 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)

Lessons in Summer’s Heat and Winter’s Cold

(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.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo
Chairman, Shinnai Association

Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours: (France)

Part 3 – Bordeaux, the City of Wine, Drunk on Shinnai

After a comfortable train trip through an unchanging rural landscape, we arrived in Bordeaux.
The hotel was located near the train station, which was convenient. The rooms and other facilities, and also the hotel staff, were about the same quality as in Paris. We’d got used to this by now. Bordeaux has trams running through the city, which was convenient. We could get around easily without having to use taxis.
Bordeaux is world famous for wine. It’s located on the Garonne River, about 100 kilometers upstream from where the Garonne flows into the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a quiet town, without any tall buildings. I’d heard that there were hundreds of chateaux in the area.
Although my main purpose in going to Bordeaux was for a shinnai performance and not to drink great wine, I had high expectations for the wine. But first, of course, we had to perform.
The venue was about 20 minutes’ drive from the city. It was a kind of public studio stage where performances were held that were aimed mainly at young people. I thought that it wasn’t particularly suited to the Japanese traditional performing arts, but even so, the place had an interesting atmosphere.

1508221.jpgWaiting 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”.

1508222.jpgPerforming shinnai in Bordeaux

After the performance and curtain calls, the audience had many questions, as they do everywhere that I perform.
The next day, our group joined a bus tour so that I could realize my dream of visiting some chateaux.

1508223.jpgOn 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.
That evening, for the last dinner of this performance tour, we went back to Gabriel, the French restaurant that we’d gone to when we were in Bordeaux in June. The food and wine at Gabriel were wonderful, and I was quite satisfied. My fatigue fell away, and I felt that it had been worthwhile coming to Bordeaux.
But our trip to France did not have a happy ending. Our return route took us by TGV from Bordeaux to Charles de Gaulle Airport. Again, we had a hard time.
What happened would be impossible to imagine happening in Japan. When we got to the Bordeaux train station, we found that the track that our train would depart from had not yet been announced.
The five of us, with our suitcases and other belongings, waited at the entrance to the train platforms.
French trains seem to always be late, without any notification as to when they could be expected to arrive. As soon as the track for our train was posted, we ran to the train, but it was difficult for us to find the car where our reserved seats were. Dragging our big suitcases, we went back and forth. We couldn’t find any station staff to assist us, and I got very upset. Even the youngest members of our group were in a sweat. I was so angry about this sloppy system that my blood pressure went up.
Well, wherever I’ve gone in the world, this kind of problem is ordinary. I wonder whether Japanese society might be too kind, too polite, too clean, and too nervous.
Maybe life here is too convenient… And I suppose that the food is too delicious. It’s possible that it would be easier to live in a place that was somewhat less controlled. Thinking about this, I wonder whether it is difficult for us Japanese to tolerate any inconvenience and lack of a sense of responsibility because we are always living in surroundings that are too comfortable. Maybe all that comfort weakens us mentally and physically. But there’s got to be a limit to how broadminded a person can be…
Still, I think that Japan is a wonderful country. Many Japanese have a world of complaints about life in Japan, but if you look at life in Japan overall, I think that it’s the best country in the world. I’m proud of my country and of the wonderful, talented people in it. I always have that feeling whenever I come back to Japan. However, definitely, I want to perform overseas again.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo (Shinnai, Living National Treasure)
Chairman, Shinnai Association

Translated from Hogaku no Tomo, May 2015 issue

Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours: (France)

Part 2 - Under Paris Skies: The Sound of Shinnai Flowing Through Paris

When we returned to Paris in November, unlike our preparatory visit in June, we took heavy clothing, expecting fairly cold weather.
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 was eight people, including 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 was Stephanie (shinnai name: Isefani); she had also participated in the preparatory visit in June. Stephanie has often accompanied my overseas performances, and has helped a lot as interpreter, stage hand, my assistant, and so on. 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.
As soon as we arrived at the performance site, without taking any time to rest, we worked hard to prepare the lighting, check the stage system, and so on.
The Maison de la culture du Japon à Paris is located very close to the Eiffel Tower, near the banks of the Seine.

1507211.jpgPerformers 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.
Wherever we went, if we ate in a cafeteria, the food was terrible and expensive. We shouldn’t have expected so much in this city. All of Paris isn’t like that, but even though it’s a tourist destination, I realized that there were many unsatisfactory aspects to it. Japanese who were living in Paris told us that, frankly speaking, the food there wasn’t good, and we shouldn’t expect so much. I suppose that the top restaurants probably serve delicious food.
To return to my explanation about our reason for being there, 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 could only afford to have one staff person, so all of us had to do our individual preparations by ourselves. At my age, it was pretty tough.
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, from where I was on the stage, I could see up to the last row. The theater was almost full. What a relief! I’d been more concerned about that than I had about my performance.
The second number was Hiroshige Hakkei, with joururi by Tsuruga Isekichi and shamisen by Shinnai Katsushizu.

1507212.jpgShinnai 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.
I performed the third number, which was Ichinotani Futaba Gunki. I divided it into two parts. The first part was su’joururi (classical shinnai); in the second part, Nishikawa Koryu and Nishikawa Ryuji of the Kuruma Ningyo troupe performed the roles of Kumagai Jiro and Tamaori Hime, while I did the joururi.
All the artists performed energetically, doing joururi, playing shamisen, dancing, and so on, showing no signs of tiredness. I was impressed with the strength of these professionals.
The last number was finished. Well, how did the audience react? We got a lot of applause, and, 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. I think that everyone in our group had the same feeling.
Under Paris skies, the sound of shinnai was flowing through Paris. I was delighted.
We gave two performances in Paris. The second one, too, was well accepted by the audience.
I had the same good feeling at the post-performance reception in the theater lobby.
At both performances, about 80% of the people in the audience 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 hamburgers for us. That was terrific. I’d felt as if I were starving, and this delicious food revived me.
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.
After the second concert, the Japan Embassy in Paris held a banquet to celebrate the success of the performances. Our group of eight and around ten of our supporters from Japan were invited. We enjoyed a delicious Japanese meal and fine wines. Suddenly I realized that it was 1 a.m. We all appreciated His Excellency, the Ambassador’s gracious hospitality.
The following day, there was an international convention of Relais & Châteaux at the Embassy. Relais & Châteaux is an organization like Michelin that ranks hotels and restaurants around the world. The group has very high standards, and only a few places in Japan are included. The organization is well known and highly regarded.
Mr. Saito, one of my friends, is the owner of a famous Japanese inn called Myojin-kan, which is located in Tobira Onsen (hot spring) in Matsumoto City in Nagano prefecture. My friend’s son has been appointed as the branch manager of Relais & Châteaux in Japan and Korea.
As we happened to be in Paris just when a Relais & Châteaux international convention was being held there, we were asked to perform Sanbaso, a shinnai celebratory work, prior to a dinner held for the delegates at the Ambassador’s residence. The aim of the evening was to show off Japanese cultural arts and cuisine. The guests were from more than fifty countries. It was a good opportunity to showcase Japanese classical arts.

1507212.jpgShinnai 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.
That evening, we went with Ms. Sawako Takeuchi, President of the Maison de la culture du Japon à Paris, to a French restaurant in the Montparnasse area called Le Clos Y. The owner-chef was Japanese.
The dishes were French cuisine in the style of Kyoto. Everything was very delicious, and the price was reasonable. We were told that the restaurant was very popular with Parisians. The chef combines a delicate Japanese sensibility with wonderful taste, and so French people too are captivated.
Then, the next morning, we took the French high-speed TGV train to Bordeaux for the concluding performance of this tour.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo (Shinnai, Living National Treasure)
Chairman, Shinnai Association

Translated from Hogaku no Tomo, May 2015 issue

Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours: (France)

Part 1 - Under Paris Skies: The Sound of Shinnai Flowing Through Paris

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.

1506231.jpgOn 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.
We went to the Maison de la culture du Japon à Paris, the place in Paris where the November performances would be held, and, with their staff, discussed details about the stage, the facilities of the theater, and the contents of the shinnai program.

1506232.jpgWith 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 the first day, when we arrived at the airport in Paris, we had a big problem. After we got our suitcases at baggage claim, we looked for a place where we could get a limousine bus to the city. But there were no buses or taxis in sight. When we asked what was going on, we were told, “The taxi and bus drivers are on strike today.”
Well, we were stuck. We didn’t know how to get to our hotel. When we asked what we should do, we were told that we could get to our hotel by train, but that we would have to change trains several times. We struggled with our big suitcases, and got to the subway station dripping with sweat. The escalators weren’t working, and we couldn’t find any clear guide about how to change trains. It was terrible.
When we finally got to our hotel, we were completely exhausted. This was a private trip for the three of us. The purpose was only to make preliminary arrangements, yet our time in Paris had started with difficulty.
However, the two women traveling with me were strong and helpful.
June is a good time of year in Europe. During our stay in the beautiful city of Paris, I had good weather, as usual. The skies were always clear. Every day was comfortable.

1506233.jpgOn 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.
A woman walking toward us pointed to the Japanese traditional dancer Hanayagi Kihi’s backpack, and said, “The zipper is open”. (Of course, she spoke in French.) Immediately, Ms. Hanayagi felt that something must have been stolen, and she looked in her backpack.
Oh no!
She had been robbed. Her wallet had disappeared. She’d lost 500 Euros in cash and three credit cards.
We were in a panic, but it was too late to try to get her things back. We were angry, but there was nothing we could do. We were more worried about the credit cards than the cash. We tried to contact the credit card companies by telephone, but we couldn’t reach them. Then, we called the Japanese Embassy and asked the staff to explain the procedure for canceling credit cards. That solved the problem.
Thinking back now about that incident, I wonder how the woman who was walking toward us knew that Ms. Hanayagi’s backpack was unzipped. I’m thinking, “She must have been one of the crooks!”
I learned a lesson from this incident. You have to keep your wits about you in Paris, or you’ll soon be taken in by some sharp practice. However, although I’ve visited more than 40 countries, luckily, I haven’t had any money stolen even once…
After that, we went from Paris to Bordeaux to inspect possible performance sites for November. We sampled Bordeaux wine, which we had very much looked forward to doing. Then we returned to Japan.
A half year later, in November, eight of us arrived in Paris for our performances.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo (Shinnai, Living National Treasure)
Chairman, Shinnai Association

Translated from Hogaku no Tomo, May 2015 issue

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 13 – Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours 4: (South America) Shinnai Activities in Ecuador

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?
A local man whose company does business with Japan invited us to a meal of local food. Because I don’t remember what I ate, maybe the food wasn’t particularly delicious.
We put on one performance in Guayaquil. We went by bus from the hustle and bustle of the center of the city to a quiet area where the theater was located. Because the theater was a little far from the city and light rain was falling, we were concerned as to whether many people would come to the performance. However, here, again, the theater was full. That may be because the opportunity to see Japanese performers is unusual there, and, in addition, there are many Ecuadorians who are of Japanese descent.
Yaji-Kita was well received, with continual loud laughter from the audience.
I felt that Japan, too, should invite foreigners to perform in their own languages, such as English and Spanish.
From the port city of Guayaquil, we flew to Quito, which is 2900 meters above sea level. On the plane, there was an announcement warning the passengers to be careful to avoid altitude sickness. They advised that, while in Quito, people shouldn’t eat or drink in excess, and shouldn’t move too quickly. Almost all of us followed this advice. In order to get used to the high altitude, we took a cable car to a place that was 4,000 meters above sea level. As expected, we felt dizzy there, and right away we went down to a place that was 3,000 meters above sea level. There, we felt fine. An oxygen cylinder had been provided for me in my hotel room, and there was also one backstage. I appreciated the thoughtfulness of our hosts, but fortunately, I didn’t have to use it even once.
Security in Quito was poor, and there had been acts of terrorism, so whenever we went out, the Embassy provided an official car for us, and I was always accompanied by a guard who carried a gun.
Ambassador Maekawa, the Ambassador of Japan to Ecuador, had lodged in the 6-chome area of Kagurazaka when he was a university student. His landlord, Nodera-san, ran Funabashiya, a shop selling Japanese traditional confections (now no longer in business). The Ambassador was pleased to learn that I knew Nodera-san very well, because my home was near the shop. We had a good time chatting together.
The theater, which was in the old part of Quito, was rather large and gorgeous. There was a long line of people waiting to get in. We had a full house. Here, too, I was happy to find that Yaji-Kita in Spanish was well received. In this performance, I delivered 80% of the spoken lines in Spanish. In the green room after the performance, we were asked many questions, just as we are everywhere in the world.
After that, we went to the last stop on this tour, Bogota, Colombia. Colombia is renowned as a country of narcotics and beautiful women.
Ambassador Terasawa, the Ambassador of Japan to Colombia, is the former boss of one of my close friends. Because my friend had informed the Ambassador about my visit to Colombia, I was given a warm welcome. On my first day off there, we played golf. His car had bulletproof glass. The golf course was also heavily guarded. Ambassador Terasawa kindly said, “Please come back to Colombia during my tenure here.” But that would be impossible. It takes more than 30 hours to get to Colombia from Japan.
People say that music is universal, but I wonder if that’s so. Shinnai joururi, especially, as an art of spoken lines and narrative lyrics, is somewhat different from ordinary music. It’s essential that the content of the stories is put across to the audience in a way that they can understand. This time, in three countries, because I did the spoken lines in the local language, our performances were successful.
I was impressed that, in all three countries, although we saw many poor people and many beggars, everyone seemed to be cheerful and to be enjoying their life. This performance tour of South America made me think again about what happiness is in people’s lives.
Starting in the next issue, I’ll write about my experiences in America.

(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, April 2015-May 2015 issue, issue #79)

Inauguration of the Group of Special Advisers for Cultural Exchange

(From the printed program of the April 22, 2015, concert by former Special Advisers for Cultural Exchange)

After the Agency for Cultural Affairs designated us as Special Advisers for Cultural Exchange, each of us visited many places abroad in order to promote our individual missions. When we who had been Special Cultural Envoys got together to drink in friendship, we talked about our feeling that it was wasteful for us, as specialists in various genres who had completed our assignments as Special Envoys, to have no further professional contact. During the time that we had spent overseas, we had many experiences and dealt with various problems such as where we would stay, where we would work, and how we would conduct workshops. We agreed that we should extend this accumulated expertise to those who will succeed us as Special Cultural Envoys. We wanted to establish a community of artists and experts in various fields, common-minded people who share the goals of spreading Japanese culture abroad, deepening the understanding of Japanese culture worldwide, and promoting international friendship and exchange. Thus, we have voluntarily set up a society of former Special Cultural Envoys.
Today’s performance celebrates and commemorates the inauguration of this group.
Although it can be lively and promising to have artists from many genres working together, it is also the case that, when people from various genres get together in the same boat, even though they share a goal, the boat may not sail smoothly. However, we were able to overcome many difficulties, and hence we are able to start today.
“What are the objectives of this new group? What should we do in order to make the group’s activities successful? Can we reach a consensus about our goals? Can we gather sponsors and other supporters who are willing to provide the necessary financing?”
We hope to manage this group with positive attitudes and broadmindedness, so as to contribute to the development of Japanese culture.
Thank you very much for your support.
Tsuruga Wakasanojo
On behalf of the Group of Special Cultural Envoys,
Agency for Cultural Affairs

Concerns About the Future of Shinnai

(From the printed program, March 29, 2015, concert)

This year, cold temperatures continued unusually long into Spring, but at last the sakura (cherry blossom) front is moving north, and the Japanese archipelago is taking on beautiful colors.
Until a few years ago, when I visited the northern part of Japan, people there often said to me, “In the old days, we’d get a lot of snow, so much that it was piled up to the very eaves of our houses, but recently we’ve had a lot less snow. Maybe that’s due to global warming.” However, nowadays, it seems that people everywhere are struggling with heavy snowfalls. Nature is not stable, but rather changes periodically.
The basics of traditional music have been transmitted without change over a long period, but changes in society and the passage of time will, without our realizing it, bring a breath of fresh air into traditional music. This is a natural process, and supports the idea that “nothing is so sure as change”. However, we must continue to keep in mind the adage that “by studying the old, one becomes able to understand the new”.
So that we artists do not become an endangered species, we should make every possible effort to nurture traditional music, in order to leave a legacy for the future. I am especially concerned that young performers should always be aware that the future of shinnai rests with them, so that they continue to challenge themselves and their art from a broad point of view.
I would like to thank those who are fans of shinnai for their continuing support and cooperation.
Tsuruga Wakasanojo
President of Shinnai Association

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

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

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

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

Revival of Shinnai in a Milestone Year

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Tsuruga Wakasanojo

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

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

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

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

Hectic December…

(From the Printed Program , December 7, 2014)

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

Tsuruga Wakasanojo
President, Shinnai Association

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

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

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

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

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 9 - Misora Hibari’s Performance and Shinnai

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

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

Greetings from the Sponsor of this Performance

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

Tsuruga Wakasanojo

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

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 8 - Shinnai Shone on the Toho Stage

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

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

Music is vibrating energy

(From the printed program, September 21, 2014)

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

Tsuruga Wakasanojo

President, Shinnai Association

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

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

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

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

Japan is a Country with Abundant Water

(From the printed program, August 3, 2014)

It's as if the Japanese archipelago is tortured by water. There is a spring rainy season (natane tsuyu in Japanese), and, after that, another rainy season (tsuyu) in June, typhoons in the summer, an autumn rain front, and snow in the winter. However, it can be said that this abundant water has developed the hearts of the Japanese people. I feel very sorry for people who have been affected by flooding, but the geographic and natural conditions in Japan have cultivated the national character, and from this came Japan's wonderful culture, arts, and technology.
The air and the water of Japan are the source of everything, including the beauty, kindness, and richness of spirit of the people and the country.
Japan's superb aesthetics have fostered the Japanese people's world-acclaimed arts and technology.
When I travel abroad, I realize the excellence of Japan. Shinnai, too, is one of the arts of Japan, beautiful Edo joururi.
I wish that, together with everyone, shinnai would be something that we would love forever.
Thank you very much for coming here today, despite the terribly hot weather.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo

President, Shinnai Association

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 6 - Recollections of Kuniko Mukoda

In those days, we went up to our teacher's second floor studio by an external staircase.
From the sound of geta on the stairs, we realized that someone was coming up.
It was a cute young girl wearing a kimono. She said, "I have a message from master Shincho." When I asked her what his message was, she replied, "As the master is busy today, he would appreciate it if you would replace him as an entertainer.
It's for a woman customer at a ryotei (traditional Japanese restaurant) in Kagurazaka. "OK," I said, agreeing to do it. I don't remember if I went that evening or a few days later.
I went to the restaurant with a student. In the room, three pretty middle-aged women were seated, drinking. How did those three women feel about getting a shinnai performer instead of a rakugo one.... Shincho-san and I were the same age, but shinnai and rakugo.... I don't really remember what we talked about, but the various topics might have included the shinnai genre and the world of shinnai.
Maybe my explanation about the crisis in the shinnai tradition, my promotional activities for shinnai, or my commitment to shinnai tugged at Kuniko Mukoda's heartstrings, or maybe she thought that it was interesting. From then on, she cooperated with me in various ways. As this was around 1975, she wasn't yet so popular a writer, but she was writing essays, such as for magazines.
The next year, I was interviewed by a reporter from the monthly magazine "An'an" for a column called "How to Appreciate Men". Even today, it can be found in a collection of her essays published as "Rose in the Morning". She also came to my shinnai performances and to the parties after the performances. One time, I got a special delivery letter from her. Wondering why she hadn't telephoned, I read the letter right away. It was an invitation to the opening of a small restaurant run by her sister in Akasaka, called Mamaya. By now, Mamaya has been closed for quite some time. I went there the first or second day after it opened, but Mukoda-san wasn't there. I called her on the phone: You weren't there.... She seemed to have been writing, but she soon came over, and we drank until the wee hours.
There was a Japanese restaurant named Koyama'tei in the Daikanyama area of Shibuya, in back of Ogawaken. It was opened by Kan'o Koyama, the originator of the earphone guides used at kabuki and bunraku performances. A dinner show at a restaurant serving Japanese food was a rarity at that time. The artists who performed at Koyama'tei were all top-notch performers. I had the opportunity to perform there thanks to an introduction by my best friend. I was still young, just in my forties, and inexperienced. It seemed presumptuous, but I agreed to perform.
Also, the dinner show was two nights in a row. Since then, I've kept in close contact with Koyama-san.
On one of those days, Mukoda-san came for dinner with a friend.
That evening, other prominent people, such as the first Yaeko Mizutani (now deceased) and Shigetami Enomoto also came, and I got nervous.
That evening, when Mukoda-san came, she was wearing a black suit, the kind that women wear to a funeral. I was so strongly impressed by this that it is still fresh in my memory. Later, when I read one of her essays, I found that it had truly been an expression of mourning. That essay can be found in bookstores now, in a volume of her collected essays. She was a talented person, very mischievous.
One day, some time after that, I received a telephone call. I was invited to appear with her in a commercial for a magazine. The sponsor was an apparel company, and I was pleased to agree to do it. Unfortunately, on the day of the photo shoot, I had to be in Hokkaido. The cameraman was available only on that particular day, so it was impossible. I'm very regretful. Thinking about this now, I regret that I didn't change the schedule of my work in Hokkaido. I couldn't have imagined that, soon after this, Mukoda-san would be killed in an airplane crash. 

Both of these geniuses, rakugo master Kokon'tei Shincho and Kuniko Mukoda, are no longer alive. A person with ordinary talents should live long and do everything possible for shinnai...right? Alas, all worldly things are transitory.

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

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

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

I wrote in an earlier part of this series that my mother's restaurant, 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.
I was influenced by some of the regular patrons of the restaurant, including people who were shinnai beginners hearing shinnai for the first time and who gradually became my fans and lovers of shinnai. Other customers included people from the Japanese musical and theatrical worlds, and heavy drinkers and various other colorful people who introduced me to many famous writers. From that time to this, my network has continued and broadened, enlarging my world.
In what follows, I look back at my nostalgic encounters with those Kikuya regulars.
In the Kagurazaka area, there were many publishing companies such as Shinchosha, Obunsha, and Tohan, and their employees came frequently to the restaurant. Chuokoron had a warehouse in the neighborhood, and all their young employees were Kikuya customers. Among those men were several Waseda University alumni who had been members of the university's prestigious swimming club. They were the same generation as the athletes Yamanaka and Yoshimuta. Even so, I suppose that they were not as well known. But anyway, they were Japan's leading swimmers. One of them introduced me to Mr. Tomoda, the president of Nippon Culture Broadcasting [an AM radio station in Tokyo], who was also the chairman of the alumni swimmers' club at that time. When I went right away to visit him at his office, he welcomed me and introduced me to a staff member in the performing arts department. As a result of my encounter with that man, my friendships widened considerably.

The person I'd been introduced to was Mr. Hisahiro Suzuki. He was an excellent director of dramas for radio and television, which were popular at that time. He was selected for the [Agency for Cultural Affairs] Arts Festival Award every year for ten years. We've been friends from then to now, nearly forty years.
The first person to whom Mr. Suzuki introduced me was Mr. Obayashi. He was a very popular writer who was often a candidate for the Naoki Prize. He dominated the world of broadcast writers after the war. His NHK serial radio drama, "Nuclear Dreams", and a TV drama, "To the End of That Wave", were big hits.
I met Mr. Obayashi for the first time at a bar on the lower ground floor of a building in Shinbashi, where he was drinking, sitting casually on a bar stool.
Although that was more than 30 years ago, I can still clearly remember my first impression of him, which was that he was a dandy, a handsome elegant, gentle, and calm person.
We were friends for about thirty years, and I received innumerable kindnesses from him. We often had good times together, and drank and traveled together frequently.
Mr. Obayashi had founded and was the chairman of the Asia Broadcasting Culture Association, and he put up my name to be one of its directors. The directors besides me were prestigious executives of various broadcasting companies. I was the only one who was a performer. We often went on domestic and overseas trips for the association. They were all luxurious complimentary trips. We spent a wonderful week in Korea, receiving VIP treatment.
We made countless domestic trips. Every time, we were driven around the city to visit sightseeing spots. One time, we stayed two nights at a luxurious ryokan in the Okuyugawara hot springs, where we had a wonderful time. In the morning of the third day, when we were leaving, Mr. Obayashi said, "Tayu [that is, me], let's stay one more night", and while the other members of our party went back home, the two of us went to Ohnoya Ryokan, where we hired a geisha who entertained us that night. The next morning, when we went to pay our bill, we discovered that we didn't have anywhere near enough money. As we could not stay there any longer, we called the accounting director and asked him to come there from Tokyo. Then, that morning, relaxed, we started to drink again, and when the accounting director arrived with the money, he joined us, and we three stayed to enjoy one more night there. Mr. Obayashi was an unusually heavy drinker. Until he was close to death, he finished a whole bottle of whisky every night.
Mr. Obayashi was a genuine Edokko [man born in Tokyo and brought up in Tokyo's traditional ways], born in Shiba, with good spirit, subtle, and hearty, and with refined tastes. I never heard him shout or saw him get angry. Even now, I continue to respect this fine gentleman who had such a splendid personality.
One evening when we were drinking with some old friends, Mr. Obayashi suddenly started to read us his farewell message. It astonished us, as he didn't seem to have become frail. I shed many tears. That was around ten days before he died.
After his passing, poems dedicated to his wife were found, in which he wrote that he had caused her a lot of trouble.

(fifth of twelve parts)
(to be continued)

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Temporary flowers and genuine flowers

(from the printed program, March 23, 2014)

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

Tsuruga Wakasanojo


Message from Tsuruga Wakasanojo

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

Thank you very much for coming today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I still treasure a tape of his performance there.

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

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

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

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

Meeting those professionals made me what I am today.

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

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

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 2 - Tsuruga Isedayu I and Izumi Kyoka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I went back home on a train from paradise.

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

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

Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley

Part 1 - I Love the Old Kagurazaka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Job opening for strikers of the wooden clappers at shinnai performances

(From the printed program, December 8, 2013)

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

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

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

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

Tsuruga Wakasanojo
President, Shinnai Association

Learning from the virtuosity of skilled master performers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Message from Tsuruga Wakasanojo

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

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

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

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

Please relax today and have a good time.

The Rainy Season, Hydrangeas, and Tanabata

Comments by Wakasanojo from the Printed Program

(July 7, 2013, Shinnai Godo Kenshu Concert, Kagurazaka Theater)

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

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

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

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

Tsuruga Wakasanojo
Chairman, Shinnai Association

Report on Performances in Poland and Latvia in 2012

(from "Hogaku no Tomo", January 2013)

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

Stary Sacz, Poland

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

1301111.pngPerforming in Stary Sacz, Poland

Performing shinnai overseas

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

Krakow, Poland

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

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

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

Riga, Latvia

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

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

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concluding Comments

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

Tsuruga Wakasanojo XI

Comments by Tsuruga Wakasanojo from the Printed Program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments by Wakasanojo from the Printed Program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tsuruga Wakasanojo
Chairman, Shinnai Association

Chatting with Sumo Ozeki Kisenosato

The ozeki and I were a little bit drunk.

Do your best, Japanese sekitori!!!

1210291.png 1210292.png

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

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

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

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

Tsuruga Wakasanojo died in 1786.

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

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

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

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

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

By Tsuruga Wakasanojo XI
From "Hogaku no Tomo".


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

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

(Below) The back of the memorial stone

1210295.png 1210293.png

Comments by Wakasanojo from the Printed Program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tsuruga Wakasanojo
Chairman, Shinnai Association


A Message from Tsuruga Wakasanojo

A Message from Tsuruga Wakasanojo

From the Program Notes for the September 2, 2012, Yukata Kai

Thank you for coming today in such hot weather.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are also other shinnai concerts scheduled. Please come!

Information about upcoming shinnai events is included in this blog.



Tsuruga Wakasanojo is selling special yukata material!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To order (in English is OK): Isejiro-san's cell phone)

tel/fax: 03-3260-1804

Tsuruga Wakasanojo

Showing is Better than Telling

Best wishes for your health in this hot season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tsuruga Wakasanojo
Chairman, Shinnai Association
July 29, 2012

Shinnai Performances in Poland and Latvia

Poland_E.png Latvia_E.png

Sachiko Kobayashi and Tsuruga Wakasanojo


May 27, 2012, Television Program

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

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

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

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

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

Essay by Wakasanojo from the concert program

March 28 Concert by the Next Generation of Shinnai Professionals

The Serious Struggles of Traditional Japanese Performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I sincerely hope that you will love shinnai forever.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo
Chairman, Shinnai Association


A Message from Tsuruga Wakasanojo

A Message from Tsuruga Wakasanojo

(From the program notes for the February 26, 2012, student concert)

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

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

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

Comments by Tsuruga Wakasanojo XI

(From the Program of Recital December 18, 2011)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes for a Happy New Year.

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

Shinnai Association-sponsored concert December 4, 2011

A Year of Natural and Man-Made Disasters

(Comments from the program of a Shinnai Association-sponsored concert December 4, 2011 )

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I cannot predict what is going to happen.

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

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

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

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

Tsuruga Wakasanojo
President, Shinnai Association

Charity Performance for the Benefit of Earthquake and Tsunami Victims

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

By Tsuruga Wakasanojo XI, Chairman, Shinnai Association

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 5, 2011 13:00

Tsuruga Isejiro's Diary "Our Guide in Auschwitz"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tsuruga Wakasanojo



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


We'll never forget these impressive experiences in Krakow.

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

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

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

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

(continued in the fourth installment)



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(continued in the third installment)

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



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

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

Grief comes suddenly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

(continued in the second part)



I'm going to go to Poland to perform.

ポーランド1.jpg ポーランド2.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday was Mother's Day


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

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