I celebrated my first year of living in Japan on June 24. It was also the anniversary of my father's passing and I was the MC for Writers in Kyoto Poetry event that day too.
It's been a whirlwind of adjustment, that hasn't always been easy, especially not knowing the language and being isolated as a foreigner in an area of Osaka where there are few expats.
I have, however, at age 51 actually been able to learn Japanese! And I've been taking shodo, Japanese calligraphy, classes as I learn to read and write some Kanji. And I've been taking Haiku in English classes, basically an English as a Second Language class for Japanese. I love Japan!
I was so also finally happy to discover this week Rakugo in English. Rakugo, 落語, literally means "fallen words, " and is a traditional Japanese form of oral storytelling. The word "story" is Japanese is also expressed as "talk" or " 噺 ".
According to Wikipedia, Rakugo was invented by Buddhist monks in the 9th and 10th century to make their sermons more interesting and its written tradition can be traced back to the story collection Uji Shūi Monogatari (1213–18).
Gradually the form turned from humorous narrative into monologue, probably upon the request of the daimyōs (feudal lords), seeking people skilled enough to entertain them with various kinds of storytelling.
I went to the Tennojimura-yose English Rakugo performance and workshop in Osaka produced by Showto Sst and had so much fun! "Believing is seeing," he said. I was so relieved to find people who really appreciate the oral tradition know the value of the imagination!
A few other English-speaking expats also came, but mostly Japanese who listen to the stories in English to work on the language in speaking and listening.
It was extra special that day too, because there was live music of shamisen and drum played as well.
I was impressed with the range of stories, many traditional, performed by a wide range of talented tellers, everywhere form a 14-year old boy named Karanenbutsu to Hasshow, the oldest English Rakugo performer in the world.
The high art form relies only on the teller's expert use of facial expressions, gestures, words and a few props, such as a fan and a towel.
Half way through the program, Showto put on a workshop, in which I was called up to tell a simple story that he told for me, and I mimicked.
"Doctor," a patient says, "I have pain all over my body!"
The body-centered performance then comically with gestures and facial expressions explains where it hurts before the doctor finally says, "You have a broken finger!"
My favorite story was by Kitty who told expertly a traditional story about a man who doesn't turn in the large sum of money he finds. He throws a big party to celebrate, but gets drunk and passes out, only for his wife to say all the money he thought he found was a dream.
"If you want to have a lot of money, stop drinking sake and go to work!" So the man changed, stopped drinking and worked hard.
Three years later on New Years, his wife let the employees of his prosperous business go home early with bonuses for their hard work. She brought the wallet he found three years ago to him.
"I thought this was a dream!" he said.
"Yes, I am sorry, but if you kept that money back then, you would've been a criminal. So I turned it in. Three years later, nobody had claimed it, so not it's truly yours!"
Of course the story was told a good 10 minutes and went on marvelously and entertainingly, funnily told beyond the bare bones I report here. Truly during a telling the listener gets drawn into the trance of the story and is right there with the story unfolding and happening, a suspension of time and space (yoga!) And you have a good time! And the wisdom is given via the story for the listener to have a lesson in life.
I believe Rakugo, as is all storytelling is excellent for all types of learners, obviously for ESL, as the facial expressions and gestures are so powerful and telling.
It's great for young and elders... storytelling is great for everybody! And it creates wonderful community as well as preserves tradition and culture. These stories are great for healing too, as the wisdom and lessons from Japanese literature are like medicine for the soul in these difficult times. It's revitalizing!
And naturally, these stories fit perfectly for Storytime Yoga! Hasshow told a story about a cat, rat and goldfish. Easy to put yoga to and teach literacy to inquire with questions about what happened in the story, take a yoga pose, and learn narrative and literacy in the process!
So I'm hooked. I've made some wonderful new friends, learned some fabulous stories, laughed my head off and I'm starting lessons next Wednesday with Showto!
It will be fun! And a new era for Storytime Yoga!