Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Japan in My Own Words
Katsura Sunshine / Rakugo Storyteller

August 18, 2023
I first came to Japan almost 25 years ago - and to use a cliché, the world was a different place. The main difference between now and then: Google and YouTube.

I was a playwright in Toronto and my focus was on ancient Greek comedy. I had read a scholarly article on how Greek comedy and tragedy dating back 2,500 years, and Japanese Noh and Kabuki, originating merely 400 or so years ago, had fascinating similarities.

This really caught my attention because you cannot see Greek theatre as it was. Greek culture of the time was lost - so in the case of comedy, we now have only 11 surviving scripts from just one playwright - Aristophanes. We know a bit about the costumes because they are depicted on pottery from that age. We don’t even know what the Greek language of the time sounded like.

On the other hand, both Kabuki and Noh have been performed without interruption since their inception through to the present day. So going to see Kabuki now is a reasonably similar experience to seeing it hundreds of years ago.

When I read the article I just said to myself - I need to get to Japan to see Kabuki.

This is where Google and YouTube come in. Honestly, if I could have Googled Kabuki and watched it on YouTube, I might not have come at all. Thank goodness I was born in the latter part of the stone age!

The other aspect of lack of internet was that I had no real image of Japan when I came. Several friends had been to Japan mostly for work, and all had loved it, all for their own reasons. But compare that to now in my travels, when I perform for people who love Japanese culture, they expostulate for minutes on end about the details of Japanese culture they love - with accuracy of detail and knowledge and background that is impressive, and then end their speech with, “I hope to go to Japan someday myself.” Hilarious.

On my second day in Japan I went to Tokyo. I felt like I had walked into the future - the city more lit up than Los Vegas. But here is what happened to me next that left an indelible impression of Japan on me. I went onto a side street and randomly turned down a smaller side street, almost an alleyway. And there was a kimono shop, third or fourth generation, an old man in a kimono himself talking to the proprietor while smoking a “kiseru” Japanese pipe.

Here is what I realised. Modern and actually futuristic Japan exists seamlessly and effortlessly beside traditional and old Japan.

For a Canadian, this was an amazing contrast. My parents immigrated from Slovenia, and most of my friends' parents came from somewhere else as well.

So Canadians often do activities to keep up the old culture and traditions from wherever they came from. But it is a conscious effort.

In Japan, tradition and traditional culture exists much more effortlessly.

My friends in Japan almost all do something traditional, shodo, flower arrangement, tea ceremony, kendo or archery or other sports, kimono, bonsai, etc. But I have rarely, if ever, heard someone say they do it so as not to lose these Japanese traditions.

They do it because they enjoy it, they learn, they value the community of people engaged in similar pursuits, it makes them happy and makes others around them happy as well. Nobody is consciously thinking about preserving cultural heritage. This is why I say it seems effortless and seamless. Japan could be the only country in the world where this phenomenon exists to such a widespread degree.

This is the same reason I think I fell in love with Rakugo. Of course you have the storyteller in kimono kneeling on a cushion with chouchin lanterns decorating the room, entering the stage to music of Shamisen and Taiko. But why do people go to see Rakugo? They want to hear a good story and to have a good laugh.

Again, it is effortless. When you think about Rakugo, it is kind of a miracle. Where else do you have over 1000 professional storytellers engaged in a hundreds of years-old tradition of performance, all making a living as recognized professional entertainers having completed an apprenticeship which has not really changed for centuries?


Only in Japan.

And yet, that is not really what you think about when you go to a Rakugo performance - you mostly think about the performer and the story - was he or she entertaining, was it funny, did I laugh?

Finally, and this is something that I found after becoming a Rakugo storyteller myself, these stories and this performance style is remarkably universal. I have travelled to over 25 countries over 5 continents and performed in English and French, and the audience reaction is similar wherever I go - astoundingly similar.

This is almost unheard of for a spoken comic art form.

I am always so happy to hear people talk about how much they love Japanese culture everywhere I go, especially when they say they love Rakugo.

This also makes me marvel at the sheer volume of Japanese culture which is as of yet completely unknown to the rest of the world - I am looking forward to helping change that too!

And so I have to thank Google and YouTube for not existing until I got here to Japan and made it my home and its culture my life’s work.

Katsura Sunsine is a Rakugo Storyteller.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

桂 三輝(かつらさんしゃいん) / 落語家

2023年 8月 18日

私はカナダ・トロントで劇作家をしており、古典ギリシャの喜劇に焦点を当てた作品を制作していました。ある時手にした学術論文に、「2500年前のギリシャの古典喜劇・悲劇には、たった400年ほどの伝統を持つ日本の能や歌舞伎に多く共通点がみられる」と書かれていたのを目にして心を惹かれました。古典ギリシャの演劇は、現在はその当時の姿を観ることはできません。 ギリシャ文化のその多くがすでに失われており、喜劇作品においては、「アリストファネス」という劇作家一人が制作した11作品の台本しか現存していません。使用されていた衣装についても、当時の陶器に描かれたものから判明している程度で、 当時のギリシャ語がどのように話されていたかも定かではありません。

一方、歌舞伎や能は、その始まりから現代に至るまで、途切れることなく上演され続けています。 ですから、今日歌舞伎を鑑賞するということは、何百年も前に歌舞伎を見るのとほぼ同じ体験が、今もできるということなのです。




来日して2日目のこと。私は東京に降り立ちました。そこは、ラスベガスよりもライトアップされた街並みが広がっていて、まるで未来へと足を踏み入れたような感覚でした。 しかし、その後、私を待ち受けていたのは、忘れがたい印象的な景色でした。 大通りから脇道に入り、さらに小さな路地に入り込んだところ、 そこには三代か四代続いた呉服屋があり、その店の前で着物姿の老人がキセルを吸いながら店主と話していたのです。


カナダ人の私にとってこれは驚くべき姿でした。 私の両親はスロベニアからの移民ですが、ほとんどの私の友人の両親もどこかからの移民です。

カナダ人はどこの出身であれ、母国の文化や伝統を守るための活動をよく行います。 しかしそれは、意識的な努力です。


私の日本の友人たちのほとんどが、何かしら日本の伝統を嗜んでいます。書道や華道、茶道、剣道や弓道などのスポーツ、着物、盆栽など、様々です。 しかし、日本の伝統を失わないためにやっていると聞いたことはほとんどありません。

彼らはそれを楽しみ、そして学び、一緒に取り組む人々のコミュニティを大切にすることで、自らを幸せにすると共に、周りの人たちをも幸せにしているのです。 「文化遺産を守ろう」と意識して行っているわけでもありません。だからこそ、私は伝統文化が「何気なく自然に」存在していると言うのです。このような現象がこれほど広く見られる国は、もしかしたら世界で日本だけかもしれません。

私が落語を好きになった理由も、これと同じことだと言えます。 着物姿の噺家が三味線や太鼓の音楽に合わせて高座に上がります。そこには提灯が飾られていて、座布団に膝をついて噺家は話し出します。 なぜ人々は落語を見に行くのでしょうか? いい話を聞いて大笑いしたいからなのです





私自身、落語家になってわかったことがあります。落語で語られる話やその芸風は、驚くほどに万国共通しているということです。 これまで私は、5大陸25カ国以上を旅し、英語とフランス語で公演してきましたが、観客の反応はといえば、どこへ行こうと驚くほど似ているのです。





一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟