Sansho Nakamura looks into the camera with a smile. “I want to make a Rakugo world where everyone is smiling, crying, sometimes fighting and helping each other when they are in trouble,” he said over Skype from Kumamoto prefecture, Japan
Sansho Nakamura performing with props regularly seen in Rakugo performances. Photo courtesy: Sansho Nakamura
Sansho Nakamura, a young Rakugoka, was born and raised in Aso, Kumamoto. He studied at Tohoku University and also abroad in Florida before graduating and getting a job at one of Japan’s large banks. However, it wasn’t long before he began to pursue becoming a Rakugoka.
It all began when he started to watch television show Tiger & Dorago, a drama based on a Rakugo story, when he was a freshman in university. After watching a few episodes, he started to go to the theatre to watch Rakugo and found himself mesmerized by the performances.
A Rakugoka is a lone performer who uses only a paper fan, a towel, and sometimes a pipe to engage audiences through a series of parables. This style of storytelling was originally practiced by Buddhist priests back in 10th century, but it still has quite an appeal today. It’s a comical style of storytelling usually practiced by the talkative and naturally funny, but Nakamura admits that he’s actually a bit shy.
“I was attracted to rakugo’s philosophy, which enlightens audiences through the foolishness of every day people,” Nakamura says.
However, he also just enjoyed listening to the stories to heard, but taking the leap of faith from banker to rakugoka required some inspiration. An encounter with Osaka-based Tei Unagi, his rakugo teacher, changed his life forever. Nakamura met him and he was touched when he watched Unagi’s rakugo.
“I have always regretted what I chose to do in life and I lived with that regret,” Nakamura said. “When I met my teacher, I made up my mind to change and become a rakugoka.”
It is easy to understand his anxiety, but he now makes a living as a Rakugoka and is now taking on international tours. His rakugo stlye is creative and interesting because he has an uncommon background comparing to other rakugoka. For example, he plays rakugo with a jazz pianist accompanying him. He says it works really well when he performs in English.
“I want to look at new possibilities for rakugo and also I want people who aren’t familiar with rakugo, such as young people and international audiences, to know the fun that can be found in rakugo.”
However, there are some difficulties when he does rakugo in English. For instance, how can you translate an old Japanese word into English? How do you change your speaking tempo and know when to put in pauses that will work with the comical sensibilities of Westerners? To do his art smoothly, he needs to be able to adapt to the circumstances.
His rakugo one-man show in English and Japanese. It will be held on April 10th at the JCCC. The program is called, “The Mirror of Matuyama”. It begins when a man looks at the mirror in Matsuyama village and nobody knows exactly what a mirror is.
“This story is good and funny one, so I hope the audience will enjoy it,” he says.