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Indulge in a Dose of Holiday Laughter with Shunputei Ichinosuke’s Online Rakugo

JAPAN Forward

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This COVID-19 dominated year just seems to be never ending. With new travel restrictions and advisories issued around the globe, many people around the world are preparing for what promises to be a quiet year-end and New Year’s celebration.

But there are silver linings to be found in staying at home! One is the opportunity to spend a lot of time laughing out loud and often with Japan’s traditional comedy genre. 

JAPAN Forward is bringing to you six new online performances by Rakugo star Shunputei Ichinosuke via YouTube. There is no fee or charge. Consider it the artist’s gift of laughter to our readers for this holiday season.

Each of the performances is between twenty-five and forty minutes long. They will introduce you to some of the best of Japanese comedy, performed by Rakugo artist Ichinosuke Shunputei. There is even a Christmas-themed performance, so make sure to scroll to find out more!

Shunputei collaborated with The Sankei Shimbun, JAPAN Forward and The Yomiuri Shimbun over three days in the autumn to bring you a different series Rakugo Otemachi 2020. The traditional Japanese comedy series is still available online for those who want to see other stories of these comedians.

This time we will bring to you “Rakugo Ichinosuke Three Days and Nights 2020” which ran between October 25 and October 27, with two performances each day. 

To give some background, Shunputei Ichinosuke was born in Chiba Prefecture near Tokyo in 1978. He became an apprentice of Shunputei Iccho in 2001 and was given the name “Chosaku.” In 2004, he professionally debuted as “Ichinosuke,” and finished his apprenticeship eight years later. He received the Grand Prize of “Hanagata Engei Award” two years in both 2012 and 2013, and the “New Face Award of Asakusa Geino Award” in 2015. He has performed more than 900 times, and gathered more than 56,000 followers on his personal YouTube channel as of December 20. 

The new series of six performances, with the English synopsis are listed below. We hope you enjoy some Rakugo cheer this holiday season!



1.  SMART SHOPPER



The landlord hands out rice dumplings to the residents of his row house to celebrate his son’s first boy’s festival. In return, the residents chip in some money and two of them decide to go to buy a festival doll with the collected five yen. One of the two, known as a “smart shopper,” suggests that they buy a doll at a good bargain and have a few drinks with the savings.

At the shop, even the cheapest doll costs ten yen, but after the smart shopper’s bargaining, the shopkeeper agrees to discount it to four yen.

The cheapest dolls come in two types, and the smart shopper insists on bringing both back to the row house and showing all of the residents to choose which one to buy. The shopkeeper orders a shop boy to accompany them.

Along the way, the boy finds out that the two paid four yen for the doll. The boy on the other hand also tells them the truth that these dolls are awfully damaged and not worth the price. The boy then happily reveals the scandal of the young master of the shop flirting with a maid, and conversation just doesn’t seem to end…



2. FIRE AND LOTTERY



Kyuzo is a professional jester but all the patrons gave up on him because he is a bad drunk. One day at the end of the year, he buys a lottery ticket from an acquaintance and enshrines the ticket into Kamidana, his own small altar in a poor row house. He drinks and falls asleep until neighbors wake him up and tell him there is a fire in the town where one of Kyuzo’s patron lives. The patron is one who used to favor Kyuzo the most, so he runs to him to help and the patron thanks him and removes the ban on him.

Kyuzo drinks and falls asleep until the patron wakes him up and tells him there’s a fire in the town where Kyuzo lives. He runs back home in vain to see the row house burnt down. The patron lets him stay in his mansion in the meantime.

On New Year’s Eve, Kyuzo finds out he won the lottery. With delight he claims for the lottery prize but they say the prize can be exchanged only for the lottery ticket. But the ticket was in the Kamidana in the house which was burnt to ashes, causing Kyuzo to cry in despair.

And then a fireman in his neighborhood happens to pass by and tells him that he retrieved Kyuzo’s Kamidana from the fire on that night. Kyuzo goes to the fireman’s house and opens the door of the Kamidana, and finds that…there is the lottery ticket! “Oh, now I can pay off my debt and greet the New Year…” exclaims Kyuzo, as he sheds tears of joy.



3. ON CHRISTMAS EVE



On Christmas Eve, a desperate thief wearing a Santa Claus costume pretends to be a pizza courier and sneaks into a house. Two little boys appear from the upper floor. The younger brother rejoices to see Santa Claus, but the older points the knife at the thief, saying “Get out!”

When the thief asks where their parents are, the elder brother says that the father left them for his mistress, and the mother works at night, so the brothers were alone eating cup noodles even on Christmas Eve.

The thief sympathizes with them, goes out and buys some cheap pizza and cakes for the brothers. The older boy gets the thief to sit down and the three of them enjoy the dinner.

Then a policeman, after receiving a report of a suspicious intruder, comes on the premises and asks the thief for his identity. The older boy insists, “He is our father visiting us for Christmas. Don’t disturb us!” The policeman understands what is happening, but turns a blind eye and leaves. The younger boy happily says to the thief, “You are our father just for today!” The older boy says, “See, Santa Claus really does exist after all…”



4. HARD LUCK JESTER



In the early afternoon on a hot summer day, a hungry Taikomochi, a professional jester, walks down the street looking for a patron to get a free lunch.

A man approaches him in a very friendly way, calling out “Hey, long time no see!” He looks familiar but Taikomochi can’t remember who he is. The man says he’ll treat him to Una-juu (eel topped rice bowl), and invites him to a very dirty restaurant.

Taikomochi behaves delightfully even though the restaurant is dirty inside, the sake and pickles taste disgusting, and the eel is too tough to chew. Then the man goes to the bathroom and doesn’t come back.

When Taikomochi goes to see what’s wrong, the staff tells him that the man left. Taikomochi thinks that perhaps the man was a generous patron who left him to enjoy the meal, but the staff brings him a bill saying that it hasn’t been settled yet.

Realizing that he got fooled, Taikomochi complains to the staff of the awful service before paying the bill and gets shocked at the unexpectedly high price.

The staff remarks that the alleged patron got three eel-topped rice bowls as a gift to take away. The man also stole Taikomochi’s stylish footwear. After having such a hard time, Taikomochi goes home wondering if the unidentified man brought such bad-tasting food as a gift or as a harassment. After all, it might be considered much less pleasant than a gift to find those three Una-juus waiting for him…



5. THE ROAD TO MASTER



At the end of the 18th Century in Edo, there was a master engraver called Noriyasu Hamano. He died at the age of 49, and his only son, Noriyuki became an engraver following in his father’s footsteps. He delivers his work regularly to Wakasa-ya, a curio dealer who used to favor his father.

No one wants to buy Noriyuki’s work but Wakasa-ya does and always gives him more than enough money beyond his skill.

One day Wakasa-ya tells him harshly not to imitate his father, but Noriyuki doesn’t listen and argues back. Wakasa-ya gets mad at his attitude and says, “You are a terrible craftsman. You shouldn’t disgrace your father. Don’t show your face anymore.”

Noriyuki gets back home and declares he would quit engraving after telling his mother what Wakasa-ya said to him. Mother says “If that is the case, you should kill yourself. But before that, engrave Kannon, the goddess of mercy as a memento for me, because I will be really sad if you die.”

Noriyuki works day and night, and on the fourth day, the mother sees the Kannon and tells him to sell it to Wakasa-ya for thirty ryo, an extraordinarily high price.

The Kannon is a masterpiece and Wakasa-ya at first mistakes it for his father’s work. He acknowledges Noriyuki’s skill and pays thirty ryo. Meanwhile it is discovered that the mother has killed herself. It becomes apparent that she has let her son start over in exchange for her own life.



6. HACHIGORO AND THE LORD



A lord falls in love with a girl called Otsuru who lives in a poor row house, and he makes her his concubine. Otsuru gives birth to the heir of the lord. As part of the celebration the lord summons her brother Hachigoro through the landlord of the row house. The landlord advises Hachigoro to watch his mouth, makes him dress formally and sees him off.

Guided by Sandayu, the lord’s chief vassal, Hachigoro faces the lord and speaks nonsense to the man, not knowing rules of courtesy.

Sandayu tries to fuss, but the lord is amused and treats Hachigoro to a gorgeous dinner. Feeling inebriated by luxurious drinks, Hachigoro becomes friendlier to the lord, and tells him: “You know, my sister is a good girl. Please dote on her with your unchanging love.”

He notices Otsuru sitting beautifully dressed beside the lord and says to her, “Congrats on your baby! Our mother is happy, but…sad, too, because she can’t see her grandson due to the difference in social rank. Will you let her see him sometime?”

Otsuru promises her brother that she would ask the lord, and in response Hachigoro happily sings Dodoitsu, Japanese limericks. Hachigoro comes into the good graces of the lord, and is even upgraded to the rank of Samurai afterward.


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Author: JAPAN Forward