A glimpse of Japanese culture in one night

HOOKED on Japanese culture? There's an English Rakugo to be staged at a one-night only performance at Marco Polo Davao at 6 p.m. on February 20, to provide a peek into the light side of Japanese culture.

Rakugo is a Japanese comic storytelling art used as entertainment for more than four centuries now but still remains popular today. It's not all business and perfection for the Japanese, they also have their hilarious side.

Rakugo literally means "fallen words" and features a lone storyteller sitting on middle of a stage called Koza who pretends to be in a conversation with another person, whether a samurai, geisha, merchant, burglar, child or drunkard. The only props the Rakugo master has are a paper fan or sensu and a small cloth or tenugui.

The show on February 20 features Rakugo masters Kaishi Katsura and Asakichi Katsura. Kaishi Katsura is credited for making Rakugo popular even among non-Japanese as he started the English Rakugo in 1997 in the belief that Rakugo is not just a traditional art but can be a vehicle to introduce Japanese history and culture to the world. Born in Hyogo, Kaishi learned the craft as an apprentice of Rakugo master Bunshi Katsura and became an award-winning performer.

He was appointed the Cultural Ambassador by the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan in 2007 and won the performing art grant given by the Japan Foundation in 2008. The grant allowed him to travel abroad and perform, from camping sites in the US to the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and Broadway in New York. He had also gone on tour to different countries including China, India, Brunei, England, Philippines and has performed in over 100 cities. For this, he is now known as the King of English Rakugo performance.

Singing comic songs and stories with her shamisen is Utsumi Eika.

Shamisen is yet another feature in Japanese culture. A shamisen is that three-stringed guitar you'd often see in photographs of geishas. It is believed that shamisen came to be in the 16th century as introduced through the Ryukyu Kingdom, now Okinawa, by the Chinese who had the sanxian. From the Chinese sanxian, the Okinawan sanshin came to be, that later became the shamisen.

Also part of the show is Lucky Mai, who has mastered the art of daikagura, a vintage street art in Japan that features clowning, acrobatics, juggling, magic, dance, and comedy.

Daikagura is a pre-Edo Period entertainment. It has religious roots stretching back to the Heian Period, the first record of which was in the early 16th Century, an article by Mike Corliss in Japan Times in 2006 reads.

It traces its origin from Kagura (literal meaning “god entertainment”) referring to a Shinto theatrical dance that was once a ceremonial art derived from kami'gakari or oracular divination and chinkon or spirit pacification.

Daikagura is one type of folk kagura or Satokagura from Japan's Kanto region as differentiated from the Imperial Kagura.

It started as a form of dance from rituals of traveling priests from the Atsuta Shrine, a Shinto shrine believed to have been built during the Emperor Keiko's time (71–130 AD) and is found in Nagoya, and Ise Shrine, another Shinto shrine dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu found in southern Honshu.

The priests would travel from village to village to help locals drive away evil spirits. These rituals included acrobatics and lion dances. The lion dances, acrobatics, juggling, and other performance of Daikagura became a major form of entertainment in Edo sometime during the Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1868). Through the centuries, the performances became closely associated with rakugo, which live on until today.

It is a place among the juggling discipline and is referred to as traditional Japanese juggling. Among the props of the juggler are drumsticks called bachi and a ball made of string called hitotsumari or itomari, the website of the International Jugglers Association reads. But more than just the ball, also being juggled are household items like a teapot, the whole tea set, a ladle, and several other kitchen items.

Other forms of Folk Kagura live on today, but very few retained its religious track, among them the Miko kagura.

Miko kagura was once performed by shrine maidens called miko that involve a very loose form of dance trances that other cultures have in singing or chanting to their gods, but this later took on a regular set forms. Today, Miko kagura is performed at Shinto shrines or as ritual martial arts demonstration at Buddhist temples.

The other kagura like daikagura has become a form of entertainment or a folk practice. The show is organized by All Nippon Airways and the Japan Foundation. For more information, contact the Consular Office of Japan in Davao at (082) 221-3100.
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