Professional comic storyteller
1982 Graduate from the Faculty of Law, Chuo University, Ryuraku Sanyutei became a pupil of Enraku Sanyutei V in 1985, with real talent, was promoted to topliner status in 1993, and in addition to piling up solo performances, delivers various lectures on the theme of laughter. With titles such as Laughter and Communication aimed at the general public and Interesting Rakugo Course Useful for Business for companies, Ryuraku, who pursues laughter as a method to build smooth human relationships, is truly an instructor of laughter.
Is it because his laughter is as natural as breath, and humor comes with ease? But Ryuraku wasn’t born with those traits.
Desire for laughter that wasn’t inside
Ryuraku was 27 when he decided to become a comic storyteller and entered the Enraku Sanyutei stable. After graduating from the Faculty of Law, Chuo University, he sat the National Bar Examination with the aim of becoming a lawyer, but realized that it wasn’t for him. He basically didn’t like law.
But, in the same sense, it may also be difficult to say he was suited for comic storytelling. Why? That’s because Ryuraku originally hated talking in front of people. It could be said that, more than simply being no good at talking in front of people, he had a fear of large crowds, to such an extent that he quit a university seminar because he hated research presentations. It never struck him that his destiny would lie in laughter.
Reflecting on that time, he may have been 27 years old but, he thought entering a field he wasn’t suited to, to the extent where those around him were stunned at the choice, wasn’t impossible.
Even after going through emotional turmoil, Ryuraku was fascinated with comic storytelling and decided to enter the storytelling world. Also anxious due to his late start, he trained hard until late at night day in, day out. But Ryuraku’s storytelling didn’t catch on. Ryuraku didn’t have the inbred humour that surrounds storytellers called fura.
That being the case, he tried graphic descriptions in his performances, but when he put effort into skillfully portraying the characters, his expression became even stiffer. Insults such as “That’s not funny” and “You’re no comic storyteller” were hurled at him by senior fellow apprentices, and the days where he was crushed by depression and anxiety continued.
The reason behind him getting back on his feet was the east-west exchange meeting hosted alternately between young comic storytellers active in Tokyo and Osaka. He only harbored bad thoughts such as feeling anxious about when surrounded by the Kansai dialect in Osaka where he had no acquaintances and that the Tokyo style would be detested. But that minus 100% feeling turned out to be good and led to strength when he didn’t worry about the audience’s reaction and just performed his own storytelling. In doing so, laughter came from the audience. Before he knew it, Ryuraku realized that he was enjoying comic storytelling.
Even after that, he held an awareness that the impromptu nature of playing riddles would be hard to deal with to the point of developing a semi-phobia, and by trial and error, played female roles without being able to express feminine sex appeal. Ryuraku came across several obstacles, but nevertheless, because he was very earnest, because he was intellectual, he would make his character be felt.
It was the words of his master Enraku that supported Ryuraku in his painful search for the laughter he didn’t possess inside.
“People like you can talk about various things. Many people who rely on fura don’t achieve greatness.”
Going through great pains and untiringly building up a laughter that only he was capable of became Ryuraku’s strength.
Comic storytelling missionary travelling the world
In 2008, Ryuraku started giving recitals in the local language in Europe without subtitles or interpreters. You may think he is a genius with a good command of six tongues, but Ryuraku can’t use those languages in daily conversation. His foreign languages are limited to comic storytelling. Even so, the vaudeville theatres are bursting with endless laughter.
What was Ryuraku’s reason for heading overseas?
In the two to three hundred years since the introduction of classic comic storytelling, due to changes in lifestyle and the Japanese language itself, it has become inevitable that parts that cannot be conveyed or understood have appeared. Especially, the intergenerational awareness gap has widened and it isn’t rare to have those in their teens or twenties not to know what hibachi [braziers], nagaya [row houses] or engawa [veranda-like porches] are.
There is no common awareness. Ryuraku turned that into his advantage. If there was no common awareness to this extent, he may as well go in the other direction and spread it overseas.
When performing overseas, he doesn’t give many explanations beforehand. If they understand that the opening and closing of (Japanese) sliding doors differ to that of (Western) doors, stories can be told in that way. There are many comic storytellers who use subtitles for overseas performances, but in order to convey the beauty of comic storytelling, where a simple neck movement can change a character, Ryuraku believes the local language is essential and insists on giving recitals in that language. In France, in Italy, in Germany, he has thrown himself among the people, and while enjoying the similarities and differences of laughter depending on country and region, he is in the midst of pursuing laughter around the world.
Ryuraku says that, in some ways, performing comic storytelling overseas has the same feeling as performing in front of those in their teens and twenties in Japan. At the same time, to the same extent in which Japanese youths are the same as people overseas, the environments in which they were born and raised, languages and customs are different, meaning they have a near yet far existence.
In addition to a lack of linguistic ability, he is also apprehensive about communication skills, especially a decline in responsive abilities.
Of course, being a professional of laughter, he can’t bemoan everything. He shows he can convey things that are difficult to tell. With feedback he receives from his overseas activities, he wants to convey the charm of words only seen in classic comic storytelling to both the young people of Japan and those with few connections to comic storytelling. Ryuraku heads to the stage with a spirit-filled “Let’s go! ”
Born in Gunma Prefecture. After graduating from the Faculty of Law, Chuo University, in 1982, he entered the Enraku Sanyutei stable in 1985 and was promoted to topliner status in 1993. Television and Radio Writers’ Association of Japan member. Currently writes the serial Rakugo-yomi for Asahi Shimbun’s evening edition. On his official web site Ryuraku Sanyutei, (http://www.ryu-raku.com/index.php) as well as giving notifications of solo performances and lectures, there is a diary full of photographs on his overseas performances. On top of giving lectures around the country as a Chuo University alumni lecturer, every year Hakumon Chuo Special Issue for Autumn prints an interview titled Ryuraku joins you! The CDs Ryuraku Sanyutei 1 and Ryuraku Sanyutei 2(released June 25, 2011)are now on sale under the Wazaogi label.