Kanariya Eiraku. • Courtesy Photo
Kanariya Eiraku. • Courtesy Photo

The centuries-old Japanese art form of rakugo (literally “fallen words”) combines storytelling, dramatic character-acting, and comedy, and will be gracing Seattle stages in English this month.

Tatsuya Sudo, under his preferred stage name Kanariya Eiraku, will be performing at the Seattle Center’s Cherry Blossom Festival and at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center together with four other rakugo performers who have been students of his: Kappa, Tanekichi, Fukuhime, and Nuts.

These supporting performers are taking time out of their regular careers to join Eiraku on this U.S. tour. “Nuts and Fukuhime are salaried workers, Kappa is a high school teacher, and Tanekichi is a retiree,” said Eiraku.  “Kappa and Tanekichi joined the tour in L.A. last August, while Fukuhime will join the tour for the first time.”

Despite their other careers, all the performers work with Eiraku as a cohesive whole. “We all use the same teigo or group name, Kanariya. which means ‘deer cry,’” Eiraku said.  

During their performances, each performer will have solo time onstage, performing while seated, using only a small cloth and a paper fan in order to play roles, communicate stories, and bring the audience to laughter.  And here in the United States, they will do so in English.  

English rakugo is becoming popular in Japan, as well. “I started an English rakugo class in Tokyo in 2007 and we started presentations in 2008,” Eiraku said.  “Now I have 40 students. We usually perform twice a year in Tokyo.”  

After word spread, Eiraku received more high profile invitations to perform.  “We also perform at accommodations for foreign visitors, schools, and international organizations such as the Japan International Cooperation Agency,” he said.  

In 2015, the Kanariya group began touring in the United States, focusing on California.  “In L.A., we joined the Nisei Week Festival,” Eiraku said.  “I have studied about Japanese /Asian-American cultures for the past twenty years, so joining the festival was something significant for me.”

Eiraku credits his prior ties with the US for the opportunity to bring rakugo here. “I contributed articles about Asian American cultures to Hokubei Mainichi newspaper in San Francisco for several years in the mid-2000s,” he said, “so then president of the newspaper, Mr. Keizo Norimoto, helped me perform rakugo in San Francisco and San Mateo.”

That experience last August encouraged Eiraku to tour more widely, beginning with Arizona in February, 2016. “Harumi Maejima, president of Japanese Culture Club of Arizona, helped us to perform rakugo in Arizona,” he said. “She knew about our English rakugo activities through Culrural News, published in LA.”

Eiraku was pleased with the experience.  “We performed at Arizona State University and a theater in Sedona, and for Arizona Matsuri,” he said. “The audience was very responsive at each location.”

Now that Eiraku has the chance to bring rakugo to the United States for the third time, he wanted to make sure to visit Seattle, a destination he has visited several times before and whose poetry, art, and food shopping (including Uwajimaya) he appreciates.

This tour to Seattle has been tricky to arrange due to Eiraku’s other responsibilities and the timing of our cherry blossom festival. “I teach at Japanese universities, which have spring and summer breaks,” he said. “So I plan to tour when there is no class in February, March, or in August.”  

But the cherry blossoms wait for no one. “The academic year starts in April in Japan, so this month is not so good for me to tour, but I tried to adjust to the sakura festival this time,” he said. “If there is no class, I’d like to spend some more time in Seattle and perform at some more locations including the University of Washington.”

This will certainly not be the last tour of the Kanariya group to the United States, according to Eiraku, and is only the beginning of the sharing of English rakugo: “I hope to tour in other English-speaking countries, too, in the future.”  

Rakugo performances can be seen at: 

Seattle Cherry Blossom & Japanese Cultural Festival at Seattle Center, 305 Harrison Street, Seattle:

  • Friday, April 22, 6:30 p.m. to 6:40 p.m. at the Armory stage
  • Saturday, April 23, 2:30 p.m. to 3:30p.m. at Armory Loft 2
  • Sunday, April 24, 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at Fisher stage

For more information, visit http://www.seattlecenter.com/festal/detail.aspx?id=4.

Japanese Cultural and Community Center, 1414 South Weller St, Seattle:

  • Saturday, April 23, 7:00 p.m.

For more information, visit https://jcccw.org.

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