Storyteller Tries to Ease Tsunami Victims’ Pain

Japanese Times (Tokyo, Japan), May 14, 2011


A ‘Rakugo’ master is performing classic comedy tales along northeast coast in an effort to bring some cheer to evacuees. The traditional Japanese storyteller kneels in front of a room full of families that have lost everything — their loved ones, their homes, their entire town — and his face stretches into a broad grin.

“There once was a samurai who loved to drink sake,” he says, and begins to sway as though tipsy.

The samurai story, a classic comedy hundreds of years old, normally draws a steady stream of laughs. But it gets only a few chuckles at this shelter for those who lost their homes in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

After two months, survivors of the twin disaster receive a steady supply of food, water and medical provisions. Now, Sanyutei Kyoraku is trying to overcome a different kind of challenge — getting them to smile again.

Kyoraku is a master of “rakugo,” the ancient art of humorous storytelling, and usually performs in front of crowded halls in Tokyo or on national TV. At the shelter in Ichinoseki, Iwate Prefecture, he sits in a cramped meeting room attached to an abandoned gymnasium, his audience watching from rows of folding chairs.

In a culture where pain and sorrow are internalized and not discussed openly, it is often difficult for those living in shelters with little privacy to have a sense of humor.

“Some people still can’t even laugh yet; they just walk out when I start,” says Kyoraku, who has given free performances all along the battered northeastern coast since the disasters.


Subjects Covered: healing

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