Interview 1: Ms. Kimie Oshima (English Rakugo Performer)

Kimie Oshima (大島 希巳江)× ICT
Make people laugh, bring peace to the world!

We interviewed Ms. Kimie Oshima and heard how she started the rakugo activities in overseas. Also she told us what she learned during her career as a rakugo performer that spanned nearly 20 years. Let's take a look!!

A Rakugo Performer : Kimie Oshima (大島 希巳江)

Kimie Oshima, English Rakugo performer since 1998. She has performed in twenty different countries including Brunei, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Singapore, Thailand, Israel, Australia, States, Norway, Germany, etc. Her aim of performance is understanding Japanese culture through humor and peaceful relationships among people with different cultural background through laughter.

::::: Rakugo Workshop on Sunday, November 9th ::::

::::: Contents :::::

"Do Japanese laugh?"
Rakugo-English exchange
Some laugh at this thing, others don't.
Rakugo is like an "ambassador"
 If I lived in Japan for the whole life, I would probably NEVER perform rakugo
Hope "Rakugo" becomes like "Sushi"


"Do Japanese laugh?"
Rakugo was a tool for me to introduce Japanese sense of humor and Japanese culture at the same time. During the last 17 years, probably I've performed over 20 different countries and some hundreds cities  in the world. Now let me tell you about why I became an "English rakugo performer". 


It was 1996 in Sydney, there was a conference called "International Society for Humor Studies". It was a very academic, serious conference. I was there for presentation about how people communicate with each other in Hawaii. At that time, I was studying Hawaiian pidgin English and jokes that were used for communications between ethnic groups. I talked about Japanese-American's jokes in Hawaii there, but I didn't talk about Japanese jokes. So many researchers showered questions on me.   


I was only Japanese who participated in the conference and there were probably hundreds of others from all over the world. Even though that was a group of EXPERTS of humor, nobody knew sense of humor for Japanese to have. Everybody was wondering if Japanese even laugh or Japanese have any kind of sense of humor. So I promised on that, "I will bring back something introduces Japanese sense of humor".

Rakugo-English exchange

In 1997, the conference was held in Oklahoma, U.S. I brought a Japanese rakugo performer from Osaka and we performed rakugo there. He performed in Japanese and I translated it.

That was a very good success. But a performer, Shofukutei Kakusho, was not satisfied with how we went. Because he speaks in Japanese and nobody laughed, and I translated and everybody laughed. He was not very comfortable. So we discussed and we decided, "I teach you English and you teach me rakugo". Then both of us would perform rakugo in English. That was the beginning of my rakugo career.

In 1998, we went on a rakugo tour in the States. We performed in the Universities, theaters and so on. At that time, the reactions from audience were amazing. So it was a trigger for us to continue and go on a tour every year. And some rakugo performers such as Katsura Kaishi, Katsura Sakichi, Hayshiya Ippei (Currently Hayashiya Sanpei), Hayashiya Hikoichi, Shunputei Shota, Tatekawa Shinosuke and so on joined us. I've learned a lot about rakugo from all of them.

Some laugh at this thing, others don't.
Humor comes from their common knowledge or common sense, or what they were expected. So whatever that's not expected for them would be funny. The same story can be laughed at different part.

When I performed the story called "Time Noodle", I made a lot of slipping sound while I was eating soba noodles. That's very common custom for Japanese or any of Asian countries. So it's not funny for them. But it's received in a different way in other areas. Some people may be uncomfortable, some people may think it's actually really funny. So I usually explain that making a slipping sound actually makes taste better before I perform the story. Otherwise they feel Japanese are so rude. If I tell the reason for the slipping sound, they admire part of our culture and feel they want to go to Japan and make the slipping sound there LOL. Now they laugh every time I make the slipping sound.

Rakugo is like an "ambassador"
After the performance, a lot of people come up to me and tell me that how interesting the show was. That's quite normal, but they have very good impressions of Japanese people or Japanese culture. I feel like we're closer to each other. That's an effecting of rakugo. When people laugh together, your relationship become much closer. You tend to like each other. When you laugh at one thing together at your daily conversation, you feel like you're the same people.

So when I perform rakugo in front of an audience - whoever they are - it's quite likely that they will like me, not ME personally, but they will like Japanese people or Japanese culture, or maybe even Japan as a whole. And they get interested in Japan.

Then they go home and they have Japanese neighbors. They would talk to them, "Hey, I saw rakugo yesterday and it was so fun!" And they might share fun conversation together, or they might work with a Japanese person and they have better relationship. Those things are happening actually. I think it's a very peaceful environment that I'm creating, not just IN the theater, but for each person and audience. They make peaceful relationships with Japanese or they have deeper understanding in a strong interest for Japanese culture. Some people actually come to Japan afterwards because they are interested in Japan… maybe they want to make slipping sound! LOL I don't mind whatever it is, if they pay a little more attention to Japanese, I would call it "Success".

I often perform at schools both in Japan and overseas. They might become politicians, they might become very influential people in economy in the future. When they grow up and if any conflict would happen, they might stand up and say, "I've seen rakugo from Japan when I was a little kid. So I know Japanese are good people. So let's try to protect them!" - that's what I'm expecting in 20 years.   

  If I lived in Japan for the whole life, I would probably NEVER perform rakugo

Rakugo seems to be easier to perform rather than kabuki, so there are more people who want to perform rather than just watch it. I know there are rakugo groups in the Philippines and Hawaii. So rakugo seems to be spreading out.

To me, making them laugh is not the most important thing. Of course it's important and fundamental part of rakugo. But I don't have to make them laugh at every single point that Japanese laugh. If they laugh at different point, that's perfectly OK. If they enjoy it, that's OK.

I've learned a lot of other things through rakugo, like values and cultures. I looked at others like standup comedy, and leaned about myself. And I learned about my own identity. Rakugo seems to be a suitable performance for me. It's like a lot of  other people. You go around the world and you usually come back to your own. In my case, if I didn't live in the States for a long time, I probably didn't perform rakugo. If I lived in Japan for the whole life, I would probably NEVER perform it.

Hope "Rakugo" becomes like "Sushi"

I do have certain goals. One of things I'm aiming at is that Rakugo becomes an international language and is listed on the Oxford English-English dictionary as well as sushi, tsunami and karoshi.

Another thing is peace. I'm trying to create a peaceful environment… So there's no goal. I hate to say that, but you can almost never achieve a peaceful world. We can only try. If you don't even try, it's nothing. So I'll TRY to achieve peace through this Japanese traditional "Sit-down comedy"!

Past Report:

Interviewed by My Eyes Tokyo