Katsura Sunshine brings a fresh look to a 400-year-old style of Japanese comedy.

For many Japanese learners, a hurdle that’s hard to overcome is keigo, the honorific form of the language. Using a non-honorific form to a person of respect such as your boss can cause great offence. To use a simple example, the Japanese verb for “to come” is きます (“kimasu“), but when it’s a person of respect that’s coming, it’s more appropriate to use the honorific form いらっしゃいます (“irasshaimasu“). It’s difficult for beginners of Japanese and even sometimes a struggle for natives to master.

Keigo is an important part in Japanese daily life, but it also is often used in Japanese comedy. Not comedy like Yuriyan Retriever, but with the more traditional form of comedy called rakugo. Rakugo is a style of comic storytelling where a comedian kneels in front of the audience and entertains them with a monologue. While it sounds simple enough, rakugo has been around for over 400 years and is taken very seriously. Potential rakugo artists are required to undertake an apprenticeship with a professional rakugo master. The apprenticeship includes menial tasks like cooking, cleaning and even folding kimono for the master. While undergoing the apprenticeship, you learn whilst watching the master perform on stage; once the master deems you worthy, he gives you a stage name and allows you to perform certain stories, some of which have been passed down for centuries through generations of rakugo performers. It’s a complicated and lengthy process which can take up to four years. 

It’s a difficult field to get into, which is why one of rakugo’s latest artists is so surprising. Born in Toronto, Canada, Katsura Sunshine is currently the only Western rakugo artist in the world, and only the second ever in rakugo history.

Having trained under the rakugo master Katsura Bunshi VI, Katsura Sunshine already has a string of achievements under his kimono belt. Not only has he performed in venues all over the world, he currently has a show off-Broadway in New York and also performed his rakugo show for world leaders at the G-20 Summit in Osaka. Pretty amazing stuff!

But the road to rakugo success was not an easy one for Katsura Sunshine.

“At first my Japanese was not polite enough,” the Canadian comedian says. “Here I had enlisted to be a comedian, and the first thing my master said to me was ‘Don’t talk until you learn proper Japanese.'”

Like many learners of Japanese, Sunshine struggled with keigo. He explains that he learned how to use it by listening to his fellow trainees talking to their master. The first phrase he picked up was “Master, may I pour you some tea?”

Here’s that phrase using keigo:
Shisho, moshi yoroshikereba ocha o iresasete mo itadaite mo yoroshii deshou ka?. This is translated literally as “Master, if it is alright, would you allow me to humbly pour you some tea?”

And here’s the normal, polite version:
Ocha wa ikaga desu ka? which translates to “Would you like some tea?”

“So I studied for three days, and I finally mastered this one sentence,” Sunshine continues.

Now able to properly ask his master if he wanted tea, Katsura Sunshine continued to do so until, two days later, the master asked his fellow apprentices, “Is tea very popular in Canada? Sunshine seems to love tea.”

“That was the first step to learning proper Japanese,” Sunshine concludes.

So there you have it, folks. If textbooks or online courses aren’t doing it for you, you can take the Katsura Sunshine route of learning Japanese; pouring tea for your master.  Or if you’re in the area, you can check out Sunshine’s shows, which are running until April 2020 in New York’s New World Stages.

Source: Katsura Sunshine official website via YouTube/ANNnewsCH
Featured Image: Twitter/@KatsuraSunshine
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: Pakutaso
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