Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley (10)

Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours: 1 (South America)
At My Wit’s End at the First Performance in Brasilia

When I was a child, we rarely saw foreigners, especially not in Kagurazaka.
When I was in the 5th grade at Tsukudo Elementary school, a Japanese girl who had returned to Japan after living in a foreign country was enrolled in my class. I was fascinated with her pencils and the fragrance of her erasers, which were made in America.
That’s about all I can remember about foreign countries from my childhood.
But now, there are surprisingly many foreigners in Kagurazaka. They aren’t tourists; rather, many foreigners live in Kagurazaka. Especially, there are many French people, and you can hear French words flying around in the streets. For quite a while, there’s been a French school nearby. The French must like Kagurazaka. Also, in this traditional area, there are now a lot more Italian and French restaurants than ones serving Japanese food.
Japan wants to be a destination for tourists. More and more foreign tourists will come, and we can expect local areas to be revitalized as a consequence of such economic activity. That’s natural, because Japan is a wonderful country.
Setting aside the topic of foreign visitors to Japan, I want to return to the topic of my overseas expeditions and write some anecdotes about my experiences.
In order to popularize and promote shinnai, I have performed in almost all the prefectures of Japan, except for Tottori, Yamaguchi, Kochi, and Saga. I’m hoping that I’ll eventually get to those prefectures as well….
Also, I’ve gone to about 60 cities in approximately 40 countries.
This includes my first overseas performance, more than 30 years ago, which was in the Avignon Festival, and my performances in Paris this coming November (2014). It seems that, as a native of Kagurazaka, I have a relationship with France….
It was, however, around 15 years ago when I started going overseas frequently. I began to do performances together with the Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo Puppet Troupe, and they have been included in most of my foreign performances. I can’t write about all of our experiences, but I’d like to describe some that especially impressed me.
We started by going to three countries in South America: Brazil, Uruguay, and Chile. The tour was truly enjoyable and interesting. It was packed with unforgettable memories. At that time, the Japanese economy was good, and all of us flew business class. The hotels were also quite nice, and we were treated well. We toured five cities in Brazil, plus one in Uruguay and two in Chile.
When we had some time off, we went to see the Iguazu Falls. When I’d seen Niagara Falls, I’d been impressed and excited, but I was so overwhelmed by the scale of the Iguazu Falls that my recollection of Niagara became hazy.
Because I’ve heard that Victoria Falls in Africa is even grander, I want to see it. Absolutely, I hope to see the three greatest falls in the world.
The first performance was held in Brasilia, the capital city of Brazil. The program included a humorous work, Yaji-Kita, and a tragic one, Kuzunoha.
On the first day, I was enthusiastic. Because Brazil is a cheerful country, I expected the audience to enjoy the comedy of Yaji-Kita, and to laugh joyfully at the humor in the work. Then the curtain went up.
Can you imagine? The audience’s reaction was completely contrary to my expectations. From the silent seats, here and there, members of the audience started to walk out. Kindly, about half of the audience stayed to the end. Afterwards, one of the Embassy staff, with a worried expression, came to our dressing room in order to talk with me. “With this situation on the first day, I’m worried about what will happen in the next performance. Do you have any suggestions?”, he asked me. “I agree with your concerns,” I told him. “Give me a night to think about it.” After that, we had a cheerless, quiet opening night party. That night, I thought about many things, including characteristics of the production and how to explain the story to the audience. Among various ideas that I came up with, I hit on a good one: “That’s it! I’ve got a good idea!” My idea worked very well, and the performances after that were a great success. There’s an old saying in Japanese that’s like the English saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” That’s certainly true. Since then, I’ve continued to use this method in my performances.

(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, Oct-Nov 2014 issue, issue #76).

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