Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley (6)

Recollections of Kuniko Mukoda

In those days, we went up to our teacher’s second floor studio by an external staircase.
From the sound of geta on the stairs, we realized that someone was coming up.
It was a cute young girl wearing a kimono. She said, “I have a message from master Shincho.” When I asked her what his message was, she replied, “As the master is busy today, he would appreciate it if you would replace him as an entertainer.
It’s for a woman customer at a ryotei (traditional Japanese restaurant) in Kagurazaka. “OK,” I said, agreeing to do it. I don’t remember if I went that evening or a few days later.
I went to the restaurant with a student. In the room, three pretty middle-aged women were seated, drinking. How did those three women feel about getting a shinnai performer instead of a rakugo one…. Shincho-san and I were the same age, but shinnai and rakugo…. I don’t really remember what we talked about, but the various topics might have included the shinnai genre and the world of shinnai.
Maybe my explanation about the crisis in the shinnai tradition, my promotional activities for shinnai, or my commitment to shinnai tugged at Kuniko Mukoda’s heartstrings, or maybe she thought that it was interesting. From then on, she cooperated with me in various ways. As this was around 1975, she wasn’t yet so popular a writer, but she was writing essays, such as for magazines.
The next year, I was interviewed by a reporter from the monthly magazine “An’an” for a column called “How to Appreciate Men”. Even today, it can be found in a collection of her essays published as “Rose in the Morning”. She also came to my shinnai performances and to the parties after the performances. One time, I got a special delivery letter from her. Wondering why she hadn’t telephoned, I read the letter right away. It was an invitation to the opening of a small restaurant run by her sister in Akasaka, called Mamaya. By now, Mamaya has been closed for quite some time. I went there the first or second day after it opened, but Mukoda-san wasn’t there. I called her on the phone: You weren’t there…. She seemed to have been writing, but she soon came over, and we drank until the wee hours.
There was a Japanese restaurant named Koyama’tei in the Daikanyama area of Shibuya, in back of Ogawaken. It was opened by Kan’o Koyama, the originator of the earphone guides used at kabuki and bunraku performances. A dinner show at a restaurant serving Japanese food was a rarity at that time. The artists who performed at Koyama’tei were all top-notch performers. I had the opportunity to perform there thanks to an introduction by my best friend. I was still young, just in my forties, and inexperienced. It seemed presumptuous, but I agreed to perform.
Also, the dinner show was two nights in a row. Since then, I’ve kept in close contact with Koyama-san.
On one of those days, Mukoda-san came for dinner with a friend.
That evening, other prominent people, such as the first Yaeko Mizutani (now deceased) and Shigetami Enomoto also came, and I got nervous.
That evening, when Mukoda-san came, she was wearing a black suit, the kind that women wear to a funeral. I was so strongly impressed by this that it is still fresh in my memory. Later, when I read one of her essays, I found that it had truly been an expression of mourning. That essay can be found in bookstores now, in a volume of her collected essays. She was a talented person, very mischievous.
One day, some time after that, I received a telephone call. I was invited to appear with her in a commercial for a magazine. The sponsor was an apparel company, and I was pleased to agree to do it. Unfortunately, on the day of the photo shoot, I had to be in Hokkaido. The cameraman was available only on that particular day, so it was impossible. I’m very regretful. Thinking about this now, I regret that I didn’t change the schedule of my work in Hokkaido. I couldn’t have imagined that, soon after this, Mukoda-san would be killed in an airplane crash.

Both of these geniuses, rakugo master Kokon’tei Shincho and Kuniko Mukoda, are no longer alive. A person with ordinary talents should live long and do everything possible for shinnai…right? Alas, all worldly things are transitory.

(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, February-March 2014 issue, issue #72).

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