Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley (3)
My Mother’s Restaurant Was the Sponsor of My Father’s and My Shinnai
In the Muromachi Period, the Noh theater had the protection and backing of the family of Shogun Ashikaga. All the arts, including music and painting, were cultivated by sponsors.
Compared to that history, my father’s and my situation was much, much briefer, but it was similar.
My father’s shinnai activities extended from the first part of the Showa era (mid-1920’s) through the war. Those were harsh times. It wasn’t a time for entertainment. Entertainers who didn’t enter the military were sent to work in munitions plants. At that time, a newspaper carried a story about a shinnai performer working in such a place. In those circumstances, five family members couldn’t survive on the income from entertainment. After the war, the situation became even worse. In 1946, we returned home from the place that we had evacuated to. My uncle was a carpenter, and after he was demobilized, he built a house for us at our current address on the burnt ruins of our old home. In those days, we could see the platform of JNR Iidabashi Station from our house.
Beyond that, the “koshi” kanji of the sign on the roof of Mitsukoshi department store was visible, and we could also see the fireworks shows held in Ryogoku. Now, it is unbelievable that we could have had such a view.
In the condition that Tokyo was in then, we did what we could.
Meanwhile, because my mother was skilled in business matters and a hard worker, she reopened her bar immediately, even though at that time, only a few people lived there. However, because there was no business, she temporarily closed it, but she reopened it a few years later. My father also began to give shinnai lessons, but too few pupils came to enable him to support our family with the income from that.
So, my mother’s restaurant, Kikuya, played an active part in our family’s life.
As it was a small restaurant, there was no need to hire a chef. Instead of playing the shamisen, my father cooked simple food. This lifestyle was the same as before the war. In those days, unlike the present time, there were not many drinking places, and Kikuya became quite popular.
During the war, because of the price controls, it was not easy to obtain sake. However, because my father was a union president, he could get it without any problem.
Even when Kikuya was closed, he served sake to his regular customers.
In the entrance to the alley in front of where the Resona Bank is now, there was a vaudeville theater called Ushigome’tei. Comic storytellers who had performed at that theater often came to Kikuya. Among them, the biggest name was the late Kokon’tei Shinsho.
Shinsho, who was well known as a lover of sake, often visited Kikuya with other entertainers who were his friends. Because it was when Kikuya was closed, they drank secretly or came to our house to drink. They were very familiar customers.
My mother told me that, before going to Manchuria to entertain the troops, Shinsho came to Kikuya and said, “I am going to Manchuria with Ensho now. I came to say goodbye, because I’m not sure if I can come back alive. Stay well, Toki-chan,” and then he left.
Shinsho returned safely to Japan, and after the war, he often came to Kikuya. He also went to Honmoku’tei in Ueno to join my father’s shinnai events, and often performed shinnai.
I still treasure a tape of his performance there.
While performing shinnai, Shinsho suddenly said, “Enough shinnai. Now I will sing Dodoitsu,” and he sang three numbers. He voice was low and tasteful, and his singing was light and witty. The tape of that is pleasant to listen to. If Shinsho’s fans knew I had this tape, they’d be jealous. My other treasures include his signature on a shikishi board and his handwritten business card. In addition, his son’s oldest son, the late Kingen’tei Basho, held a reunion of Shinsho’s students.
Shinsho’s second son, the late Kokon’tei Shincho, was the same age as me, and we were good friends from when we were young. Toward the end of his life, because he lived in Yarai’cho, we often got together in Kagurazaka. In my opinion, he was the last and best rakugoka, being orthodox in his performance style, tasteful and entertaining. I deeply regret that we have lost such a person.
I also treasure his signature on a shikishi board that he wrote when he took the name Asata.
Besides those people, I met many wonderful people at Kikuya.
Meeting those professionals made me what I am today.
This, too, was because of my mother. I appreciate her very much for that.
Eventually, I took over the restaurant. For a short time, I worked at an acquaintance’s restaurant in order to get some brief training. After that, I obtained a license as a restaurant cook. After my mother’s death, while continuing the restaurant, I concentrated on shinnai. And this is how I became what I am now. The sponsor of my father’s and my life as entertainers was my mother’s small restaurant, Kikuya.