Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi
Mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mizirakli Halit (Turkey)
Rakugo performer/Graduate school student
(He’s been in Japan in 2001-02, 2004-)
The second interview from the Kansai region is with Mizirakli Halit, a rakugo performer from Turkey. He talks quietly and gently, like he is trying to choose the right words.
When he came to Japan for the first time in 2001, he experienced rakugo. Three years later, he came to Japan again and started his activities as a rakugo performer in the Osaka area.
After he started learning rakugo, he got interested in his roots. “Meddahlik“, a Turkish art of story-telling which has almost died out. But an image of that Turkish traditional entertainment has come back because of the Japanese counterpart. How did those arts link up in his mind?
Meddahlik, a Turkish traditional entertainment.
Meddahlik is performed alone as well as rakugo. But it hasn’t been done since a long time ago and it’s popularity waned in the 20th century. There is no story teller now in Turkey.
Rakugo and Meddahlik differ from other kinds of storytelling in the way that they are told. They are not only acts of storytelling but also performances that are solo acts, plays acted out by one person alone.
In Japanese traditional entertainment world including rakugo, there are strict hierarchical relationships and an apprenticeship system between master and pupil. So rakugo performers who carry on the torch serve arduous apprenticeships. I think its tradition is kept up thanks to that system.
On the other hand, meddahlik didn’t have such a system, I guess. There was no restrictive style like rakugo, that’s why it has evanesced. I guess so.
A lecture of meddahlik, a Turkish traditional entertainment.
In Turkey, we study English in high school, college and university. When I was a university student, I wanted to learn a second foreign language and any would have been all right.
Then I chose Japanese. It was by chance.
I think I wanted to go to a place which is very far away from Turkey. Also we Turks don’t have a bad image of Japan. Rather, we are pretty pro-Japan. So I thought the Japanese language would be beneficial for me.
And I thought the Chinese characters and Japanese alphabet were very unique. But I didn’t expect that I would have an overdose of Japanese culture enough to perform rakugo here in Japan.
First contact with rakugo.
I came across rakugo for the first time when I was in the University of Tsukuba, one of Japan’s national universities which is located in the Grater Tokyo Area.
A Japanese language professor played rakugo CDs and tapes for us. She played rakugo stories performed by Yanagiya Kosan, one of rakugo masters. We learned Japanese by listening to his story-telling.
A friend of hers is Yanagiya Sankyo, a professional rakugo performer. She asked me to see a rakugo performance and I went to see rakugo. It was my first rakugo experience.
Originally I’ve loved to perform something on stage. I remember that I showed my performances in front of my friends when I was in grade school. Also when I was in university in Turkey, my Japanese teacher gave me a book called “Run Melos” (a Japanese novel of 1940s). He suggested I read it because it’s very useful for studying Japanese. I read it and came up with an idea. “Why don’t we dramatize it and perform it?” Actually we did it. I played the role of Melos.
Why I got interested in rakugo is that I loved performing, of course, but also rakugo is performed alone so it’s not necessary to get people together to play.
Also rakugo is kind of similar to meddahlik. So I felt close to rakugo and got into it. I became ambitious to perform rakugo.
I went back home in 2002 and completed my undergraduate degree (he took a one-year leave from his Turkish university and came to Japan) and I finished my graduation thesis. Then I took an exam at the Japanese Embassy in Turkey to be a government-financed foreign student. I passed it and I was due to enter Osaka University Graduate School and study Japanology. So I came to Osaka. I wanted to push myself as much as possible as a rakugo performer so Japanology is very beneficial.
It is a study which observes Japanese people from ethnologic, religious, political and military points of view. If I studied that, I would be able to understand Japanese people’s way of thinking and rakugo.
Even if people from other culture areas who have already overcome a language barrier see rakugo performances, they face a cultural barrier. When I saw a rakugo performance for the first time, I couldn’t understand what a performer said very well. Everybody else was laughing, but I couldn’t. Of course my Japanese skills were not good enough to understand that story at the time. But I felt I would need to learn the cultural background or something which only Japanese people have… So I felt frustrated. Like, “What do I have to learn to understand it?”.
That’s the catalyst of learning rakugo, I think. “Why was it only I that couldn’t laugh?”
But at that time, I was sitting on a seat in the front row. Then I guess a performer noticed me, a foreigner who didn’t laugh at all. Also I think I was an unwanted presence for him. An audience reaction is really important for a performer but this foreigner didn’t laugh. I guess he thought, “Why did you come here?”. I was a sore for him, I suppose.
I love Osaka, but I perform in a Tokyo way.
I love Osaka because there are lots of laughing people in that area. The most vital area in Japan is Osaka in my opinion. They stick to everything and comedy is no exception.
Kamigata (Osaka, Kyoto etc.) rakugo is popular in Tokyo. But it’s more difficult forEdo(Tokyo) rakugo performers to make Osaka people laugh. People in Osaka tend not to like Edo rakugo very much. So Edo rakugo performers are afraid to come to Osaka.
As for me, I perform mainly Edo rakugo. I usually speak the standard Japanese, not the Osaka dialect.
People in the Kansai region or Osaka tend not to enjoy Tokyo-style comedy. But if I try to speak in their dialect, it would sound weird for Osaka natives because I studied standard Japanese in Turkey and Tokyo. So I perform Edo rakugo and it will be acceptable for them.
People back up a rakugo performer “from Turkey”.
People see a Turkish guy performing rakugo and they want to back him up. Of course I’m happy with that but a little bit frustrated at it as a performer.
I want them to appreciate my performance, but how? I think performing Turkish stories will be a breakthrough in that kind of struggle. Or “English rakugo” is also going to be a good solution. That would sound more natural for Japanese people if I perform rakugo because I’m a foreigner.
An important thing that rakugo performers should have is friendliness. When a guy sees a rakugo performer on stage for the first time, it may be difficult for him to enjoy the performer’s act. But if he sees the same performer’s act once more, he would be able to enjoy the performer’s character. What I want to say is that I have to keep doing rakugo and make a much wider audience aware of me in order to be appreciated as a real rakugo performer.
Characteristics and experiences are really important for performers. Also we have to get name recognition. I sometimes come out in the papers or appear on TV shows. I’m doing that because I have to tell people about myself. If I don’t do that, it will be difficult to be appreciated as a performer.
A rakugo performance in Turkish traditional costume.
I don’t like Japanese food very much.
To be honest, I don’t like Japanese food very much. I can eat a variety of dishes now, but I don’t go to Japanese restaurants voluntarily.
Actually there are many things I can have in Japanese restaurants. but I don’t want to if I can help it. Udon (wheat-based noodles which are usually served hot in a noodle soup) is the only Japanese food I like.
Whether I’ve tried a certain food or not is important for rakugo. It’s difficult for me to perform something that I’ve not experienced. So I don’t choose stories about food when I perform.
I think I can perform a story of “Chiri-tote-chin“. That is a story about a man who knew everything and it came down to him eating a piece of rotten tofu. I think I can perform it well.
Japanese guard their tradition.
My challenge is to brush up my performing skills. But I will be back in Turkey eventually. I want to introduce rakugo to Turkish people.
I know I can’t restore the traditional Turkish entertainment “meddahlik” by myself. But I want to tell them that Japanese people have the same kind of verbal entertainment and it has been maintained for a long time. Moreover Japanese people still enjoy it. There is a living traditional entertainment like rakugo. I want to appeal that strongly to Turkish people to ask them why they don’t guard their tradition.
You can have a new perspective of your own culture after having contact with a different culture. You go abroad and you will become aware of your background. I also learned about Turkey after coming to Japan.
We had a great Turkish feast at a Turkish restaurant
“Istanbul Saray” in the central area of Kyoto.
Rakugo leads to meddahlik.
As for “meddahlik”, I knew its existence but I was not interested in it when I was in Turkey.
But after coming to Japan, I became aware of every single traditional Turkish thing because I needed to compare Japanese things and their Turkish counterparts in order to understand Japan more. Then I wanted to learn about my own country.
I will keep performing rakugo because I got into rakugo and grew to perform it on stage so I want to keep doing it. I don’t want to bring down the curtain. If I quit now, my work to be a performer would come to nothing.
I may perform meddahlik after going back home. Before I came to Japan, I didn’t know about any Turkish traditional entertainment at all. I got interested in it after coming to Japan because people asked me about my culture. Then I checked up on meddahlik and wanted to know about it more and more.
So I want to be a meddah (a story-teller of meddahlik) if I can. But it will be difficult because I will have to modernize it in order to restore an entertainment which has evanesced and to be accepted by people. However if I modernize it, is it going to be a real meddahlik? So it will be difficult to restore that entertainment.
Rakugo won’t cease to exist.
Rakugo is kept up rightly. Thanks to TV, a Japanese drama called “Chiri-tote-chin” and a rakugo boom. Also there is English rakugo. Of course now it is not a rakugo era but you don’t need to worry about rakugo ceasing to exist.
*Photos by Akiko Kawane
What is rakugo to you?
I think I’m looking for a place where I should go or where I can express myself by performing rakugo. I think rakugo leads to a certain place.
Because I was not good at speaking with people. I used to be a very quiet boy. Also to me, rakugo is a gate to understanding Japanese culture or Japanese people.
Rakugo makes me become aware of my own culture. That is rakugo to me.
Halit’s weblog “Rakugo Performer Harito” (Japanese) : http://warattei.exblog.jp/