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WIT Life #25: Laughing the Blues Away


WITLife is a periodic series written by professional Interpreter/Translator/Writer Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken, 2000-03).  Recently she’s been watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese and sharing some of the interesting tidbits and trends together with her own observations.


As the saying goes, laughter is the best medicine and the same effect is being seen in Japan. These upsetting economic times have brought a boom in rakugo, mandan and other forms of entertainment that have people laughing out loud. In Tokyo’s Chiyoda-ku, there was a rakugo gathering where attendees cited their reasons for coming as “the need to let it all out, laugh away my troubles.” Another man expressed the fear that because of the bad economy, he didn’t know how much longer he would last at his company, and coming to the performance allowed him to temporarily forget about his worries.

In a small theater in Shinjuku, 45-year old guitar mandan Piroki entertained a crowd in his get-up which included a bow tie and hair in a ponytail. While he strummed along, he told a story of realizing he ran out of money and going to the ATM to withdraw 20,000 yen. Except after pressing the “2” he forgot to press the character for man, and he got only 2 yen and was charged 105 yen for the transaction. This had the crowd roaring as he ended the ditty with, “Let’s live lightly.”

His self-deprecating routine includes reminiscing on his student days and the mistakes he made then, and after the show one audience member said that these types of gags helped him feel better about himself. According to Piroki, “In today’s dark world, I put myself down with the hopes of raising the spirits of my audience. I want to give them a feeling of superiority, as they have probably lost confidence in other areas of their life. I become a buffoon for them and hope that I can help them overcome hard times with my smile.”

52-year old singer/songwriter Mariko Hata performs with a special group in mind---housewives. Her songs address mundane topics such as curry rice and mabodofu, as she seeks lyrics that her audience can relate to. In a song called “Anata” in reference to her husband, she wonders why he has such short-term memory. “This morning I told you I was making curry for dinner, but when you got home tonight you asked, ‘Why does it smell like curry? That’s what I had for lunch.’” This went over big with the all-female audience, with one member saying she just kept nodding along to everything Hata was singing.

Says Hata, “As a housewife, there’s no way to avoid everyday pressures. You are busy all day washing dishes, cleaning, etc. and when your family comes home they expect you to take care of them. All you want to say is, ‘I’m tired too!’ I give women an outlet for these kinds of feelings.” In addition to this stress, housewives have to be extra careful with money these days which is an additional burden. Several of Hata’s devotees have formed their own “housewives' chorus,” which offers them a chance to get out of the house and express themselves at practice and concerts.

I don’t know if comedy clubs or other sources of laugh-out-loud entertainment here in the States have seen a similar surge in popularity, but in Japan this phenomenon seems to be going strong.

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