Asakusa 2: Unlikely entertainment

Kenjiro, a 75 year old entertainer dressed in a suit, stood alone on stage at Asakusa`s Engei Theatre. I sat watching him with 100 or so other viewers – many older than Kenjiro. The climax of his performance was approaching, but it was not going to plan, the umbrella just would not balance on his nose.

A shrine to the entertainers of Asakusa on Rokku Broadway. No umbrella-balancer yet.

The four hour show was not just Kenjiro fiddling with his umbrella.  Good as it was, we had paid 2,500 yen for more than that.

There were over a dozen performances, although I recall only a few; a magician plucking flowers from his sleeve; a woman rakugoka (sit-down comedian) telling an old joke about pirates; and a man in his 70s performing urigoe – old songs that stall-holders used to sing to advertise their wares. 

The performers all got good but restrained applause, mainly because half the audience were asleep.

One chubby young rakugoka came from Iwate, a devastated region in the north. He had just returned from a trip working as a volunteer performing rakugo at a gymnasium housing refugees. Understandably, he had been uncertain of what reception he might get. 

Afterwards, an old woman had grabbed him by the arm. 

“Having to listen to all your jokes, I felt like the volunteer” she told him.

A big cheer went up from the aged audience. Kenjiro`s nose, completely unassisted, was supporting the weight of the whole upturned umbrella. Timeless entertainment.

To be honest, fond as I am of umbrella-balancing, I was not in the best condition to appreciate it all. Bloated by too much whale and beer from the previous evening, I left the show halfway through. But, I was satisfied, all thanks to the 75 year old with an umbrella.

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