Lost in Translation #2 – Shôwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjû

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I was originally planning to save this post for a later date, but I was just so excited when I saw it that I couldn’t help but share it immediately! This entry comes from Episode 4 of Shôwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjû: Sukeroku Futatabi Hen, where the classic Jugemu story serves as the focus of this particular episode.

The episode begins with Shinosuke humming the Buddhist Mantra to the Jugemu story, which is basically a long string of random words that are supposedly auspicious names for a male child. I was pleasantly surprised to find a Wikipedia Entry about the story, so you can check it out if you want to get a rundown. But basically, the Jugemu story is a favorite of children, as it features a lot of silly-sounding words and features characters that resonate quite easily with children. In fact, it’s been featured in several NHK Japanese language programs for kids (which is where I first encountered this story), and has even made its way to children’s books as a simplified story.

For fun, here’s the full name of the child from the story:

Jugemu Jugemu (寿限無、寿限無)

Gokô-no surikire (五劫の擦り切れ)

Kaijarisuigyo-no (海砂利水魚の)

Suigyômatsu Unraimatsu Fûraimatsu (水行末 雲来末 風来末)

Kuunerutokoro-ni  Sumutokoro (食う寝る処に住む処)

Yaburakôji-no burakôji (やぶら小路の藪柑子)

Paipopaipo Paipo-no-shûringan (パイポパイポパイポのシューリンガン)

Shûringan no Gûrindai (シューリンガンのグーリンダイ)

Gûrindai no Ponpokopî-no Ponpokonâ-no (グリンダイのポンポコピーのポンポコナーの)

Chôkyûmei-no Chôsuke (長久命の長助)

Different Rakugo performers have had different ways of reciting this ridiculous name. For example, Konatsu chooses a metered-time sort of approach when reciting it, making it sound like a poem. A real-life performer, Yanagi-ya Kyôtarô, does his version initially as a stutter, before transitioning into a full-blown Buddhist mantra, after which he ends the name with a “chin”, which is a pun on the sound of a prayer bell and the juvenile form of the “-chan” name suffix. It’s amazing how this single story can have so many different styles of delivery, and yet remain true to the essence of its comedy.

But what’s even more interesting is how Higuchi hints at a darker version of the story that differs from the current iteration of a child tattletale-ing on Jugemu for bopping them on the head. In the case of the original story, Jugemu falls into a river only to drown after his would-be-resucers spend too much time trying to call for help due to his unwieldy name.

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But why does this story have such a gloomy original ending? Well, much of it has to do with the story’s role as a farce. A farce is basically a form of comedy that exaggerates scenarios to the point that they are inherently ridiculous — just as how the characters in the Jugemu story keep reciting his entire name when it would be far simpler to shorten it to just Jugemu. This farce can also be applied as a form of satire towards the object in question. In this case, Jugemu actually points towards the silliness of name choosing, calling it out as a frivolous practice. More specifically, the story tries to point out how one’s name has little bearing on their own fortunes in life, as the name Jugemu supposedly bestows the bearer with the luck of a long life. So putting two and two together, the child dies despite having a name that is obviously riddled with words that allude to a long life. In fact it’s this irony that gives meaning to the title of the story in the first place: Jugemu, literally “infinite life”.

But Higuchi is right, to a certain extent, regarding how modern perceptions and tastes help shape these stories into a form that is acceptable by modern standards. It seems counter-intuitive at first — seemingly altering tradition for the sake of modernity — but as an attempt to remain relevant to society, it’s a trade-off the art form should be willing to take.

And indeed, this has taken place in Japan. The story has undergone changes, including slight alterations that give emphasis on modern-day problems. For example, some renditions have the father specifically requesting from the monk a name that would grant their child “long life (free of disease)” and “job security” — and yet all of this is still answered by the monk’s naming suggestions.

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And perhaps more importantly, there ARE female Rakugo performers today. Although the performer in the video linked here isn’t as good as many as the other performers I’ve seen (she openly makes mistakes mid-sentence and even apologizes for it, at times), it’s reassuring to know that the hints Higuchi makes towards modernizing this treasured art form have actually come to fruition.

 

And that does it for episode 2 of Lost in Translation. Anything else you’d like to know more about from the shows you watch? Just let me know in the comments. Also, do tell me what you think about anything discussed here. Until next time, ciao!

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3 thoughts on “Lost in Translation #2 – Shôwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjû

  1. remyfool January 31, 2017 / 08:49

    You did an excellent job shedding light on the Jugemu story. It’s amazing how a name can be both meaningful yet worthless.

    You were right, this was interesting. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

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