Rakugo Scholar Matthew Shores to Talk at Waseda University in Japanese about His Research; First in the Donald Keene Memorial Foundation Lecture Series

The Japan News
Matthew Shores, a rakugo scholar and Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney, smiles in front of the Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, on Wednesday.

Matthew Shores, an American scholar of rakugo and Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney, will give a lecture titled “Japanese Literature Evaluated by Donald Keene, and Rakugo” at Waseda University’s Ono Auditorium in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, on May 31. The lecture will be the first in a series presented by the Donald Keene Memorial Foundation in Kita Ward, Tokyo, over the coming years. Shores, a student of a student of Keene’s and a rakugo scholar, studied rakugo under two masters of Kamigata rakugo. In the lecture, which will be given entirely in Japanese, he will discuss “rakugo as literature,” the recent focus of his research, while sharing anecdotes from his time in Japan.

“I’m nervous about being the lead-off man. But it’s not like I’m a cleanup hitter,” 46-year-old Shores began with a smile at a coffee shop near Waseda University. With his training in rakugo, his Japanese is fluent. “Last year, I published an English paper on rakugo as literature, but I’m still working on the subject. How might we better explain rakugo, including as a literature? I would be glad if many people come to the talk and think about this with me.”

Shores has been in a six-month position as a visiting scholar at Waseda University since January. He is conducting research at such facilities as Waseda’s Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum. A native of Oregon, USA, he studied Japanese at Portland State University, where he met then-Professor Laurence Kominz, who taught traditional Japanese performing arts such as kabuki and kyogen with an emphasis on practical performance.

Kominz was one of Keene’s beloved students. He began serving as a Donald Keene Memorial Foundation trustee after he retired from university.

When Shores was in college, however, he had not even heard the word rakugo. He first encountered Kamigata rakugo, which is performed in the Kansai area including Osaka and Kyoto, while studying Japanese traditional entertainment at Tezukayama University’s graduate school in Nara in 2002. Michio Morinaga, a scholar of folk arts and entertainment and a former president of Tezukayama University, took Shores under his wing. Morinaga told him, “You should see as many performing arts as possible,” so Shores frequented kabuki, bunraku, dance performances and everything in between almost weekly. From that experience emerged a strong desire to study rakugo.

Then came the day Morinaga introduced Shores to Katsura Bunshi V, one of the Four Kings of Kamigata rakugo in the postwar era, who offered Shores an apprenticeship. “I was given the stage name ‘Katori Senko Matto,’ a play on the Japanese word for ‘mosquito repellent’ and my name ‘Matt,’ and for two years beginning in 2002, I assisted Master Bunshi in dressing rooms and accompanied him on regional tours.”

After Master Bunshi passed away in 2005, Shores trained under Hayashiya Somemaru IV for two years starting in 2010. Called Matt by everyone around him, he said, “I was hoping for a cool stage name this time, but it turned out to be Genkan Matto (door mat).” When Shores appeared displeased, Master Somemaru said, “If you work hard, your stage name will be Toilet Matto.” Shores recalled with a laugh, “Master Somemaru’s restroom was on the second floor of his house, so he said, ‘Well, that’d be a step-up, wouldn’t it?’”

He gave Shores rakugo lessons and allowed him to perform the story “sake no kasu (Sake Lees)” on stage. Shores performs it to this day in both English and Japanese whenever given the opportunity.

Shores said, “I wanted to study rakugo not only from the outside but also from the inside, by entering the world of storytellers” — the same path his inspirational mentors Keene and Kominz followed.

The lecture starts at 6:00 p.m. on May 31. Admission is free.

Courtesy of University of Tokyo’s Japanese Language Class of the School of Engineering
Matthew Shores performs rakugo at the University of Tokyo on May 8.
Courtesy of University of Tokyo’s Japanese Language Class of the School of Engineering
Matthew Shores performs rakugo at the University of Tokyo on May 8.

Japanese version