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Introducing Japan's esteemed traditional performance, "Rokyoku" to the world.


Introducing Japan's esteemed traditional performance, "Rokyoku" to the world.

What's this Challenge about?

My name is Keiko Haruno, a Rōkyoku-shi. As the first step of spreading the pride of Japanese traditional entertainment, Rōkyoku, to the world, I take on the challenge of debuting my performance in New York City.

A decade has passed since I was approved to become an apprentice to the master of female Rōkyoku of Kamigata, The Second Yuriko Haruno. Before I was introduced to Rōkyoku, I made my debut as in-home tutor, Keiko-sensei, on the TV program Susunu! Denpa Shōnen of Nippon Televsion. I appeared on the program Tōdai Icchokusen! which became very popular, with a projected 12.2 million viewers in the Kantō area tuned in to the season finale. From there, over the course of about a year, I appeared on a variety of TV programs including: Emergency Room 24 Hours, Waratte Iitomo!, as well as a TV commercial for Shiseido.

No Rōkyoku, No Life! --Training days with a buzz cut

Since I was a little girl, I've always been in love with musicals and Jidaigeki (Japanese period dramas), and had dreamed to become a professional singer or actor. When, for the first time, I was intruded to Rōkyoku--comparable to a one-man musical or a one-man Jidaigeki, if such a thing could exist--it struck me with the certainty, "This is it; this is what I'm going to make my life pursuit."

I made up my mind and it was full speed ahead. I went to Osaka to ask the master to take me in as her apprentice. She refused my request and told me to give up my quest. "Without Rōkyoku, there is no life for me!" I begged her. I still remember the joy and excitement that I felt the moment she gave in to my insistence and agreed to train me; I felt that my life had finally begun.

A half year later, I buzzed my hair off to 3mm (lol), moved to Osaka, and started the full-scale training to be a Rōkyoku-shi. In Osaka, although I had no friends nor family, with only my master to rely on, the happiness of having found my life pursuit outweighed any of my anxieties. I concentrated on my endeavor, taking the small steps of the training patiently to accumulate the real skills. From square one, before I even knew what Rōkyoku really was, all I had in my heart was the determination of my life's calling.

Rōkyoku is… A one-man musical?

"What is Rōkyoku anyway?" many of you might ask. Rōkyoku is a genre of narrative singing performance accompanied by a Shamisen, and is one of the iconic styles of the Japanese traditional art of storytelling, among Rakugo, Kōdan, and so forth. It was established sometime in the late Edo Shogunate to early Meiji era, and became the mainstream entertainment at the time. It became so popular that many of the Rōkyoku-shi became celebrities and were on the list of millionaires.

Rōkyoku is like a one-man Opera in that it tells a story with narrative and acting sections, called Tanka, and singing sections, called Fushi. There are no musical scores used in Rōkyoku. One of the most attractive aspects is the dynamic, live atmosphere created by the interaction between the Rōkyoku-shi and the Kyoku-shi (Shamisen player), which reminds some of a jazz session.

Rōkyoku has such a wide variety of titles, there's something for everyone to enjoy. A romance for the younger crowd, for instance: the anxious heart of the girl, Okiku, in Banchō Sarayashiki who could not help but to test her man's love; the jealous wife, Osen, in Taruya Osen and her little misunderstanding that leads to unthinkable strife. I believe that the delicate workings of romance can bring sympathy to anyone's heart--beyond the boundaries of time and culture. How about Kanda Matugorō, an amusing story with a sweet little boy, to appeal to an audience with many young children? Or how about a story portraying the love between parents and child, Ryōkoku Meoto Hanabi, for a senior audience? There are so many stories to choose from. In the end-of-year holidays, the beloved classic Chūshingura is frequently performed.

Another interesting aspect of Rōkyoku is that a single Rōkyoku-shi plays all the characters in the story. Also, the melodious storytelling, as dynamic as it is delicate, accompanied by the dramatic music played on the Shamisen, creates the gravity that completely sucks you in to the story.

These days, many youth find modern musical qualities, like those of jazz, rock and rap, in Rōkyoku and become fans of it. No matter your age or gender, anyone can enjoy Rōkyoku; all you need is to just see it once.

Recent Work

Recently, I've been performing at popular events such as Isshinjimonzenyose and Tenmatenjinhanjōtei, as well as enthusiastically conducting my concert event, which includes my workshop, Keiko Haruno's Rōkyoku Rock You! (Please read my profile for details). Additionally, I have been working to the best of my ability as the director of Public Interest Incorporated Association, Rōkyoku Shinyūkai, towards the further development of Rōkyoku.

I had the great honor of receiving the Sakuya Kono Hana Award, awarded by Osaka-shi for the talents who will lead Osaka culture, even though I was originally from Tokyo before becoming a Rōkyoku-shi in Osaka.

Finally, to the mecca of entertainment, New York City

In my various activities, many people from other countries have experienced Rōkyoku, some of whom told me that I should perform Rōkyoku overseas. They said that the dynamic energy of Rōkyoku has the appeal and potential to entertain people from any country; Rōkyoku has a power that will touch people's heartstrings, stretching beyond any lingual barrier. "A way of storytelling such as Rōkyoku is internationally rare. I want everyone in the world to know Rōkyoku!" My wish has only become greater.

If I could spread Rōkyoku to the world, telling the traditional stories of each country using their traditional musical instruments as Rōkyoku, it would greatly impact the world of entertainment; it would be fantastic! I could not help but to further strive when the notion of such a future for Rōkyoku occurred to me.

That's why I take on the challenge of a Rōkyoku concert in New York City!

Needless to say, New York City is the theatrical entertainment capital of the world. I think it is the perfect place to begin introducing Rōkyoku to the world.

I believe that introducing Rōkyoku to the world will consequently lead to introducing Rōkyoku to more people in Japan. I name it: Mission: Rōkyoku Reimportation!! Getting those overseas acquainted with Rōkyoku will become powerful in getting many more people familiarized about it in Japan.

I also hope that my activities will inspire more youth to become Rōkyoku apprentices. I strongly feel that it is important to expand my involvement in Rōkyoku activities using different approaches in order to hand down Rōkyoku to later generations.

Share the dream through crowdfunding

I believe that it is important that the first step of this goal, spreading Rōkyoku throughout the world, is taken through crowdfunding. I want to share this dream with as many people as possible rather than receiving a large fund from only one source.

I, myself, have participated in a crowdfunding challenge, and felt very happy to be able to support someone's dream. Crowdfunding is a great system, but it is not as well-known in Japan compared to some other countries. I hope to make crowdfunding more recognized in Japan by succeeding in my challenge, so that more people will have their dreams come true--dreams that could not be possible without it.

The contents of the concert in New York City

If the crowdfunding challenge proves to be a success, the concert will be held on March 5th at NY JaNet Hall, easily accessible in central New York.

The contents will be:
Rōkyoku workshop (in English)
Rōkyoku performance of Banchō Sarayashiki--Okiku and Harima (in English)
Rōkyoku performance of Ryōkoku Meoto Hanabi (with English subtitles)

As an introduction, I will give a workshop on Rōkyoku in English. The audience will experience a Rōkyoku beginner practice by singing a Shichigochō alongside the melodies of Shamisen, as well as practicing audience participation. I will also show the audience what kind of singing goes with what kind of scenes. By physically participating in Rōkyoku, the audience will become familiar with it and enjoy the after performance even more. After the workshop, there will be a performance of Rōkyoku in English, and another in Japanese with English subtitles.

It will likely be the first time seeing Rōkyoku for many in the audience. I am very excited to hear what they think of it!

Main uses of the raised funds:
Transportation and stay
Concert staff
Concert brochure production
Web site production
Merchandise production
Shipping cost (for pledge rewards, etc.)
Advertisement for support in Japan
Concert advertisement in New York

Please support my dream and let's spread Rōkyoku to the world together!