Kanariya Eishi (鹿鳴家英志) AKA Hiroshi Nakatsuji is a multitalented performer of the ancient Japanese Art of Rakugo in English. Following a Bachelor of Performing Arts from an American university he was involved in many theatre projects in Japan, US, and New Zealand. He trained as a theatre clown under Rone & Gigi, a world renowned clown duo, and learned improvisation from Wade Jackson, the founder of Improv Bandits. He has been learning English Rakugo under the tutelage of his beloved master, Kanariya Eiraku since 2016 and lives in sunny Auckland with his wife and children.
Rakugo is a Japanese traditional art of comedy storytelling with a history of over 400 years
Though it is primarily a comedic expression, its themes vary broadly and include genres such as ghost stories, tragedies, sci fi, and even erotic tales.
Unlike stand-up comedy in the west, Rakugo doesn’t always have to be funny. Just like theatre-goers in the West will see Shakespeare’s play may times, Rakugo fans in Japan will go along to many performances because they appreciate different interpretation of classic Japanese stories.
When I was younger, I met a gorgeous Kiwi lady who eventually became my wife and I moved from Japan to New Zealand
It was completely by random chance! In my final year as a theatre student in America, I went back to Japan for summer holidays. It was there that we met. I had never visited New Zealand before that. She was the only reason why I ended up living in this country. If my love had been from elsewhere, I would’ve gone there instead. I was a hopeless romantic in my youth!
I am an ultimate jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none person!
In terms of my performance career, I started out as a stand-up comedian then became an actor. These days I have a constant flow of Rakugo work and don’t do much outside of Rakugo, but I sometimes work as an actor in random projects. The most exciting side project ever was doing voiceover for an animation series produced here in New Zealand! It was a low-profile job, but it was my dream-come-true!
You can view many of my rakugo performances on my Youtube Channel…
Rakugo is about acceptance of human nature. The word ‘rakugo’ means fallen words
Rakugo embraces our imperfection as humans, so nearly all characters have flaws. I am full of flaws myself, so I can really relate to those quirky people in the Rakugoverse. It is also my attempt to reconnect with Japan.
I get inspiration for rakugo from many people…
It was my master Kanariya Eiraku who really prompted me to pursue Rakugo in this unconventional fashion. My Rakugo/comedy is also heavily influenced by character comedy legends such as: Steve Martin, Roberto Benigni, Rowan Atkinson, Robin Williams, Charlie Chaplin, Billy T James, and The Flight of the Conchords. I became a huge fan of Rakugo because of the legendary master Tatekawa Danshi. As an “English Rakugo” performer, I was first inspired by Katsura Shijaku II, who first began performing Rakugo in English.
At the age of 9 or 10 I first stumbled upon a cassette tape recording of “Koganemochi” by a Rakugo legend, Kokontei Shinsho V
In this story, a man steals money from the stomach of a dead monk and uses it as the capital to start up his rice cake business! I was horrified! But strangely, I was also captivated by this gory tale and became a Rakugo fan since.
I started learning Rakugo at my university’s Rakugo club when I was 18, but I spent most of my professional performance career doing stand-up comedy and acting. It wasn’t until I turned 40 when I finally started pursuing Rakugo as my life work under my beloved master Kanariya Eiraku.
To learn my Rakugo stories, I recite them over and over during long walks in nature
When I’m inspired. I mumble to myself, so I must look creepy from outside if they don’t know what the heck I am doing! My creative spots are Cornwall Park, Monte Cecilia Park, and Onehunga Beach in Auckland.
Recently I started doing a Japanese wisdom street podcast on my Youtube Channel and Spotify as well
My daruma, a Japanese lucky charm, is something that I always put in my sight whenever I practice Rakugo at home
You can learn about Daruma and the Japanese Art of Tenacious Wish-Making on my website.
Reading Neil Gaiman’s books, particularly his non-fiction essays, helps me be more creative…
Also, a book called “Limitless” by a memory expert Jim Kwik has really helped me become a limitless storyteller!
My Rakugo fan gets me into the zone the moment I hold it. This performance fan was gifted to me when I first started learning Rakugo in 1995, and I still use it. It normally doesn’t last this long, but I have taken really good care of it because you can’t just buy it anywhere in New Zealand.
I watch funny animal videos regularly, which help me relax and recover from “creative fatigue” 😊 I also have a lot of silly artworks in my house that act as the reminders to always have fun!
The advice I would give to my younger self is:
I am currently working on a film project with Fiona Amundsen
She is a very talented film director, photographer, and visual artist. In this project, we are trying to create a reminder of the tragedy of WWII, using the concepts of Rakugo and Aikido, so that we won’t repeat the same mistakes that humans made only 75 years ago.
As the world becomes more and more intolerant about differences, I hope this project will remind people of what really matters….
Also, I will be performing at Taste of Japan in Auckland, and I have also been invited to perform at Japan Festival Wellington though neither of these has been definitely confirmed due to the current situation.
My website is the best place to learn about what I do
You can also find my entertaining and fun rakugo performances on my Youtube Channel, so please follow me there, and I post regularly to Twitter.