Chairman of Toyo Kogyo (Asakusa French-za Engeijo Toyokan) Hisayuki Matsukura’s Asakusa Rokku Geinoden (9th episode) ‘Asakusa Engei Hall Tanjo Hibanwa’ (Secret Stories on the Birth of Asakusa Engei Hall)
So far, we have focused on the comedians who performed at the French-za Theater and the Toyo Theater, starting with Kiyoshi Atsumi and ending with the last issue’s “Cont 55.” How about a story of rakugo this time? In 1964, Toyo Kogyo made its second major change of direction and opened a new yose theater. I would like to take this opportunity to learn about our deep relationship with rakugo. It was in the late 30’s of Showa era, Asakusa Rokku entertainment district was in trouble again. The government’s policy to dress up for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games led to tighter controls on the strip, and many huts fell into financial difficulties. Of course, our company is no exception. We had to take urgent measures to overcome this situation somehow. But how? … At that moment, an unexpected story came up to me as if the God of Laughter had been watching and helped me. At that time, there was a small apartment called Yayoi House in Yayoi-cho, Bunkyo Ward. Somehow there were a lot of comedians living there, and it seems to have been commonly called “Geinin Mura” (Village of Comedians). Saburo Takasaki, a member of our literary club, lived in this apartment. One day, a rakugo story teller KATSURA Shitaro, who happened to live in the next room, approached Takasaki with this story. “There is no Yose in Asakusa now. Toyo Kogyo performs similar shows in the same building at the Franco-za and the Toyo Theater, both featuring strip and light dramas. What do you think? Why don’t you take the plunge and make either theater Yose?” I thought it was a crazy idea, but Takasaki talked about this at the company just in case. Then, what do you think? The management, who had just been at a loss about the direction of reform, took his proposal with great enthusiasm, as if it were a good chance. It all started with a casual conversation between apartment residents. You never know what will happen in the world (laugh). There used to be a Yose called Asakusa Suehirotei in Asakusa. Unfortunately, the hut, which was built soon after the war, has not taken root and has disappeared in just over a year. With that in mind, I was a little unsure whether rakugo would ever be accepted in this city again … but this is no time to stop. Taking advantage of this difficult situation, all employees worked together to take on a new challenge with the goal of “Let’s revive yose in Asakusa!”
◆Taito-ku, the birthplace of Yose
By the way, do you know Taito-ku is the birthplace of Yose? In the late Edo period, there was a comb craftsman called Kyoya Matagoro in Nihonbashi. Matagoro loves to make people laugh by telling funny stories even though he is a man, and he eventually quit his job as a comb craftsman and became a storyteller (laugh). The name “Sanshotei Karaku” (Later, he changed his name to Karaku SANSHOTEI.) comes from “Sansho is small and spicy.” This is the birth of a professional name that has continued for nine generations. This person is the first professional rakugo storyteller, and there is a record that the place where he first held a yose in the style of receiving money from customers was Shitaya Shrine in Inari-cho, Taito Ward. The tomb of the first Karaku is located in Choko-in Temple in Okuasakusa, and the “Karaku Festival” is still held by the Sanshotei Ichimon every first Saturday of April. This is also a precious story that I would like to pass down as a cultural background of Asakusa, the mecca for popular entertainment. I would be very happy if you could take a short walk around Asakusa and follow the path of such a fun history.
◆The birth of Asakusa Engei Hall and the closing of the Franco-za and Toyo Theater
In contrast to the smoothly sailing entertainment hall, the Oriental Theater, which has had talented comedians taken root in the television world, has continued to decline. It was an important theater that my father, who used to be a young theater man, opened to pray for the reinstatement of Asakusa Comedy, but he couldn’t resist the tide of the times, and in 1968 it finally came to an end as he tried to follow the Franco-za. Along with this, the entertainment hall was moved to the first floor, and this year I took over the position of president from my father. Half a century has passed since then, but thanks to you, Asakusa Engei Hall is full today! Thanks to the warm support of the people of Asakusa, we were able to establish and establish a yose in an area historically closely related to rakugo. I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude. By the way, what happened to the empty upper floor after the entertainment hall went down to the first floor? … There are many developments waiting for us … Let’s continue talking about it next time!