Crossing Kokusai Dori she is straight-backed and graceful. Later you think of a word: self-contained. OK, we are all self-contained. But in her movement she seems to take not an inch more space than she needs. It may come from training. What does she do? Professional musician, judging by her luggage.
Ask her. As you’re walking, it takes a bit to keep up! She smiles and says, Yes I just played for 15 minutes at Engei Hall. I play samisen and sing. I appear between the rakugo tellers’ stories. As an iromono. A colour piece. Oh not at all, I don’t mind talking. A coffee? Why not, 15 minutes. Then I must go to my next performance, at Hirokoji. This week I also played at Ikebukuro Engei Hall. There are only three of us samisen players in our group, the Rakugo Geijutsu Kyoukai, and I am covering for someone.
Ice coffee please.
I started as an actress but it was tough getting enough to eat. I studied Buddhism and also began to sing, and was introduced to the rakugo performer Shunputei Ryuusho. That’s where my name comes from, Shunputei Miyuki. I entered his house, so to speak. His ichimon.
She has a luxuriant husky voice.
I sing lots, she says. She reels off some forms. Kouta, zokkyoku, doditsu, minyou folksong. She doesn’t sing the raw Tsugaru minyou from Aomori, but o-zashiki minyou, what would you call it, salon minyou?
She flicks a fingernail. It hurts a bit, she says. With kouta you pluck the strings with the fingernails, but you use bachi plectrum for stage.
Is it unfair? It’s not bad. It’s the system that gave me work when I was young.
Yesterday I played 45 minutes solo. At Sumida Riverside Hall, behind the Asahi beer building. Lots of old people there. Kids like samisen too. But they sort of lose interest around middle- and high-school. Though I played at a girls’ high school in Chiba. They loved it. I’d like more people to enjoy it. My ambition is to sing tankobushi ditties – coalminers’ songs – first in Japanese, then in English, Chinese and so on.
I get by. I teach. When I was young I would perform for cheap. But as you get older people don’t like paying you just a small amount, so they hire someone younger and there’s less work for me. I’m just at that stage. Is it unfair? It’s not bad. It’s the system that gave me work when I was young.
I better go. By the way, I am going to Buddhist chanting at dawn at Hongyoji in Sumida-ku, so come along if you like.