Get Your Newspaper Right Here: Japanese Political Satire Exists!
Tonight with a little time on my hands during the Obon summer vacation decided to make my way into Shinjuku to see some comedy at Suehirotei, a yose (traditional comedy theater specializing in rakugo). Unfortunately, I wasn't the only one with this idea and I was shocked to find a long line to get into the small theater around 7 pm. Although I love to visit theaters like this with the recent birth of my first child and papers to write I just haven't been able to get out of the house that much this year. Actually, although the headline acts at Suehirotei are hanashika, traditional comedic storytellers of rakugo, I made a note to come this night to catch an act called "the Newspaper."
The Newspaper is a skit group that, as their name may suggest, specializes in satire of current events, especially politics. I had known about their existence for a while but had never been able to find the time to see them. With political satire rare these days in japan I wanted to see for myself what they had to offer. Usually the skit group performs with nine members but was limited to two members tonight for what one member explained half jokingly as a "pay" issue (performers have to split their pay equally).
The performance tonight was limited to 15 minutes. First, member Yamamoto Tenshin took the stage and introduced himself and his group to the audience, explaining that they doing political satire that is neither "right-wing" or "left-wing" but right in the middle. Then he went into a clever bit where he jumped into the future and read the news for 2020, the year of the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. It went by fast and was positively received by the audience. I wish I could remember more of it but the news that got the biggest laugh was the report that the Olympic stadium (which had been controversial because of the high construction costs) was still under construction in 2020.
Yamamoto then segued into another skit where another member (Hamada Taichi) came on stage as President Barack Obama. He was thankfully not in blackface (something that still occurs from time to time in Japanese performance) however. The quick back and forth between Yamamoto and "Obama" touched on many issues in the news (constitutional changes using the Self-Defense Forces, Okinawa, the Osprey) and had most of the audience laughing. The comedy really had a bite to it when Obama encouraged the Japanese (Yamamoto) to fight along with him and the US and then ended up shooting Yamamoto in the back by accident. Obama wrapped up the skit by singing "Kimi ga yo", Japanese national anthem, to the tune of Star-Spangled Banner.
I wish I had the routine on tape as I wasn't able to catch everything due to the fact that I was taking notes and sitting next to a large air conditioner. Still, I could see that there actually are talented comedians who can take on today's idiotic Japanese politicians head on. I was also able to have a nice talk with them briefly after the show and I look forward to seeing more from them in the future. More to come I hope.