If you’ve ever strolled through Shimokitazawa or Inokashira Park on a Sunday afternoon, you may have had your senses attacked by one of Tokyo’s more eclectic voices. Imaginatively narrating some of Japan’s off-the-wall manga, Rikimaru Touhou breathes life into pages’ pictures. Whether you understand Japanese or not, an audience with this animated story teller will certainly leave an impression. We caught up with him and played 20 questions.
JZ: What’s you name, how old are you and where are you from?
TR: Rikimaru Touhou, 32 years old. I was born in Kagoshima but I grew up in Kanagawa.
JZ: You have 3 free plane tickets. Where would you like to go?
TR: The first would have to be Rockefeller Center in New York City, to perform on Saturday Night Live, or perhaps Carnegie Hall. That wouldn’t be bad. My second choice would be Bangkok. Finally, Istanbul.
JZ: What do you like about Tokyo?
TR: Tokyo is an easy place to live. It’s easy for me to do my job here.
JZ: What is your job?
TR: I’m a mandokuka. I read manga to people.
JZ: What pays the bills?
TR: This and only this. My audience is welcome to offer something if they feel like I deserve it. People almost always offer me ¥100, but today is half-price because it’s Hanami.
JZ: What got you first interested in doing what you do?
TR: I loved folk songs when I was growing up. I loved the stories. I tried singing and playing folk songs on the guitar, but I sing in an abrasively high-pitched key. So I wanted to find a job where I could use a lower pitched key.
JZ: Where did you learn and how long have you been at it?
TR: I learned both on my own and at a talent school for actors in Tokyo. I’ve been doing this for ten years.
JZ: What makes a great manga?
TR: A good manga is a memorable one, with sentiment. It can make us laugh or cry, or both.
JZ: Which manga do you enjoy telling the best?
TR: I like telling Hokuto no Ken [Fist of the North Star] by Buronson the best. It’s about a Karate master who lives in the chaos of the apocalypse. But a close second is Tokyo Daigaku Monogatari [Tokyo University Story] by Tatsuya Egawa, which is about the trials and tribulations of a student at Tokyo University.
JZ: How about your own personal favorite?
TR: Bokunchi by Rieko Saibara.
JZ: Have you ever read to anyone famous?
TR: I’ve read to Rieko Saibara, Yoshikazu Ebisu and Shuho Sato.
JZ: What’s your definition of a good storyteller and how can somebody be a better storyteller?
TR: A good storyteller draws on their own experiences to tell a story. Your own emotions are the ingredients. Just be yourself.
JZ: How is what you do similar to kamishibai, the Japanese tradition of picture-storytelling?
TR: People think that’s what I do and that’s what initially intrigues them. If you mistake what I do for kamishibai, I’m flattered.
JZ: Do you write your own manga or stories?
TR: I don’t write manga but I have been known to tell my own stories with the same feeling that I do here.
JZ: Would you like to collaborate with anybody?
TR: Sometimes I have a djembe accompaniment and I’ve also collaborated with a good friend and schoolmate, Hiroki Ito, who does something similar in Akihabara. I can’t really do this in English, but I could collaborate with somebody willing to translate.
JZ: What’s a good manga for Japanese learners?
TR: I would recommend Kochikame because it’s a window into Japanese philosophy, politics and life in the cities.
JZ: Thanks. Your style is pretty freaky. People probably have some misconceptions about you. What’s something about you that you want people to know?
TR: I just want to make people laugh.
JZ: Last question. What do you think about Doraemon?
TR: I love Doraemon.
Touhou Rikimaru is a street artist living and working in Tokyo. He has made various TV appearances and also provided voices for numerous cartoon characters. He is available for hire at parties and events. Please visit his webpage at www.dub.co.jp/touhou/index.html or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.