Kanariya Eiraku 鹿鳴家英楽 (Sudo Tatsuya) (Photo: centre) paid tribute to Henry Black during a performance of English-language rakugo at the Sydney Japan Foundation on Saturday 7 March (2020). During the tribute Eiraku narrated Tameshi-zake試し酒 [test sake], one of the tales which Henry pioneered in Japan in the 1890s.
Henry’s original version, published in March 1891, was known as 英国の落とし話 [Eikoku no Otoshibanashi (lit. A Humorous Tale from Britain)] or The Beer Drinking Contest. According to scholars Morioka Heinz and Sasaki Miyoko, the source is unknown. Henry’s version was set in England and concerned a colonel living near London who offers to pay handsomely if any of his men is able to down 15 bottles of beer. John, nicknamed ‘Wine Barrel’, accepts the challenge, but asks for an hour’s postponement. When he returns, he drinks all the beer, only for the audience to learn that during his hour’s absence he had already drunk the same amount of beer just to make sure that he could win the bet.
Before Eiraku presented his modified version, he surprised the audience by showing a photo of Henry Black and explaining that he had been born in Australia. Kanariya Yuntaku and Kanariya Shichiri also narrated tales in English during the show. Sydney University Dept of Japanese lecturer, Matthew Shores (Photo: left) was also at the event. Dr Shores is a scholar of Japanese literary arts and entertainment, including rakugo.
During his tour, Eiraku visited New Zealand and performed at Auckland University with his disciple who lives in New Zealand. He also visited Australia with his disciples from Japan and performed at the Japan Foundation with its support.
(Photo courtesy of Dr Matthew Shores)