Friday, August 27, 2010

Profile of Tokyo's manga busker, Rikimaru Toho

Back from the cleansing rivers and hills of northern Honshu for another Tokyo story.

I encountered and interviewed Rikimaru Toho beneath the railway bridge at Shimokitazawa station while he was preparing for a night of performances. Toho-san is a street performer who theatrically, and sometimes with frightening urgency, performs scenes of manga titles selected by passersby. During his performances, crowds accrue, their faces going slack in absorption, wide with surprise, and sometimes softening into pathos and laughter.

Kamishibai, or Japanese 'paper theater/drama,' is an oft-mentioned precursor of modern manga, together with emakimono (scroll paintings/narratives) and ukiyo-e (woodblock prints often featuring images of the pleasure quarters/red-light districts). Amid our rapid and quasi-hysterical embrace of digital media, Toho-san is an apt reminder of the power of storytelling and the magnetism of paper.

If you live in or have visited Tokyo recently, you know how rare such comparatively spontaneous and unchoreographed street activities have become in a city that often rigidly maintains its authoritative hold on public order.

The story is published at CNNgo with graphics generously provided by a local neighborhood NPO, 4Connections, and a YouTube video clip at the end, wherein Toho-san's antics are on ample display:

"It's 10 p.m. in Shimokitazawa, a neighborhood of circuitous alleyways 10 minutes or so west of central Tokyo by train. Think Long Island City or Williamsburg in Brooklyn, early 1990s. Three separate bands busk on street corners at the bottom of a hill. Above them looms a giant McDonald’s and several closet-sized ramen shops. Three cops appear, batons in hands, nodding sternly, and the bands crumple their gear into canvas sacks and disappear. A few minutes later one of the bands, a hyper-speed blues trio, reappears and plays two more numbers in front of applauding passersby. Then they fold it all up again.

Rikimaru Toho manga man was once a recluse

Manga is music to the ears

Just past 10:30 p.m. Rikimaru Toho bounds down the station stairs with plastic bags in both hands and a plastic washbasin under one arm. Toho is a professional manga reader. He has been out here every Saturday night since five years ago, when he moved to the city from the seaside village of Chigasaki. On Sunday afternoons, he’s at nearby Inokashira Park, only a few stations away."

Read more: Tokyo’s manga man makes you sweat |

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