Memory Politics, Fear of Technology and Gallows Humor in Traditional Japanese Comedy, Rakugo

Memory Politics, Fear of Technology and Gallows Humor in Traditional Japanese Comedy, Rakugo

Esra-Gökçe Şahin - Visiting Researcher, Bahçeşehir University

Thursday, March 2, 2023 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm
Room 203, Henry R. Luce Hall See map
34 Hillhouse Avenue
New Haven, CT 06511

Rakugo is a performative storytelling, born in Japan around the 1600s. It is performed by a single actor kneeling at the center of the stage. As a product of the social class of artisans and merchants, rakugo has a crucial role in engaging its audience with Tokyo’s past, and helps crafting a memory regarding the lifestyle and human interactions in preindustrial Tokyo. That said, the unfolding events after the March 11 nuclear disaster (in 2011) revealed that the narratives of rakugo stories, and the attitude of the protagonists tend to demonstrate characteristics, which reflect on Japanese society’s projection of future and their interaction with technology -as a giant mechanism with a lot of unknown consequences. The scale of the events and expanding fear, proved that gallows humor is an integral part, not only of rakugo, but also the society in general.  

As a researcher, I expand the boundaries of current scholarly work, which tends to be shaped by the so-called serious facets of social reality. Humor often reflects the foolish, clumsy and vulgar face of the humanity, and it delivers its power from there. Jokes and humorous puns provide a means to negotiate the often unspoken domains of social interaction and political facts, which are crucial to understand the social dynamics that surround us. 

Esra-Gökçe Şahin is a social anthropologist and a filmmaker, who has been conducting research on performance, media, and creative industries in Japan. Her current project focuses on memory politics, semiotics and gender in traditional Japanese comedy rakugo. Şahin completed her Ph.D. in social anthropology at Harvard University, with a secondary field in Critical Media Practice. Currently, she is a visiting researcher at Bahçeşehir University. In the previous years, Şahin taught undergraduate level courses on anthropology of media, digital platforms, and linguistic anthropology. She also taught graduate level courses on subjects as media, publicity, and gender performance in Japan. Additionally, Şahin is trained as a performer of traditional Japanese comedy, rakugo, and Japanese butoh dance. She held stage performances in various venues in Tokyo. As a filmmaker, Şahin is interested in exploring the sensory modes of communication, memory and representation.

Şahin has publications based on the anthropological analysis of memory politics and semiotics of gender in contemporary Japan. She is also working on her book manuscript, Rakugo Humor: Memory Politics and Japan’s Urban Laughter. Şahin made a documentary film on rakugo, titled, Fooling Words, and she is currently working on a feature length film, a biopic based on the life of a jazz pianist who lived in the Soviet Republic.