I don't remember exactly when I last set foot in a "yose" vaudeville theater.

But having heard about a vaudeville show called "Michinoku Sendai Yose" that began seven years ago and has continued every month ever since, I traveled the other day to the Miyagi Prefecture capital city of Sendai to check it out.

The program that day centered around "rakugo" comic storytelling, and also included a magic show and "manzai" standup comic act. A manzai duo, both Miyagi natives, had the audience in stitches, regaling them with cheeky observations about a local university.

A rakugo was in the local Tohoku dialect, which gave the performance a distinctive character. It was a nonsensically wacky tale of a bag that kept getting bigger and bigger as someone spewed his anger into it. But told in the vernacular, the story sounded strangely real.

Moriyasu Shiratsu, 56, the manager who was clad in a "happi" coat and handled everything from touting to ticket-collecting, is a former company employee who inherited a real estate business and became committed to community revitalization.

Shiratsu had just started running his vaudeville show in a department store cafeteria when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck in March 2011.

At the time, nobody believed he could resume the show for some time. But what changed Shiratsu's mind was a phone call he received from someone at an evacuation center, asking him if the show would be held in April.

Realizing that people needed to laugh despite--or precisely because of--the terrible catastrophe that had just befallen them, Shiratsu managed to arrange a small-scale show, and the rest is history.

Shiratsu is currently busy establishing a permanent vaudeville house in Sendai's entertainment district. Although it will seat only 40, his dream is to turn it into a "Mecca of vaudeville entertainment in the Tohoku region." He said, "I love it when people really laugh and enjoy themselves."

Rakugo master Tatekawa Danshi (1936-2011) once defined rakugo as "a one-man act that presupposes affirmation of the human sinfulness."

I believe rakugo's comforting warmth derives precisely from the fact that this is an art that embraces human weaknesses and sense of helplessness with laughter.

When Shiratsu's vaudeville house opens next April, I am sure it will be a lively, happy place.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 17

* * *

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.