Photo/IllutrationShota Teraoka practices “rakugo” comic storytelling with his mother, Tomomi, (right) at their home in Toyama’s Yatsuomachi-Okuda district. (Hiroshi Matsubara)

  • Photo/Illustraion

TOYAMA--The centuries-old comic art of “rakugo” storytelling may require many years of training, but after making his stage debut at age 3, Shota Teraoka has a great head start.

Six-year-old Shota has won the hearts of many long-time fans with his skillful performances of classic rakugo stories.

Receiving special training from his mother, Tomomi, 44, who is an amateur rakugo performer, the kindergartener is determined to pursue a professional career.

“He may say he doesn’t want to perform with me when he reaches puberty, but I hope we can do it together as a family for many years to come,” Tomomi said.

Shota added with a firm tone: “I’ll continue to work hard on my training after I enter elementary school.”

A kimono-clad Shota can often be found practicing his rakugo skills on a “stage” of a cushion placed on a mattress as he sits next to Tomomi. One day, he was seen working on his act of eating “soba” noodles using a paper fan as chopsticks and making a noodle-slurping noise.

Tomomi is an amateur rakugo storyteller working under the stage name of Puputei Mirumiru. Shota was named after her rakugo idol Shunputei Shota, and the name of his 2-year-old younger brother, Harukaze, was also chosen because two of its kanji characters appear in the famous performer’s name.

Tomomi said she used to recite rakugo stories to put Shota to sleep when he was small as part of her training. Aged 1, Shota started sitting on a cushion, bowing his head and making other rakugo gestures.

At the age of 3, he started performing at amateur rakugo shows, nursing homes and elsewhere across the prefecture calling himself Puputei Shota. His repertoire currently includes classic stories such as “Jugemu” and “Manju Kowai” (steam buns are scary).

Shota is shy and normally quiet. But once on stage, he said, “I feel nervous, but I’m not scared when I start talking, because I practice every day.”

His father, Makoto, 45, is also an amateur comedian who performs “mandan” comic monologues under the stage name of Sandbag Teraoka dressed as a masked pro wrestler.

He said the three family members sometimes appear on stage for events organized by local seniors clubs and other occasions.

“Shota’s performance livens up the audience more than ours,” he added.

Toyama-based amateur rakugo artist Ecchuya Mankintan, real name Kinichiro Okeya, 81, has invited Shota to his one-man show as a guest performer every year since the boy was 3.

“Seeing him having the nerve to perform in front of the 500-member audience without being fazed, I’m looking forward to seeing him making a name for himself in the future,” Mankintan said.

Tomomi won a special award for her original story inspired by Shota at the ninth annual national championship for amateur rakugo artists held in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, in October. It is about a baby who talks like a rakugo performer because of his prenatal development.