|BIG IN JAPAN
|Courtesy of Sachiko
Actor Yamaguchi Takashi
bubbles with the energy of a child. This year he undertook a Shikoku temple pilgrimage, an
experience he recommends as a way to understand Japan and "real life."
Yamaguchi is perhaps best known for his samurai dramas and long stint as emcee of
television' Quiz Time Shock program, yet there is a lot more to the man than
meets the eye. Paralleling his acting career in television, film and theater, Yamaguchi
has spent a life immersed in traditional Japanese music. He is a unique breed who has
chosen to embrace the new, while maintaining a firm grip on the past.
Born on Awajishima, the birthplace of puppet theatre, Yamaguchi ironically admits having
hated it as a child. He preferred his mother's koto music instead, explaining that
"koto has a deeper sophistication, a clear sound that is attractive to
children." At fifteen, Yamaguchi moved to Tokyo. He entered Waseda University to
study English literature, but soon quit to enroll in NHK's acting institute. It wasn't
long before Yamaguchi discovered kabuki and gradually came to enjoy it, along with noh and
kyogen, which he has found helpful for his acting. At twenty he began playing shamisen,
and has continued to play for forty years. Combining these dual interests, Yamaguchi has
written modern plays which incorporate traditional Japanese music on the stage.
He is clearly a man of many passions. "Always doing something develops people,
polishes them," he says. "Music and acting. It's all connected." He
obviously enjoys the struggle involved in maintaining both. "Kurushii. It's a lot of
work." He brings out a book of sutras from his bag. "Playing shamisen is like
this pilgrimage. You walk and walk and walk. You are tired and yet you keep going. The
walking is like meditation. It is a process. And then finally, you reach a temple. Ah!
Paradise!" For this reason, Yamaguchi prefers acting on stage to television.
"Even amateurs can act on TV. They shouldn't be allowed to, but they do. The stage is
serious and the work is severe. Like a golf tournament, you can't do it over, so it has to
As for the traditions of Japan, Yamaguchi is confident about their survival. After living
abroad, Yamaguchi says, he realized what it is to know another culture and what it means
to have an irreplaceable identity of your own. "Everyone has a traditional part
inside. It's their identity, and that will never change. Even with new fads and interests,
people will keep digging out the older traditions and re-discovering them." Yamaguchi
himself is a prime example. For twenty-five years, he travelled all over Japan recording
local folk stories. When asked why, he replies that these stories are minshu no geino,
arts of the people, and felt a need to preserve them. For seven years, FM-Tokyo broadcast
the stories on the radio; he has also published them in three books, "Mukashibanashi
deai no tabi." Yamaguchi says, "Things like festivals and puppet theater and minyo
used to be enjoyed in daily life. Now that people need more stimulation, they are leaving
these dying arts for something new." Yamaguchi brings up America's Appalachia region
and Alex Haley's "Roots" to illustrate. "You have to find your own
identity." His large brown eyes twinkle. "Life is chaos. It's through art that
we can find the meaning."
Janet Pocorobba and Makoto Nishimura