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Rakugo storyteller, TV personality Katsura Utamaru dies at 81

Katsura Utamaru (Mainichi)

Katsura Utamaru, a long-loved rakugo traditional storyteller and personality on the Japanese comedy TV show "Shoten," died on July 2. He was 81.

Katsura, whose real name was Iwao Shiina, had served as head of the Rakugo Geijutsu Kyokai (comic storytelling art association).

Taken under the wing of Kokontei Imasuke V in 1951 at the age of 15, Katsura took on the name Imaji. He later left the world of rakugo for about 2 1/2 years, but then in 1961 moved to study under elder fellow apprentice Katsura Yonemaru with the new name Yonebo. He then changed his performing name to Utamaru in 1964 and became a full-fledged comic storyteller four years later.

The rakugo artist was a regular member of the cast on the TV comedy show "Shoten" from its outset, though he temporarily stepped down at one point. His banter with Sanyutei Koenyu, who passed away in 1980, and Sanyutei Rakutaro (currently Enraku VI), was popular in living rooms across the country.

In 2006, he replaced Enraku V as the fifth host of "Shoten," three years before Enraku's death in 2009, and served in the role until 2016, helping carry on the popularity of the program, which received high ratings.

Katsura was born in Yokohama and was well known for his love of his hometown. In 1974 he began holding solo performances at the Miyoshi Engeijo Theater in Yokohama.

In 2004 Katsura became head of the Rakugo Geijutsu Kyokai, and served as head of the Yokohama Nigiwai-za hall from 2010.

He won several awards over his lifetime including a Geijutsu Sensho education ministerial art award, a Cultural Affairs Agency Geijutsusai award, and an Order of the Rising Sun award in 2007.

Katsura had suffered from aspiration pneumonitis in recent years and had been in and out of hospital a number of times.


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