Kanoko Suzuki, president of the rakugo club

When asked to perform, the Kobe University Rakugo Club gladly accepts, believing that performing on stage is the best way to polish their skills. “Rakugo,” an often comic storytelling art from the Edo period (1603–1868), relies on the teller’s skill rather than scenery or complex props and remains popular today. The club, known as “Ochiken,” is thus loved by local communities.

Founded in 1963, Ochiken boasts a history of over 60 years. The current president is SUZUKI Kanoko, a junior in the Faculty of Global Human Sciences at Kobe University. Her stage name is Kawai-Ya Noren. Kawai-Ya is the traditional moniker reserved for female performers in the club and can be translated as “school of prettiness.” Each generation in the club adopts a theme for their names, and the 59th generation of female students, including Suzuki, has chosen “something related to ramen.” A “noren” is a traditional Japanese fabric divider, often seen at the entrances to ramen shops as a sign that they are open for business.

Suzuki had had no contact with rakugo until she entered university. She was a member of the choir club in junior high school and the English debate club in high school. Born in Miyazaki Prefecture, comedy wasn’t as pervasive as it is in the Kansai region of Japan. Her interest was sparked when she met a senior Ochiken member also from Miyazaki Prefecture at a welcome event for new students. When she visited a welcome rakugo show for new students and saw the seniors perform with pride, she thought, “I want to try this too.”

Traditionally, at Kobe University’s Ochiken, training is conducted on a one-on-one basis between seniors and juniors. At first, she struggled with the intonation of Kamigata Rakugo. “Kamigata” is a historical term in Japanese that refers to the Kansai region, and the dialect is known for its expressive intonation. Thus, Kansai-born members managed it with ease but for Suzuki, “It was like practicing understanding and pronouncing English,” she says with a laugh. s and i vocal emphasis and rhythThe first on-stage performance for new members is in October during the newcomers’ rakugo show held on campus. As she practiced desperately for this event, she became captivated by the joy of rakugo.

The Rokko Yose is a year-end show popular with local communities

Suzuki performing rakugo at an event held at a cafe in Hiraoka-cho, Kakogawa City. Her stage name is Kawai-Ya Noren.

Currently, the club has 21 members, ranging from first-year to third-year students, while fourth-year students step down and take on supporting roles. The club has a roughly 50-50 ratio of female and male members.

The largest off-campus activity is the “Rokko Yose,” held near the end of the year at a hall in Nada Ward, Kobe City. The “yose,” which refers to a rakugo performance, serves as a grand finale for the 3rd-year students, and many local residents look forward to it every year. Admission is free. The students send out invitations to their regulars and distribute flyers in front of the local train station to attract an audience, drawing 400 to 500 people each time.

The New Year’s Yose in January is another annual community event, but in addition to these regular performances, the club receives requests from community groups and senior citizens’ associations and facilities. The venues include cafes, temples, and libraries.

“When we see how much the audience enjoys our performance, it always feels worth it. It’s such a great opportunity for us to show off what we’ve practiced. Sometimes we even get treated to a meal or asked to come back, and that makes us feel like we’re really part of this local community,” Suzuki says.

In addition to performing rakugo on stage, members play a variety of roles in managing the yose theater. They also play the shamisen, a traditional Japanese three-stringed musical instrument, and taiko drums for the musical accompaniment, and write the names of the performers in yose letters, which is a traditional form of calligraphy for rakugo. There is also someone in charge of accepting performance requests. In other words, Ochiken is “the group that creates the yose.” Even the performance fees earned from its regular activities and support they receive from alums serve as funds for large-scale performances such as the Rokko Yose.

Better to regret having done something than regret not having done it

Most of the past club presidents have been male, but Suzuki ran for the position with the mindset that it is “better to regret having done something than regret not having done it.” She has previous experience leading the student council in high school, and although it is difficult to concentrate on performing rakugo as club president, she feels that she can gain valuable experience in managing an organization.

Her immediate goal is to make the Rokko Yose a memorable performance for the juniors. She is extremely motivated, saying, “I want to make this a performance that will go down in history.”

She is not aiming to become a rakugo professional. Most members don’t chose to pursue a career in the art, although there are some former members who have gone on to become professionals, such as KATSURA Kichiya. Nevertheless, many graduates use the communication skills they have acquired through rakugo in their social activities.

“Since I started rakugo, I’ve become much more confident speaking in public, and I actually enjoy talking to people now. Meeting people of all different ages has been such an amazing experience. In the future, I want a job where I can interact with lots of different people,” she shares.

Whether it’s rakugo or leading the club, the key is to challenge oneself without fear and enjoy it. With this bold approach as her credo, she is building a new tradition of the club day by day.


SUZUKI Kanoko, born in Miyazaki City, Miyazaki Prefecture. Enrolled in the Faculty of Global Human Sciences in 2022. The 59th president of the Rakugo Club. Her favorite rakugo story is “Miyato River,” which is also one of her specialties. Her impression of Kobe is “comfortably urban and livable.” She resides in Kobe City.


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