Shofukutei Riko (笑福亭里光) is a professional rakugo artist who speaks Kansai-dialect rakugo stories. Rakugo is, as written in Wikipedia, a form of Japanese verbal entertainment where the lone storyteller sits on stage and depicts a long and complicated comical (or sometimes sentimental) story using only a paper fan and a small cloth as props.
He was one of my classmates when we were junior high school students. Besides, he was one of my best friends. In junior high I talked him a lot, played with him a lot, belonged the same club as he did, and resigned from the club together with him on the same day. He sometimes played rakugo on stage in school events. His performance was rising above the level of amateur, so he was called shisho, a title which is used to a professional rakugo storytellers.
After we graduated from junior high, we went to different high school. We didn’t see each other for ages.
One day in 2012 I was staying in a hotel room watching an entertainment program on TV, where several rakugo artists who had just promoted to the shin’uchi rank were on stage and they were giving speeches in turn to show their thankful feelings for the promotion. The program reminded me of the wanted-to-be-a-rakugo-storyteller classmate. I wondered if he still kept up his hobby. Watching TV, I thought he might appear on such an entertainment program someday. To my surprise, he really did it in the very program that day.
According to the information online, after graduating from university he became one of the disciples of Shofukutei Tsuruko (笑福亭鶴光), one of well-known rakugo artists, to start his rakugo career in 1998. He promoted to the futatsume rank in July 2002 and became a shin’uchi in May 2012.
I tried to contact to him. Since he had a Twitter account, I sent a direct message to him. He replied to me soon. We talked a bit on Twitter for a while. Several months later we met face-to-face for the first time in more than 25 years. He had not changed at all since we saw in the junior high.
Now I sometimes go to his stage to listen to his story, and see him offstage. Last night I saw him in Shinjuku and went for a drink with him at an izakaya in the westgate area of Shinjuku. He was fine. We talked a lot. I drank too much and I have hangover this morning, though.
I think that being friends with public figures might help me have a chance to see the celebrity world, and maybe it would even change my life.