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NIPPONIA No.29 June 15, 2004

Living in Japan
One-Man Mini Circus
Cornec Pierreyues
Written by Takahashi Hidemine, Photos by Akagi Koichi

Some of the stunts Pierreyues performs. Edo Daikagura is unique because the props are often household items used in ancient times, like a ceramic kettle (far left) and a square wooden measuring box (third from left). The most difficult stunts use juggling sticks and balls (second from left), which can be thrown in 48 different ways.
Edo Daikagura website: http://www.edo-daikagura.com/english/index.htm

He trains under his master teacher twice a week, and takes to heart his teacher's motto, "It's not only technique, but atmosphere too. "Next year, Pierreyues plans to study Japanese and kendo.

Cornec Pierreyues says he likes Tokyo a lot because each district has its own character.
On the stage, he goes by the name Kagami Sen-emon, but his real name is Cornec Pierreyues, and he was born in Angoulême, France. At 25, he is a youthful entertainer, performing with a stunt troupe that carries on the traditions of Edo Daikagura.
Edo Daikagura is an ancient form of Japanese folk entertainment, with juggling stunts something like those of other countries. It started as one type of kagura, a ritual of song and dance preformed for a god as part of a Shinto festival. Over time, Edo Daikagura changed, becoming mainly a collection of acrobatic stunts passed down from one generation to the next.
The performers throw juggling sticks into the air and keep them off the ground with amazing ease. They spin their old-fashioned paper umbrellas, rolling balls around on top of them. They use their chins to balance sticks with small wooden boards and rice bowls on top…and the audience is mesmerized by one stunt after the other, often breaking out into spontaneous applause.
Pierreyues says, "Edo Daikagura has a beauty and charm of its own. The kimonos, the hand movements, the music, the banter—all these elements harmonize. It's something like a small circus show."
Ever since he was small he was fascinated by street performances, and when he was 18 he enrolled in a school of circus arts in Paris. He concentrated on juggling. When not practicing, he spent much of his time reading all kinds of things about his chosen field, both old and new, Eastern and Western. That was when he learned about Edo Daikagura.
"I saw an old woodblock print, showing an Edo Daikagura performance with a prop called a hanakago. It was decorated beautifully, and I said to myself, 'I should go and see a real one.'"
He became friends with a Japanese woman studying at the same school, and ended up going to Japan with her. He was 20 at the time. Almost right after landing, he went to the theater to see the troupe in action. He returned time after time, and then asked to study under them.
His teacher and the head of the troupe, Kagami Kosen, says, "He concentrates very hard during practice sessions, so he picks things up really fast." He improved almost overnight, and suddenly there he was, the first foreigner ever to perform Edo Daikagura, a very popular guy on the stage.
"Audiences in Japan are good-natured. Even if they notice I've slipped up a little they'll clap hard for me. But of course, precisely because they're good-natured, I have to do what it takes to get everything right."
Pierreyues lives on his own in an apartment in Tokyo. He is always at the twice-weekly training sessions, and practices every day in a park or at home. "If I miss even a single day, my technique suffers."
The troupe performs in all kinds of places, from schools and Japanese-style bars to homes for the elderly and company parties. Some stages are quite cramped, and because he is so tall (almost 190 cm) he may have to kneel down to do a stunt everyone else does standing up. Before he came to Japan, Pierreyues had never knelt the seiza way—on the floor, sitting on the heels. This was just one of many things to learn.
"Edo Daikagura juggling is not like what I learned in France. Here we balance from the waist. That's why my back and neck get tired a lot."
Another challenge he faces is the Japanese language. On stage, it is common for the performers to talk to the audience about a stunt while doing it.
"Stage atmosphere is really important. I want to be able to reach out to the audience, and to have a fun time on stage with my fellow performers. And it's not enough to just work on my own technique. I have to improve, all the while adapting to how everyone else is improving. Otherwise, it wouldn't be an authentic Edo Daikagura show. It all comes down to everyone being in harmony."
Pierreyues has a dream: to introduce Edo Daikagura to Europe some day. That is one reason why he intends to begin studying Japanese at a school next year, and learn how to use Japanese while performing.

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