During my ongoing research for my Legend of the Five Rings game, I recently discovered the Japanese art of rakugo, a form of humorous storytelling where the performer remains seated but acts out parts of the story using a fan and a small cloth. As part of last week’s session, my character tried to distract his wife from a stressful day so—as he has some storytelling skill—I decided he’d include a brief rakugo performance. Given I am not a master of the art, I can’t actually replicate the performance; however, I have created the story based on translations of some traditional stories: It is a tale that has been told before many times but I hope it will entertain:
Boke Pays for Noodles
In a land far from here where they are not as honourable, there lived a samurai called Boke. Boke believed he was the most intelligent person in his village. Unfortunately for the village he was right. Nevertheless, the village produced enough that his lord did not replace him and allowed him to marry. Soon after their marriage, his wife fell pregnant and he, wishing his child to prosper, resolved to visit the Temple of the Thousand Fortunes and ask the abbot for an auspicious name.
But that is another story, for he first had to take the taxes to the capital. And after several days travel, he arrived, having avoided trouble on the road by becoming so lost the bandits could not find him. Having, eventually, remembered where he should go to pay the taxes, he realised it was almost evening and much too late in the day to set off for home again. And so he decided to visit the market.
As he passed a noodle stall, he saw a most smartly dressed samurai consume a mouthful and incline his head gracefully. “Everyone says this stall is not a place a person of taste visits twice, and they are right for this is my third visit this week.’ The cook smiled broadly and added another ladle to the smartly dressed samurai’s bowl.
The smartly dressed samurai consumed another mouthful and inclined his head gracefully. “Your food is unique. This broth has a taste as subtle as the first jasmine of spring.” The cook smiled broadly and added another ladle to the smartly dressed samurai’s bowl.
The smartly dressed samurai consumed another mouthful and inclined his head gracefully. “The sheen of your noodles brings back memories of the first time I saw my wife lower her hair.” The cook smiled broadly and added another ladle to the smartly dressed samurai’s bowl.
The smartly dressed samurai drained the bowl. “Your food is perfect but I cannot eat another bite. The cost is thirteen coins, nej? I only have small change so I will count them into your hand so we know it is fair. One… Two… Three… Four… Can you tell me the time, good cook?”
The cook smiled broadly. “Eleven.”
“Twelve… Thirteen. And I wish you a blessed life.”
Boke was desperate to try these wonderful noodles. Feeling that everything was too expensive in the city, he decided he would use the same trick; unfortunately, he had left his coin in his room so he resolved to come early the next day before he set off.
The next morning, wishing to save the innkeeper the trouble of drawing a bill, Boke rose early and left through the window. After clambering from the horse trough, he made his way back to the wondrous noodle stall and ordered a bowl. Boke took a mouthful. This was his first time here, so he could not speak exactly as the smartly dressed samurai spoke. “Everyone says this is not a stall to visit even once and they are right.” The cook just glared at him.
Boke took another mouthful. The smartly dressed samurai had praised the subtle flavour; if he praised something even more subtle then surely the cook would give him a second ladle. Your food is the oddest I have ever had. This broth tastes of water.” The cook just glared at him.
Boke took another mouthful. He loved his wife just as the smartly dressed samurai did; it must work this time. “Your noodles are like eating my wife’s hair.” The cook just glared at him.
Annoyed, Boke drained the bowl. The noodles had been good enough, he had been tempted to pay full price; but now the cook had been so rude he wouldn’t even mention the quality. “The cost is thirteen coins, nej? I only have small change so I will count them into your hand so we know it is fair. One… Two… Three… Four… Five… Six… Seven… Eight… Nine… Can you tell me the time?”
The cook rolled his eyes. “Two.”
“Three… Four… Five…”