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TERUYA Rinsuke


Photo: TARUMI Kengo

Teruya Rinsuke (1929-2005), nicknamed Terurin, was a beloved mandan1 comic story teller. In 1991, when he took his mandan Watabū Show to Tokyo, he made the crowd roar by opening with, “I’m Rinken’s dad.” Teruya Rinken’s name was certainly more well-known than Terurin’s—he was Terurin’s son and the leader of Rinken Band—but many people recognized Terurin as the old man who played sanshin on the commercials for Polycain athlete’s foot cream. That was Terurin. In fact, that commercial actually won a major award in ‘91.

Terurin and Rinken had a father-son relationship that was extreme by today’s standards, and the first time you witnessed a fight between them, you’d probably want to curl into a ball with fear. The fact that they were able to go at it on equal footing serves as proof that they recognized the mutual differences in their temperaments. “Dad suggested that during Shīmī (Okinawa’s grave sweeping festival held on April 4 or 5), we do karaoke in front of the graves.” “On the last day of Obon, he ūkui (sent off) the ancestors by setting off fireworks.” Hearing Rinken talk about Terurin’s antics makes you wonder who was actually the parent in their relationship. 
 Compared to Rinken, who always has a detached coolness about him, Terurin was always relaxed and open and expressed wonderment and curiosity toward anything and everything. Terurin wore a lot of hats—in addition to being a comedian, he was a scriptwriter, a ryūka poetry judge for the newspaper, a master of Okinawa’s classical field music, and a researcher in modes of hypnotherapy. 

In Watabū Show, Terurin demonstrated the comedic style that had been all the rage in the immediate post-war period from 1946 to 1955. In the Okinawa of that day, various cultures—including Ryukyu folk music, American pop, and mainland-style kayōkyoku pop—coexisted, and Terurin cobbled and mixed them together, creating a unique comedy culture that parodied all of them at once. 
 Onaha Būten (1897-1969), a man Terurin looked up to as his own master, was the first to spread the arts that Terurin practiced. Onaha was a dentist and comic performer who converted the old Okinawan kyōgen performance style into the modern mandan style. He dropped in on people who were dazed and disillusioned by the war to remind them to celebrate the fact that they were alive, and Terurin credited Onaha with teaching him laughter’s inherent power of life.
 At the same time, the young Terurin felt that Onaha’s mandan was too old-fashioned, and just as he was wondering if there wasn’t some way to incorporate the Western music that was gaining popularity in Okinawa, the vaudevillian Kawada Haruhisa, famous on the mainland for his comedy group Akireta Bōizu (Boys, we’re fed up), gave a show in Okinawa. Terurin saw the show and thought, “This is it.”
 In demonstrating his parody style at Watabū Show, Terurin passed the baton to the younger generation. The head of the comedy group Shōchiku kagekidan2, Tamaki Mitsuru, has talked about how the singular spirit Terurin infused in his comedy served as Tamaki’s most important lesson in comedy, and there are others who have spoken about the way Rinken Band’s concerts share a thread with the Watabū Show, because they are not merely a place to hear music but also a demonstration of how performers bring their A-game. Terurin was truly the founding father of uchinā parodists.

Editor’s Note:

  1. Mandan is a form of comic story telling first developed in Japan’s Taishō era (1912-1926).
  2. Founded in 1983 in Okinawa City.