Japan: Rikimaru Toho, the first manga narrating cantastoria

His stage name is Rikimaru Tōhō (東方力丸). He defines himself a “manga [Japanese comics] reader”, and for five years he has been enchanting hundreds of passersby with his performances in the suburbs of western Tokyo.

Rikimaru Tōhō at work in Inokashira Park.

A legendary performer, Rikimaru Tōhō's popularity is due not to TV or radio shows (although he has participated in several minor programs recently) but to his ability to modify his voice and play the parts of the characters (men, women and children) in the stories he reads, to the emotion he puts in this storytelling, and to the warm and polite way in which he interacts with his listeners. What makes him particularly unique is that he has been able to modernize one figure that is present in many cultures: the figure of the cantastoria who passes on the traditional narrative folktales. The tales that he narrates, however, are the stories from manga — products of modern Japanese popular culture.

Toho Rikimaru at work in Inokashira Park.

At Josei Jōi Jidai (女性上位時代), a blogger writes about when she and her sister attended a manga reading by Rikimaru Tōhō.


It was a beautiful Sunday in the middle of the rainy season. I went out to do some shopping and dropped by Inokashira Park. A typical holiday-ish atmosphere with people singing and playing the guitar and others juggling with swords.
Then I spotted some manga on a plastic sheet in a corner and a strange person standing nearby.


There he was!!


Long hair and a headband (a towel?), beard and glasses: Toho Rikimaru. He is a “manga reader” who will read you the manga you choose, reciting the parts and producing all the sound effects to make it real. I became curious about him after I saw the late-night show “Arabikidan” [あらびき団]! Right after he finished reading “NANA” to a couple, while I was distracted, my sister negotiated with Rikimaru-san [for a show], and I took seat with her on one of the small basins he uses as seats. The manga she chose was “Hokuto no Ken”, a classic from his repertoire.


In a very polite way he said to us “Please allow me to make a powerful performance”, then he sat on his knees and start reading the manga. The fight to death between Kenshiro and Raoh, with Lin, Bat and Yuria watching over. He played the parts magnificently and he also kept moving the comic book toward our face and then away again as part of the performance. The voice coming from the bottom of his stomach created a strong echo all around, with an impact that drew passersby around him. I-Incredible!! Although I've never really read “Hokuto no Ken” myself, I have this feeling of satisfaction now as though I had read the whole series from cover to cover.


We offered to pay him 1,000 Yen each (total 2,000 Yen) but he replied “No, no, I can't take so much. With this 1000 Yen why don't you two have something at Mac [Donald's]…?” What integrity he has. Very sensitive. And he also gave us some chocolates.

Rikimaru Tōhō reads a manga in Shimokitazawa (Tokyo).

Here is how the blogger at Jōnetsu no Omosa wa Yoru no Unagi (情熱の重さは夜のウナギ) described their first encounter with Toho Rikimaru-san, in a post from three years ago:

「特攻の拓 第一巻」です。[…]

I had seen him many times, but I had never actually paid him to read me a manga until my friend and I gathered up some courage and decided to ask him to read us the 1st volume of “Bukkomi no Taku” [特攻の拓].
The sound effects were awesome, but what impressed me most was his ability to reproduce the voices of woman characters.
At first there was nobody there, but while we were listening to him about 20 people gathered around.

A blogger at Shūmatsu Kichijōji Tanken (週末吉祥寺探索) is enthusiastic about Rikimaru's performance:


On the business card that I got it was written: “manga reader”.
And as that name suggests, you suggest one of the manga from among those on display, and Rikimaru-san reads it to you.
There are all a lot of genres, manga for boys, for girls etc.
My favorite among them is “Hokuto no Ken” [北斗の拳].
He read me the story with so much energy that it seemed like his veins were about to explode.
And the way he differentiates between the expressions of each of the three characters, he is so fascinating that he catches the attention of the passersby who stop and listen to him.

Another sample of Rikimaru's performances in Shimokitazawa (Tokyo).

Last year, Rikimaru Tōhō launched his own blog, and despite his supposed inability to keep any form of diary updated, since he started, he's been constantly updating it with pics and entries about his life and activities.

Here are the two of the first posts in which he introduces himself. In the first post he writes:


By the way, here are the things that I do.


Other than the jobs that the agecy I belong to presents to me, and participation in TV programs and other events, I usually also read manga in Shimokitazawa or Inokashira Park.

毎週土曜日・・・下北沢駅南口ガード下 20時頃~25時くらいまで
毎週日曜日・・・井の頭公園 野外ステージ前付近 12時頃~夕方暗くなる前まで

Every Saturday… near the southern exit of Shimokitazawa station, from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Every Sunday… in Inokashira Park, next to the open stage, from 12 a.m. to sunset.


I also sometimes make appearances at Shimokitazawa on weekdays in the evening.
Depending on the weather, I sometimes skip the Inokashira Park appointment, but regardless of whether rain or snow is falling on my head (actually that would be an interesting sight), I always show up at Shimokitazawa.

And in another post:


My everyday life.


I wake up and go to buy some food at the 99 Yen shop.
Then I go to the convenience store where I read some comics or magazine and I buy some comics at the secondhand bookstore.


When I buy used comics I feel sorry for the author as he doesn't get any royalties that way,
but to be able to buy it for only 100 yen, I can't help but feel that's quite cheap, and a profit for me.


Then I go back to my 4.5-mat apartment and, while listening to Simon & Garfunkel or The Timers, I read the comics I bought.


It`s good work.
Stuff I'd really like to add to my regular repertoire.


I rehearse in my 4,5mats-room.
I have lunch.
I fill a bowl with white rice
and quickly boil some bean sprouts
Then I add them to the rice, sprinkle some ponzu [soy sauce and vinegar] over it and eat.


The ingredients are simple and ridiculously cheap, but it's really delicious.


I rehearse while watching proceedings from the Diet on TV.
I drink some medicine to prevent throat inflammation.
My voice is fine.
I watch Ojaru Maru.
I watch Nintama Rantaro.
I wash myself, brush my teeth and I am out to Shimokitazawa to read manga.


This kind of day is the happiest of all.

Even when he is too busy to write a long and detailed post, Rikimaru Tōhō never forgets to thank the people who stopped by to listen to his manga readings:


Thanks to the customers and to the people of the neighborhood who watched me reading Saturday and Sunday.
Thank you.
It was really a success.
Thank you.


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