Table Speech

Charm of Recitation

June 1, 2016

Ms. Misako Konno

 I have just completed a month-long performance On-yado Kawasemi at Meiji-za Theater in Nihombashi, Tokyo. The play was based on a historical novel written by Yumie Hiraiwa and was set in the Edo period. I feel a little nervous today to speak in front of so many distinguished Rotarians, mostly men, of the present days.

 I have been performing as an actress for nearly 40 years. I attended a Catholic school in Kanagawa Prefecture and joined the theoretical club at age 10, which eventually led to my present career. I had enjoyed reading aloud fairy tales and picture books from my early childhood. I was fortunate to represent my school and to participate in the annual drama competition organized by the prefecture. I acted the main character Anju for the play, Anju to Zushiō, based on the novel Sanshō dayū by Mori Ōugai. I recall we had a very strict drama teacher, but we all understood how dedicated and devoted she was to theatrical performance. I was filled with a sense of achievement as we performed on stage, after going through intense practices. This experience motivated me to become an actress. After 40 years, I still retain the same enthusiasm and passion for acting.

 I have been a free-lance actress without belonging to a particular production company or theatrical group. When I turned 50, I decided to launch a small recitation (rōdoku) group named “Rōdoku-za” in my locality to base my activities on. Currently in our sixth year of activity, we aim to give “heart-warming performances” and make the audience feel relaxed and happy. As the saying goes “fortune and misfortune are intertwined,” we have some hard times in our life. So we hope to encourage those who might be feeling sad, blue and distressed through recitation. We have recited works from wide-ranging genres, accompanied by live piano, cello and Japanese harp music and performed at different places across Japan.

 The audience can stretch their imagination freely, based on the information presented aurally. I think we can develop the ability to see things the eyes can’t see through recitation, which leads to sympathize with others’ feelings and circumstances. I believe this feeling of compassion is one of the most important elements in our life.

 I have been serving as the Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for 18 years. UNDP is the largest multilateral development agency with the primary mission to implement various projects towards improving the quality of life of about 800 million people in the least developed countries. International cooperation was a new field for me and I felt much honored to render my services to its lofty goals. I pay visit to developing countries each year where UNDP implements its projects and try to convey what I have observed first-hand to a wider audience. I have visited 10 countries and regions in 18 years, including Cambodia, Palestine, Ghana, Tanzania, Pakistan, Mongolia and East Timor. I’m going to visit Kenya in early August where the Africa development conference (TICAD-VI) will be convened during 27-28 August.

 Let me share one memorable experience. I travelled to Ghana in West Africa about 10 years ago where Dr. Hideo Noguchi had fallen victim to yellow fever. I visited Manya Krobo District located about three hours by car from the capital city Accra where many HIV/AIDs orphans resided. I was deeply impressed by the initiative of Queen Mothers Association as I learnt each Queen Mother in the communities took care of 6 orphans, providing them with shelter, food, clothing, health care and education. I also learnt that people in Ghana shared the spirit of “helping each other in times of need,” just as we do in Japan. I have witnessed the harsh reality of poverty in different parts of the world and realized anew how fortunate I am to lead a peaceful daily life in Japan.

 I have come to think imaginative power plays a principal role in international cooperation. It might sound like a noble action, but I think it is no different from offering your seat to an elderly or physically disabled person on buses and trains or providing assistance to disaster-stricken areas. You must put yourself in other people’s shoes and sympathize with somebody’s feelings to reach out to help them. What counts most is you contribute what you can and what interests you in a given situation and try to continue the activity. For me, it is recitation. I feel grateful if I could make others happy through what I enjoy and what I am good at.

 Anybody can enjoy recitation, and it is good for our health. A prominent neurosurgeon Dr. Nariyuki Hayashi told me that recitation activates the frontal lobes and stimulates our mental and emotional development. I think it is also good for breathing exercise. Let me encourage you to recite your favorite phrases in your daily life.

※Ms. Konno concluded her speech by reciting a passage from Kirameku Seiza
(Twinkling Constellation), a dramatic piece written by Hisashi Inoue.