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Interactions between science and comedy

| 8 February 2022

Public support plays a major role in carrying out big scientific projects such as the International Linear Collider. The ILC International Development Team is taking a fun approach to getting the Japanese people to get in touch with the ILC: a YouTube livestreaming series of talk shows with comedian Fukumaru Katsura, entitled “落語と科学の相互作用,” which means the interactions between Rakugo (a Japanese form of comedy) and science.

It’s not the first time Fukumaru combines comedy and science: he has been working together with supporters of Kyoto University’s Kwasan Observatory for their outreach activity. Built in 1929, Kwasan Observatory is the second oldest university observatory in Japan. Equipped with the third largest refractor telescope in the country, it has contributed to observation of Mars and Moon. It also has Japan’s oldest working telescope, which is still used for observation of solar flares and prominences every day. With  great scientific and historical value, Kwasan’s old telescopes are very popular among neighbors and space lovers all over the world, and have been contributing to gaining interest and education in science.

As new high-tech telescope-equipped observatories were built, Kwasan faced financial hardship as a result of budget cuts, and they were forced to discuss the possibility of demolishing the building. To protect the facility, supporters started outreach projects in various ways. Rakugo was one of them.  They believe that the Rakugo is a very effective way to communicate the research results and the latest scientific knowledge at the university to the public in easy-to-understand words. 

Rakugo is a Japanese traditional style comedy. Rakugo-ka, the storyteller, sits on a raised platform and performs very elaborated, long stories with a paper fan and a napkin as a prop. The stories are categorised into “Koten,” classical stories which were created over some hundred years ago and handed down from masters to apprentices, and “Sosaku,” newly created stories with more modern settings or imaginative themes. Fukumaru created new stories inspired by astronomy, and performed at talk shows collaborating with scientists. It has been successful to gain interest and support for the project.

They named the show “Uchu Rakugo.” Uchu is a Japanese word which can be translated as outer space or universe. They also extended their activity to particle physics, to help ILC outreach.

The first Uchu Rakugo was streamed at KEK’s online open house last September. Fukumaru talked about particle physics with Hitoshi Murayama, professor at University of California Berkeley and executive member of IDT.  It became one of the most popular programmes in the event, and a successor YouTube series was started in November.  In every one-hour programme, Fukumaru interviews one or more scientists, asking them why they chose their careers as scientists or their everyday lives. Three events have been live-streamed, and archived episodes can be viewed on the ILC communication channel.

The next show will be held on 28 February, with invitee Mareki Honma from Mizusawa VLBI Observatory, who leads the Japanese team for the international collaboration project using the Event Horizon Telescope, who captured the first image of a black hole in 2019.

See also Fukumaru’s English story “White Lion

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