My mother once mistook me for a chimpanzee… “Memories from the circus where I lived with my mother,” by an up-and-coming writer.
The Kigure Circus was once so popular that it became a social phenomenon. Oyake Prize-winning author Ren Inaizumi lived at the Kigure Circus with his mother when he was a child. Based on his memories, he visited and interviewed members of the Kigure Circus who once spent the same time there, and the result is “Circus Child,” released on April 3. We asked Mr. Inaizumi why he decided to write “Kigure” now, and what was it about the “circus days” that motivated him to write the book.
–This book is a work of “personal nonfiction” based on Inaizumi’s own experiences.
Several years ago, I was interviewed by a newspaper for a project, and the theme of the interview was “places of my memories. What immediately came to mind was the circus. It was an important memory for me, because the experience of living in a circus left the greatest impression on me as a child. So I suggested to the person in charge of the project, “How about a circus?” But at that time, Kigure Circus was already out of business (it ceased operations in 2010).
So, I decided to go to a circus company called “Pop Circus” to cover the event, though not as a replacement for Kigure Circus. I told one of the members I met there that I had been with Kigure Circus, and he told me that a member who was with Kigure Circus at that time was now with Pop Circus. It was our first reunion in more than 30 years. That was the beginning of my interest in hearing the stories of the circus people of that time.
–I was so excited to hear what they had to say. So you visited and interviewed the members of the circus at that time, following your memories.
My memories are from when I was five years old, so I cannot be sure if they are true, if I dreamed them, or if they are my own memories based on what I heard from others. So I was very interested in what people who saw the same scene as I did at the time would remember.
–I heard that the Kigure Circus was very popular at the time, and every time it performed, it was packed to capacity day after day.
At that time, Kigure Circus was directed by Norihei Miki, a comedian, and its performances were highly narrative in nature. The title of the show was “Journey to Outer Space,” and a girl named Uran-chan came down from above and said, “Where am I? and the show begins. Of course, it was not a real girl, but a grown-up female comedian playing the role (laughs).
(Laughs.) The girl lands on a spaceship on a circus planet and witnesses a variety of performances, such as trapeze and high rope walking. The stage direction kept changing with the music, and it became a continuous story. Later, there were more and more circus companies, such as Cirque du Soleil, that staged shows with a strong storyline, but this was a very innovative experiment at the time.
–It is written that Inaizumi, a five-year-old boy, was fascinated by the circus.
I was crazy about the Kigure Circus shows back then and watched them day in and day out. On Sundays there were four shows a day, and I saw them all. No matter how much fun I was having playing with my friends, when I heard the opening music, I would go inside the big tent. Children living in the tent village were always privileged to see the circus. I wonder why we never got bored even though we saw the same act every time, and I think it was because Kigure’s circus had a great story to tell. Looking back on it now, I think so.
–The book is full of fascinating comedians.
One of the star comedians of the time was a man named Ken (Takashi). He was good at aerial acrobatics such as trapeze and tightrope walking. Even as a child, I thought he was a really cool guy. Both of his parents were members of a circus troupe, so he was a “circus kid” from the time he was born. Amazingly, he had to change schools 160 times before graduating from junior high school.
One thing that left a strong impression on me when I spoke with Ken this time was that the circus is a community where people can come and go as they please. He told me that in the community of the circus, the performers were determined to survive and make a living through their own physical expression.
–Speaking of the Kigure Circus, the book “Wings of Icarus,” a biography of Toru Kurihara, who died in a cansoo (high rope walking) accident, became a bestseller and was even made into a movie starring Masashi Sada.
Mr. Kurihara’s accident occurred in 1977, so I was not yet born. Naturally, I had never met him and knew very little about him. However, I am familiar with Masashi Sada’s “Sonnet of a Clown,” which was the theme song for the movie. This song is always played during the finale of Kigure Circus, so I listened to it over and over again. It is a sad melody, so I think it had the effect of shaking the emotions of the audience at the end of the performance.
–It seems that Kigure Circus had a great cultural influence, as it was made into a movie and a photo book was published.
The photographer Seiichi Motohashi published a photo book titled “Circus Time,” and when my mother saw it, she decided she wanted to raise her child in a circus, so she called the telephone number at the end of the book and Mr. Motohashi answered out of the blue. Mr. Motohashi was happy to introduce me to him, and Kigure Circus readily accepted my mother’s offer. Without that photo book, my mother would never have worked at Kigure, and I might never have written this book.
–I am sure that I would not have written this book either. Ms. Hisada is also Inaizumi’s mother. At what age did you read “Circus Village Backstreet”?
I have not read much of my mother’s writing, but I read this “Circus Village Backstreet” many times. I mentioned earlier that I was interested in my own memories, but my memories of the circus were just fragments of what I had actually experienced, recorded in my mind, but not put into words. Later, I heard it as a memory from my mother or read her book, and I think it was verbalized and became my memory.
–What is human memory? In this book, you quote the poet Hiroshi Osada’s book “The Garden of Memory” from his book.
Yes, Mr. Nagata writes Cultivate your own memories. What grows in that garden of memory is what we call life. I think this “garden of memory” is what life in the circus was like for me.
I remember the scenery of the circus, but I did not know how many meters long the bar was or how many members there were until I looked up the numbers later. I remember a lot of things from that time, but I don’t remember them in words or numbers. This time, while talking to many people, I put my memories of those days into words.
–So, the circus scenes were burned into your mind, even though you did not verbalize them?
Yes, even now, various scenes and scenery come back to me. I can still recall various scenes and landscapes, such as the scenery of the tent village and the cooking facilities. There were iron pipes, plywood, rags, and various other materials around us, and children were running around among them. There were also many animals, including sea lions and elephants, which they could touch.
There was a dog named Bear that was owned by a member of the group, and we played with him. There was also a chimpanzee that escaped from its cage. It was in the tent where my mother and I lived, and when she came home, she thought I was there and talked to it, but it turned out to be a chimpanzee. My mother wrote in “Circus Village Backstreet” about how surprised she was.
–It is a vivid memory.
I think the reason I still remember those days so well is because I was so stimulated. I was born in Tokyo, raised by a mother and her child, and attended nursery school. I was born in Tokyo, raised by a single mother and child, and went to preschool, so it was quite a shock for me as a child to suddenly enter the world of the circus.
–Now that you have finished your research and writing, what do you think the “circus era” was like?
The time when I was in the circus was the time when the circus was most popular. I understand that now that I have listened to your stories. The circus was widely accepted as entertainment in society. The circus was a place where people of all backgrounds were accepted and passed by. In fact, my mother left the Kigure Circus after less than a year. I felt that everyone who shared the same time with me, even for a short period of time, were my friends and family, and the circus was a home for everyone involved.
–Reading this book, I felt as if I had stepped back in time to the days of the circus.
Nowadays, the Kigure Circus is about to disappear from the memories of many people. If no one remembers it, it is as good as if it had never happened. It is in such a time that I decided to write about Kigure Circus. I decided to write about Kigure Circus. I am proud to say that I am the only one who can write Kigure Circus at this time. As a writer, I feel fortunate to have encountered a theme that only I could write about. I hope that as many readers as possible will pick up this book. Thank you very much.
To purchase a copy of Inaizumi’s “Circus Child,” please click here.