—— Where does the “Tentsukuman” name come from?
I used to work for Yoshimoto Kogyo, a Japanese entertainment agency, and teamed up with Mr. Housei Yamasaki as a comedy duo called “Team Zero.” We performed mainly on the TV program hosted by the famous comedy duo “Downtown.” After that, I appeared in a film, which led me to discover my passion for filmmaking. So, in 1994, I left Yoshimoto and started my career in filmmaking. Four years later, I became a “street poet” to raise funds for my films. What I do is draw inspiration at first sight from a customer and write an impromptu verse for him or her. While sitting on the street and meeting thousands of people, I came to realize that many were bothered by problems. “That’s the reality of our lives,” I thought; my heart ached. Then, these thoughts flowed over me, “Heaven is not the place to go, but to make. I’ll create a heaven filled with smiles and trees in this world!” So, three years ago, on November 15, which is the date of birth and death of my hero, Sakamoto Ryoma, I stopped using my real name. I was reborn as “Tentsukuman,” which means a man who creates heaven.
—— How and why did you became a street poet?
After leaving Yoshimoto, I worked energetically trying to realize my dream of making films. However, because of lack of funds, I had to postpone the start of shooting my film two days before it was scheduled to start. Our filmmaking team was disbanded and I was saddled with debts. I was forced to start over in debt rather than “from scratch.”
One day, a friend of mine, who thought that I was depressed (although I wasn’t), arranged a matchmaking party for me. At the party, I met a nice woman who spoke kindly. We exchanged phone numbers and the next day, I called her hoping for the best. But, she sounded totally different from the day before, showing little interest or enthusiasm. I was shocked and disappointed at her change of heart, but a thought came to my mind: “Was she nice to me only because of the wine?” Suddenly, I wanted to write down that line. So I pulled out a calligraphy brush and black ink from a drawer and wrote it down. The next thing I knew was that my head was filled with countless words and ideas and I couldn’t stop writing them down. I had never studied calligraphy before, but I dashed off 72 verses. Later, I wanted other people to see what I’d written. So I made copies of my works and sold them for 20 yen apiece on the street.
—— What kind of feedback do you get on your impromptu verses written based on your inspiration?
When I was trying to sell copies of the verses on the street, sales were not so good. Some people mistook it as an activity of an unknown new religion. I was at a loss. But one day, a high school girl approached to me and said, “Please write a verse for me.” To my surprise, while I was looking at her, words suddenly came to me and my hand started writing without interruption. Then, she burst into tears, looking at the verse that I wrote. I didn’t understand why she was crying. She said, “Thank you. I’ll do my best.” Then she left, with a smile on her face. That made me extremely happy. Until then, I’d underestimated myself, believing that I was useless in this world. But, that high school girl told me that even a person like me could help other people. Around that time, I started establishing my new style: “I’ll draw my inspiration from you and write a verse for you.” I let my customers decide how much they should pay for my service. The next thing I knew many people were asking me to write impromptu verses for them.
When I had just started as a street poet, I asked my customers to write their comments in a book. One of those messages read: “I came to Tokyo from my hometown as the last chance to see the city before I kill myself. But the verse you wrote for me made me decide to hang in there for a while.” When I saw this message, I felt that I had come to understand the purpose of my existence. Thus, I too made up my mind to endure and to live strong.
—— So, how did your filmmaking go?
I’d worked hard to raise funds by giving lectures, holding exhibitions at department stores, and selling the books that I’d authored. While doing so, in July 2001, I started a nationwide bicycle trip as the last phase of the fundraising. I eventually traveled across Japan three times. As a result, I was able to attain my goal of raising 60 million yen. Then, in January 2003, I resumed filmmaking, with a slogan: “It may be difficult for a person to accomplish the goal, but not for a team!”
While sitting on the street and seeing people struggle with many things in life, I came to desire to make films that give people the power to change society. That’s why I chose to make documentary films, not fiction. I wanted to make a film about the entire process of filmmaking, including planning the project and recruiting members of the cast. That is how the movie “107+1 -- Heaven is to be Made --” This film contains the message, “There is no point in going to a heaven after death and becoming happy there. Let’s convert our present life into a heaven.” The 107+1 is based on the fact that there are 108 elements that are made up of atoms. We imply that you and the 107 people participating in the film will complete the documentary. It’s like oxygen and hydrogen get together and producing water. This concept is from our hope that more and more people will enjoy the film, because the audience is also a main character in the film. This film not only moves people, but also motivates them to live positively, like, “I should indeed start doing something. If I do, things will change.” This film revitalizes you, and awakens your desire to live positively.
—— Can you tell us more about “107+1 -- Heaven is to be Made --”?
Its a documentary that portrays the lives of recruited young people over seven months as they sought to accomplish “three missions” in finding paradise. The film describes how they lived on Chura Island in Okinawa for five months, at sea for a month and in Afghanistan for another month.
One of the “three missions” was collecting illegally dumped trash in Okinawa. Well, trash used to be “things with life” that humans used. When we held “Yuimahru Festival” in Itoman City in Okinawa in an attempt to show the importance of our lives, more than a thousand people of all ages and genders came. That may have been the “heaven” that we’d been looking for.
The second mission was to knit 777 scarves, stretching a kilometer in length, and sending them to children in Afghanistan. We called it “the Mission Rainbow of Scarves.” We actually exceeded our goal, receiving more than 1,200 scarves, reaching over 1.5 kilometers in length.
The third mission was to sail “Sabani boats” from Itoman to Kagoshima, which is about 900 kilometers. The “Sabani” is a traditional Okinawa rolling boat. Seventeen young people took the challenge in a life or death situation. It was a tough mission lasting for a month, which gave us the experience of living hard.
—— What made to you decide to become a comedian early on?
Actually, I joined Yoshimoto Kogyo by accident. When I was in the third year of senior high school, my homeroom teacher had a counseling session with my parents and me to discuss my future after graduation. I said jokingly, “I’ll join Yoshimoto.” Word spread quickly across the school and I couldn’t take it back. I had no choice but to make up my mind to join Yoshimoto.
Once I was with Yoshimoto, I wanted to hone my entertainment skills to perfection. So, I went to Mr. Shinsuke Shimada, a famous comedian whom I admire, and asked him to make me his protégé. But, he rejected my request, saying “You’re no good ‘cause you’re too slow.” Mr. Shinsuke, whom I admire, didn’t see me as comedian material. I felt as if I had been thrown into an abyss of despair. So, to heal my broken heart, I decided to travel abroad by myself. By doing so, I thought I could educate myself and grow. Following a friend’s advice, I traveled in Australia for twenty days or so. After returning to Japan, I was accepted by the Yoshimoto Sogo Geino Gakuin (Yoshimoto Entertainment School), known as New Star Creation (NSC). And so I started my career in comedy.
—— Can you tell us about your experience in Australia?
It was my first experience overseas, and of course, I didn’t speak English well. But, I tried hard to make myself understood because if I didn’t communicate in English I couldn’t do anything. From that experience, I learned that if you try hard, the other person will know it. And, that gave me a spark of confidence.
In Australia, I was on a farm stay program where I experienced a farmer’s life. My host mother was an 80-year-old gentle lady named Mary Jane. When I was leaving her to go back to Japan, she gave me a stationery set in the shape of a kangaroo. When I was taking the entrance examination to NSC, I brought her stationery set with me and the examiner pointed to the kangaroo pad and said angrily, “Are you insulting us?“ But, that triggered some comedy-like exchanges between the examiner and me, making the other exam takers laugh aloud. As a result, I was accepted into the school. To summarize, I went to Australia because Mr. Shinsuke had rejected me, and later I was accepted by NSC because Mary Jane gave me the stationery set, and that led me to becoming a Yoshimoto entertainer.
—— Who has been a big influence on you?
I have been most influenced by Darryl Anka, the author of “Bashar,” who promotes dialogue with the universe and who popularized the concept of channeling in Japan. When I couldn’t decide whether to leave Yoshimoto or not, I came across his book. After I finished reading it, my mood lightened and I felt I could take it easy in life. In his book he says that all things happen in perfect timing, and according to agreements that serve the best of all concerned. I think humans tend to torture themselves by limiting themselves, like, “This is good, but that is not good.” This book, though, taught me to free myself from all limitations and carry out something that makes me really happy. If I hadn’t found this book, I would have continued as a comedian without considering other options. That life may have been interesting to some extent, but I am sure it is my current path that allows me to live like myself. If you don’t give up, your dreams, goals, wishes will someday come true.
—— What’s your goal in the future?
Since 2004, we have been helping people living in poor areas in Cambodia. Many children living there have lost their parents. They live in such misery that they are not even able to go to school. Witnessing such reality, we pondered what we could do for them, besides just giving them money. Then we learned that Cambodian women can use sewing machines, so we decided to ask them to sew small bags for our "My Chopsticks Campaign,” which promotes bringing one’s own chopsticks to restaurants to conserve resources. We buy their bags and this means we create workplaces for them. Also, we are involved in a project to dig wells. In Cambodia, it is still customary to wash one’s body in contaminated rivers, so many people develop typhoid fever. You may be surprised, but you can dig a well for only $150 in Cambodia. Even a company employee can afford to donate $150, right? You don’t have to be a special organization, like a nonprofit organization, to help the Earth. Each person has small power, but if we put our love together, we can create bigger power of love. That will be the driving force in saving the Earth. No matter how much we love our families and friends, our love does not reach our loved ones if we don’t protect our planet. It’s our mission to protect the Earth.