Storytelling Review: “Tales of Now and Zen” by Motoko

Storyteller Motoko 

On Saturday, January 10, 2009, I drove downtown to the Indiana History Center to hear storyteller Motoko share “Stories of Now and Zen.”  The program was presented by Storytelling Arts of Indiana as part of the Barnes & Thornburg Storytellers Theater presenting the Creative Street Media Group Storytelling Series.  This particular event was sponsored by Marcia Baker.

It was a lovely evening of storytelling.

Motoko was born in Osaka, Japan, but has lived in the United States for the past twenty years. She still has an accent, but she is very easy to understand.  In fact, I have been struggling over how to describe her voice.  She uses a range of tones in her telling – from girlish to gruff – but her default voice is rich and deep and…reedy?  That’s not quite the right word.  Listening to Motoko’s voice is like eating black cherries while chewing on a piece of sugar cane.

She wears a colorful silk jacket over black pants when she tells, and stands next to a large, opened paper umbrella.  Her stories smoothly incorporate traditional Japanese singing, Japanese cultural information, poetry, riddles, mime, humor, and pathos.  Her tidy program includes both Japanese folk tales and personal stories from her life as a daughter and mother in both Japan and the United States.  You don’t realize until you’re thinking it over it later that it is as neatly and thickly layered as a kimono.

Her telling style has warmth, elegance, and joy.  It is comfortably informal and yet it is also very precise, very respectful of the three elements: story, teller, and listeners.   She is, like the Rabbit whose year it was when she was born, cute and cuddly. 

Speaking of the Year of the Rabbit, Motoko taught us through story about all twelve animal years of the Chinese zodiac, which is popular in Japan, too.  I learned that I am supposedly gentle and generous because I was born in the year of the Ox.  I don’t know about that, but I loved the story Motoko told about her feisty grandmother and the (non-existent) Year of the Cat.

In another story, she made me wish there was a public bath house here in my neighborhood like the one she loved to visit in the neighborhood where she grew up.  Through her child’s eye view, she made it sound very pleasurable, very relaxing.  Yet she also let me relate to, and sympathize with, her aunt, who was mysteriously NOT comfortable going to the public bath house.  I loved the aunt’s courage in that story, and the release that came as she faced her feelings of inadequacy.

I laughed out loud at the Japanese folk tales about the women who “loved too much” and the girl whose gaseous powers became legendary.  I was moved by the story of Motoko’s son discovering racism and touched by her almost all-mime telling of the years flying by in “My Son’s Room.”

It was an excellent storytelling program.  Honto ni tanoshikatta desu!  (I had a wonderful time!)

“Tales of Now and Zen” was presented only one night.  However, the storytelling theater series continues on February 7, 2009, with storyteller David Gonzales telling “Jazz Orpheus.”  Here is info about that program from the Storytelling Arts of Indiana website:

With speech, sound, dance and above all, inspired imagination, nationally acclaimed master storyteller and spoken word artist David Gonzalez is keeping the ancient art of storytelling alive. From London’s Royal National Theater to Broadway to Indianapolis for the first time, Gonzalez will tell, Jazz Orpheus.A winner of the Helen Hayes Performing Artist of the Year Award, Gonzalez is applauded for his vocal, physical and narrative talents and gift for mimicry, comic timing, and wordplay. Described as “a New York Puerto Rican version of Bill Cosby,” he tells age-old world myths and stories, tales from his Puerto Rican and Cuban culture, and from his childhood experiences in the Bronx.

In Jazz Orpheus, a musical twist on a Greek myth, Gonzalez conjures a jazz-infused journey into the underworld. Loss, struggle, redemption, and artistic courage run through this story as Orpheus scats, swings, and serenades his way through a gauntlet of ordeals in search of his beloved Eurydice. Gonzalez concludes this rendition with his own poetry about love lost and loneliness as he smoothly takes the audience from Orpheus to the poignant Korean story of The Three Whiskers of the Lion. Peppered with sassy street vernacular and modern-day references, David makes this ancient story come vividly to life for contemporary audiences. To learn more about Gonzalez visit,
This event will take place at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center Frank and Katrina Basile Theater, located at 450 W. Ohio Street. Free parking is available on the backside of the center off of New York St. The Basile Theater is wheelchair accessible and has a state-of-the-art sound system. The performance will be signed for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired.

Tickets are $15/advance or $18/door. To order tickets or for more information, call the History Center at 317-232-1882. To order tickets online visit,
Presented by Barnes & Thornburg, Creative Street Media Group, Sam Arafat and Ryan Zumbahlen. 

Hope Baugh –


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