Miyo the Storyteller – Unpacking cultural differences through humour

Miyo Yamauchi, performing as Miyo the Storyteller, uses laughs at Vancouver Fringe Festival to ease into cultural conversations in her show “How To Be Japanese: Your Normal Is Not My Normal.”

“I think that my humour is self-deprecating. So if I put myself lower than everybody else, everybody can laugh at me. And then eventually they think that, ‘Oh, that applies to me, too.’ They can be more accepting,” says Yamauchi.

In her performances (running until September 15) – allowing for an entertaining glimpse of her own experience, along with an opportunity for self-reflection – Yamauchi takes audiences through curious cultural observations as a Japanese immigrant to North America.

A love of language

Yamauchi has long been fascinated with language and how we communicate with one another. In university, she majored in Swahili. She’s also taught herself web development – which is now her day job – because she enjoyed deciphering the various languages of computer programming. And in 2004 she moved to Los Angeles with the goal of studying Spanish, and has lived there ever since.

But after a few years of living in California, and despite her love of language in general, Yamauchi found that it was hard enough to improve her English, let alone learn Spanish.

“As a computer programmer, although I’m fascinated with learning languages, I don’t talk much. And as a computer programmer, I don’t need to,” says Yamauchi. “So then I thought I have to force myself to speak more. Then I joined Toastmasters.”

Toastmasters is a long-running non-profit that helps people develop skills such as public speaking. It’s also where Yamauchi found her love of storytelling that would culminate in “Your Normal Is Not My Normal.”

After finding some success in her improved language abilities with that club, Yamauchi joined the non-profit’s more storytelling-focussed club, StoryMasters, and was immediately taken with the creative potential of the medium.

“When I visited the [StoryMasters], I was blown away with the power of stories. That’s how my storytelling journey started,” says Yamauchi.

Such is the basis for her current show, a collection of humorous stories that Yamauchi has written over the years, reflecting on her own thoughts and experiences around culture and language.

Miyo Yamauchi. | Photo courtesy of Fringe Festival.

The power of storytelling

As the show’s title suggests, much of her stories emerge from, or are at least characterized by, cultural differences. For example, one of the seven stories that make up the show includes reflections on drinking culture which, at least from a Canadian or American perspective, is a lot more intense.

“In Japan we drink a lot, and that’s normal. But when I moved to LA I thought that was universal. When I talked about drinking, everybody was like, ‘Oh my gosh, you drink a lot! Are you okay?’ I didn’t realize that oh, this is not normal.”

Yamauchi navigates these kinds of cultural difference stories through humour, which means audiences can find entertainment even if they’re not thinking about the stories
too deeply.

“When they hear my story, if they start thinking about [something] other than my story, then that means they are bored. So I need to keep their attention,” says Yamauchi. “One thing I’m excited to hear always is people saying something like, ‘Oh my gosh, one hour passed away like a blink’… That kind of reaction I always enjoy.”

But as Yamauchi notes, the stories often do have layers to them, layers that can be unpacked depending on how engaged a listener is in the story. So for Yamauchi, taking a self-deprecatingly humorous approach allows her to unlock another level of storytelling: as she reflects on stage about her own cultural experiences, she allows audiences to do the same.

“If the people cannot see that deep layer, they can still enjoy my story. [But] if they think a little bit more, or if they see my shows a couple of times, then they may start seeing the other side of the story,” says Yamauchi.

For more information about the show visit www.vancouverfringe.com/events/how-to-be-japanese-your-normal-is-not-my-normal