Yosuke Ikeda – magic, mime, and maths (#83)


Performer, creator, and mathematician. Yosuke Ikeda majored in mathematics when at university, and also taught himself magic and juggling. After graduating from university, he worked as a mathematics teacher in a private school. In 2013, he uploaded his “Hello Goodbye” video on YouTube and it spread around the world. That’s when he decided to become a professional performer. Now he has performed his act at many street festivals, comedy theatres and clubhouses in more than 20 countries. 

Can you describe something that has recently amazed you? How did it make you feel?

The Colosseum in Rome. I think it’s overwhelming and all the more beautiful because of the way it’s perishing. A great Time Art.


What do you love about magic? And what do you dislike about magic?

For me, good magic is like a well-written mystery novel. Firstly, I’m amazed by the effect that I feel is completely impossible. Secondly, I’m amazed again to know how it is accomplished. A good puzzle and a good mathematics problem also has that aspect too. I like magic in the respect that there’s someone in this world who invents this. To know one magic trick is to know someone’s great wisdom; which really excites me.

What I don’t like about magic is, actually it’s not about magic but magicians, there exists some people who just copy another’s act and they don’t pay any respect to the ideas or those who invented that.


Can you tell me a little bit more about your career(s)? How did you end up doing what you do now?

I met magic when I was a junior high school student and started learning tricks by myself from books. I joined the magic club in my university. It was fun to meet other magicians, talk with other magicians, but gradually I felt less excited to do magic for magicians, because everybody already knew what I was doing. I wanted them to be surprised. That’s why I started to learn something other than magic. I found a 3 ball juggling instruction video at a magic shop, and decided to start juggling. At that time in Japan very few people knew about juggling. No juggling shop, no juggling club. It was very hard even to get juggling props. I started with 3 tennis balls and practised everyday. I never forget the tremendous reaction I got when I did juggling in the annual magic show in my magic club. I felt really satisfied.

I started performing at street festivals and also joined many performance competitions. I realised that to perform on the street you have to know how to attract people, and to compete with other performers you have to be different from others. Since then I started practising mime and dance, and trying to make something that is completely new not only for a lay audience but also for performers. It was a good thing for me that I have learnt many genres of performance. My preference for mathematics and puzzles also helps me. Now what I’m doing is not actually magic nor juggling nor mime, but at the same time it includes everything.

[Matt notes… Please watch the video below before reading further]

Probably your most famous creation to date is the “HelloGoodbye” act. Over the years I’ve watched it dozens of times on Youtube – one of my favourite performances. Can you tell me about the development of the act? Where did the idea come from? How has the act changed over the years?

My first idea occurred to me when I watched the Budweiser TV commercialIt was a commercial that was taken by one camera from the window of a moving train. In this commercial the lyrics of The Beatles “All together now” appeared in many different ways and in many different contexts, that made me feel really comfortable. I thought it would be nice if I could do something like this on stage. This idea lingered in my head for many years.

In 2012, my friend invited me to join a performance gig at a local theatre in my town. For the theatre show I needed to make a new act. The deadline was only 6 months later. So I decided to give shape to the idea I’ve had for a long time. I tried to find a song that has simple lyrics and everyone knows. And finally I found the song “Hello Goodbye”.

At first it was supposed to be a very short act. I hit upon only the first part with the card panel. When I tried, it looked very good. I got a feeling that this act could be better when I put more ideas in it. So I did, and it got longer and longer until finally it covered the whole song. Lots of people are surprised when I said the famous finale when “HELLO” appears was not planned at all.  I struggled how I could finish this act, and suddenly by chance I found the fact that I had 5 props on stage. One of those props was an easel. A letter “H” was already there! That’s when I hit upon this perfect ending.

My act was completed just 2 weeks before the performance gig. I performed my first “HelloGoodbye” act there and it had an awesome reaction. The video that spread around the world is the one I performed there. After that , I performed this act in many places. Surprising even for me, my first edition of “HelloGoodbye” was already complete enough, and I didn’t make any major change after the first show. But I found one problem when I performed this show on the streets or in theatres. Many effects occur below my waist and some of the audience cannot see it. So I made a little change and put my props on a table. In the course of this, I hit on another small idea. In my act, a ball comes out of a bag and jumps into a box. My idea was that it would be nice if the ball bounced on the floor once before jumping into box. I tried this idea and it was not difficult at all technically. I literally got this on the road on the very day, and as it turned out, this small change made my performance 10 times better. It really killed the audience. Now many people talked about this moment after they watched my act.

100%Magic - Friedrichsbau Varieté

What struck me about the video you posted was how much fun you were having performing. How important is fun and play to your work?

Actually, this is a really fun act to perform. The tension that only a slight mistake breaks everything is shared with both performer and audience. It’s like watching “Ninja Warrior”. They want me to get over one obstacle after another. And every accomplishment excites the audience. I always try to synchronise with the audience’s feeling. When they get excited, I’m excited too. When I’m happy, the audience is happy too. It’s a sense of unity. That makes the whole energy get higher and higher until the grand finale.


I adore your work with wordart and rotating ambigrams. Can you tell me more about this work? How do you design the work? Is there a piece you are most proud of?

It’s one of my habits to observe letters and signs in town whilst walking. When you travel abroad, every signboard you see is nothing but a sequence of strange shapes. I try to simulate this feeling. I try to see letters and signs as they are. You will be surprised how  bizarre they look when they are separated from meaning. Many ideas about wordart or ambigrams come to my head like this. My most favourite work is “Open-Closed” signboard, and this also occurred to me when I walked along the street. I came back home and made a sketch and on that day I created the prototype.


You’re a teacher of mathematics including writing a number of books for students. How does the mathematical side of your life fit in with the magical performances? Does maths influence your magic? And does magic influence your maths?

When I have to choose something out of several option, I always ask myself “What is more reasonable for mathematics?” Because I had many experiences that when you’re faithful to mathematics, it will be beautiful by itself. Of course, mathematics cannot do everything, but it helps me a lot when you have to make some decision. It’s like a good consultant for me.

“Square Puzzle” is my favourite creation based on the classic “missing block” puzzle. And once it was made I was really impressed by the beauty and simplicity of the pattern of pieces. A good idea once it was completed looks natural like it has already existed for 100 years. This is that kind of idea for me. And this is out of the truly mathematical process of thinking.


You run a workshop called “How to create a new idea”. Can you tell me about your creative process?

I think a good idea is not something falling from the sky, but it is everywhere in your daily life waiting for you to pick up. I really like walking around homecenter shops for hours. They’re filled with strange objects you don’t know what they are. Observe them as they are and I can develop my imagination. It is also very useful to take a note of whatever you find or feel. Whenever I feel stuck, I review my notes and get inspired.


What would you like your audience to walk out of the theatre thinking and feeling after seeing you perform?

I like the saying that: “An audience will not remember what they see, but never forget how they feel.”

I want to give an audience, especially children, some feeling that stays in them forever. It’s not just a funny feeling or an exciting feeling but a kind of one little question mark. The feeling they cannot explain what it is but remains in the head like a small stone on a desk. The feeling that cannot be digested for years and but is not uncomfortable.

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