Duckman is waiting. At less than a year old, he is living in an orphanage in Japan. His mother said she would come get him in one week.
He will not see her for three years.
Today, Duckman, born Takahito Nakamura, smiles when I ask him to recount his difficult past.
"I have no problem to talk about this," he says, twirling a pen expertly.
One might not expect Takahito, with his heavy bangs and pedestrian clothes, to identify as the neon yellow unfailingly animated "Duckman" drummer – a celebrity in downtown Toronto. Grinning, flashing peace signs, and dabbing, he drums expertly and furiously in all kinds of weather. He is impossible to miss and wildly entertaining to watch.
These lively, comedic performances make his dark past all the more surprising. Shortly after Takahito was born, his mother became frustrated with his crying and grabbed his neck, choking him.
"I was a baby, so that was my work," Takahito jokes. "I was just doing my job!"
His parents abandoned him at a hospital in Aomori, Japan, and Takahito was sent to an orphanage.
"I was crying to get attention, to get affection from doctors, from nurses, but no one actually came," he says, "so I didn’t really know what love meant."
In elementary school, Takahito discovered his aptitude for making people laugh and, with his grandparents’ assistance, attended a school for comedy. He developed as a stand-up comedian in Tokyo and eventually moved to Australia to improve his English and pursue his career in entertainment.
It was in Australia that Duckman was born.
"I wanted to go through the language barrier, so I studied busking," Takahito tells me, "So that deaf people, blind people, poor kids that can’t pay for tickets for concerts, they can come see you for free."
Duckman, it turns out, began as Chickenman.
"I am a chicken, which means I’m a coward without a costume," Takahito laughs. "But the very first day … people started calling me ‘Duckman,’ so I changed."
Takahito tells me he still feels like a chicken sometimes.
"I’m still nervous when I go busking!" he says. "Right before I wear the costume, I get nervous."
He gets his yellow onesies from eBay ("It’s custom order, so it’s expensive. I have five of them!") and made his signature hat himself. And the drumming? It’s all self-taught.
"At first I sucked of course," Takahito tells me. "I didn’t watch any YouTube videos or anything. That’s why I was pretty different at playing drums."
Takahito also sings and plays the guitar and admits he could make more money if he busked as a singer-songwriter. He says, however, bucket drums are more distinct and inspiring.
"I want to do something that anyone can do but that no one can do," he says. "I had never tried to play bucket drums. So if I can do it, anyone can do it."
His rise to fame happened quickly – Takahito has only been in Toronto for fourteen months. While the majority of people are fans of Duckman, Takahito does encounter animosity and, unfortunately, racism.
"I still get discrimination ... I don’t have citizenship," he says.
He tells me much of his trouble comes from other buskers because the competition for prime busking space is so fierce.
"I take the spot and I take the attention," he explains. "I am too loud!"
He also encounters hostility from the homeless community, who resent him for making money on the streets.
"They come up to me and say, ‘this is our home. We are making money here. I want to take this spot, so you have to go away. I have citizenship. How about you?’"
Takahito says he responds that he can speak English, so why don’t they talk?
It is worth noting that Takahito only learned English two years ago and, like with his drumming, he taught himself. He is undeniably fluent, although, he admits,
"The pronunciation is hard!"
Takahito typically busks Friday nights and weekend afternoons into the evenings. He’ll play for three to seven hours with no breaks.
"I am well-trained!" he laughs.
A final surprise Takahito reveals about himself is that he’s not that crazy about playing the drums.
"I just want to make people laugh and happy, so it doesn’t matter what I do," he says. "I want people to know that there are so many things that are not sad. People tend to look at something that people lost, but they have to look at things that people still have left. People have to move forward."
Takahito’s upcoming documentary, When I Was Young the World Didn’t Need Me, will screen in Toronto, Vancouver, Sydney, and Tokyo. A release date is not yet specified. You can find him on Youtube, Facebook, Instgram and GoFundMe.Subscribe now to read more original stories about Toronto like this »