Popular form of comic monologue in which a storyteller [落語家] creates an imaginary drama through episodic narration and skillful use of vocal and facial expressions to portray various characters. Typically, the storyteller uses no scenery; the only musical accompaniment is the brief flourish of drum[出囃子], shamisen, and bamboo flute[尺八] that marks his entrance and exit. The storyteller, dressed in a plain kimono, crosses to stage center and seats himself on a cushion before his audience [高座], with a hand towel and a fan as his only props [小道具]. There he remains until he has delivered his final line, usually a punning punch line [オチ]. This is the characteristic ending from which the term rakugo was coined, the word being written with two Chinese characters meaning “drop” [落] and “word”[語].
In a rakugo performance the interplay between performer and audience is extremely important. Since the repertory of classic rakugo is small, aficionados have heard the basic story many times. They delight in the storyteller's particular version, his arrangement of familiar episodes, and appreciate his timing and the verisimilitude of the details he adds, such as the sound of sake as he pours it into his imaginary cup. The introduction to the story proper must be completely original. The plots of the stories are never as important as the characterizations in them, for rakugo pokes fun at all manner of human foibles.
By the early 1670s professional performers [噺家] had emerged. Tsuyu no Gorobei [露の五郎兵衛] from Kyoto and Yonezawa Hikohachi [米沢彦八] from Osaka are regarded as the forefathers of rakugo in the Kyoto-Osaka area [上方], while Shikano Buzaemon [鹿野武左衛門] is credited with founding the Edo rakugo tradition, later perfected San'yutei Encho [三遊亭圓朝].
A regular entertainment feature at roadside
shows, private banquets, and makeshift stages set up at restaurants
during off-hours, this vagabond art found a home in 1791
when the first permanent Japanese-style vaudeville theater [寄席] was opened in
Edo. Soon afterward the popularity of yose spread to
After surviving the challenge of cinema in the 1920s and 1930s, which significantly reduced yose attendance, rakugo performers met with increasing official censorship during World War II because they did not adapt their material to support national ideology.
With the resumption of civilian broadcasting at
the end of World War II, rakugo recovered its popularity. Although the proliferation of new entertainment media
has greatly reduced the number of yose, the adaptability of rakugo to both radio and
television has ensured its survival. There are still four traditional yose in
Manzai is the performing art in which a
comic dialogue is carried on by two comedians. Said to have had its beginnings
Ky?gen is the oldest
indigenous form of Japanese classical
theater and as such has exerted a strong influence on all subsequent styles of theater in
Ky?gen staging is simple in the extreme. The average number of characters is only two or three. There are no sets or special lighting. Masks are seldom used, and there is no makeup. The costumes are in subdued colors and only serve to indicate the social position of the character. Also, very few properties are used; most things are mimed using only a single folding fan [扇子], which every character carries tucked into his sash on the left side when not in use. Even facial expression is kept to a minimum, so that dramatic expression is achieved almost exclusively through the stylized vocal and physical forms and the spatial relationships among the performers on the stage. Thus the entire art of Ky?gen is completely dependent for its dramatic effect upon the concentration and skill of the actor.