If you don’t see a word here that you would like the definition of, or have a suggestion, please let me know by posting a comment. Note that some of the definitions listed here may not necessarily apply to Tokyo Rakugo. Also, always doublecheck definitions if you need them for publication. The following list is in alphabetical order. Scroll down to browse, or click a letter to jump down.
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atarigane あたり鉦: also surigane, or simply kane, this is the high-pitched hand bell/gong played in upbeat yose (also kabuki and festival) music. The prefix atari is good luck as it means “hit.” After all, anybody who performs for a living wants to be a hit.
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bakeru 化ける: for ones geifû, or artistic style, to undergo a major change, suddenly becoming better.
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chihô/chiiki yose 地方・地域寄席: Literally, provincial and regional yose, respectively. These are not formal rakugo performance spaces in the sense that the Hanjôtei is, but they might be the key to the post-WWII (and even present-day) survival of Kamigata Rakugo. Regional yose, as the name indicates, tend to be located outside of the city and have been held in any number of places, including small community centers, hot-spring resorts, school gymnasiums, party rooms at restaurants, personal homes, etc. Some regional yose have histories that date back several decades.
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debayashi 出囃子: Unlike the same term used in kabuki when musicians play music onstage, in audience view, debayashi in rakugo refers entrance music, what hanshika come out (deru) to.
deshi 弟子: pupil, apprentice of a traditional art such as rakugo, kabuki, tea ceremony, flower arrangement, et cetera. In the Star Wars movies, Luke Skywalker is Yoda’s deshi.
doro ドロ: The drum (style) played at the moment spirits of the dead appear in kaidanbanshi (ghost stories), or other stories.
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enmoku 演目: the title of a rakugo story, also sometimes referred to as endai or neta.
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futatsume 二ツ目: Literally, the “second,” for the order in which this level usually performs, this refers to the storyteller who has about ten years of stage experience under his/her belt. The futatsume period generally lasts about ten years (For other levels see zenza and shishô).
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gakuya 楽屋: The dressing room, typically small and shared by all, regardless of status. Seating arrangements tend to indicate one’s place in the hierarchy.
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hade 派手: translated as bright, colorful, loud, or flashy, this adjective is often used to describe the artistic character of Kamigata Rakugo, especially when compared to its Tokyo counterpart.
hamemono ハメモノ: music and musical sound effects incorporated into Kamigata rakugo stories. See narimono and yosebayashi.
hamon 破門: official expulsion from an artistic school. See ichimon and nyûmon.
hanashi 噺, 咄, 落語: in the rakugo world this refers to a rakugo story.
hanashika 噺家: teller of hanashi, or a rakugo storyteller, synonymous with rakugoka, though the former is preferred in Kamigata.
Hanjôtei (Tenman Tenjin Hanjôtei) 天満天神繁昌亭 : The only permanent performance space operated by the Kamigata Rakugo Association, dedicated to showcasing Kamigata rakugo year round on a daily basis. Established in 2006, it is the Kansai region’s first such venue in the post-WWII era.
haseki 端席: a small-scale yose/jôseki.
hatsuseki 初席: Rakugo shows put on from gantan (New Year’s Day) to January 10, or that 10-day period.
hayashi 囃子: see ohayashi and yosebayashi.
hiza gawari 膝代り: the entertainer who performs just prior to the final act, or tori. In Kamigata this role is also called motare.
hiza kakushi 膝隠し: placed in front of the kendai, this is a small free-standing single-panel wooden screen, used to hide performers’ legs.
hôru rakugo ホール落語: rakugo performed in large auditoriums or theaters. Hanashika are typically allowed more time in these venues, so longer stories can be heard.
hondai 本題: the story proper. Most rakugo stories take about ten to twenty minutes to narrate, though some stories last more than double this time. See also makura and ochi.
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ichiban daiko 一番太鼓: the drum sounded to inform all that the yose is open.
ichimon 一門: an artistic family. For example, the Somemaru-ichimon, or Beichô-ichimon. See hamon and nyûmon.
ichimon-kai 一門会: A show put on by the members of a single artistic family. These shows are often looked forward to as showcases of the fruits of a master’s tutelage.
iromono 色物: Acts performed at the yose that are not rakugo or kôdan. The name iromono comes from the fact these performers names and/or acts are displayed on wooden tablets at the entrance of yose in color (iro, namely cinnabar), and not the usual black used for storytellers.
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jôseki 定席: Synonymous with yose, this(or simply seki) is the term traditionally used in Osaka for small performance halls where rakugo is performed, backed by other comic variety acts on a common bill. While traditionalists in Osaka prefer the word jôseki, yose seems to be used just as often if not more. Currently there is one full-time jôseki open in Osaka, the Tenman Tenjin Hanjôtei.
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Kamigata 上方: Osaka and surrounding area, including Kobe, Kyoto, Nara, etc. Synonymous with modern-day Kansai.
kamikiri 紙切り: Also referred to as kamigiri kogatana 紙切り小刀, this is a paper-cutting art that artists have long performed in the yose, where they take requests, sway in rhythm to hayashi music, tell amusing anecdotes, and all as they quickly complete beautiful, impressive pieces called kamikiri-e 紙切り絵. As far as I know, all “orthodox” kamikiri artists are now currently based in Tokyo.
kamiseki 上席: the 1st to the 10th of the month, or this ten-day period. The ten-day period beginning New Year’s Day goes by another name, hatsu seki, however.
kaomise kôgyô 顔見世興行: this is a special production, often held at New Year, when more hanashika than usual appear on a single card. This may also refer to shows featuring major stars, which are otherwise hard to see.
keiko 稽古: practice, or lessons in a traditional art.
kendai 見台: short podium, used for some Kamigata rakugo stories–not used in Tokyo style. Two small wooden clappers (kibyôshi) are placed on the kendai; these are used to signal scene changes, make sounds like knocking, and represent things in stories such as lattice-work on windows.
kido 木戸: literally, wooden door; the front entrance/exit at the yose, used by the audience.
kimono 着物: hanashika perform rakugo in kimono, which, prior to the color T.V. era, were typically dark blues, browns, and black, not the flashy greens, pinks, and blues that one often sees today. Kimono are a reflection of hanashika taste, and sometimes personality. Zenza, particularly those still in training, generally do not wear kimono jackets called haori,which in rakugo are typically shorter in length, so not to be sat on when kneeling, easier to take off when narrating. Zenza kimono colors also tend to be subdued. Kimono with the artistic family crest, montsuki, are generally worn only following apprenticeship. Hakama, or long pleated skirts worn over kimono, are worn for formal occasions, or special events/shows.
kôban 香盤: a chart indicating the rank of all hanashika, showing the order in which they entered artistic families. In the Edo/Tokyo tradition, performers are promoted to shin’uchi status according to this chart.
kobanashi 小咄: short comical tales/anecdotes, many of which predate rakugo by centuries, and often served as the seeds for what became the longer, modern rakugo we know today.
kobyôshi 小拍子: (two) small wooden clappers, used to strike the kendai to indicate scene changes, among other things.
kôdan 講談: a professional narrative art form, often discussed alongside rakugo, which shares similar medieval roots. Kôdan differs from rakugo in that the former deals more with “serious” material than the latter. Traditional material includes war tales (gunkimono) from works such as Heike monogatari.
kôshaku 講釈: Another term for kôdan. In this art a desk (lectern) is used and the storyteller strikes it with a fan or tataki, which resembles a fan wrapped in leather.
koten rakugo 古典落語: Basically speaking, rakugo stories predating the Meiji period, often contrasted with shinsaku rakugo.
kôza 高座: the place from which a hanashika narrates stories. Literally this means “high seat.” Indeed, performers often sit on raised platforms so they may be seen by all in the audience. Kôza is a term that also refers a story performance itself. This word was originally used by Buddhist monks to refer to their sermon daises.
kôza gaeshi 高座返し: this refers to the business that takes place between acts; the zabuton is turned over or changed, the mekuri is flipped, and, if needed, the kendai is put in place or struck. Some high-ranking masters have tea or sayu (plain hot water) brought out, too. In the Edo/Tokyo tradition, a zenza performs these duties, but in the Kamigata it is typically a woman, called an ocha-ko (tea girl), who takes care of everything. A zenza will do the kôza-gaeshi if an ocha-ko has not been hired.
kyaku 客: more formally (o)kyakusan or okyakusama, this refers to those who patronize hanashika by attending rakugo shows, or in other ways such as sponsoring them financially.
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makura 枕: a prologue to the story proper, the makura (lit. pillow) is time set aside for the storyteller to “soften” any material that may prove hard (difficult) later in the course of the story. This is also a time for the hanashika to feel the audience out, to build trust, and set the tone–perhaps with kobanashi, etc.–for what will follow. Finally, this is a time for direct communication between the artist and those listening. See also hondai and ochi.
manzai 漫才: a two-person comic act, which might also be called “two-man stand-up.” Sets are typically scripted, though this can also be a highly improvisational art. There are typically two roles in manzai, the wit (tsukkomi) and stooge (boke). Modern manzai has long been thought of as an Osaka art, and some even feel that Kamigata Rakugo has acquired a certain manzai flavor.
mekuri メクリ: placed on stage, this is a stand with sheets of paper bearing the names of performers in yose-style calligraphy (yosemoji). Mekuri, literally meaning “to flip,” refers to the manual action of turning name sheets between sets. Mekuri are also sometimes referred to as nabira (name bills, 名ビラ).
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naka iri 仲入り: intermission.
naka tori 中取り: the slot in shows just prior to the naka iri, or intermission. It is typically a high (occasionally the highest) level hanashika who performs in this slot. In theory, their appearance ensures that the audience will return after the break. The naka tori slot is sometimes reserved for those veterans (in this case, also called naka tori — “pre-intermission headliner”) wishing to make an early exit. See tori.
naniwabushi 浪花節: also referred to as rôkyoku, this is a yose artin which a narrator sings a story to shamisen accompaniment. There is a wide variety of “stories,” from those light-hearted and comedic to more serious toned ones that pull on listeners’ heartstrings. This art was especially popular in the early 20th century and through the war years. While naniwabushi no longer enjoys a place in mainstream entertainment, professionals still in practice remain rather active.
narimono 鳴物: this term refers to both the instruments and music that are so central to Kamigata rakugo. Instruments include but are not limited to percussion instruments such as the ôkawa (large drum), shimedaiko (tied-tension drum), atarigane (hand gong), and dora (large gong). Flutes such as the nôkan and yokobue are also narimono instruments. The shamisen is not included in the category of narimono.
nê-san 姉さん: a term of respect and endearment for a female hanashika higher in rank, though not of the shishô level.
neta 根多, ネタ: material or number (i.e., a rakugo story)
neta-chô 根多帳: the register into which hanashika record the date, their names, and stories that they perform at shows. The names of shamisen and hayashi players, as well as the ochako and gakuya keeper, are also often recorded. Neta-chô are kept for future reference, to ensure that the same stories are not repeated too frequently, and to provide a historical document for posterity.
neta-oroshi 根多おろし: Lit. “unloading a story.” This is the term used when a storyteller gives his/her first performance of a newly learned story. Needless to say the storyteller is under more pressure than usual, and this is one thing, in addition to the new material/version, that audiences look forward to.
niban daiko 二番太鼓: the drum played just prior to the show proper, a cue for the audience to promptly take their seats. In addition to the drum, a nôkan (the flute played in noh theatre) is also played.
ni no seki 二之席: shows put on from 11th to the 20th of January, or this ten-day period. This is typically when audiences begin returning to regular capacity following the New Year’s lull.
nî-san 兄さん: a term of respect and endearment for a male hanashika higher in rank, though not of the shishô level.
ninjôbanashi 人情噺: rakugo stories about deep human emotions or sentiments. This genre is more popular in the Tokyo area than in Osaka.
nobori 幟: presented by a fan or fan club, these are tall, vertical flags/banners bearing the name of a favorite hanashika.
nyûmon 入門: officially entrance (being accepted into) an artistic school, or mon. See hamon and ichimon.
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obi 帯: A belting sash worn around the waist of a kimono.
ochi 落ち: a technique used, usually in an abrupt or sudden manner, to wrap up a short joke or longer rakugo story. There is often an element of surprise in ochi, which some translate as punch line. According to Hayashiya Somemaru IV there are two kinds of ochi in general: the kind that leave you thinking, “What! That is ridiculous!” and, “Oh… now I get it…” In some cases rakugo stories have no ochi at all.
ohako 十八番: Also pronounced jûhachiban, this literally means “number 18,” and, in the rakugo world refers to a storyteller’s specialty piece(s). This term was originally, and continues to be, used to refer to the 18 kabuki masterpieces of the Ichikawa Danjûrô line.
ohayashi お囃子: in the rakugo world this term refers to the music played during shows at sekitei/yose. Ohayashi-san refers specifically to the women (men are not by a rule eliminated) who are professionally trained in shamisen, the pillar of the ohayashi ensemble. See yosebayashi.
ôiri bukuro 大入袋: literally a “full-house bag,” ôiri bukuro are cash bonuses given to performers at shows by sekitei/yose owners when they receive a full-house, or the turnout is better than usual. This is to “spread the wealth,” and say thank you for drawing such a crowd. Rather than being a large cash bonus, this is typically a single coin, nothing more than a token (if I may) gesture. Today the Hanjôtei hands out ôiri bukuro to fans who come to shows wearing yukata or kimono.
otoshi-dama お年玉: New Year’s gift, usually for children or those of low rank, in the form of cash.
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rakubi 楽日: also known as senshûraku (千秋楽), this is the final day of a run of shows.
rakugo 落語: Traditional Japanese comic storytelling. This is the modern word (ca. late 19thC) for the art. Prior to this rakugo was known by various other terms, including otoshibanashi (tales with punch lines) and karukuchi (lit. light-mouth [tales]).
rakugoka 落語家: rakugo storyteller, synonymous with the term hanashika, which is preferred in Kamigata.
rôkyoku 浪曲: see naniwabushi.
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sage さげ: the final word or line that wraps up a rakugo story. Sage is synonymous with ochi.
seiza 正座: a Japanese style of sitting, erect with one’s legs properly folded under.
seikitei 席定: owners or hired managers/administrators of yose. Chiiki yose organizers, typically resourceful volunteers and rakugo fans themselves, are also dubbed sekitei.
senja fude 千社札: A slip of paper, or adhesive label, printed with one’s name. Traditionally, pilgrims pasted these on the pillars of shrines and temples that they visited; some continue this tradition today. Hanashika usually carry senja fude to give to fans, either accompanying or in lieu of an autograph.See shikishi.
sensu 扇子: folding paper fan, one of the two key props used in rakugo. The other is a tenugui.
shamisen 三味線: a three-string banjo-like instrument, which is a descendant of an instrument that arrived in mainland Japan in the late 16th century via Okinawa and China. The shamisen, plucked with a bachi (plectrum) or finger,became immensely popular during the Edo period (1600-1868). The body and fretless neck of the instrument are typically made of cherry wood, and cat skin (or, more cheaply, dog skin or plastic) is stretched over the front and back of the hollow body, which resembles a drum. Silk or nylon strings are taut between three pegs – traditionally ivory – at the head of the instrument and an elaborate cloth knot secured to the base. Shamisen is also central to music of the kabuki and jôruri (bunraku) theaters.
shibaibanashi 芝居噺: Lit. “play (theater) stories,” a genre of rakugo story that is heavily influenced by the kabuki theater. These stories are often include parodies of sections of actual kabuki plays, unrelated stories with loads of kabuki-like music and stage business, or impressions of actual actors. These stories typically require a lot of energy and knowledge of the kabuki theater. A couple of examples are the stories Shichidan-me (The Seventh Act [of Chûshingura]) and Takoshibai (Octopus Theater).
shikishi 色紙: a square piece of high-quality paper board used for writing poems or painting pictures. In the rakugo world, storytellers often present these to patrons as thank-you gifts. It is also common for patrons and fans to bring their own blank shikishi to shows, in hopes of receiving autographs, senja fude, etc., from performers.
shimoseki 下席: shows produced from the 21st to the 30th of the month, or this ten-day period. In February the shimoseki runs to the end of the month.
shinsaku rakugo 新作落語: Lit. newly composed rakugo. This term has been used to refer generally to those stories composed after the Meiji period (1868-1912), but it seems today to include also those stories from the pre-WWII era as well.
shin’uchi 真打ち: A rank of hanashika; one of this rank always appears in shows as tori (or nakatori, it is up to them), and can take on formal deshi. The shin’uchi system is not currently in use in Kamigata.
shishô 師匠: A master of a traditional art such as rakugo, kabuki, tea ceremony, flower arrangement, et cetera. In the Star Wars movies, Yoda is Luke Skywalker’s shishô. In the rakugo world this also refers to a level of storyteller who has about twenty years of stage experience and/or has begun taking on pupils. This is the so-called third and final of three levels. Note that the term for this level in Tokyo, shin’uchi, is not used in Kamigata (For other levels see zenza and futatsume).
shûgi 祝儀: A monetary gift or tip.
shûgyô 終業: In the rakugo world this refers to the period of training or apprenticeship, which usually lasts two to three years.
shunin 主任: the entertainer who performs last, headlining the show. Also called tori.
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tabibanashi 旅噺: rakugo stories that have to do with travel, to real or fantastic places.
tenguren 天狗連: literally “(long-nosed) goblin gang,” this refers to a gathering of amateur rakugo performers.
tenugui 手ぬぐい: hand kerchief/towel, one of the two key props used in rakugo. The other is a sensu.
tori トリ: also called toriseki, this is final slot in the show and is reserved for the hanashika (also referred to as tori in this case) with the most seniority (and ideally, talent). Most fans attend shows to hear the veterans perform, so having them appear at the end of the show ensures the audience will stay for the entire show. See naka tori.
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ushiro maku 後ろ幕: this is a large curtain hung on the back wall of the stage when one is promoted to a new professional name (shûmei). These expensive, colorful curtains bear performers’ new names, and are typically gifts from fans.
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wari 割り: an entertainers fee, or “cut,” for appearing on stage. Typically this is determined after yose expenses are drawn from ticket sales, and based on one’s position in the kôban rank chart.
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yakan ヤカン: one who pretends to know everything, a know-it-all. This word comes from the rakugo story Yakan (The Tea Kettle Pate).
yose 寄席: A small performance hall where rakugo and other comic variety acts are performed on a common bill. Yose are frequently compared to American and Canadian vaudeville theaters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. See jôseki.
yosebayashi 寄席囃子: (o)hayashi music played in the yose. The instruments absolutely necessary for this ensemble are shamisen and drums (shimedaiko and ôdaiko), but other percussion instruments (e.g., atarigane, chappa, dora, ekirei, furisuzu, hyôshigi, kankara, kotsuzumi, mokugyo, okedô, ôkawa, sôban, suzuki, tsuke) and flutes (e.g., nôkan, shinobue) are often incorporated. See hamemono, narimono, and ohayashi.
yukata 浴衣: An (usually) inexpensive, thin, cotton kimono. Traditionally these are worn by Japanese during the summer months, but also anytime one needs to wear traditional clothes and may be required break a sweat at work, lessons, or some other activity.
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zabuton 座布団: a square Japanese floor cushion used for sitting. In rakugo hanashika sit seiza-style on large, often boldly colorful zabuton. Backstage at the Hanjôtei one can find zabuton in an array of colors, to compliment performers’ kimono.
zenza 前座: Literally “first seat,” this refers to a performer of the lowest level. Zenza are typically warm-up acts at shows. The zenza period lasts for about ten years (For other levels see futatsume and shishô).