(Rakugo) Kabuki Stories with Scenery, Part I 道具入り芝居噺 その一

One basic way Kamigata rakugo is different from Tokyo rakugo is that stories in the former regularly include various music and instrumental sound effects (e.g., patting drum with soft mallet for the sound of falling snow). This is especially true for travel stories (tabibanashi) and kabuki-inspired stories (shibaibanashi). Tokyo rakugo is, on the whole, performed without music — stories that have music are often adaptations of Kamigata pieces.

Dôgu iri shibaibanashi backdropThere is an exception to this rule, however. There is an old Tokyo tradition called “kabuki stories with scenery” (dôgu iri shibaibanashi), which is full of hayashi music and authentic kabuki scenes. This is a form of rakugo, but the aim is not necessarily make audiences laugh; the goal is to impress. In this art hanashika implement curtains and colorfully painted backdrops to create a more authentic kabuki atmosphere. These painted backdrops remind one of the (much smaller) illustrated boards used in Japanese “paper drama” (kamishibai). Dôgu iri shibaibanashi even have quick onstage costume changes (hayagawari) and “men in black” (kuroko) to assist, usually the hanashika‘s own pupils. Hanashika do not sit on cushions (zabuton) for these stories because they move around a great deal, frequently rising to their knees.

Storytellers have been adapting kabuki material and doing impressions of kabuki actors since the middle of the seventeenth century. San’yûtei Enshô I (1768-1838) was likely the first hanashika to perform shibaibanashi in yose, in 1797.  Dôgu iri shibaibanashi date at least to the turn of the nineteenth century when they were introduced by Kingentei Bashô I (d. 1838). Because the shogunate viewed kabuki as a threat, shibaibanashi were often regulated.¹

Hayashiya Shôjaku performing dôgu iri shibaibanashi

There are very few people who perform dōgu iri shibaibanashi today. Hayashi Shôjaku, a pupil of Hayashiya Shôzô VIII (1895-1982), may be the only recognized master of the art

I was fortunate to be invited yesterday to a special performance and talk featuring Shôjaku at the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo  (Tokyo bunkazai kennyûjo). The show was organized by an acquaintance and Tsubouchi Theater Museum research associate, Miya Nobuaki.

I had previously read about dōgu iri shibaibanashi, but, needless to say, I got a great deal more from seeing Shōjaku perform live. Different from regular shibaibanashi (i.e., without scenery, etc.) I have heard in Tokyo and especially Osaka, the tone of Shôjaku’s story was decidedly serious and there was no punch line (ochi), which is common for this genre. Dôgu iri shibaibanashi felt like true one-man kabuki as opposed to a kabuki parody, which is generally the case with regular shibaibanashi.

I still know very little about dôgu iri shibaibanashi, so I look forward to seeing Shôjaku perform this rare art again in the near future.

(Rakugo) Kabuki Stories with Scenery, Part II 


Hayashiya Shôjaku performing dôgu iri shibaibanashi


噺家(舌耕者)は17世紀の半ばごろから歌舞伎の内容(声色など)を取り入れているそうです。初代三遊亭円生 (1768-1838) が寛政9(1797) 年に寄席で芝居噺を披露したのが最初と見られます。道具入り芝居噺の場合、初代金原亭馬生 (没年1838)が最初に道具を芝居噺に取り入れたので、19世紀の始めからあったものと考えられます。幕府が歌舞伎を脅威と見なしたためか、芝居噺もよく政令を発せられました。¹

今日現在、道具入り芝居噺を演る噺家は非常に少ないです。故八代目林家正蔵師匠 (彦六, 1895-1982) の弟子である林家正雀師匠はその第一人者です。

Miya Nobuaki with Hayashiya Shôjaku




道具入り芝居噺 その二

¹(参考) See shibaibanashi in Heinz Morioka and Miyoko Sasaki, Rakugo: The Popular Narrative Art of Japan (Cambridge: Harvard Council on East Asian Studies, 1990).

Osaka, I’m Home 大阪よ、ただいま

I am having a great time in Osaka.

I have loved living in Tokyo since coming back to Japan in September, but Osaka feels like home. The minute I arrived I felt like saying, “I’m home (tadaima)!”

Over the last couple days I have heard some good rakugo, visited the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living, spent time in various used book stores, and have enjoyed some of the great food Osaka is famous for.

Today I may go to listen to rakugo at Dôrakutei. I also would like to visit the Wahha Kamigata Museum.

Okay, see you in town!






One-sided Introduction 一方的な紹介

With high-quality translations of articles and interviews into multiple languages, the relatively new website Nippon.com is a great resource for Japanese and non-Japanese alike.

For better or worse, in general, Tokyo gets more attention than Osaka around the world. This seems to be the way Nippon.com is going too. I am thrilled that they did an interview with Tokyo rakugoka Hayashiya Shôzo, but, once again, Kamigata Rakugo (and Kansai) is left completely out of the equation. It is not even mentioned. Readers who do not know rakugo therefore walk away knowing nothing of the Kamigata tradition, which is quite different from the Edo/Tokyo one. Readers won’t learn the two traditions have different histories and styles, that their repertoires are different although they hold many of the “same” stories.

I truly hope that Nippon.com follows up with a “Part II” to this interview by featuring one of the top tellers of Kamigata rakugo. Only then will their target readership get the full story.

My harsh critique notwithstanding, I do recommend the interview in any language, so long as readers keep in mind that there is an older tradition of rakugo (hanashi) in the Kamigata, that it is a strikingly different art with many more bells and whistles.





Tokyo: Asakusa Engeijô 東京 浅草演芸場

iPHONE UPDATE from TOKYO part 1 of 2:

20120129-215727.jpgI’ve been to rakugo shows in Tokyo before, but today was my first time to hear rakugo at the Asakusa Engeijô (performance hall).

Since irekawari (stepping out and returning) was allowed I stayed for almost two full shows and, among other things, got a great reminder just how very different the Kamigata and Tokyo varieties are.

The best parts of today’s yose trip was some great shin’uchi telling quality rakugo, and also receiving a fabulous kamikiri-e (literally, paper-cutting art [see photo below], one of various iromono featured in yose) from the artist Hayashiya Shôraku.

20120129-215738.jpgTokyo crowds seem to be a lot tougher than those in Osaka, but the hard-boiled Edokko performers do not seem to back down. At one point tonight the show was stopped because an intense verbal spat broke out between the shin’uchi Kawayanagi Senryû and an over-intoxicated man in the audience.

Despite the interruption, the show was great overall.

東京からのiPHONEアップデート その一




20120129-215745.jpg東京の客は大阪の客よりずっと厳しいなあという印象も受けました。しかし、ハードボイルドな江戸っ子の落語家はその厳しさに負けないみたいです。今日の夜部で酔っぱらい客と川柳川柳(かわやなぎ せんりゅう)師匠の口喧嘩によりショーが一時止まってしまいました。



A Look at Tokyo Rakugo Culture Outside the Yose 寄席外東京落語の文化一見

I recently spent about a week in Tokyo and had a very nice time. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to a yose to listen to Tokyo rakugo, but I was still able to feel a sense of local pride in the art. I came across a number of places or things, all somewhat removed from yose, that exhibited rakugo and its culture.

In Ningyô-chô I found a clock tower, which puts on a lively karakuri ningyô puppet display on the hour. The “show” is hosted by a hanashika puppet that dawns a kimono and kneels on a zabuton just above eye-level, telling a brief story about rakugo and the history of the neighborhood. At the top of the clock are several names in yose gaki (yose-style calligraphy) of famous Tokyo hanashika of past generations. Below the names, puppets — characters from rakugo stories — come out in place of cuckoos.

Not far from the rakugo clock I found a rakugo barber shop. From the outside one can hardly tell that inside the owner always has rakugo running on cassette tapes, CDs, VHS tapes or DVDs. I went inside to ask him about this and he said he’s been playing rakugo for customers for a number of years. Of course, he loves rakugo too. He prefers Tokyo rakugo, but also has a some Kamigata hanashika media on hand.

Since I collect books on rakugo, I spent a couple days browsing the famous Kanda used-book mall, which is spread out over several blocks. I had a great time and found a lot of great books, all at reasonable prices. In the back of one shop, I discovered a rakugo cafe, which has it’s own rakugo kôza for hosting small-scale rakugo shows on Tuesdays. Unfortunately, the cafe was closed the day I was passing through. Still, from the outside I could tell that the owner must be a huge rakugo fan. In addition to the kôza, there were about a hundred tenugui tacked to the ceiling, and numerous publications on rakugo available for browsing. I’ll have to go back next time to see if there is any rakugo food on the menu.

Finally, in one used-book store that specializes in rakugo books (and, interestingly, Christian books), I was given a copy of Tokyo kawaraban, a monthly that has promoted and reviewed rakugo in Tokyo since July of 1977. The June 2011 issue has 118 pages and is filled with interesting essays, interviews, pictures, show listings, reviews, etc. Truly, this is a fabulous resource for Tokyo rakugo fans and first-timers alike.