Kamigata Rakugo (Comic Storytelling in Kyoto and Osaka) (上方落語)

Kamigata rakugo is comic storytelling mostly performed in the areas around the prefectures of Osaka and Kyoto.

Origin of 'Kamigata Rakugo'

According to "Yose Gakuya Jiten" (Dictionary of Backstage Slang in the Rakugo Theater) by Kurimaru KAGETSUTEI, the term, 'Kamigata rakugo,' first appeared in the nineteenth issue of the journal "Kamigata" published on July 1, 1932.
Until then it was called 'Osaka rakugo' or 'Kyoto rakugo.'
Today Kamigata rakugo refers to Osaka rakugo as the Kyoto counterpart died out.

Up to the Edo period

In the mid Edo period TSUYU no Gorobe I in Kyoto and Hikohachi YONEZAWA I in Osaka set up a stage wayside to perform comic stories of their own making for money. Called 'Tsuji-banashi' (storytelling at crossroads) or 'Karukuchi' (humorous stories), this is believed to have been the origin of rakugo. From the Kansei to the Bunka era, the following storytellers were popular: Shibaso SHIBAYA who had composed joruri (dramatic narratives chanted to shamisen accompaniment) before he became a teller of comic stories as well as Yasuke MATSUDA who, moving from Kyoto to Osaka, performed comic stories in shrines and temples such as Mitama-jinja Shrine.
The Yasuke family included Yashichi MATSUDA, Yasuke MATSUDA II, and Bunji KATSURA (I) who started 'the Katsura family.'
Among these performers Bunji I is known as the founder of the very first yose theater in Osaka as well as the creator of "shibai-banashi" (kabuki-derived stories) with music, props and stage settings. Bunji III and Bunji IV existed in both the Kamigata and Kanto regions. However, Bunshi KATSURA I who was a disciple of Bunji IV in Kamigata did not succeeded his master's name Bunji. Since then Bunshi became "tomena" (the highest-level stage name) of the Katsura family. Bunshi I became very popular with 'On the Ferry Boat' and other routines. His four pupils, Bunnosuke KATSURA (later Shinzaemon SORORI), Bunto KATSURA (later Bunto TSUKITEI) and Bunzo KATSURA (later Bunshi KATSURA II), and Bundanji KATSURA I, were also hugely popular and gifted.
They were (commonly) called 'the Big Four.'

Alongside the Katsura family, the Shofukutei family forms a major family of modern Kamigata rakugo. It already existed between the Tenpo and the Ansei era, though details of its founder, Shochiku SHOFUKUTEI, are unknown. Four families consisting of these two and the families of Tachikawa and Hayashiya constituted the mainstream of Kamigata rakugo up to the Meiji period. The Hayashiya family in Kamigata began when Shozo HAYASHIYA who studied with one of the disciples of Shozo HAYASHIYA in Edo settled in Osaka closer to his hometown Okayama. Up around the Meiji restoration period it dominated Kamigata rakugo, but was later replaced by the Katsura family.

Meiji period

During the Meiji period the Big Four broke up when Bunshi II succeeded to Bunshi I. On the one hand, there was 'the Katsura school' formed around Bunshi II who focused on the art of storytelling with profound subtleties. On the other hand, there was a loud and merry 'school of Sanyu' whose core members were Bunto, Bundanji II (later Bunji KATSURA (VII)), Fukumatsu SHOFUKUTEI I, and Shokaku SHOFUKUTEI III. They competed with each other.

Many other schools appeared and disappeared. Kamigata rakugo was at its zenith around the period in which Bundanji II succeeded to Bunji VII. During this period Osaka gave rise to many excellent storytellers, including Bunzo KATSURA (III), TSUYU no Goro (I), Bundanji KATSURA III, Somemaru HAYASHIYA II, Shijaku KATSURA I, and Zakoba KATSURA I. In Kyoto Shinzaemon SORORI II, Bunnosuke KATSURA in Kamigata and Edataro KATSURA I were popular. TACHIBANA no Madoka (I), Enba SANYUTEI II and Sanba OKINAYA V moved from Tokyo to Kyoto to boost the yose theater in Kamigata.

From the Taisho to the early Showa period

From the Taisho period to the early Showa, the following storytellers were popular: Harudanji KATSURA, Mikisuke KATSURA (II), Enba SANYUTEI III, Kakitsu TACHIBANAYA II, and Koharudanji KATSURA (who later became a dancer named Yoshibe HANAYAGI). They were soon eclipsed by new "manzai" (stand-up comedy) performed by Entatsu YOKOYAMA and Achako HANABISHI. Yoshimoto Kogyo Co., Ltd. moreover bought yose theaters where rakugo was performed regularly as well as many schools of rakugo storytelling. Household names died one after another. These endangered Kamigata rakugo.

Rakugo's decline can be explained by the following reasons. The rakugo industry was disorganized due to internal conflict. Stand-up comedy created a new trend of comic stories, incorporating topical issues. (This is well illustrated by Entatsu and Achako who created "Waseda-Keio Baseball Game" based upon a radio relay of college baseball games). In contrast, rakugo was complacent with its age-old tradition and could not keep its fans. It was regarded by Yoshimoto Kogyobu (notably, Shonosuke HAYASHI) as having no commercial value. In such a situation Harudanji I was the only rakugo storyteller who acquired a number of fans by providing new comic stories. He greatly influenced today's Kamigata rakugo by his nonsensical mis-en-scene full of gags, using a new medium of musical records. Yet he was, after all, fighting a lonely battle. Many believed that after his death, Kamigata rakugo abdicated the throne to stand-up comedy.

At this critical moment Shokaku SHOFUKUTEI (V) and Yonedanji KATSURA (IV) formed a group called 'Rakugo-so.'
They endeavored to preserve and transmit Kamigata rakugo by organizing the 'Kamigata Rakugo Circle' and launching the journal "Kamigata Comic Stories."

During World War II stand-up comedians and comic-chat artists were sent as 'Warawashi-tai' (Funny Group) to China and other fronts to entertain the soldiers. Rakugo storytellers were not called for as they had to sit down during the performance, which was not easy in the battle fields. In the war-time period they held rakugo storytelling sessions in Kobe and Kyoto, where air raids were relatively few, for the clientele consisting of the rich and wealthy as well as the geisha. They thus gained popularity.

From the Post-war period to the mid 1960s

For some years after the War, Shokaku V, Yonedanji IV, Kakitsu II and Harudanji KATSURA (II) were based in new engei (entertainment) halls like 'Ebisubashi Shochiku Theater' in South Osaka and 'Fuki' (Yose Theater) in Shinkyogoku, Kyoto. They held rakugo shows across the Kansai region and devoted themselves to educating young storytellers. By the end of the mid 1950s these great household names died one after another. Their followers, including Shokaku SHOFUKUTEI (VI) (Shokaku V's son), Beicho KATSURA (III), Harudanji KATSURA (III) (Harudanji II's son), and Bunshi KATSURA (V) united and formed a circle called 'Saezuri-kai' (the Twitters).
They took part in workshops for young rakugo storytellers such as 'Ebisubashi Sunday School,' 'Takarazuka Rakugo Workshop,' and 'Rakugo Rookies.'
They learned traditional comic stories from the following elders who were as good as retired: TACHIBANA no Ento I, Fukumatsu SHOFUKUTEI III, Unosuke KATSURA, Bundanji KATSURA IV, Nanten KATSURA, Buncho KATSURA, Monzaburo MIMASUYA. In this way worked energetically. He exceeded the other elders with his innumerable routines. He made an effort to transmit classical routines by teaching young storytellers in both Kamigata and Tokyo. In his later years he returned to the stage. He continued to preserve Kamigata rakugo as prevalent in the Meiji period until he died in 1972. In Tokyo too, various efforts were made to restore Kamigata rakugo by the following rakugo storytellers: Bunraku KATSURA (VIII), Kinba SANYUTEI (III), Kobunji KATSURA (II) and Hyakusho SANYUTEI (II). Born in Osaka, Kobunji and Hyakusho were particularly instrumental in introducing Kamigata rakugo to their audiences in Tokyo.

Meanwhile, commercial broadcasting was booming, starting with the opening of Mainichi Broadcasting System (MBS) on September 1, 1951.
Eager to improve their programs, the TV stations, including Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK), took notice of the difference between 'Kamigata rakugo as program content' and 'rakugo storytellers as TV personalities.'
They held rakugo shows linked to their programs and signed exclusive contracts with storytellers. Beicho and Fukuro MORINO I rode on this flow and became famous, positively contributing to the Kamigata rakugo industry. NHK and MBS were particularly vigorous in promoting Kamigata rakugo.
Based in the Shinsaibashi Street 2-chome Theater in Shinsaibashi, NHK organized the 'Kamigata Rakugo Society' linked to its program 'TV Engei-kai.'
Asahi Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) held the 'ABC Society for Kamigata Rakugo.'
Later it included 'Midnight Yose' within the program 'ABC Young Request' to broadcast routines performed for the ABC Society for Kamigata Rakugo.

In the mean time, grand household names were restored: Harudanji KATSURA III in 1959 and Shokaku SHOFUKUTEI VI in 1962. The number of the tellers of rakugo stories steadily increased: TSUYU no Gorobe II, Matsunosuke SHOFUKUTEI and Bunga KATSURA (III) who all joined the rakugo world almost simultaneously with those new household names, Somemaru HAYASHIYA III who was their age though starting rakugo before the War, Somegoro HAYASHIYA (III), Bunko KATSURA (IV), Beishi KATSURA, and Kacho TSUKITEI, all of whom started in the late 1950s and were improving their skills as mid-level storytellers. Overcoming power schism, Kamigata rakugo united and formed the Kamigata Rakugo Association (whose first chairman was Somemaru III) in 1957, heading for its miraculous revival.

From the mid 1960s to the late 1980s

In the mid 1960s, vigorously recruited disciples of Shokaku, Beicho, Harudanji and Bunshi (then Kobunshi III) rose to popularity against the background of the TV age and a boom of late-night radio shows. The following rakugo storytellers held center stage: Kacho, Nikaku SHOFUKUTEI (III), Sanshi KATSURA, Tsuruko SHOFUKUTEI, Shuncho KATSURA (II), Tsurube SHOFUKUTEI, and Zakoba KATSURA (II) (then Chomaru KATSURA). Especially Nikaku gained popularity with hilarious rakugo consciously imitating Harudanji KATSURA I. In 1972 he regularly appeared on almost every TV and radio show, rapidly rising to stardom. Master storytellers such as Shokaku found it acceptable as a means to publicize Kamigata rakugo so that the younger tellers of rakugo advanced into mass media. Consequently, the number of new disciples increased and in this sense Nikaku rendered a great service.

It was around this time that the target of radio relays of rakugo shows shifted from traditional stand-up comedies and Tokyo rakugo to Kamigata rakugo. In October 1971 ABC held '1080-Minute Rakugo Show' commemorating its twentieth anniversary. From 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m, a total of fifty-six rakugo performances (of which one was kodan storytelling) were broadcast live. The following radio shows particularly attracted young listeners: 'Onward Rakugo Selection' by Osaka Broadcasting Corporation and 'Kamigata FM Yose' by FM Osaka.

Solo rakugo shows began to be held at big theaters, starting with 'Beicho Spot Show' in 1966. Widely known as a media personality, Beicho held a number of his solo and family shows.
Kobunshi also held his solo shows in Tohan, together with his fans who gathered at the 'Kobunshi Club.'
During this period Kamigata rakugo attracted more and more fans, notably college students, in Tokyo. This movement eventually spread all over the country. Since then Shokaku, Beicho, Harudanji and Bunshi have been held in high esteem.
They came to be called 'the Big Four of Kamigata Rakugo.'

As rakugo's popularity increased, groups of amateur rakugo storytellers called 'Tengu-ren' before the War were formed one after another. Most active were 'Rakugo Societies' formed by college students. Many talented students became professional storytellers, providing the backbone of today's Kamigata rakugo industry.

In 1986 Shokaku VI who led post-War Kamigata rakugo, died.
Soon after his death Shijaku KATSURA (II) rose to popularity and became so popular that he acquired the nickname of 'King of Laughter' at the height of the so-called 'MANZAI (stand-up comedy) boom.'
With this Kamigata rakugo passed through the revival period and headed for the next.

From the 1990s to the present

In the 1990s what we call 'Owarai (-gei)' (comedies) including rakugo and manzai continued to attract the public's interest. Since 'the MANZAI boom' the center stage of comedies has shifted from the yose theater to the broadcasting media. The number of engei programs, by contrast, decreased and popular rakugo storytellers often appeared in variety shows. As a result, rakugo storytellers were subsumed under the abstract name of 'owarai-geinin' (comedians) together with stand-up comedians, comic-chat artists, slapstick comedians so that the spectators and viewers could not distinguish one from the others. They had fewer and fewer opportunities to present their unique art. Many want to become comedian TV personalities (who are effectively stand-up, comic-chat or slapstick comedians and who likewise have little opportunity to demonstrate their art). Fewer people in fact become rakugo storytellers than those during the 1960s and 1970s.

This phenomenon is equally observed in both Kanto and Kansai. In Kamigata rakugo, however, the premature death of Shijaku II in 1999 was also influential to a large extent. It was not easy to fill the gap left by charismatic Shijaku who was very popular. The successive deaths of the following promising storytellers who were born after the War also came as a blow to Kamigata rakugo: Shokaku SHOFUKUTEI (VII), Utanosuke KATSURA (II), Kimaru KATSURA, Somegoro HAYASHIYA (IV), and Kiccho KATSURA. Under this adverse situation, Tsurube SHOFUKUTEI organized the 'Rokuninnokai' (Association of Six Rakugo-Tellers). Bunga KATSURA (IV) discovered classical routines. Koharudanji KATSURA (III) and Kakusho SHOFUKUTEI (Muppet Rakugo) actively held rakugo shows abroad. The Tenma Tenjin Hanjotei Theater, dedicated to rakugo (see below), was opened for the first time since the end of the War. These activities are noteworthy.

In 2007 Kakashi KATSURA assumed the grand household name of Utanosuke KATSURA (III), which was also his master's name, and in 2008 Kobeicho KATSURA (III) inherited the name of Yonedanji KATSURA V for the first time in fifty years. In 2009 grand household or famous names which have been long in disuse were expected to be assumed: Haruna KATSURA will be rechristened Shuncho KATSURA III, Kotsuru SHOFUKUTEI Shikaku SHOFUKUTEI, and Tsukushi KATSURA Bunzo KATSURA V. In 2010 onwards Tomaru KATSURA will succeed to Shiodai KATSURA IV and Kogoro KATSURA to Nanten KATSURA II.

We also need to keep in mind that Kamigata storytellers have formed a closer relationship with their colleagues in Tokyo since 2004. As of 2008, 114 Kamigata storytellers participated in 'The Great Ginza Rakugo Festival' held by 'the Rokuninnokai,' strengthening friendship between the eastern and western storytellers. On the other hand, Kamigata storytellers increasingly appear in major yose theaters in Tokyo, including the Fukagawa Edo Museum, the Oedo Nihonbashi Tei Hall, the National Engei Hall, and Yoshimoto Asakusa Kagetsu. Kamigata rakugo are accepted by rakugo fans in Tokyo. (Evening edition of the Yomiuri Shinbun Newspaper dated August 15, 2008).


Kamigata rakugo mainly uses the Kansai dialect, which is not easy for those who do not come from the Kinki region. Depending on the characters in a routine, the storyteller must use different dialects such as the Kyoto and the Osaka dialect. Recently, some storytellers have performed rakugo in their own dialects (the Kishu dialect).

While many characters speak Kamigata dialects in Edo rakugo (e.g. 'A Pair of Sake Bottles,' 'Matsu the Idiot,' 'On the Ferry Boat' and 'Gion-e' - ceremony for commemorating the dead in Gion), few characters in Kamigata rakugo speak the Tokyo dialect.
Exceptions to the rule are 'Zakohachi' and 'Crockery from Edo.'
Before the War Kamigata rakugo did not appeal to the audience in Tokyo because of its different dialects and style. After the War, however, the Osaka dialect penetrated Tokyo as mass media developed.
This was also reinforced by the aforementioned success of 'The Big Four of Kamigata Rakugo.'
For these reasons Kamigata rakugo is now widely available in Tokyo.


Kosan YANAGIYA (III) and others transplanted many of the classical Kamigata routines to Tokyo. Conversely, some Tokyo routines were transplanted to Kamigata. This caused certain Kamigata routines to have different titles from their Edo counterparts though the contents are the same. In the case of 'Terrible Manju,' the title as well as details are different between Kamigata and Edo. However, this does not apply to those routines which are told in either region as communication between the east and the west improved after the War.

Below are the routines transplanted from Edo to Kamigata: 'Rotten Bean Curd' ('Chiritotechin' in Kamigata), 'Revenge at Cherry-blossom Viewing' ('Sakuranomiya' in Kamigata), 'Incense for Invoking the Dead (rakugo)' ('Takao' in Kamigata), 'Sumo Wrestler's Loincloth' ('A Thief's Intermediary' in Kamigata), 'Hot Pepper Vendor' ('Pumpkin Vendor' or 'Pumpkin' in Kamigata), 'Shibahama' ('A Dream of a Leather Wallet' in Kamigata), etc.

The following Kamigata routines were adopted in Edo: 'Camel' (in rakugo), 'Second Brewing,' 'Udon Noodle for Flu' ('Udon Restaurant' (rakugo) in Tokyo), 'A Cat's Misfortune,' 'Play Yoshiwara,' 'Playing Go with a Thief,' 'The Ghost of Fudobo,' 'Hallelujah!' 'Aona' (Greens), 'Orange Peddler' ('Pumpkin Vendor' in Tokyo). (The following are taken from Kosan YANAGIYA III's routines). Time Udon Noodles' ('Time Soba Noodles' in Tokyo), 'On the Ferry Boat,' 'The Poor Man's Cherry-blossom Viewing' ('Cherry-blossom Viewing at a Slum' in Tokyo), 'Praise a Boy,' 'Praise a Cow,' 'Descent into Hell' ('Hell Tour' in Tokyo), 'Enemy at the Inn' ('Revenge at the Inn' in Tokyo), 'Lottery at Kozu Shrine' ('Lottery and the Inn Keeper' in Tokyo), 'Irachi's Pilgrimage to Atago' ('Horinouchi' in Tokyo), 'Konoike Dog' ('Butler Dog' in Tokyo), 'Kikue in the Buddhist Altar' ('White Kimono' in Tokyo). Superstitious Brothel' ('Credulous Brothel' in Tokyo), 'Selling Bamboo Baskets' ('Seller of Sieves' in Tokyo), 'Renting a House' ('Kobe KOGOTO' in Tokyo), 'Dying Incense' ('Time Out' in Tokyo), 'Sasaki's Judgment' ('Sasaki's Politics' or 'Daisuke IKEDA' in Tokyo), 'Fox in Takakura' ('Fox in Oji' in Tokyo), 'All Shaven Heads' ('Pilgrimage to Mt. Oyama' in Tokyo), 'Bed,' 'Recent Son,' 'Terrible Manju,' 'Korekiyo,' 'Straw Umbrella Hat and Go Players,' 'Three Written Vows,' 'Kitten,' etc.

The following are performed only in Kamigata: 'Finally Found,' 'Winter Play,' 'Hyobe's Strategy,' 'Lighting a Cigarette,' 'Long Live Tsuchibashi!' 'Piss at Arima,' 'You've Got it Wrong,' 'Greedy Kumataka,' etc.

The following are performed only in Tokyo: 'Three Houses in a Terrace,' 'Greed,' 'The Carpenter's Finishing Touch,' 'Tsukuda Festival,' 'Yokachoro Tune,' 'The Brothel's Waiting List,' etc.

Travel routines

Central to Kamigata rakugo, the travel routines are divided into four: 'Travel to the East,' 'Travel to the West,' 'Travel to the South,' and 'Travel to the North.'
Novice storytellers first learn 'Introduction.'
Travel to the East' is a saga that takes more than six months to complete if performed in its entirety. Some travel routines such as 'On the Ferry Boat' require considerable skill and experience.

Travel to the East: the main subject, 'Happy Pilgrimage to the Grand Shrines of Ise.'
It consists of 'Introduction,' 'Easting Place,' 'Spiteful Fox,' 'Acrobatics,' 'Three Travellers,' 'Lucky Sake,' 'On the Boat,' 'Tavern Town,' 'Lump on Benkei's Face,' 'On the Ferry Boat.'
It is all about a pilgrimage to the Grand Shrines of Ise.

Travel to the West: 'Landmarks in Akashi,' 'Voyage in Hyogo' ('Encounter with a Shark on a Voyage from Hyogo). It is mainly concerned with a pilgrimage to the Konpira-gu Shrine.

Travel to the South: 'Express Messenger to Kishu.'
Travel to the North: 'Buying a Wild Boar in Ikeda.'

Other travel routines include 'Descent into Hell' in which the protagonist tours Hell, 'Voyage from Ogura' ('Dragon King's Palace') which is an undersea travelogue, 'Moon Palace and City of Stars' telling of a celestial trip, and 'Islands Tour' ('Farting Islands Tour') which is about a trip to foreign countries. Each of these tells a fantastic story and is performed in a colorful manner with background music.

Sentimental routines

Kamigata rakugo does not treat sentimental routines which constitute the axis of Edo rakugo alongside 'otoshi banashi' (rakugo in the strict sense), (and which refer to the humane stories in the strictest sense of the term and are closer to kodan storytelling without a final punch line as in 'Peony Lantern,' 'Bunshichi's Barber Shop,' 'The Spine-Chiller in Kasanegafuchi). Dying Incense,' 'Zakohachi the Grain Broker,' and 'Daimaruya Affair' which fall into sentimental routines in the broader sense include final punch lines. There are some exceptions such as 'Gangster Oniazami' that does not have a punch line (and others that have been transplanted from the telling of war stories).
Beicho KATSURA said of this difference, 'Kamigata rakugo had little or no reason to tell sentimental stories which were dealt with by the puppet theater that was firmly established in Kamigata.'

Today some storytellers perform sentimental routines in Kamigata style as communication between the east and the west has improved. We cannot say as a rule that no (or few) sentimental routines are performed in Kamigata. On the whole, however, Kamigata's repertoire mainly consists of 'otoshi banashi' or humorous stories with final punch lines.

Routines derived from kabuki

Kamigata rakugo based on kabuki is described below.

1. Routines that perform kabuki plays as they have been transmitted:'Mt. Kagami,' 'Honno-ji Temple,' 'Jiraiya,' 'Tsunashichi.'

Sage' (final punch lines): some routines end with a usual punch line and others include the following after the closing.
Bravo, Nihon-ichi, Nihon-ichi' (Japan's No. 1)
Shut up, you!
Don't you say, 'Nihon-ichi' but you must praise him like 'Narikoma-ya or 'Hamura-ya.'
No, I work for a drugstore at 1 Chome, Nihonbashi and I thought of advertising the store here. Bravo, Nihon-ichi!' (the shortened form of 1 Chome Nihonbashi).
Then a young man who works for the theater came and said, 'Hey, you.'
Are you the best drugstore in Japan?'
Come here!'
Hey, what are you doing?'
I'm gonna throw you out over a couple of 'cho' (blocks).'
This is a variant form of the punch line.

2. Routines that switch from common rakugo storytelling to kabuki style: 'Kelp-roll Kabuki,' 'Octopus Kabuki,' 'Apprentice in the Warehouse,' 'A Pawnbroker's Kabuki,' 'Missing Foot,' 'The Seventh Step.'
(In most of these routines a character who is a great fan of kabuki improvises a kabuki play).

Final punch lines: these routines end with common punch lines.

These are two groups of kabuki-derived routines.

Kabuki routines in Edo are staged in such a way that the storyteller makes a quick change in the middle of a sentimental story and the background setting is introduced. Such stage directions are not employed in Kamigata. Skilled in kabuki routines were Bunga KATSURA I during the Meiji period, Koharudanji KATSURA I during the Showa period and Kobunji KATSURA who moved to Tokyo. Most of the routines (especially those in the first group) are extinct due to the decline of Kamigata rakugo and kabuki. However, Koharudanji I had NHK film some kabuki routines to transmit his art after he became a dancer.
Based on the films, Beicho KATSURA is now trying to restore 'Honno-ji Temple' and 'Sotten Kabuki.'

New rakugo routines

During the Showa period new rakugo routines were created in both Kamigata and Edo rakugo. Those of Kamigata include 'Scrivenery' (or 'A Scrivener') by Yonedanji KATSURA IV, 'A Little Flute' by Beicho KATSURA III, 'Outdoor Haircut' by Somegoro HAYASHIYA III and 'Baby Racoon' by Junichi MITA. These are now regarded as classical routines.
Some of them are performed in Tokyo, too
Today, many routines are created chiefly by Sanshi KATSURA ('My wife's Trip,' 'A Sea Bream,' and 'Before the Dawn of Golf') under the name of 'creative rakugo.'
As in the case of 'Royal Shiruko' (sweet-bean soup with a rice cake) (which changed from 'Revised Zenzai' (sweet-bean past with a rice cake) to 'Cultural Shiruko,' which was modified as 'Zenzai Co., Ltd.' which in turn changed to 'Maxim's de Zenzai,' all of which goes back to a routine transplanted from Edo rakugo), some routines were revised by many storytellers so that their contents changed over time.

It is characteristic of new routines that professional writers of rakugo stories such as the family of Sadao OSADA exist. Matsunosuke SHOFUKUTEI and Bunko KATSURA IV wrote new stories using the pennames, 'Koji AKASHI' and 'Saodake AOI,' respectively.


Typical characters of rakugo routines include Kiroku, Seihachi, Osaki, Genbe, landlords and doctors (often called 'Shuan AKAKABE').

Kiroku (also known as Ki-ko or Ki-san) is a 'fool' figure corresponding to 'Yotaro' in Edo rakugo. He is different from the latter in that he has a job (often a shoemaker) and a wife (usually named 'Osaki' or 'Omatsu'). He is somewhat cool in contrast to Yotaro who is a born idiot.
(See also 'Kiroku and Seihachi.')

Kumagoro and Hachigoro, popular characters in Edo rakugo, are played by Kiroku and Seihachi in Kamigata.
In Kamigata Kumagoro and Hachigoro appear only in 'Camel' (where Kumagoro is called 'Impatient Kumagoro), 'Ghost in the Kitchen Stove,' 'Easygoing Kumagoro,' 'Hachigoro the Monk,' and 'Hachigoro.'
The chief carpenter of 'Three Houses in a Terrace' in Edo rakugo appears in Kamigata as Matabe the Assistant.

In productions where the period is unspecified or set from the Meiji period onwards when common people were allowed to have surnames, the performers occasionally introduce characters whose surnames relate back to the real names of the storytellers to whom they are related, and whose family names are common. (For example, the performers of the Shokaku VI family use 'Takeuchi-san' and those of the Hayashiya family 'Ohashi-san' or 'Okamoto-san').


Typical props of rakugo are a fan and a cotton towel. The following props are used only in Kamigata rakugo.

Kendai: a small table set in front of the performer. This is supposed to represent a writing desk, bathtub, futon mattress or floor. Some storytellers use a kendai only in certain routines and others rarely use it (like Harudanji KATSURA III, Shijaku KATSURA II and Sanshi KATSURA who gesticulate extensively during performance).

Kobyoshi: small wooden clappers. Wooden clappers are usually put on the kendai and the performer holds them with his left hand to strike them against the desk if he wants to make sound. They are used to punctuate the story or to signal a change in the narrative mood. They are also employed to give a cue to stagehands who produce sound effects such as ohayashi music and the ringing of a bell in the wings of the stage. A young storyteller rhythmically strikes the wooden clappers together to introduce the day's performers before the feature presentation starts, thus inviting spectators. In a creative routine a performer (Bunchin KATSURA) used the wooden clappers as the mouse of a PC, an exceptional case.

Hizakakushi: a small screen to hide the performer's knees.

Typically, these three props are used together. When the performer brings them into or out of the stage, he places a screen on top of the small desk.

Nabira' on which a performer's name is written and 'mekuri' which is a stand that supports the nabira were only used in Kamigata until the Meiji period, though they are commonly used today; likewise nowadays common 'debayashi' (music played when a performer appears on stage) was exclusive to Kamigata until the early Showa period.

Hamemono (Background Music)

Kamigata rakugo also differs from the Edo counterpart in using 'ohayashi' (shamisen and drum music) as sound effects during performance. This ohayashi is called 'hamemono' (background music).

When the storytellers says, for example, 'I'm going to Shin-machi (a red-light district), a very merry place' (from 'Three Written Vows'), the musicians in the backstage begin to play the shamisen as they sing, expressing the glamour of the district. When, conversely, a character walks along a deserted street at night in 'Androgyny' or 'The Dish Mansion' for instance, the shamisen player makes a gentle sound to evoke a desolate scene.

Thus, background music is often used to represent emotional landscapes though it can be used to simulate sounds of various objects like a moving ship in 'Pilgrimage to Nozaki.'
In 'musical routines' such as 'A Scavenger' and 'The Fortune-teller's Café,' the performer and the musicians chase one another. In kabuki routines like 'Octopus' Kabuki,' 'A Pawnbroker's Kabuki' and 'Honno-ji Temple,' background music play the role of off-stage music in kabuki theater.

Bunchin KATSURA uses computer-generated mechanic sounds, a variant of hamemono.

Rakugo musicians are called 'geza' (off-stage) or 'hetari' (a warm-up), consisting of players of shamisen and 'narimono' such as drums and flutes. While shamisen players are professional, young storytellers often play the narimono. The shamisen player was on the brink of extinction after the death of Tomi HAYASHIYA (the wife of Somemaru HAYASHIYA II), who was designated as a selected intangible cultural property, as it became difficult to find her successors after the War. Beicho KATSURA III covered this in his program named "Beicho Family Warotei" (ABC Television). And Somemaru HAYASHIYA (IV) and others started to educate young people. These activities contributed to the gradual increase of rakugo musicians. As of December 2006, eleven players were registered members of the Kamigata Rakugo Association. Current leading shamisen players include Eika UTSUMI, Shiyo KATSURA (the wife of Shijaku II), Kazume HAYASHIYA (the wife of Kosome HAYASHIYA (V) and the elder sister of Ayame KATSURA (III)).

Shinuchi system

The shinuchi hierarchical system of rakugo storytellers was once abolished during the Taisho period. After the War, however, it was secretly revived within the Kamigata Rakugo Association though it became symbolic due to the Kamigata rakugo fad in the mid 1960s to the mid 1970s.

At the opening of the Tenma Tenjin Hanjotei Theater, Sanshi KATSURA who was the president of the Kamigata Rakugo Association planned to reinstitute shinuchi rank, but had to give it up because of overwhelming opposition.

Currently, 'koban' (the internal regulations of the Kamigata Rakugo Association) exists as an alternative to the former shinuchi hierarchical system. The storytellers whose career exceeds 5 years or more are classified as 'Chuza' (corresponding to 'Futatsume' in Edo rakugo). Those who have a career of over fifteen years are ranked as high as 'shinuchi' (master storytellers). Thus, the storytellers are categorized into the ranks of A, B, and C, starting from the shinuchi equivalent.

When the term 'zenza' (warm-up) is used in Kamigata rakugo it therefore mostly designates the order of appearance.

The order of appearance is as follows.

Zenza: novice storytellers who are still in training appear. They also run errands, changing nabira, turning the cushion and so on. The word 'zenza' goes back to the Buddhist term 'maeza' by which name called were trainee monks who gave a talk before a high priest's lecture.

Zenza is followed by 'futatsu-me' (the second), 'mittsu-me' (the third), and 'yottsu-me' (and so it goes as appropriate). Nakatori' refers to a storyteller who performs just before 'nakairi' (intermission).

Kaburi' (bite), also known as 'kaburitsuki' (digging in), 'tsukami' (grabbing) or 'kuitsuki' (nabbing) in Edo rakugo, refers to a storyteller who appears after the intermission.

Shibari' (tying down), also called 'hizamae' (the second before 'tori' - chief) in Edo. The term refers to various forms of entertainment other than rakugo or kodan storytelling. It derives from the meaning of tying down the audience who begin to lose interest.

Motare' (leaning), also called 'hizagawari' (a performer before 'tori').

Tori,' also called 'shunin' (chief). Tori is in charge of the entire show.
Tori' literally means 'to get' or 'to hold' as in 'getting the proceeds' or 'holding the position of shinuchi (master) in the show.'

Oidashi' (kicking out), also known as 'barashi' (dismantling). A 'Oidashi' or 'barashi' performer does a short humorous routine until the audience leaves the theater. Nowadays he rarely appears.

Organizations of Rakugo Storytellers

Storytellers in Tokyo largely fall into two organizations, the Rakugo Kyokai Association or the Rakugo Art Association. In Kamigata, on the other hand, storytellers belong to entertainment companies, including Yoshimoto Kogyo, Shochiku Geino Co., Ltd., and Office Beicho, resulting from Kamigata rakugo's peculiar development after the War. As is shown below, a family of storytellers basically belongs to the same company. Some join a different company from the one to which most of the family belong (e.g. Nikaku SHOFUKUTEI, Kacho TSUKITEI or Shohei SHOFUKUTEI). Others set up their own firms (e.g. Bunbuku KATSURA and Senkitsu TACHIBANAYA - IV). Still others choose to become free-lancers.

Office Beicho: Beicho KATSURA III and his family members (except the family of Tsukitei). Shochiku Geino: Shokaku SHOFUKUTEI VI and his family, the family of Harudanji KATSURA III, and the family of Fukuro MORINO. Yoshimoto Kogyo: the family of Bunshi KATSURA V, the Hayashiya family and the family of Happo TSUKITEI of the Tsukitei family. Office TSUYU no Gorobe: the family of TSUYU no Gorobe II.

However, most of the storytellers who belong to the Kamigata Rakugo Association cooperate with one another regardless of their companies when they perform at the Tenma Tenjin Hanjotei Theater or when they take part in 'Hikohachi Festival.'
For this reason, the problem of "the rivalries among entertainment companies," which is common among stand-up or slapstick comedians, or who cause difficulties in assigning personalities to TV programs, is not so conspicuous, if not nonexistent, in the rakugo industry.

Besides the Kamigata Rakugo Association, there is the Kansai Rakugo Bungei Kyokai Association. This association was established by Somezo HAYASHIYA III who left the Kamigata Rakugo Association on account of his feud with the Big Four (especially with Shokaku VI).

As an umbrella organization for the Kamigata entertainment industry, there is the Kansai Engei Association where many rakugo storytellers belong. The chairman of the association was Fukudanji KATSURA IV as of December 2006.

From Meiji to the early Showa period

From Meiji to the early Showa period, there was the 'Kobaitei Theater' (previously known as 'Imaga no Seki' or 'Izukuma no Seki,' subsequently acquired by Yoshimoto Kogyo and was renamed 'West Kagetsutei Theater') that epitomized the Sanyu school of rakugo in the northern part of South Osaka around the Hozen-ji Temple in Osaka City. Embodying the Katsura school, 'Nanchi Kanazawatei Theater' (which became 'Nanchi Kagetsu Theater' after it was bought by Yoshimoto Kogyo) existed in the southern part of South Osaka. These two competed against each other.

There were a dozen rakugo theaters, including 'Eirakukan Theater' (which became 'Kitashinchi Kagetsu Club' after purchased by Yoshimoto Kogyo) in Kitashinchi, North Osaka, in Uehon-machi, Horie (Osaka City), Matsuya-machi, Shin-machi (Osaka City), Matsushima Red-Light District and around the Osaka Tenman-gu Shrine. Starting with the 'Daini Bungei Kan Theater' (later 'Tenman Kagetsu Yoshikawa Kan' after its takeover by Yoshimoto Kogyo) in Tenman-gu, these were purchased one after another by Yoshimoto Kogyo and gradually shifted to stand-up comedies.

During the Pacific War, rakugo theaters were open only four hours a day, partly because many storytellers entertained the soldiers at the front, and partly because they were advanced in years. The shortage of performers was covered by Kingoro HAYASHIYA, Mikimatsu YANAGIYA and others who were sent by the Tokyo branch of Yoshimoto Kogyo to Osaka. The theaters thereby managed to hold performances. Yet, some were shut down as the War became more intense and the rest were burned down by the Osaka Air Raid.

After the Pacific War

In 1947 'Ebisubashi Shochiku Theater' (commonly called 'Ebisu Matsu') opened in South Osaka. The following theaters then opened in Osaka: 'Sennichi Gekijo Theater' which developed from 'Ebisu Matsu,' Shochiku Geino's theaters, 'Dotonbori Kadoza,' 'Engei no Naniwaza' (in Dotonbori) and 'Shinkagetsu' (in Shinsekai, Osaka), Yoshimoto Kogyo's 'Nanba Kagetsu,' 'Umeda Kagetsu,' and Toho's 'Top Hot Theater' where many performers of KA Production appeared. In Shinkyogoku, Kyoto Prefecture, 'Fuki (Yose) Theater,' 'Kyoraku Theater' and 'Kyoto Kagetsu Theater' opened. In front of Hyogo Station in Kobe 'Yose Palace Theater' opened and in Shinkaichi 'Kobe Shochikuza Theater' opened. These newly established theaters were far from rakugo-specific theaters as they offered a mixed repertoire of rakugo and manzai storytelling.

Concerned that the absence of a theater dedicated to rakugo might lead to the loss of Kamigata rakugo, the Kamigata Rakugo Association under the initiative of the Chairman Shokaku SHOFUKUTEI held 'Shimanouchi Yose Theater' five days a month, beginning in February 1972 at the Shimanouchi Church in Sennen-cho, Chuo Ward (Osaka Prefecture). The association identified the Shimanouchi Yose Theater as rakugo-specific theater where storytellers of all affiliations, whether entertainment companies or TV stations (with which famous storytellers had exclusive contracts), could perform. Two years later, however, the Theater was discontinued for reasons ascribed to the venue.

Subsequently, the Shimanouchi Yose Theater moved to various places: Brother Mishin Building (in Shinsaibashi) in April, 1974, the bowling stadium in the basement of Senba Center Building in December 1974, Daiei Kyobashi Store in June 1975 where the performance period was shortened to three days a month. Since then 'Shimanouchi Kyobashi Daiei-tei Theater' had continued for about nine years.
In April 1984 the Shimanouchi Theater moved to a Japanese restaurant called 'Shibaraku' in Tatamiya-machi, Minami Ward, thus returning to 'Shimanouchi.'
Only three years later, however, 'Shibaraku' was shut down for refurbishment, so in 1987 the Theater moved to CB College in Shinsaibashi, where a performance was given only one day a month. After moving to Isshinji Theater in Tennoji in 1993, the Shimanouchi Yose Theater moved to the lesson room of the Osaka Prefectural Museum of Kamigata Comedy and Performing Arts which opened in 1996. In 2005 it changed the venue to the Wahha Hall where it continues to this day although a performance is given only once a month.

From 1999 to 2000 the Kamigata Rakugo Association and the Friends of Rokyoku lobbied the Agency for Cultural Affairs for the establishment of a national engei hall in Osaka as in Tokyo. This resulted in 'Kamigata Engei Special Program' held at the small hall of the National Bunraku Theater in the odd months. Yet the program was held only six times a year, far from being called a regular rakugo theater.

After that, the idea of creating a theater devoted to rakugo resurfaced, but in vain. When Sanshi KATSURA became Chairman of the Kamigata Rakugo Association, it was finally materialized as the 'Tenma Tenjin Hanjotei Theater' opened in the northern part of the Osaka Tenman-gu Shrine's precincts on September 15, 2006. Thirty-two years after the Shimanouchi Yose Theater left the Shimanouchi Church and sixty-one years after the Osaka Air Raid, the rakugo theater was finally restored both in form and content. Currently, the Kamigata Rakugo Association identifies the Tenma Tenjin Hanjotei Theater in North Osaka and the Shimanouchi Yose Theater in South as two wheels of yose theater that it organizes.

Rakugo programs are given as part of performances at various engei halls like 'Nanba Grand Kagetsu' and 'B1 Kadoza,' which are not genuine rakugo theaters. Rakugo storytellers who belong to Yoshimoto Kogyo and Shochiku Geino hold solo shows or workshops. Torii Yose' held once a month at Torii Hall in Sennichimae invites many storytellers who belong to Office Beicho.

The success of the Tenma Tenji Hanjotei Theater in part helped the programmers to consider rakugo in a new light. In 2008 Nanba Grand Kagetsu began to hold a regular program where only rakugo storytellers appeared. Yoshimoto Kogyo offers a rakugo program entitled 'Hanahana Yose' held every afternoon (starting at 12:30) from Monday to Friday at 'Umeda Kagetsu,' and where young performers who either belong to Yoshimoto Kogyo or are free-lancers, appear. This program is now held at 'Yoshimoto ∞ Hall in Osaka' within the 'Nanba Grand Kagetsu' after the 'Umeda Kagetsu' was closed.

The Kansai Engei Association chaired by Fukudanji KATSURA is planning to organize a rakugo program at the Hozenji-Temple.

Regional yose programs

While the restoration of rakugo theaters was hard to achieve, community-based rakugo workshops and independent rakugo programs were often held in the mid 1970s onward.
These are what we call 'regional yose.'
The practice began with 'Iwata Yose' (in Higashiosaka City) which continued from August 1972 to August 1992 under the initiative of Yonenosuke KATSURA (III).

Below are currently active regional yose programs. The oldest are the following two: 'Sakai Otabi Yose' (Sakai City) which Nanryo KYOKUDO began in July 1974 (and suspended in March 2005 and later revived in a different place, offering kodan and rakugo storytelling) and 'Tanabe Yose' which began in September 1974 and continues to this day, (held in Osaka City and run by Bunta KATSURA and his friends). There are many other programs, including 'Motomachi Yose Rengatei' (held by Harukoma KATSURA in Kobe City), 'Beicho KATSURA Rakugo Workshop' (held by the Beicho KATSURA family in Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City), 'Amagasaki Rakugo Workshop' (organized by the Beicho KATSURA family in Amagasaki City) and 'Kyoto Citizen's Yose' (in Kyoto City). These programs play an active role in promoting Kamigata rakugo and in offering a place for rakugo training and education.

[Original Japanese]