Kodan (storytelling) (講談)

Kodan is a form of traditional Japanese performing arts.

A performer of kodan sits in front of a pedestal called shakudai on koza (stage), and reads out reading materials associated with history such as gunkimono (military epic) and seidan (story of the law or politics) to the audience, while tapping the shakudai with a harisen/hariogi (paper fan) to keep his or her rhythm going.

Although the origin of kodan is said to be traced to otogishu (professional storytellers attending provincial lords) during the Warring States period, its original form as yose engei (vaudeville) can be seen in tsuji koshaku/tsuji goshaku or machi koshaku (storytelling in the street), which was a street performance during the Edo period. In tsuji koshaku, one tells military epic stories like Taiheiki (The Record of the Great Peace) with a certain rhythm while giving commentary on it.

Performed in permanent authorized huts during the Hoei era (from 1704 through 1711), it came to be called koshaku (storytelling or narration). It was nearly established as a narrative art during the Bunsei era (from 1818 through 1830), which brought about several different schools. Interacting with other forms of public entertainment helped popular koshaku acts to be performed in kabuki and ningyo joruri (traditional Japanese puppet theater). It was after the Meiji period that koshaku came to be called kodan.

Kodan was in its prime from the late Edo period to the Meiji period. 'Kodanbon' (books on kodan) such as Tachikawa or Tatsukawa Bunko series, which contained kodan stories, became popular during the late Meiji period; among the publishers of kodanbon was Kodansha Ltd., which soon became a major publisher with the success of kodanbon. In addition, kodan started to be serialized in newspapers and magazines. It gradually went into decline, however, due to the advent of other popular entertainments like manzai (comic dialogue) and the development of mass media. After World War II, several acts of kodan were forbidden by the General Headquarters of the Allied Powers (GHQ) for entailing elements of protection of feudalism and the celebration of vengeance. Even after the ban was lifted, it became increasingly out of touch with the changing times that had abolished feudalistic ideas, and has left behind the diversified public needs. Kodanshi (kodan storytellers) rarely appear in broadcast media, with Sanyo KANDA the third being an exception.

Kodan in Tokyo
Its association has been completely split up between 'Kodan Kyokai' (Kodan Association) and 'Nihon Kodan Kyokai' (Japan Kodan Association). Additionally, Honmokutei and Nagatani Corporation operate the only comedy houses that regularly stage kodan. With the help of kodanshi like Sanyo KANDA the second, however, a lot of female kodanshi with charismatic personalities have been around, and there is a sufficient number of kodanshi at least in Tokyo. Considerable publicity has commercially assisted in vigorous kodan performances, primarily in the abovementioned comedy houses. Additionally, there are (and have been) many cases where kodanshi, being members of an association of rakugoka (rakugo storytellers), regularly appear in rakugo (comic storytelling) performances.

From the Meiji period through to the Taisho period, kamigata kodan (kodan as performed in the Kyoto-Osaka region) had also been more popular than may be imagined today. Kamigata kodan is a mixture of two different styles, 'gundan' (kodan on military epic) and 'Shinto koshaku' (koshaku associated with Shinto), and its industry during the Taisho period was dominated by the TAMADA school such as Gyokushusai TAMADA, the father of Tachikawa or Tatsukawa Bunko series. Subsequently, the TAMADA and SHOGETSUDO families came to an end during the early Showa period, but the KYOKUDO, originally a trade name in Edo, has been inherited as the only trade name in kamigata kodan to date, by the great efforts by Nanryo KYOKUDO the second. After the war, it went into a substantial decline like kamigata rakugo (rakugo as performed in the Kyoto-Osaka region), consisting only of Nanryo KYOKUDO the second and his son, Konanryo KYOKUDO the second (later Nanryo KYOKUDO the third), for a certain period of time, and following the death of Nanryo the second in 1965, Nanryo the third fought a long, lonely battle. With patient activities continued by the apprentices to Nanryo KYOKUDO the third, kamigata kodan has gotten through its present crises, though still small in number. Kodan performances such as 'Kamigata Kodan Theater,' 'Tenman Kodan Hall,' and 'Torii Kodan Theater' are still regularly held. Subsequently, an internecine feud broke out between those apprenticed to Nanryo the third, which developed into a lawsuit, and the family of Nanryo the fourth (former Konanryo and former member of the House of Councilors) was expelled from Kamigata Kodan Kyokai (Kamigata Kodan Association), after which they formed Osaka Kodan Kyokai (Osaka Kodan Association). Despite its small size, the kamigata kodan society has also been split like its Tokyo counterpart. In addition, Konanryo's succession to the name 'Nanryo KYOKUDO the fourth' has not been recognized by those apprenticed to Nanryo the third, except himself.

Subject matter
Kodan is a form of narrative to give commentary on a certain subject matter. Although it used to center on historical events, there have been attempts to deal with subject matter other than historical events, such as international events and managerial theories nowadays, as its aspect of promoting the audience's understanding with easier subjects has been reassessed. Women's share in kodan business is also on the rise now. Although it is not exactly a thriving form of performing art, new trends in kodan have gradually arisen.

Difference from Rakugo
Kodan features: samurai, male-dominated society, stories on great people, public stances, psychologically great distance between the performer and the audience, official views, consistency, objective depiction in descriptive texts, and emphasis on tempo of narrative. Rakugo features: townspeople/common people, women, stories on poor people, true feelings, a sense of unity between performers and audience, standpoints from underneath, affirmation of inconsistency in the world, affirmation of antisocial nature, descriptions of sentiment, development by conversation, and required pacing of narrative.

Danshi TATEKAWA says that rakugo is an affirmation of human "gyo" (conduct), that is, inconsistency. This is never true of kodan.

Standpoints from above: Kodanshi is always above the audience. The performer may swagger. He is greater than the audience. He is in a position to lead them. Rakugoka, on the other hand, is always beneath the audience. Therefore, kodanshi is supposed to be higher in performing rank than rakugoka, providing that their class and careers are identical.

Wartime propaganda: Since kodan originally celebrated feudalistic ideas, it was incorporated into militaristic propaganda during the war. Never losing its antisocial nature, many rakugo acts were suppressed and forbidden during war.

Political propaganda: As a general rule, performers in kodan are said to be capable of delivering messages to the audience in a more straightforward way than in rakugo. Kodan is also straightforward when advocating a specific set of values. There are many people who perform kodan for purposes of political propaganda, including Chiyu ITO the first, Ichimatsu ISHIDA and Nanryo KYOKUDO the fourth, all of whom were members of the Diet. This does not apply to rakugo, which attempts to be somehow tricky all the time. But it is true that much propaganda may also be seen in rakugo, though it is associated with Buddhism and shingaku (mind school).

Gundan: Essential for kodan, shiraba (dreadful scene) depicts battles fought by samurai. In other words, some of the kodan reading materials feature no one except samurai. On the other hand, rakugo basically feature townspeople, and always have a townsperson appear as a character somewhere in the story even when samurai are involved.

Kokkei banashi (comic story): Rakugo, in general, contains ochi or sage (punch line), whereas kodan does not. In addition, there are many 'rakugo intended to make people laugh,' whereas there are no kodan intended to make people laugh unless newly created.

Length: Kodan has longer stories. In yose (vaudeville theaters), kodan is sometimes performed for several days. Rakugo, in principle, is completed in one act.

Kamishimo (turning the performer's face in different directions): In rakugo, stories develop with characters' dialogue. The characters are performed by performing kamishimo to make them distinctly different.

Descriptive text: Kodan contains many descriptive texts with descriptions from the standpoint of an outsider, with little dialogue.

Debayashi (music played at performer's appearance) and geza ongaku (music played in stage right): Debayashi and geza ongaku are played in rakugo, but not in kodan.

Not all kodan and rakugo are formalized this way, however, making it difficult to categorize them by substance and form. And there are many 'rakugo that intentionally incorporated kodan' like Genpei Seisuiki (The Rise and Decline of the Minamoto and Taira clans) and Gomoku Koshaku (Mixed Koshaku). By the nature of the case, techniques of kodan are frequently used in those rakugo. There are instances, as in kaidanmono (ghost stories), where rakugo and kodan would inevitably be close to each other.

Ultimately, it would be called rakugo when performed by rakugoka, and kodan when performed by kodanshi.

In Edo rakugo, kendai (bookrest) or shakudai are not used. Until the Taisho period, rakugo was often performed while reading koshakubon (text for koshaku) on kendai, which contained the story line and the characters, and which had been passed on from the masters generation after generation. In rakugo, the performer never speaks from a book or note.

Other differences include honorific title for shinuchi (star performer): shisho (master) in rakugo and sensei (teacher) in kodan.

In addition, a performance is called yomimono (reading) in kodan and dashimono (act) in rakugo.

[Original Japanese]