Kyogen (farce played during a Noh play cycle) (狂言)

Kyogen is a traditional form of public entertainment developed from Sarugaku (comical mimicry and speech performance in the Heian period), similar to Noh. Kyogen, with more sophisticated comical element than Sarugaku, is classified into theatrical farce. Since the Meiji period, Kyogen, Noh, and Shiki Sanba (a dance to celebrate a memorial day, particularly in Kabuki) collectively have frequently been called Nohgaku (the art of Noh).


The word "Kyogen" is derived from a Buddhist term 'Kyogen Kigo' that means an unreasonable phrase and a decorative word.
This Buddhist terminology was mainly used to criticize novels, poems, and so on (for example, Bai Letian said, "Having been absorbed in worldly literature, I have made mistakes to lure people by using 'Kyogen Kigo.' Recognizing such a sin, I would like to admire Buddhism and devote myself to enlighten people by delivering sermons in the next life.")
The Buddhist term had gradually come to be used in a different manner as a word to indicate the comic and mimic performance in Sarugaku. Then it became a commonly used title for the above-mentioned various form of public entertainment. The word "Kyogen" has also come to be used as a general noun indicating a joke, a lie, behavior plotted to cheat others, and so on.

Noh is a kind of musical using masks (called "Omote" in Japanese). Noh is characterized by an element of dancing, having plenty of intangible and symbolic expressions. Moreover, the plots of the scripts used in Noh performance are mostly tragedy. On the other hand, in Kyogen, performers other than those playing some exceptional roles conduct performances without using masks. In addition, Kyogen performances including lines contain lots of realistic expressions, because Kyogen was derived from Sarugaku by sophisticating its comical and mimic elements. The plots of the scripts used in Kyogen performance are mainly comic, such as satire and tales of a person's failure.

Roles in Kyogen

Like in Noh, in Kyogen, the performer playing a leading role is called "Shite." On the other hand, a performer playing a supporting role is called "Ado" in Kyogen, and "Waki" in Noh. When several Ado appear on the stage, they are distinguished by being called "Ichi-no-Ado" (the first Ado), "Ni-no-Ado" (the second Ado), etc. In addition, there are other ways to call several Ado separately; the most important performer playing the supporting role is called Ado, while others are called "Ji-Ado" (the next ranked Ado), "Omo" (title used only in the Okura school), "Ko-Ado" (title used only in the Izumi school), and so on. Ado appearing on the stage in a group are collectively called "Tachi-shu." The performer taking the leadership of the Tachi-shu is called "Tachi-gashira." Although it is possible to distinguish performers by using the above-mentioned titles, in fact, they are mostly called by the role name of each program, such as Shu, Tarokaja, Suppa, and Teishu.

Classification of Kyogen

Kyogen is mainly classified into three types, as follows.

Betsu Kyogen

Betsu Kyogen indicates Sanbaso (usually written as "三番叟" in Chinese characters, except the Okura school, which writes it as "三番三"), which is one of Acts in a Noh program 'Okina' (dance performance putting on a mask of an old man), and its special version 'Furyu.'

Hon Kyogen

Hon Kyogen is Kyogen performed independently. The word "Kyogen" generally indicates Hon Kyogen.

Ai Kyogen

It is also called "Ai" in brief. Ai Kyogen serves as the interlude in Noh.

Hon Kyogen is sometimes further divided into subgroups. The classification used in "Okura-torahiro-bon" (Kyogen script compiled by Torahiro OKURA in 1792) is introduced hereafter, although differences among times and schools have hampered broad acceptance of the classification.
(This classification is seemingly aimed at classifying Hon Kyogen by the sorts of the leading parts.)
(However, some critics comment that understanding of the leading parts is too sweeping.)
(It also includes the title for classifying the order of program, like 'Waki Kyogen,' and therefore, this classification must be blamed for lacking the unity.)

Waki Kyogen

Waki Kyogen is a program obviously representing an auspicious atmosphere. It includes such programs as 'Suehirogari' (a story over Suehiro [usually meaning a fan in Japanese]), 'Fuku-no-kami (Kyogen) ' (a story of the God of good fortune), 'Sanninbu' (a story of three farmers), 'Takara-no-tsuchi' (a story over a precious drum mallet), and 'Nabe yatsubachi' (a story over pots and drums).

Daimyo Kyogen

Daimyo Kyogen is a program dealing with stories between a lord and vassals, in which the performer playing the role of Daimyo (the feudal lord) assumes the role of "Shite." It includes such programs as 'Hagi daimyo' (a story of a Daimyo and bush clover), 'Buaku' (a story of an idler Buaku), 'Utsubozaru' (a story of a Daimyo and a monkey), 'Ima mairi' (a story of a new servant, Ima Mairi), and 'Awataguchi' (a story over Awataguchi [usually meaning a sword]).

Shomyo Kyogen

Shomyo Kyogen is also a program dealing with stories between a lord and vassals, in which the performer playing the role of Tarokaja (a common name for a manservant in Kyogen) assumes the role of "Shite." It includes such programs as 'Kuri yaki' (a story over roasting chestnuts), 'Shidohogaku' (a story over a spell to calm horses), 'Busu' (a story of delicious poison), 'Boshibari' (a story of a man tied to a pole), 'Kane no ne' (a story of a man who confused the price of gold with the ringing of bells, both of which are 'Kane no ne' in Japanese), 'Kintozaemon' (a story of a robber Kintozaemon).

Muko Onna Kyogen

Muko Onna Kyogen is a Kyogen in which the performer playing the role of Muko (bridegroom) assumes the role of "Shite," and a performer playing a female role comes onstage. It includes such programs as 'Futari bakama' (a story of Muko and his father over one pair of Hakama [formal men's divided skirt]), 'Yahata no mae' (a story of a man without special talent), 'Bikusada' (a story that a man Bikusada became a parent to give a child a name), 'Oko Sako' (troubles caused by two farmers, Oko and Sako), 'Chigiriki' (a story of a cowardly man trying to revenge an insult he received),and 'Ne ongyoku' (a story of a servant singing songs with his head pillowed in his master's lap).

Oni Yamabushi Kyogen

Oni Yamabushi Kyogen is a Kyogen in which the performer playing the role of Enma Daio (the King of Hell), Oni (ogre), or others assumes the role of "Shite"; it includes programs with the story that people turn into Oni. Oni Yamabushi Kyogen also includes such Kyogen that the performer playing the role of Yamabushi (a mountain priest) assumes the role of "Shite". It includes such programs as 'Asahina (Kyogen)' (a story of a strong man Asahina), 'Yao (Kyogen)' (a story of a man Yao), 'Shimizu (Kyogen)' (a story over spring water), 'Fukuro (Kyogen)' (a story of people possessed by an owl), and 'Kaki Yamabushi '(a story of Yamabushi and persimmons).

Shukke Zato Kyogen

In Shukke Zato Kyogen, the performer playing the role of a monk, Shinbochi (a fresh monk who entered into the priesthood shortly before) or Zato (title of the official ranks within the Todo-za [the traditional guild for the blind]) assumes the role of "Shite." It includes such programs as 'Fusenai kyo' (a story of a priest worrying over offerings), 'Roren' (a story of a fresh priest Roren), 'Satsuma no kami' (a story of a priest traveling without money), 'Hakuyo' (a story of a Zato, Hakuyo), 'Saru Zato' (a story of a blind man and a monkey showman), and 'Dobu Kacchiri' (a story of two blind men).

Atsume Kyogen

Atsume Kyogen is the miscellaneous collection of programs that do not fall under the above-mentioned classifications. It includes such programs as 'Uri nusubito' (a story of a melon thief), 'Chatsubo' (a story over a tea urn), 'Koyakuneri' (a story of two salve peddlers), 'Tsurigitsune' (a story of a fox and a hunter), and 'Awase gaki ' (a story of a persimmon seller).


There were three schools introducing the Iemoto system (the system of licensing the teaching of a traditional Japanese art) in the Edo period, the Okura school, the Izumi school, and the Sagi school. Of them, however, only the Okura school and the Izumi school survive as schools belonging to the Nohgaku Performers' Association at present. In addition, it is known that there was a school termed "Nanto-negi school" from the end of the Muromachi period to the early Edo period, whose core members were Jinin (associates of Shinto shrines). Jinin was a title given to people belonging to a Shinto shrine and engaging in public entertainments and other humble works. They might be recognized as the traces of the history that Sarugaku had once been sponsored by influential temples and shrines. According to various documents, the Nanto-negi school worked vigorously in the Muromachi period. However, the school rapidly waned in influence as soon as the Edo period came. It is believed that the school disappeared after being merged with other existing schools (such as the Okura school) in the early Edo period. In addition, there were apparently various unknown small schools that had already disappeared. However, a part of their scenario was published in the style of books for the general public in the Edo period, such as "Kyogenki" (Collections of farces), "Zoku Kyogenki" (Collections of farces Continued), "Kyogenki Shui " (Collections of farces) and "Kyogenki gaihen" (Collections of farces), which have been handed down to subsequent generations.

The Okura school

The Okura school is the only school inheriting the Kyogen of the Yamato Sarugaku group (a historic Sarugaku troupe which laid the foundation of Noh in the period of the Northern and Southern Courts) that was the mainstream of Sarugaku. The Yaemon OKURA family, whose members had performed Kyogen in the Konparu school from generation to generation, established the Okura school in the late Muromachi period. In the Edo period, the Okura school served as an official Kyogen school in the Shogun's court, along with the Sagi school. However, being ranked second among official Kyogen schools, the Okura school was subordinate to the Sagi school. The head family was the Yaemon OKURA family. Branch familes included the Hachiemon OKURA family (the head branch family, third ranked official Kyogen school in the Shogun's court), the Yadayu OKURA family, and the Yasoemon OKURA family. The Okura school had lots of subordinate families (families studying under the school) such as the Chodayu OKURA family, the Sengoro SHIGEYAMA family in Kyoto, and the Chuzaburo SHIGEYAMA family. Members belonging to the Okura school performed Kyogen in almost all troupes except those belonging to the Kanze school.

Following the Meiji Restoration, the Okura school waned temporarily due to a series of troubles, including the closure of the occupational branch families and the extinction of the head family. However, in Tokyo, Tojiro YAMAMOTO, the first (real name: Norimasa, name after retirement: Azuma) maintained the tradition of the Okura school by himself. Meanwhile, in Kyoto, Masatora (later Sengoro, the ninth, and also Sensaku, the first) and Masashige (later Sengoro, the 10th, and also Sensaku, the second) performed unpretentious Kyogen; both belonged to the Sengoro SHIGEYAMA family that adopted as the school's slogan 'O-tofu shugi' (a principle that Kyogen should be accepted by people naturally as tofu [bean curd]). Thus, the Okura school was supported by disciples in the east and west. In 1941, Kichijiro married into the Okura family; he was the second son of Kyuji SHIGEYAMA (later Yagoro ZENCHIKU, the first Living National Treasure in Kyogen circles), an adopted son of Chuzaburo SHIGEYAMA, the second (Yoshitoyo) who came from a branch family of the Sengoro SHIGEYAMA family. Afterward, Kichijiro inherited the head family as Yataro OKURA, the 24th (later Yaemon OKURA), which resulted in the restoration of the head family.

At present, the Okura school consists of the Tojiro YAMAMOTO family (based in Tokyo), the Yataro OKURA family (the head family, based in Tokyo), the Sengoro SHIGEYAMA family (based in Kyoto), the Chuzaburo SHIGEYAMA family (based in Kyoto), the Chuichiro ZENCHIKU sect (based in Osaka and Kobe) and the Juro ZENCHIKU family (based in Tokyo). Scripts are mainly divided into two groups; one consists of scripts embraced in the Tojiro YAMAMOTO family that has inherited the artistic tradition of the Okura head family in Edo, the other consists of those embraced in the Sengoro SHIGEYAMA family based in Kyoto since the Edo period. The two schools are poles apart in the style of performance. The style of performance in the Tojiro YAMAMOTO family is antique and upright, inheriting the tradition of "buke shikigaku" (dance and music performed in the official place of Buke [samurai family]), while that in the Sengoro SHIGEYAMA family is realistic and easy to understand.

In the past, three Kyogen performers belonging to the Okura school received the honor of being named Living National Treasure, Yagoro ZENCHIKU (Kyuji SHIGEYAMA), Sensaku SHIGEYAMA, the third (real name, Shinichi, and also Sengoro SHIGEYAMA, the 11th) and Sensaku SHIGEYAMA, the fourth (real name, Shime, and also Sengoro SHIGEYAMA, the 12th, a Kyogen performer on the active list).

The family at full blast

The Yaemon OKURA family

According to the family record, Gene Hoin, a scholar monk of Mt. Hiei was the founder of the Okura school, who was a Jiko (teacher) of the Emperor Godaigo in the 14th century. It is believed that Gene created Kyogen with the aim to form a fine personality as well as to preach the path of humanity in the times of uncertainty filled with relentless conflicts. The Kyogen was passed down to Yahe HIYOSHI, the second, who was a Sarugaku performer of Omi Sarugaku living in Sakamoto, and then to Yataro, the third, Yajibe, the fourth and Yaemon, the fifth in that order.

The family belonged to the Konparu troupe of the Yamato-Sarugaku troupe in the period of Yataro, the sixth. After the Yaemon the seventh period, Shirojiro KONPARU, the eighth, a sotomago (a grandchild from a daughter married into another family) of Zeami, inherited the artistic tradition of the school. After Shirojiro's death, Mangoro HIYOSHI, originally from the Yoshino-Sarugaku troupe, temporarily inherited the family, however, an adopted son Yataro UJI ultimately inherited the family as the ninth family head.
In the Yaemon, the 10th period, the family newly took the family name 'Okura.'
Yaemon, the 11th named himself Toramasa after being bestowed the Chinese character "虎" (a tiger, pronounced 'tora'), from Nobunaga ODA. His son Yaemon, the 12th named himself Torakiyo, and served Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI and Ieyasu TOKUGAWA. In 1660, Yaemon Toraakira, the 13th wrote "Waranbe gusa" (literally, Young Leaves), the oldest Kyogen-densho (esoteric book on Kyogen) in the Okura school. In 1694, Yaemon received a residence in Edo with an order issued by the fifth Shogun Tsunayoshi TOKUGAWA, and he moved from Nara to Edo.

Afterward, receiving Horoku (salary) from the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) for generations until the period headed by Yataro Toratoshi, the 22nd, the family steadily maintained Kyogen as the head family of the Okura school with the oldest tradition. However, the family was hard hit by the Meiji Restoration. Every Kyogen performer, who had been retained and cordially supported by the Tokugawa bakufu and many Daimyo over long periods, lost Horoku, with the result that they had no choice but to change their jobs. The head family was no exception. After the 1881 death of Toratoshi at the age of 41, who had moved to Nara after the Meiji Restoration, Toraichi, the 23rd inherited the family, but he left the Nohgaku circles after only two years. As a result, the Okura head family became extinct. After the end of World War II, they also had to endure the long gloomy period until Japan accomplished postwar rehabilitation.

However, during those gloomy periods, Kyogen performers of the Okura school such as Tojiro YAMAMOTO and Sengoro SHIGEYAMA improved their skills to hand down the Kyogen of the Okura school to subsequent generations. In 1941, Kichijiro, the second son of Yagoro ZENCHIKU (Kyuji SHIGEYAMA at that time), married Yasu, a sotomago of Toratoshi's daughter, assuming the post of the family head as Yataro OKURA, the 24th (later Yaemon) to restore the head family. At present, five family members, Yataro OKURA (Mototsugu), who is the oldest son of Yataro OKURA, the 24th and assumed the post of the 25th family head; Mototsugu's younger brother Kichijiro (Motoyoshi); and their children Sentaro OKURA (the oldest son of the 25th family head), Motonari OKURA (the second son of the 25th family head), and Noriyoshi OKURA (the oldest son of Kichijiro), perform Kyogen under the name of Okura, mainly in Tokyo.

{The Sengoro SHIGEYAMA family}

The Chuzaburo SHIGEYAMA family

The Zenchiku sect

The Tojiro YAMAMOTO family

The Izumi school

While dominating his colleagues, the Tokuro MIYAKE family and the Matasaburo NOMURA family, Yamawaki Izumi no Kami Motoyoshi, the seventh established the Izumi school soon after the Edo period came, and was an official Tesarugaku-shi (a professional Sarugaku performer who was originally an outsider) in the Imperial Palace living in Kyoto, as well as a retainer of the Lord of Owari Domain Yoshinao TOKUGAWA. The head family was the Izumi YAMAWAKI family. The school had introduced the Iemoto system, however, the head family was little influential through the early modern age due to the background that the above-mentioned three families jointly decided the school style. Especially, the Tokuro MIYAKE family and the Matasaburo NOMURA family were allowed to maintain their individualities; for example, they had the privilege of possessing their original Rikugi (Kyogen scripts, a jargon exclusively used in the Izumi school). After the head family moved to Nagoya in 1696, the school was based in Nagoya. The Izumi school served as an official Kyogen school in the Imperial Palace as before. However, compared with the two other main schools, the Sagi school and the Okura school serving as official Kyogen schools in the Shogun's court by belonging to Yoza (four troupes of Kyogen), the Izumi school before the Meiji period was no more than a local school performing Kyogen in and around Nagoya (base for the head family and the Matasaburo NOMURA family), Kyoto, and Kanazawa (base for the Tokuro MIYAKE family).

However, the tide turned in the Izumi school's favor after the Meiji Restoration. Not only the head family but also many occupational branch families moved to Tokyo, taking advantage of the history that the Izumi school had long served as an official Kyogen school in the Imperial Palace. As a result, the Izumi school monopolized the Kyogen performance in Tokyo, despite successive downfall of the two schools, the Sagi school and the Okura school, which had taken sides with the bakufu. However, the family head of the day, Motokiyo YAMAWAKI, the 16th lacked the ability to lead the school. To make matters worse, his son Mototeru, the 17th died young in 1916. In addition, the adopted son-in-law Motoyasu, the 18th, who had no experience in Kyogen performance, was exiled because he fell out with his pupils immediately after inheriting the family head. Consequently, the head family became extinct.

Even in such a tight situation that not a few occupational branch families retired from Kyogen circles following these feuds, only Manzo NOMURA, the fifth (name after retirement, Mansai) gave remarkable performance. Manzo was originally from a subordinate family of the Tokuro MIYAKE family whose family head Tokuro MIYAKE was a retained Kyogen performer of the Kaga Domain. He moved to Tokyo after the Meiji Restoration, engaging in Kyogen vigorously. Manzo was also blessed with excellent children. He was supported by his oldest son Manzo, the sixth, as well as his second son Tokuro MIYAKE, the ninth, who restored the extinct Shike (master family). In 1940, Yasuyuki MIYAKE (six years old at that time), who was the oldest son of Tokuro MIYAKE, the ninth, became an adopted son of the daughter of Motokiyo YAMAWAKI, the 16th family head, inheriting the family as Motohide YAMAWAKI, the 19th family head. As a result, the extinct family head was also restored. Adopting the school name, Motohide later changed the family name to Izumi from Yamawaki. However, Motohide was a controversial figure because he frequently acted according to his dogmatic judgment; for example, he threw the family into an uproar by ordering his own younger brother Ukon MIYAKE (the second son of Tokuro MIYAKE, the ninth) to leave the school, and he not only made his oldest daughter Junko and his second daughter Shoko Kyogen performers after overwhelming the opposition from people close to him, but also let Shoko assume the title of Tokuro MIYAKE, the 10th. Following the death of Motohide in 1995, his oldest son Motoya IZUMI unilaterally declared that he assumed the post of the 20th family head, without obtaining consent within the school. In 2002, the Nohgaku Performers' Association ordered him to withdraw from membership (This is the second heaviest punishment after 'expulsion,' but there is some possibility that the person ordered could come back to the association), because he not only caused the dispute over the succession although lacking in skill, but also he frequently made troubles and was involved in scandals repeatedly. Simultaneously, occupational branch families belonging to the school declared that his succession to the family head was invalid.
Motoya contested the issues at law, but the Supreme Court passed judgment, 'the order given by the association to make the plaintiff withdraw from membership is lawful,' indicating that 'he was not approved as the family head.'
Based on this judgment, it became definite that Motoya would leave the Nohgaku Performers' Association (refer to the section of Motoya IZUMI). Since 1995, the head family has not been appointed in the Izumi school, instead being placed in the custody of Matasaburo NOMURA, the 12th, who is a patriarch of the school, at the request of the gathering of the school's occupational branch family.

At present, the Izumi school is mainly divided into three groups; the first group is the Matasaburo NOMURA family (based in Nagoya, the so-called Nomura-ha group); the second group consists of the Manzo NOMURA family, the Mansaku NOMURA family, and the Ukon MIYAKE family (based in Tokyo, the so-called Miyake-ha group); and the third group is Kyogen Kyodosha (The Kyogen Collective, based in Nagoya, the so-called Nagoya-ha group). Each group uses each script separately. As for the style of performance, the school is believed to have adopted the realistic Kamigata (Kyoto and Osaka area) style in the Edo period. However, since the school moved to Tokyo in modern times it has changed the style to smart and elegant Tokyo style.

Four Kyogen performers belonging to the Izumi school received the honor of being named Living National Treasures; Manzo NOMURA, the sixth, Tokuro MIYAKE, the ninth, Man NOMURA, the first (Manzo NOMURA, the seventh, a Kyogen performer on the active list) and Mansaku NOMURA (a Kyogen performer on the active list).

The Sagi school

Niemon Sogen SAGI (1560-1650), a retained Kyogen performer of Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, established the Sagi school by himself. Initially belonging to the Chomei-za troupe of the Yamashiro Sarugaku group, Sogen transferred to the Hosho school after the Chomei-za troupe was merged into the Kongo school. Then he established a school, taking the opportunity of being promoted to a performer under exclusive contract to the Kanze school by orders of Ieyasu in 1614. Ieyasu favored Sogen so much that he ordered the Sagi school to become the official Kyogen school in the Shogun's court, with neglecting the Okura school. From then, the Sagi school played a leading role in the Kyogen circles throughout the Edo period. It is believed that the style of performance adopted by the school was modern and realistic when it was seen in a favorable light, but in other words, it was showy, unrefined, and coarse. The head family was the Niemon SAGI family and the branch family was the Denemon SAGI family (the fourth ranked bakufu-sponsored official Kyogen school), followed by subordinate families such as the Namekawa family. Most of the occupational branch families, including the head family, belonged to the Kanze-za troupe.

The fragile setup of the school, which had been fostered through its management style of relying too much on the large troupe, the Kanze-za troupe, produced a negative effect. On facing the Meiji Restoration, the Sagi school was thrown into most serious confusion. Gonnojo SAGI, the 19th, the family head at that time, was famous for being an eccentric person, and lacked ability to lead the school. A large number of the occupational branch families that had been suffering from poverty joined the Azuma Nohkyogen (blending play of Nohgaku and Kabuki [traditional drama performed by male actors], disappearing in around 1881) only to fail. However, blamed for passing down the school's specialty to Kabuki actors, they were not allowed to return to the Nohgaku circles even after the failure. Following the death of the Gonnojo SAGI in 1895, the head family became extinct. The Sagi school was eliminated from the school list belonging to the Nohgaku Performers' Association after Bano SAGI (who called himself the family head of the Sagi school in his last years), the last Kyogen performer of the Sagi school, died in 1922.

However, the Kyogen of the Sagi school remains in Yamaguchi City, Yamaguchi Prefecture (Kyogen of the Denemon line is performed, registered as intangible cultural property designated by the Prefecture), in Sado City, Niigata Prefecture (Kyogen of the Niemon line is performed, registered as cultural property designated by the Prefecture), in the Takashi area, Chiyoda-cho, Kanzaki City, Saga Prefecture (Kyogen performed in this area is called Takashi Kyogen, registered as intangible cultural property designated by the Prefecture). Kyogen of the Sagi school was performed at National Noh Theatre and other facilities. Meanwhile, Kyogen performers of the Sagi school expelled from Nohgaku circles, including Bano SAGI, made an approach to the Kabuki circles. They exerted a great influence on the dramaturgy of dance drama modeled after Nohgaku that is called 'Matsubamemono' (performance in front of a panel with a picture of pine trees). In that sense, the Sagi school exerted not a little influence on the Kabuki circles.

[Original Japanese]