Niwaka (an impromptu comic play) ()

Niwaka (written in Chinese characters as 俄) is an impromptu comic play that was performed at banquets or on the streets in the Edo/Meiji periods. There are cases where it is written in such Chinese characters as 仁輪加, 仁和歌 and 二和加. It has another name, which is chaban (a farcical form of drama). It is said that contents of niwaka included reproduction of kabuki plays and presentation of humorous stories. This comic play is believed to have been named niwaka, which is a word meaning 'sudden' or 'suddenly,' as the performance always began suddenly on the street and attracted people's attention. In such a place as yukaku (a red-light district), it was often performed by ordinary persons who were not professional entertainers.

In Edo, it was well known as 'yoshiwara-niwaka' (niwaka played in Yoshiwara red-light district). It is possible that yoshiwara-niwaka was performed by professional entertainers such as buffoons working in the district, but at the same time yoshiwara-niwaka is likely to have been played by amateur performers.

Niwaka is said to have developed as an occupation in Osaka from early on, where there were a number of professional niwakashi (niwaka performer) in the Tenpo era. Groups such as the Tsuruya Company and the Soganoya Company, the latter being known for their 'advanced niwaka,' gained great popularity in the Meiji period.
Their activities are regarded as having led to the emergence of the new comedy troupe called 'shin-kigeki.'

They are also said to have formed the origins of the stage performance/art of making people laugh such as 'manzai' or comic backchat which has now become popular.

In some regional parts of Japan, a simplified play performed at festive occasions is handed down through the generations as 'such-and-such niwaka' prefixing it with the region's name. Examples include Hakata-niwaka of Fukuoka. Hakata-niwaka is a satirical play on the social conditions, performed impromptu by two or more people wearing a half mask which covers the top half of their faces.

[Original Japanese]