Rakugoka (Rakugo Story Teller) (落語家)

A rakugoka performs rakugo (traditional comic storytelling) as an occupation. Before the war, they mainly performed at the yose (storyteller theater) and, also made a group to perform on the road. After the war, however, they often acted as a host of a TV or radio program as well as being a radio personality as a sideline, taking advantage of their verbal skills. Hanashika' (a story teller) is an old expression for a rakugoka.

There are roughly two types of stories that a rakugoka performs.

Stories with a punch line: A story with 'ochi' (also called 'sage'), a punch line, at the end. Rakugo' falls under this.

Stories with a moving end: A story without 'ochi' at the end. It basically goes on and on. Ghost story telling also belongs to this.

Therefore, the expression 'rakugoka' technically fits only description 1, and 'hanashika' is a more appropriate name describing both 1 and 2. However, some insist that some stories belonging to description 1 are considered to be stories with a moving end, so 'rakugoka' is currently fixed.

Professional rakugoka

During the Edo period, amateur story tellers including those who were involved in kyoka (comic and satirical tanka) and playful literature originating from haiku were active. Then later, professional story tellers such as Enba UTEI and Karaku SANSHOTEI appeared.


Its ranks consist of (minarai or apprentice), zenza (opening act), futatsume (status between amateur and professional), shinuchi (full-fledged master of story-telling). This classification currently exists only in Tokyo, and the ranks don't exist in Kamigata (the Kyoto and Osaka area) nor in Nagoya.


An aspiring rakugoka permitted to initiate by the master to be taken on as his disciple. After initiation, they receive a zenza name, register as a zenza, and are called 'minarai' until they enter backstage as a zenza. Although this did not originally exist as an official ranking system, there are too many zenza, so they are put on stand by to receive it. They mainly do leg work and chores such as housework for their master and his family at the master's residence. They have no holiday. Though some lived in the master's residence and took care of him before, more people live out now. They don't require food expenses because they eat at the master's residence (though minarai themselves cook). If they are live-ins, they don't require house rent nor costume expenses. They were banned from enjoying entertainment. Minarai and zenza are not supposed to be considered human (in the rakugoka world).

Zenza (前座)

The origin of the name is from Buddhist teaching called maeza (前座) at the master's residence mentioned above. They are expected to work at the yose, the storyteller theater (zenza training) as well as doing the housework and chores at the master's residence mentioned above. They perform odd jobs both backstage and at the yose everyday, such as doing the drum signalling at the beginning of a performance, musical instruments, carrying mekuri (title board) in and out, preparing and collecting tools for iromono (various entertainment in the storytellers' theater other than story telling), setting up a microphone, serving tea and managing kimono.
(In the Kamigata area, this work (except for the drum and musical instruments) are done by employees of yose called 'ochako.'
Such women are not going to be rakugoka in the future, but will remain ochako. They sometimes take charge in the first story called 'kaiko ichiban' (the first words) at the yose. However, this is only for their studies, so their rakugoka name is not usually on the program.

And they don't get wari (performance fee). However, they get a small allowance for their zenza duties. Since they have no opportunity to use money as mentioned above, the smart ones can even save money from their allowances and tips.

It is agonizing that the amount of the allowance a zenza gets is bigger than that of the performing fee (wari) as a professional rakugoka. Additionally, though a zenza works constantly, the number of futatsume's working at the koza (stage) is very limited at least at the joseki (rakugo theaters that open every day). So, when a zenza is promoted to a futatsume, he has much less income (unless he gets quite a lot of work). This is not only a current problem, but has also been a dilemma since the Meiji period. Enkyo TACHIBANAYA (the fourth), known as the best master, was once promoted to futatsume, but he descended to zenza voluntarily to earn money to support his parents (Kazuo SEKIYAMA "Rakugo Meijinden" [Rakugo Masters]).

A rakugoka who 'could get promoted to futatsume, but chooses to remain a zenza,' as seen above, is called hetari. They are also called eikyu zenza (permanent zenza). There were several hetari until around 1950s. They included TACHIBANA no Enpuku and Shokichi HAYASHIYA (Danshi TATEKAWA introduced them in his book "Danshi gakuya banashi" - greenroom talk of Danshi). They are just like 'todori' in kabuki. They might as well work as employees of yose in reality. However, it seems that a hetari was not treated as a human being.
(Enpuku died of a cerebral hemorrhage while working backstage at the yose.)
(A famous rakugoka entered the backstage right after he fell, took a glance at Enpuku who was dying, and said an unbelievable thing, 'You ain't dead yet.')

On the other hand, hetari were quite appreciated in Kamigata area. The major hetari included Kosan MIMASUYA (Ebisubashi Shochiku Theater), Unosuke KATSURA (Sennichi-gekijo Theater and old Umeda Kagetsu Theater), Buncho KATSURA (Sennichi-gekijo Theater), Danji KATSURA (Dotonbori Kado-za Theater), Tsubame TACHIBANAYA (Kobe Shochiku-za Theater) and Monzaburo MIMASUYA (New Kagetsu Theater).

After Japanese society became affluent, a zenza could automatically be promoted to futatsume when some years passed (currently three to five years in general).

The oldest zenza working at the yose is called 'tatezenza.'
It was an important job with all the power of decision for the direction of yose performances. Tatezenza, in reality, has more power than a new shinuchi. Tatezenza does not have to labor basically, and he only has to give directions on work to other (lower) zenza. Suffice it say that keeping records in the notebook about the story is also the work of tatezenza.


It is between zenza and shinuchi.
Though the form listed in dictionaries is '二つ目,' lately it is mostly described as '二ツ目.'
Its description has no particular rule, and some people write as '二っ目' or '二ッ目' with small kana (the Japanese syllabary). It means that his performance has becomes good enough for him to paint two pupils in on a Daruma doll.

It is equivalent to sekitori in Sumo. In other words, he is recognized as a full-fledged rakugoka. Also, he is finally considered a human being in the rakugoka world. He is allowed to spend 100% of his effort and time only for himself. He doesn't have to do any chores at the master's residence or do background work at the yose.

He is now permitted the following:

Wearing a (crested) haori (a Japanese half-coat)
His name is also listed on the program.

Handing out (he has to hand out) his tenugui (small cloth) as an announcement of his promotion.
Drinking and smoking
Holding rakugokai (rakugo show) on his own, or performing at other rakugokai (not related to his master).

Presenting himself to perform on TV or radio, or in shows. And actual performance.

They get wari for performing rakugo at the yose as a qualified rakugoka. However, the opportunity to perform at the joseki is very limited, so they basically have to find work by themselves. Otherwise they would not have a job. Since they have no chores required when they were zenza and have no allowance, it is said that they are economically disadvantaged. Lately, quite a lot of them have a part-time job not related to entertainment (such as physical labor or a clerk who serves customers in the exact way the manual says). And they used to be called 'nakaza' in the Kamigata rakugo.

There actually exists "work" called yobi. He comes to work at the yose as a substitute, and he can perform on the stage when a vacancy for an absent rakugoka is not filled. There are also hetare (rakugoka who only come to work at the yose to play musical instruments), which is not clear.


It's derives from 'shin o utsu' (put out the candle). Candles were used for indoor lighting during the Edo period. They are put out (utsu) after the rakugoka takes the last turn and finishes performing. In other words, only the chief (tori) can put them out = shin o uteru.

As the name shows, they are qualified to be chief (tori) at the yose, and were given the title 'Shisho' (master). Also, they are allowed to take disciples.

When promoted to shinuchi, a special show is held, and the new shinuchi himself becomes the lead in the play. And at the coming-out ceremony for shinuchi, a speech is given. Without this, his promotion would not be complete. In other words, the promotion of shinuchi and the show are inseparable. He treats fancy box lunches to other performers during the show, and after the show ends, a party starts, which the shinuchi himself pays all cost. The expense is quite big, but on the other hand, tips from tanimachi (patrons) can be expected.

Since the mid 1980s, shinuchi have held more than half of the storytellers belonging to the Rakugo Kyokai Association and Rakugo Art Association, so some people say that it has lost substance as a system.


After the war, the shinuchi promotion system changed a few times. However, the criticism that its selection criteria is unclear has consistently existed. This consequently causes a conflict within rakugoka.

The shinuchi system is closely related to koban (ranking of rakugoka in the same association). The order of promotion of shinuchi, or how fast one becomes promoted to shinuchi, is the factor to determine the koban of shinuchi. After promotion of shinuchi, from middle age to old age, the order is not changed even if the popularity or skill changes. Some people say that the koban has a role as a security treaty to avoid conflicts between families.

Commotion after the war

Establishment of the Rakugo Sanyu Association leading to the Enraku Family Group

This results from the incident, in 1978, was that Ensho SANYUTEI (the sixth) submitted motions against replacement of the permanent board members of the time, Enka SANYUTEI, Kinba SANYUTEI (the fourth) and Ryucho SHUNPUTEI, and large numbers of shinuchi at the board meeting of the Rakugo Kyokai Association, ended up being rejected. This led to the establishment of the promotion examination system.

Establishment of the Rakugo Tatekawa School

Danshi TATEKAWA stayed in the Rakugo Kyokai Association during the commotion about the split of the association in 1978. But in 1983 it is said that this results from an incident where the mainstream of the Rakugo Kyokai Association and the Danshi family came into conflict over promotion examinations. It is said that this incident proved that reform by the examination system has never satisfied the whole industry.

Fundamentally, there is a contradiction a step ahead of operating the system.

Absence of the shinuchi system in the Kamigata area

In the Kamigata area, although koban exists internally (only shinuchi was announced just once), currently it is not disclosed outside at all. It is not clear if it is the same system as in Tokyo (the order of storytellers with no equal).

The shinuchi system existed also in the Kamigata area before the war. However, during and after the war, it disappeared while the Kamigata rakugo was practically downfallen. (Manzai - a comic dialogue) was more popular than rakugo in Osaka).

The shinuchi system was restored by the Kamigata Rakugo Association in February 1977. It was announced as well.

However, it is virtually lost as a system now. The internal ranking of storytellers (the level of membership fee, for example) is decided by another standard (seniority).

Shokaku the sixth, the president of the day said this.
It is our audience who decides if a rakugoka deserves shinuchi (and it is wrong that the rakugoka thrusts shinuchi at the audience while depending on the shinuchi system.'

When Tenma Tenjin Hanjotei Theater, a joseki, was established, restoration of the shinuchi system was discussed, which was deferred. The reason for not introducing the shinuchi system was it would reduce the typical free atmosphere in the Kamigata rakugo.

Issues of shinuchi and koban are very sensitive issues in Tokyo as well, which immediately triggered the division of the association. In the Kamigata Rakugo Association, even a big-shot rakugoka resigned because of more sensitive reasons (almost a quarrel). They don't want to have more reasons for commotion. It is fully understandable that maintaining the status quo is better than forcibly introducing a confusing issue (shinuchi).
(An advantage of the shinuchi system is it may be of interests to the board members.)
(In Tokyo, it is said that an executive used to patronize a rakugoka, take care of him by 'making him shinuchi,' and kept him under his control for the rest of his life.)
(However, this cannot be done now due to the introduction of the perfect seniority system.)

The koban system and shinuchi system are not perfectly based on ability, so another reason is that it is difficult to handle "one who has become suddenly popular" or "one who has been popular since his young days."
(These rakugoka should be definitely promoted in business, but it will be quite difficult if the koban exists.)
The shinuchi system links the promotion of shinuchi to the show, but the Kamigata Rakugo Association (Hanjotei) gives a 'prize' (not related to koban) to rakugoka, linked with the show.

The association in Tokyo chooses executives through discussion, but the Kamigata Rakugo Association choose them by election. Though the election is official, in reality they are mostly determined through discussion before the election.

Amateur rakugoka

As well as the students belonging to the Rakugo Society (group activity) of their university, amateur rakugoka have existed for years, called 'Tenguren.'
Most of them have teigo (a stage name) or yago (a trade name) which is not used by professional rakugaka. Besides, there exist working people's activity groups including the Kennan Rakugo Union in Oita Prefecture, which mainly have original activities based on local Rakugo.

Rakugoka in the Kanto region

Rakugo Art Association

Rakugo Kyokai Association

Enraku Family Group

Rakugo Tatekawa School

Rakugoka in the Kansai region

Kamigata Rakugo Association

Independent rakugoka
Listed here are professional rakugoka not belonging to the five organizations above. They are not so-called Tenguren, but those who have trained as professionals, and are limited to living persons. However, entertainers who have already become famous and perform rakugo as a sideline or sideshow (Shinji MORISUE, Morio KAZAMA, Hosei YAMASAKI, Tomochika, Terihei HAYASHIYA, Anna OGINO, Diane Kichijitsu (street performer/lecturer in English), etc. in recent years) are excluded.

Those who just have defected from the association
The old Shijaku KATSURA family (Nanko KATSURA (the third) and his disciples) * Some of them have gone back at the end of 2008.
Koyone KATSURA, Sencho KATSURA and Sosuke KATSURA from the Beicho KATSURA (the third) family (Beicho himself and other disciples belong to the association)
The Matsunosuke SHOFUKUTEI family

Rakugoka in Nagoya
The Kofuku KAMINARIMON family (this is originally the lineage of Fukusuke KAMINARIMON (the first) from the Tokyo rakugo.)

Those who continue professional activities cutting themselves off from others
The Black KAIRAKUTEI (the second) family
(His books, ISBN 978-4893086396 and ISBN 978-4862480217, mention why they were expelled in minute detail).
(Current disciples are Kyoshi KAIRAKUTEI and Burarin [renamed from Jong-il] KAIRAKUTEI).)

Somezo HAYASHIYA, third family (they have established the Kansai Rakugo Art Association.)
Haruhiko KATSURA

Kisuke KAMINARIMON (Okayama)
(Refer to "Hanashika Nedoi" [Interview with storytellers] ISBN 978-4779112973 by Masahito TAKIGUCHI [Office Bonga].)
(This mentions why he performs in Okayama.)

Virtual lesson pros
Yumesuke AZUMAYA (Hakodate)
(His stage name in Tokyo was Kosanta YANAGIYA.)
(He made a suicide attempt, and then he was accepted as a Hakodate Room clerk, which has saved him.)
(He is the president of 'National Rakugo College,' a group of amateur rakugaka.)
(He has written "Hai, Demae Rakugo Desu" [This is Rakugo Delivery].)

Kobungo KATSURA the sixth (Yonago City, Tottori Prefecture)
(He resigned Kamigata Rakugo and worked for a health center as an employee, but he performed somehow, for example on the stage there.)
(After he retired, he came back as a professional rakugoka.)
(Refer to "Hanashika Nedoi" (Interview with storytellers) ISBN 978-4779112973 by Masahito TAKIGUCHI (Office Bonga.)

Hachiko (Okinawa)

Among the deceased, Kingoro YANAGIYA and Kinba SANYUTEI (the third) can be cited as the major independent rakugoka.

Although unstated, it is likely that there are actually many who have retired to the country. Kasho SANYUTEI the fourth has already gone back to Tokyo, and electrifyingly performed on the stage of Kuromontei. Shoko SHOFUKUTEI was an announcer in Singapore, when she became a disciple of Kakusho SHOFUKUTEI after she saw and was moved by his stage performance. When Kakusho moved to London, she moved to London with her husband and children. Now she's back to Japan with her master to have the activity at Tenma Tenjin Hanjotei theater as their base, and performs mainly in Osaka.

Rakugoka who has become a politician
Other than those above:
Sori SANYUTEI (Kawagoe city councilor), his author "Sori SANYUTEI's self-admiration"
Ranjo SANYUTEI (Machida city councilor)
These two above, and Yoraku mentioned in the previous section are strangely the disciples of an Ensho the sixth's disciple, and belong to the same generation and have the same length of career.

The most famous one who used to be in politics is Danshi TATEKAWA (The only Diet member in the rakugo world). Kacho TSUKITEI ran in the election twice, but he was rejected both times. Sanpatsu KATSURA used to be a town councilor.

Though Sanshi and his disciple Black, and Enraku were said to run in the election, they actually didn't.

Representative rakugoka

Here are the prominent rakugoka. Refer to the linked pages of each rakugoka for further details. Refer to The List of Rakugoka for other rakugoka.


His father was Entaro TACHIBANAYA. He was a rakugoka who performed from the end of the Edo period to the Meiji period. He was respected as the father of the restoration since he devoted himself to modernization of rakugo such as rakugo hikki (taking notes of comic storytelling), modernization of the yose and new and original rakugo stories. He was good at stories with a moving end like kodan (storytelling of traditional Japanese tales). His representative stories include "Botan Doro" (A Tale of the Peony Lamp), "Shibahama" (Dream of a Leather Wallet), "Shinkei Kasanegafuchi" (The Spine-Chiller in Kasanegafuchi) and "Chibusa Enoki" (The Vendetta under a Nursing Hackberry Tree).

He was a celebrity in the Meiji period, and portrayed in a novel of Soseki NATSUME. His grave is in Yanaka.

Shinsho KOKONTEI (the fifth)

He was the son of the Minobe family, an old hatamoto (a direct retainer of the Shogun) family, but he was kicked out due to his debauchery, so he pursued an art career. At first he performed kodan as well as rakugo, but he did not gain popularity at all, and his destitute life continued. The detailed description of the day is in "Namekuji Kantai" (Slag Fleet). He is also known for changing his stage name fifteen times including kodan.

During the war, he went on a tour in Manchuria with Ensho SANYUTEI (the sixth) because he heard that he could drink as much as he wanted, and he disappeared there. After the war, when he came back, his dissolute and spontaneous performance style became popular, and he became a popular story teller. His specialties include "Kaen Daiko" (Big Drum) and "Tonasuya" (The Pumpkin Vendor). He was said that he was the best to perform Yotaro (a fool) or a hopeless husband.
Ensho described that 'I could beat him in the training hall, but he would kill me when fighting with real swords.'

He had a lot of episodes such as being drunken and sleeping on the stage.
It is said that the audience said to him, 'Shinsho, get some rest.'
His oldest son is Basho KINGENTEI (the tenth), his second son is Shincho KOKONTEI, and his granddaughter is an actress Shino IKENAMI.

Bunraku KATSURA (the eighth)

In contrast with Shinsho's frank performance style, Bunraku had a solemn performance style. It is similar to the relationship between Li Po and Du Fu, and these two supported the rakugo world in the Showa period together.

His performance of Bunraku was artistic, and he didn't have much acting props. Especially, "Umanosu" his performance of pretending to pick up beans with the chopsticks and eat them was said to be a masterpiece. He was strict with others and to himself about performance, and he was sometimes arrogant. Although he was supposed to be 'the sixth' of Bunraku KATSURA, he took the liberty of calling himself the eighth because eight (八) spreads out wide toward the end, which means good luck. His representative act included "Akegarasu" (The Raven at the First Light) and "Unagi no Taiko" (Male Geisha and Eel).

His act featured unerring performance.
But, at the National Small Theater in 1971, he was stumped about the character name 'Koemon KAMIYA' during performing "Daibutsu Mochi" (Buddha's Cake), and he withdrew saying 'I will learn once again.'
He died without being on the stage again. He was also called 'Kuromoncho' because he lived in Ueno Kuromoncho. For your information, the Rakugo Kyokai Association which Bunraku was the president is also in Kuromoncho.


He was a rakugoka who dominated in the high-growth period with taking song phrases such as 'Yoshiko san,' and gags and puns in his style. He was excellent in playing with the audience, and his show was always full of big laughter. He was also known as a talent who developed the common ground between rakugo and variety programs.

His father (Shozo HAYASHIYA the seventh) introduced him to rakugo. But after the death of his father, he trained under Enkyo TSUKINOYA (later Enzo TACHIBANAYA (the seventh)), a disciple of his father.

When he was young, it was pointed out that his performance was immature while he was popular among the public, but after his serious illness, his performance mellowed. However, he died of liver cancer soon. He didn't succeed to the name Shozo after all, and he excused himself from the nomination for succession to the name of Kosanji YANAGIYA or Enkyo TSUKINOYA (according to "Hanashimo Kenmo Shizentai" (Stories and Swords with Natural Stance) by Kosan YANAGIYA the fifth), and he spent the whole life with one stage name. He died at the age of fifty-four. His representative act items include "Genpei" (the Minamoto clan and the Taira clan).

His disciples include Konpei HAYASHIYA and Pe HAYASHIYA. His sons are Shozo HAYASHIYA (the ninth) (the oldest son) and Ippei HAYASHIYA (the second son), and his daughters are talents, Midori EBINA (the wife of Ryuta MINE) and Yasuha (the ex-wife of Koasa SHUNPUTEI), and his wife is an essayist Kayoko EBINA.

Rakugo Shitenno (Four major rakugoka)

It is a general term for Beicho KATSURA (the third), Harudanji KATSURA (the third), Shokaku SHOFUKUTEI (the sixth) and Bunshi KATSURA (the fifth), who made efforts in restoring Kamigata rakugo at the time when it almost disappeared.

It is a general term for Danshi TATEKAWA, Enraku SANYUTEI (the fifth) (retired), Shincho KOKONTEI and Ryucho SHUNPUTEI (the fifth), rakugoka in Tokyo who were young at the time, and emerged with the entertainment boom arisen mainly from TV in the 1960s.
(After the death of Ryucho, Enzo TACHIBANAYA -the eighth- was added.)

Shijaku KATSURA (the second)

He was a key player of Kamigata rakugo. He was from Kobe. He was originally popular in amateur manzai with his brother. But he turned to rakugo when he was in college, and became a disciple of Beicho KATSURA (the third), where he learned classical rakugo.
However, he devoted himself to seeking comedy rather than mastering classic aesthetics, which resulted in bringing him the nickname 'King of great laughter.'

He was also known for his special introduction, English rakugo and the overseas performance. He was the best known as a theorist in the rakugo world, and he argued that 'relaxation of tension' would cause laughter.

He was blessed with disciples and a family. However, he was full of distress in terms of his performance - He broke relations with his master due to the difference of their direction, and he suffered depression from his performance.

He had lots of creative rakugo stories including "Binbogami" (Deity of poverty) and "Chazuke Enma" (The King of Hell Eating Rice with Green Tea). Great characters including 'Tomegoro MATSUMOTO' are famous.

[Original Japanese]