Ranryo-o (a number in gagaku [ancient Japanese court dance and music]) (蘭陵王 (雅楽))

Ranryo-o is a number in gagaku (ancient Japanese court dance and music). It is played in both Kangen music (wind and string instruments) and bugaku (traditional Japanese court music accompanied by dancing). It is also called Ranryo-o nyujin no kyoku (a music for Ranryo-o entering the camp), and Ryo-o for short.

Ranryo-o is a solo dance in Ichikotsucho tone which is classified as Saho (left side) (Togaku music). This is a heroic hashiri-mai (a way of dance of bugaku involving active dance with running), which is performed wearing ornately decorated mask. Kotaemai (a dance of the right, the latter being an answer dance) is Nasori (a number in Gagaku).

It is said that Ranryo-o was brought into Japan by Buttetsu, a Vietnamese monk. It was originally in sadacho tone (eda-joshi, branch modes of Ichikotsucho tone) but changed to Ichikotsucho tone in Japan. It is a beautiful song with touch of Chinese style remaining.

This is a number based on anecdote about Ranryo-o Changgong GAO of Northern Qi. Ranryo-o, who was a handsome and great commander, challenged to a battle covering his graceful face under fierce mask, and won a great victory. It is believed that the number originated from exulted soldiers singing about the brave warrior.

The number is marked by both heroism worthy of warrior's dance and elegance that recollect Ranryo-o, who was known for his matchless handsomeness.


According to the legend that originated the number, Changgong GAO was a great commander who was capable of defeating a massive enemy force just by 500 horsemen to surround Rakuyo (Luoyang). However, since Changgong GAO had such a golden voice and was so handsome that people described him as 'Onyo Kenbi' (having both an excellent voice and looks), he wore a fierce mask in every battle so that the enemy would not look down on his soldiers, who might otherwise be demoralized due to their fascination with him.

When a male dances Ranryo-o, he wears a dragonhead shaped mask in accordance with the legend, but when a female or a child dances the number, he or she only wears makeup without a mask possibly because of imitating the graceful feature of Changgong GAO.

The actual fact of the legend is that, Changgong GAO arrived at Rakuyo castle gate with reinforcements when Northern Zhou enveloped Rakuyo, but people inside the castle did not open the gate suspecting of enemy machinations. When Changgong GAO therefore took off his helmet to reveal his face, the gate guard recognized him by his incomparably beautiful countenance and opened the gate; this enabled Changgong GAO to safely break through the besieging enemy forces and contribute to the liberation of Rakuyo. Such description is seen in history book such as 'Seisho' (a history book about Qi Dynasty).

Shozoku (costume)

The dancer puts on a dragonhead shaped bugaku mask and carries golden stick.

The dancer wears scarlet silk ho (outer robe or vestment) with kamon (one of yusoku-monyo, traditional design motifs) embroidery and on top of that, wear sleeveless kantoi (simple type of clothing consisting of a large piece of cloth with a hole in the middle for the head) called keberi no ryoto (sleeveless poncho with fur edging, worn on top of outer robe) and tie golden obi (sash for kimono).

Sometimes the number is danced by a female or a child. In that case, the dancer put a maetengan (a charm of the front of cap) with a cherry kazashi (snapped branch of cherry flower or tree put in the hair or the cap) instead of bugaku mask, and wears similar stage makeup as Kabuki Buyo (Dance of Kabuki [traditional drama performed by male actors]).

[Original Japanese]