Rakugo Performance

Rakugo is the traditional Japanese art of storytelling. Rakugo, an oral tradition from the late 17th century, requires us, the audience, to use our imagination while enjoying each story. Unlike western performances, where an imaginary world is created on stage, in rakugo the imaginary world is created within the mind of each listener.



In Rakugo there are only two props, a Japanese fan (せんす) and hand cloth (てぬぐい), both of which are used in a variety of ways as props in different settings. Since the story is told by the one performer on stage, pay special attention to how the story teller transitions from one character to the next. Below are two pictures from the story うえきやさん taken within seconds of the narration.

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Image 1: Katsura Asakichi as a customer
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Image 2: Katsura Asakichi as a florist

 By facing different directions within the story, the Rakugo performer is showing the audience that the speaker has changed. The direction each character faces remains continuous through the entire story when transitioning between characters. Notice also how in the picture on the left the performer is slightly looking down, while on the picture on the right the performer is slightly up. This is because the setting depicts the customer (Image 1) walking up to the florist (Image 2) who is sitting down looking up at the customer. The smallest nuances exist to help the performer come to character, allowing the audience to better use their imagination.

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Image 3: Katsura Asakichi as a flower.

When other characters are introduced, the performer may use different gestures or face in different directions. Image 3 shows the performer posing as a flower while looking up to respond to a persons question.

The more experienced performers are able to maintain continuity within the story, paying close attention to the details and small nuances of each setting and character.


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Gestures, Props and Your Imagination