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Rakugo is a traditional Japanese performing art in which storytellers entertain their audiences with satire and humor. The charm of rakugo lies not only in its skillful storytelling, but also in its use of unique tools. In this issue, we will introduce some of the tools used in rakugo to make it easier for rakugo beginners to understand. We will also touch on the props used in Kamigata Rakugo, so if you are interested in learning more about the world of Rakugo, please take a look at this article.
The tools used by rakugo performers are simple, but they are used effectively through the skillful storytelling and techniques of the rakugo artist. Here we introduce some of the typical tools used in rakugo.
The fan is a tool frequently used by rakugo storytellers to perform their stories. In the world of rakugo, it is sometimes referred to as a "kaze" (wind). The fans used in rakugo are mainly called "koza-fans," which are different from the commonly used summer fans. They are larger in size than summer fans and are characterized by their sturdier construction. Mainly plain white fans are used, and fans with colored patterns or flashy designs are not used.
Tenugui is used not only as a prop in rakugo stories, but also by rakugo storytellers to wipe sweat. Called "mandara" by rakugo storytellers, it is one of the most important tools used by rakugo storytellers to represent various things. In addition, each rakugo storyteller creates his or her own original tenugui, which are sometimes distributed as business cards when a rakugo storyteller is promoted to the rank of shinuchi. Each tenugui has its own unique color and design, and is popular among rakugo enthusiasts as a collection item.
Tools used in rakugo are sometimes used to represent other things in a rakugo story. The use of a fan and a tenugui (hand towel) in a performance is effective in making the situation easier to understand and in differentiating between different characters. Here we introduce how fans and tenugui are used in rakugo.
A fan is used as a smoking pipe (kiseru), chopsticks, pole, fishing rod, sword, spear, umbrella, or sake bottle. For example, when used as a smoking pipe, it is possible to play different characters depending on the way they smoke. For example, a samurai would smoke with his chest out, while a commoner would pick up the pipe and smoke. Depending on the storyteller's expression, the characters can be made to look like a variety of different things. Each storyteller has his or her own unique way of using these expressions, so paying attention to them will give you a different way to enjoy them.
Tenugui is used as a book, a letter, a cigarette case, a wallet, and so on. A tenugui folded vertically can be used as a wallet, or opened with both hands to show a person reading a book. A folded tenugui can be opened and used in combination with a fan, for example, to show a person writing a letter smoothly with a fan used as a brush. Tenugui is also often used for practical purposes, such as when wiping perspiration.
In addition to fans and tenugui hand towels, there are other props unique to Kamigata rakugo in the Kansai region that are not used in the Kanto region, where Edo rakugo is performed. These props are said to be remnants of the outdoor street performance of Kamigata rakugo, and were used to attract the attention of passersby by making noise. Here we introduce some props unique to Kamigata Rakugo.
A kendai is a small stand on which books are placed for viewing. There are no specific rules for its dimensions, and it is simply constructed by attaching a wooden leg to the top board. In Kamigata rakugo, it is used as a writing desk, a bathtub, a futon, or a floor, or to make sounds by tapping it with a fan or clapper. Since Kamigata Rakugo was performed outdoors at festivals and other places crowded with many people, it was necessary to devise ways to attract people's attention. For this reason, the performers would make loud banging noises to make passersby stop in their tracks and listen to the performance.
A knee-hider is a small stand placed in front of the viewing platform. The width of the stand is larger than the podium in order to hide the parts of the stand that are not to be shown. The height of the knee-hakushi is just high enough to show the top of the stand, in order to show the performer's gestures on the stand. Since rakugo is an art that uses the whole body, it is made one step lower so that the audience can see the performer's hands.
As the name suggests, kobyoshi are small wooden clappers. They are used mainly when a scene changes during a storytelling, or when a change of mood is desired, by striking a pair of kobyoshi against a viewing stand. As explained in the section on the viewing stand, because Kamigata rakugo is performed outdoors, it was necessary to make a loud sound to attract the attention of people on the street. Since rakugo storytellers had to speak louder than the sound of a small beat, it is said that it was also a vocal training for them. In order to make their performances lively and stand out, they sometimes used various musical instruments such as shamisen, flutes, and drums.
We have introduced the roles and necessity of tools used in rakugo, such as fans and tenugui hand towels. These tools play an important role in giving a sense of realism to the performance of the rakugo artist and the scenes of the story in a more tangible way. Kamigata rakugo also uses unique tools that are not found in Edo rakugo and have established their own traditions. The craftsmen and merchants involved in the manufacture and sale of these tools also play a role in supporting the traditional art of rakugo. If you are interested in rakugo, please pay attention to the existence and use of these tools. Through these tools, you will gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of rakugo.