History of the Rakugo Revival


This is a scrapbook in which the famous novelist Shikitei Sanba (1776−1822) has stuck the handouts from eight otoshibanashi or rakugo (literally, fallen words) performances held between 1808 and 1817, late in the Edo period (1600−1868). On the blank pages and in the spaces left by the pasted handouts Shikitei has written commentaries about the performances and information about the revival of rakugo. Rakugo is a traditional Japanese art form in which a single performer, dressed in traditional Japanese clothes, sits on his knees seiza-style and amuses the crowd by telling funny stories. The artists perform multiple roles by modifying their vocal delivery and using various facial and manual gestures. With only a fan and a towel as props, they express everything, even walking and running, while remaining seated. This form of performance originated in the second half of the 17th century, but it disappeared for a while before it was revived in the second half of the 18th century. It is still performed today. The handouts pasted into this book are invitations to rakugo performances, color prints of beautiful pictures painted by famous artists, and descriptions of the history of rakugo. The book’s title, Otoshibanashi chūkō raiyu, means the history of the revival of rakugo. Its alternative title of Otoshibanashi kai Suriecho means “Scrapbook of Flyers from Rakugo Performances.” This is considered to be an important document for understanding the history of rakugo.

Last updated: June 25, 2015