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ASEAN-Japan Exchange Year 2003
The Japan Foundation Manila Office
in coooeration with
Arts Council of Cebu Foundation, Inc.
Cultural Center of the Philippines
Dulaang UP

in English
(A Japanese Sit-Down Comedy)


August 27, 2003
3:00 pm and 8:00 pm
CAP Development Art Center
CAP Building
Osmena Blvd., Cebu City
Contact number: (032)233-0452

August 29, 2003
7:00 pm
Teatro Hermogenes Ylagan
Faculty Center, College of Arts and Letters
UP Diliman, Quezon City
Contact number: 926-1349

August 30, 2003
2:30 pm and 8:00 pm
Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino
Cultural Center of the Philipppines
Roxas Blvd., Pasay City
Contact number: 811-6155 to 58

Supported by:
JICC, Embassy of Japan
Consular Office of Japan, Cebu

The Performers
more info (Japanese) (English)


Ohayashi - Music Interlude
Japanese traditional music played with Shamisen, fue and drums.
Rakugo by Katsura Kaishi
Rakugo by Oshima Kimie
Kamikiri - Paper Cutting Art
A performer uses a pair of scissors to cut a piece of blank paper and form items that are requested by the audience.
Rakugo by Katsura Asakichi
Rakugo by Shofukutei Kakushow
Tamasudare - Bamboo Blinds Performance
Bamboo blinds are transformed into various shapes.
(The program may vary per show)
about Rakugo

Rakugo, a traditional form of performing art, dates back to the end of the 17th century. It is a popular and unique form of comic monologue in which the storyteller creates an imaginary drama through episodic narration. The stories reflect traditional concepts and values which remain meaningful and entertaining today.

The performer sits on his knees while performing. He sits on a small mattress and acts out the whole story alone. Rakugo-ka (performer) wears a Kimono (traditional Japanese clothes) and sometimes wears a Hakama (a pair of long wide pants) with or without the Haori (a formal Jacket). A Rakugo-ka is usually equipped with a Sensu (fan) and Tenugui (hand towel) which aid the performer express and act out the story. For example, the fan can be a chopstick, cigarette, scissors, pipe or pen.

The performer plays the part of sevearl characters in a single sketch, the challenge lies in switching from one distinct character to another by changing voice, facial expression, mannerism and speech. Each character represents exaggerated aspects of the human personality.

An aspiring Rakugo student (deshi) has to ask a popular Rakugo performers to be his mentor. He usually lives in tha Master's house and does everything that the Master orders. He takes lessons in storytelling, dance, and playing musical instruments. He must learn everything by following the Master. All the training is verbal, no written text is used. The Rakugo performer apprentices for three or four years with the Master. When the apprenticeship is completed, the Master gives him name as a professional Rakugo performer.It is only with the Master's consent that a deshi becomes a full-pledged Rakugo-ka. He takes the Master's family name and one syllable from his first name. A performer's name immediately signals his artistic lineage. There are only a few "families" of Rakugo performers and there are some five hundred Rakugo performers.

More than 300 popular classic stories are still performed with the addition of new stories composed by new Rakugo artists which still follow the basic structure of Rakugo. A Rakugo story begins with the Makura (pillow) which leads the audience into the Hanashi (story). The symbolic meaning of the Makura is that one places his or her head on the pillows before going to sleep and then goes into a dream state of conciousness. Makura is the preparatory stage for entering the imagery of Rakugo story which is comparable to a dream.

After the show in Malaysia ←After the show in Malaysia. From left, Katsura Kaishi, Kimie Oshima, Shofukutei Kakushow, Katsura Asakichi, Hayashiya Kazume.
The Japan Foundation, Kuala Lumpur
supported by

2(Tue)&3(Wed) September 2003 @ 8.30pm
Supported by Consulate-General of Japan in Penang

5(Fri)&6(Sat) September 2003 @ 8.30pm
In co-operation with Embassy of Japan

Japan Asean 2003


Japanese traditional music played with Shamisen, fue(Japanese flute) and drums.



A performer uses a pair of scissors to cut a piece of blank paper and form items that are requested from the audience.



Bamboo blinds are transformed into various shapes


RAKUGO, Topper Story in literal meaning, is the Japanese traditional comedy monodrama. Having its origin in 16th century and established during Edo era (17-18th century), Rakugo became the country's favorite pastime in late 1940s.

Rakugo can be best described as Japanese "Sit-Down" comedy. Performers sit on a small mettress in front of the audience and act out funny stories with a comic style and structure. In Rakugo, the performer can be a narrator, but usually performs the actual characters in the story. These characters converse without a narrator coming between them. The challenge for the performer is switching from one distinct character to another. Each character represents exaggrerated aspects of the human personality, which we can all readily related to. The predicaments, which they find themselves in, are part of everyday life.


RAKUGO apprentices or "Deshi" must stay with three or four years with the Master. They usually live in the Master's house that based in Tokyo or Osaka. They are not allowed to have any privacy, must obey the Master's orders and learn everythig during their stay in the "family". When the apprenticeship is completed, the Master gives them their names as a professional RAKUGO performer or "Rakugo-ka" by talking the family name of each "Rakugo-ka" family tree and one syllable from their own first name. For example, from the names, we knew that KATSURAKaishi & KATSURA Asakichi learned from the same 'family'.

A performers's name immediately signals his artistics lineage. There are only a few "families" of RAKUGO performers, like Katsura, Hayashiya, Shofukutei, Shumputei, Yanagiya etc but about 650 professional Rakugo performers up to date. However, among 650 professionals, there are only 3 performers can perform Rakugo in English too. They are Shofukutei Kakusho, Katsura Kaishi & Katsura Asakichi. Engllish Rakugo performances are most welcomed abroad because of the language used deepen the understanding of this traditional performing art among foreign audiences.

more info (Japanese) (English)

Chiri-tote-chin ←Katsura Kaishi performing classical story "Chiri-tote-chin". He is trying to split a pair of chopsticks.
The official newsletter of the Japan Foundation Manila office

Reviewing Rakugo
by Cora Llamas

Watching Rakugo Theater − or what is popularly known as Japanese sit-down theater comedy − for the first time was a rollicking surprise. Rollicking, because I spent most of the less than two hours either grinning or bellyaching in laughter. Surprise, because as the gracious hostess reminded us during the introduction, I never realized the Japanese could be so funny.
My apologies. My experiences of watching Japanese theater have been limited to the sublime Noh and the intellectually challenging Kabuki. The Japanese plays I’ve seen have always focused on dramatically ponderous subjects such as honor, sacrifice, patriotism, dying for one’s country or superior, etc. You get the picture.
The whole concept of sit-down theater at first put me off, too. This gave me the initial impression that the comedic pieces would rely mainly on the acting versatility of the comedian who would have to content himself in using his face and his upper body to deliver the laughs.
As I soon found out, this whole concept of sit-down theater had more to it than meets the eye. First of all, the performers aren’t nailed to the floor or their sitting mat − they move their bodies around a lot, without moving one step away from their fixed location. To make their humorous point, they use their body parts − hands, arms, legs − in every imaginable way possible.
Prior to the performance, the artists advised the audience that the success of the show − meaning, the audience’s willingness to go along for the ride and laugh throughout − depended on everyone’s collective imagination. Yes, that is true, to an extent − but then again, any theater form with a limited budget and equally restrained production qualities could make the same claim.
What makes Rakugo truly work is its wit. While the performers pull out all stops to each impersonate singlehandedly ridiculous situations like a crazy rickshaw driver running like a loose cannon or a modern-day lady trying to undergo the traditional bridal test, a lot of the success in the humor relies on the script. Rakugo is not just a monologue − it is a dialogue between the main characters or it can even be expanded into an entire discussion with several players. While the visual gags and physicality of the actors, especially those with expressive faces, effectively bring the house down, the lines actually set the tone, the direction, and the thrust. The punch line at the end is vital.
Wonder where the daredevil rickshaw deriver and his terrified passenger finally ended up (enacted by Katsura Kaishi)? Or why one long string of mourners is so keen on borrowing the dog of the deceased’s daughter-in-law − and they couldn’t wait for the funeral to be finished (enacted by Oshima Kimie)? In these scenarios, it wouldn’t have ultimately mattered if the actors pushed and pulled their malleable faces like elastic bands, or painted themselves blue in the face − if the punch line doesn’t work, the laughter of the past then minutes would fizzle out at the end, like a rollercoaster losing steam at the middle of its run.
Now, given a good script, a crazy scenario, and an ingenious adeptness in using the most facile props, Rakugo is pure fun and joy. Who would have thought that a tied bunch of bamboo-looking sticks can recreate in a short span of seconds the Statue of Liberty or a man taking a piss (Katsura Kaishi)? Shofukutei Kakushow started slow in his first performance; his using paper-cut figures bordered on being art-class-like, at times − but he more than makes up for it at the climactic ending. With just crayola and colored cloth, he literally recreates a wickedly funny battle between your average Joe and a rampaging Godzilla-like monster.
This writer does have one regret. I wish I could have brought my nephews along. Rakugo may be boisterous and irreverent at times, but it remains good, clean, family-friendly fun. And that’s difficult theatrical combination to find these days.

Cora Llamas is the resident theater correspondent and drama critic of The Philippine Daily Inquirer. She is also a frequent contributor to leading lifestyle magazines such as Metro Working Mom, Me Magazine, Bluprint, Health Today, and the Sunday Inquirer Magazine. She graduated AB Communication Arts from the Ateneo de Manila University.

a temple in Malaysia ←When a temple in Malaysia change the tiles of roof, they sell tiles to people. So that we can buy one and write a message on them and those tiles will be used for the temple roof for next hundred years! Our messages on our tiles were all by coincidence, "world peace".

a shot with staff ←After the show in Cebu Island, a shot with staff. The staff at The Actor's Studio in Cebu were just great!
Copyright 2002 Kimie Oshima