Japanese Storytelling Tradition

In Life Trends

Storytellers in Japan stroll a inexperienced and historical land. The tales they inform are wealthy and various, from the poignant sounds of the previous epics to the fast-paced humor of the rakugo storytelling fashion.


Rakugo is a theatrical storytelling type that has been fashionable in Japan because the sixteenth century. The type conveys humor via wordplay and mime.

Long years of coaching beneath a grasp teller assist the younger hanashika, the normally male storyteller of this manner, to polish abilities of timing, improvisation, and characterization. With a wave of his fan, a tilt of his head, or a change of pose and voice, an completed rakugo teller can create a number of characters and convincingly painting them conversing. Rakugo tales poke enjoyable at human foibles. They carry to life the rogues, fools, prostitutes, and retailers of the Edo interval, which spanned the seventeenth via nineteenth centuries, or get laughs with fashionable tales of robots and baseball.

To be taught rakugo, the coed serves as an assistant, learning his trainer’s tales and supply. After the apprentice is aware of as many as thirty tales, has studied for some 13 years, and has handed a efficiency check, he’s in a position to carry out on his personal. Slowly, he develops his personal fashion and, maybe, his personal materials. Those who excel are finally acknowledged as masters, who then practice younger apprentices.

This storytelling type is introduced on tv and in massive live performance halls, however followers nonetheless desire to expertise it within the extra intimate yose, a vaudeville-type theater. Sprinkled amongst varied acts—magicians, jugglers, singers, and comedy groups—is the hanashika. He kneels on a cushion in a darkish conventional gown and performs brief tales wealthy in puns and satire, typically holding a fan and a handkerchief as props.

Tokyo and Osaka boast yose theaters and live performance halls that characteristic rakugo. Throughout Japan, novice rakugo golf equipment meet to apply this witty, skillful storytelling fashion.

Kodan and Biwa Hoshi

Kodan storytelling is also called koshaku, which implies “the reading and explanation of religious texts.” Kodan initially consisted of somber readings and non secular lectures. By the late eighteenth century, it had advanced into a sort of entertainment.

Crowds filled small theaters because the storyteller associated heroic conflict tales and nostalgic tales. The storyteller, whose solely prop was a block of wooden, alternated between explaining the story and enjoying completely different roles. The entertainment typically ended with a fast-paced fight scene. Unfortunately, these sorts of tales now not appeal to youthful listeners, and the artwork type is dying out.

Another Japanese storytelling type hardly ever seen as we speak is biwa hoshi. In medieval Japan, people in cities and villages waited eagerly for the touring storytellers who introduced epic tales of conflict to life. One such story is Heike Monogatari, or The Tale of the Heike, a well-liked recounting of the twelfth-century battle for management of Japan. Often the teller was a monk, normally blind, who traveled from city to city relating scenes from these highly effective tales. The monk would accompany himself on a biwa, a Japanese lute. Today, these tales may come to life in books or on tv, however hardly ever via a storyteller’s voice.

Koen Dowa

The koen dowa fashion of storytelling was created in 1896 by the writer Sazanami Iwaya (1879–1933), who printed practically fifty volumes of conventional Japanese tales. During a go to to an elementary college in 1896, the principal suggested Iwaya to share his tales aloud with college students, fairly than simply writing them down. And so koen dowa, or voiced literature, was born.

Within two years, Iwaya had develop into an expert storyteller. His e book, How to Tell Stories (1903), urges tellers to curiosity the viewers and provides them worthwhile impressions to take house with them.
Takehiko Kurushima was additionally identified for telling on this fashion. Kurushima, one among Iwaya’s followers, traveled all through Japan in a caravan and instructed unique tales, Bible tales, and Western and Eastern fairy tales. Other expressive koen dowa tellers might be discovered within the streets, parks, and faculties of Japan throughout the early twentieth century.

World War II significantly altered this fashion of storytelling, because the tales grew to become extra militaristic and didactic. When the conflict that killed virtually 2 million Japanese was finished, koen dowa, too, had suffered. The tellers had develop into too far faraway from their audiences and too linked to bitter conflict reminiscences. As a end result, solely a small affiliation stays to analysis this as soon as fashionable type.

Gaito Kamishibai

Gaito kamishibai is out of doors paper theater. This type of storytelling was fashionable within the early twentieth century, reaching its peak between 1930 and 1960. This full of life artwork type featured male tellers who had been expert in using voice, gesture, and improvisation. They instructed tales utilizing units of illustrated playing cards, known as kamishibai, to support within the telling. In this manner’s heyday, some 30,000 gamers labored in Tokyo and about 10,000 labored in Osaka. Tellers instructed tales from tiny phases mounted to the backs of their bicycles. They earned revenue by promoting sweet and snacks to their viewers.

Kamishibai playing cards had been hand painted by proficient, in any other case unemployed artists. Each card in the usual set of ten measured roughly 12 by 14 inches (30 by 36 centimeters). Popular tales may take up thirty or extra units of playing cards, and the most well-liked story, in regards to the comedian character Chon-Chan, used greater than 5,000 units. Funny tales, tales of samurai, unique science fiction, and tales of superheroes— similar to Dr. Glove, who had invincible electrical fighting gloves—had been crowd pleasers.

The women and men who share gaito kamishibai as we speak typically carry out in libraries and houses, fairly than on the road. Bright, printed kamishibai playing cards, which first appeared within the 1930s, are present in most fashionable libraries. These packaged units inform full tales, from Japan and the West, in sequences of twelve to sixteen playing cards. Each card measures about 12 by 18 inches (30 by 46 centimeters).

Thousands of librarians, volunteers, and kids across Japan make their very own kamishibai units, and kamishibai festivals happen in some areas. The playing cards discovered at these festivals are sometimes extra ornate than the unique playing cards. The playing cards created by as we speak’s kamishibai artists are generally very massive, up to four toes by 6 toes (simply over 1 meter by virtually 2 meters), could also be painted on delicate handmade paper, or could have transferring elements made utilizing sticks, strings, or Velcro.