From Wikipedia:

Rakugo (落語, literally “fallen words”) is a form of Japanese verbal entertainment. The lone storyteller (落語家 rakugoka) sits on stage, called kōza (高座). Using only a paper fan (扇子 sensu) and a small cloth (手拭 tenugui) as props, and without standing up from the seiza sitting position, the rakugo artist depicts a long and complicated comical (or sometimes sentimental) story. The story always involves the dialogue of two or more characters. The difference between the characters is depicted only through change in pitch, tone, and a slight turn of the head.

Rakugo was originally known as karukuchi (軽口). The oldest appearance of the kanji which refers specifically to this type of performance dates back to 1787, but at the time the characters themselves (落とし噺) were normally read as otoshibanashi (falling discourse). In the middle of the Meiji period (1868–1912) the expression rakugo first started being used, and it came into common usage only in the Shōwa period (1926–1989).

There is, of course, more about the history (“Rakugo was invented by Buddhist monks in the 9th and 10th century to make their sermons more interesting”) and performers (I can’t help noticing that the list of “Notable rakugoka” includes a great many with the same surnames; does this indicate that it’s a family thing, or that performers take the names of unrelated predecessors?); I’ll just say I love the literal meaning “fallen words” and this joke (which seems on the face of it completely irrelevant):

A man faints in a bathing tub. In the great confusion following, a doctor arrives who takes his pulse and calmly gives the instructions: “Pull the plug and let the water out.” Once the water has flowed completely out of the tub he says: “Fine. Now put a lid on it and carry the guy to the cemetery.”

(Rakugo was mentioned briefly in this post from 2014.) Thanks, Trevor!


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    There is an excellent anime series about Rakugo: 昭和元禄落語心中 Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū.

  2. the extremely long name in “Jugemu jugemu” is probably a fertile area for linguistic speculation


  3. Peter Maydell says

    I believe the performers’ names follow the same sort of “stage name” tradition used in kabuki and other traditional Japanese performing arts, where when they complete their apprenticeship the performer is given a stage name with the surname of the guild/tradition in which they have been apprenticed. For instance this performer — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katsura_Shijaku_II — was born Maeda Tōru, taught by Katsura Beichō III, given the stage name Katsura Koyone X on graduation, later changed to Katsura Shijaku II, and taught students of his own including Katsura Jakujaku.

  4. Thanks, that makes sense!

  5. That is fascinating – both the naming tradition and the description of rakugo, which sounds like a sort of formalised shaggy-dog story. Is “punchline” a good equivalent for “falling words”, as the article suggests?

  6. 落ち ochi is the conventional Japanese word for a punchline. Note the character used.

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