A quick guide to the characters of rakugo

Getting to know the characters of rakugo

2017.05.01

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Created over the Edo and Meiji eras, Rakugo features a colourful cast of characters, and is still performed today. According to the the Rakugo Art Association, there are over 200 rakugo stories that have been carried down to the present age. Today we’ll be giving you a quick guide to some of the major characters, so you’ll be able to enjoy rakugo on another level if you ever get the chance to see it.

Above image sourceTighten up! / a theater for “RAKUGO” (from Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

Matching names to roles

It is rare for personal names to appear in Rakugo, and the general rule is that “Name = Role”. Among these are such as “Jibutajibuemon” who only appears in “The Forgetful Samurai”, but this is relatively uncommon. Since many of the character names indicate their job or position, if you remember them then you will instantly be able to imagine the character when they are announced.

Yotaro – The Fool

Perhaps rakugo’s biggest player, “Yotaro” appears in many stories such as “Douguya (The Tool Shop)”, “Ushi Home (Praise for Cows)” and “Kinmeitake”. No matter what the story, he always speaks off point, and tends to cause problems by acting absurdly. Similar to him is “Jinbee”. While not as foolish as Yotaro, he is too kind hearted and thus often deceived by others. In the story of “The Flaming Taiko Drum”, he is tricked into buying various items such as the bedpan of a famous author, but is so kind hearted that he simply can’t get angry.

Representing the craftsmen – “Hachigoro” and “Kumagoro”

Hachigoro is often referred to as “Hattsuan” or “Garappachi”, and Kumagoro is often referred to as “Kuma-san” (Lit. Mr Bear). They both appear individually in many stories, but both appear together in “Akubi Shinan (Yawning Instruction) and “Sokotsu Nagaya (The Forgetful Terrace). While Hachigoro is careless and nosey, Kumagoro is a wild-child.

Completely different from these two is “Hankou”, who represents the lady-killer. He’s always busy with love affairs like getting acquainted with a shamisen teacher, or being the “bit-on-the-side” of a landlady.

The cheeky children – “Kinbou”, Kame-chan”, and “Teikichi”

The children who appear in rakugo tend to be snide, and always ready to find fault in the adults, causing them no end of trouble. Kinbou and Kame-chan are children of the townsfolk, and Teikichi often features as an apprentice. In “Momotaro”, he logically explains old stories to his father, and sharply denounces the contradictions in the behaviour and words of adults.

In addition to those listed above, there are many other major characters in the rakugo world. If you want to get to know them, the best way is without a doubt to meet them for yourself by going to a show.