Rakugo: The Play That Has Multiple Characters— but Only One Performer

An old man sits on a cushion on a stage, his head in front of a small mike stand. In his right hand is a folded Japanese fan (called a sensu) that looks something like the picture bellow, and in his left hand is a handkerchief.

He waves his hands vigorously, his voice sounding like a tired man just finishing a marathon. Suddenly, he changes his expression and voice. Now he sounds like a woman. Even though the old man hasn’t changed, the character who is speaking changes inside the audience’s imagination.

Now, the tired man pretends to walk in the restaurant owned by the woman (the performer hasn’t moved from his perch on the cushion), and starts making slurping sounds while moving the folded fan as if it was a pair of chopsticks (he is acting out eating a bowl of noodles. )

This person is acting a type of comedy called “Rakugo”. It’s kind of like sitcom or a stand-up comedy, except there is only one person doing EVERY character.

The one person doesn’t have any sets or anything, so he has to make all those with only the fan and the handkerchief, or both. For example, a person drawing might be depicted by moving the folded fan like a pen, and the handkerchief like a piece of paper.

The other day my siblings, my mom, and I went to watch a Rakugo show. The first one was a traditional story called (when roughly translated) “Scared of Sweet Rice Balls”. In the story, a person says the thing he is most scared of is the thing everyone likes the most. Sweet rice balls. After this person goes away, his friends decide to prank him by throwing rice balls into his house (some friends, huh?). But it turns out the main character loved rice balls, and the friends found him happily munching on the snacks.

There are many traditional rakugo stories, and they’re all hilarious. Though some of them are kind of hard to understand, I recommend you to listen to one if you ever go to Japan.

Sorry for the short post! Time has been a rare thing for writing recently. Comment bellow if you have any questions or have any parts you want me to expand!

5 thoughts on “Rakugo: The Play That Has Multiple Characters— but Only One Performer

  1. This wouldn’t have happened to be sparked off of some conversation, would it? =D *chuckles* Anyway, I thought this was an excellent post! I am sure if someone were to do this in America, they would name the person crazy! Thank you for writing!

    Liked by 2 people

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