is a form of traditional Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

ese comic theater. It developed alongside Noh
, or - derived from the Sino-Japanese word for "skill" or "talent" - is a major form of classical Japanese musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century. Many characters are masked, with men playing male and female roles. Traditionally, a Noh "performance day" lasts all day and...

, was performed along with Noh as an intermission of sorts between Noh acts, on the same Noh stage, and retains close links to Noh in the modern day; therefore, it is sometimes designated Noh-kyōgen. However, its content is not at all similar to the formal, symbolic, and solemn Noh theater; kyōgen is a comical form, and its primary goal is to make its audience laugh. Kyōgen is sometimes compared to the Italian comic form of commedia dell'arte
Commedia dell'arte
Commedia dell'arte is a form of theatre characterized by masked "types" which began in Italy in the 16th century, and was responsible for the advent of the actress and improvised performances based on sketches or scenarios. The closest translation of the name is "comedy of craft"; it is shortened...

, which developed around the same period (14th century) and likewise features stock characters.


Kyōgen is thought to derive from a form of Chinese
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 entertainment that was brought to Japan around the 8th century. This entertainment form became known as sarugaku
Sarugaku, literally "monkey music," was a form of theatre popular in Japan during the 11th to 14th centuries. It originated from "sangaku," a form of entertainment reminiscent of the modern-day circus, consisting mostly of acrobatics, juggling, and pantomime, sometimes combined with drum dancing...

and initially encompassed both serious drama and comedy. By the 14th century, these forms of sarugaku had become known as Noh and kyōgen, respectively.

Kyōgen provided a major influence on the later development of kabuki
is classical Japanese dance-drama. Kabuki theatre is known for the stylization of its drama and for the elaborate make-up worn by some of its performers.The individual kanji characters, from left to right, mean sing , dance , and skill...

 theater. After the earlier, more ribald forms of kabuki had been outlawed in the mid-17th century, the government permitted the establishment of the new yarō-kabuki (men's kabuki) only on the grounds that it refrain from the previous kabuki forms' lewdness and instead model itself after kyōgen.

Noh had been the official entertainment form of the Edo period
Edo period
The , or , is a division of Japanese history which was ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family, running from 1603 to 1868. The political entity of this period was the Tokugawa shogunate....

, and was therefore subsidized by the government. Kyōgen, performed in conjunction with Noh, also received the patronage of the government and the upper class during this time. Following the Meiji Restoration
Meiji Restoration
The , also known as the Meiji Ishin, Revolution, Reform or Renewal, was a chain of events that restored imperial rule to Japan in 1868...

, however, this support ceased. Without government support, Noh and kyōgen went into decline, as many Japanese citizens gravitated toward the more "modern" Western art forms. In 1879, however, then-former US President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States as well as military commander during the Civil War and post-war Reconstruction periods. Under Grant's command, the Union Army defeated the Confederate military and ended the Confederate States of America...

 and his wife, while touring Japan, expressed an interest in the traditional art of Noh. They became the first Americans
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 to witness Noh and kyōgen plays and are said to have enjoyed the performance. Their approval is believed to have sparked a revival of interest in these forms.

In modern Japan, kyōgen is performed both separately and as a part of Noh. When performed as part of a Noh performance, kyōgen can take two forms: a separate (comic) kyōgen play, performed between two Noh plays (inter-Noh), or a (non-comic) scene within a Noh play (intra-Noh, between two scenes), which is known as .

In aikyōgen, most often the main Noh actor (shite) leaves the stage and is replaced by a , who then explains the play (for the benefit of the audience), though other forms are also possible – the aikyōgen happening at the start, or the kyōgen actor otherwise interacting with the Noh actors. As part of Noh, aikyōgen is not comic – the manner (movements, way of speech) and costume are serious and dramatic. However, the actor is dressed in a kyōgen outfit and uses kyōgen-style language and delivery (rather than Noh language and delivery) – meaning simpler, less archaic language, delivered closer to a speaking voice – and thus can generally be understood by the audience, hence the role in explaining the play. Thus, while the costume and delivery are kyōgen-style (kyōgen in form), the clothing will be more elegant and the delivery less playful than in separate, comic kyōgen. Before and after aikyōgen, the kyōgen actor waits (kneeling in seiza
Seiza is the Japanese term for the traditional formal way of sitting in Japan.- Form :To sit seiza-style, one first kneels on the floor, folding one's legs underneath one's thighs, while resting the buttocks on the heels...

) at the at the end of the bridge (hashigakari), close to the stage.

The traditions of kyōgen are maintained primarily by family groups, especially the Izumi school and Ōkura school.

Elements of Kyōgen

Kyōgen plays are invariably brief – often about 10 minutes, as traditionally performed between acts of Noh – and often contain only two or three roles, which are often stock character
Stock character
A Stock character is a fictional character based on a common literary or social stereotype. Stock characters rely heavily on cultural types or names for their personality, manner of speech, and other characteristics. In their most general form, stock characters are related to literary archetypes,...

s. Notable ones include , , and .

Movements and dialogue in kyōgen are typically very exaggerated, making the action of the play easy to understand. Elements of slapstick
Slapstick is a type of comedy involving exaggerated violence and activities which may exceed the boundaries of common sense.- Origins :The phrase comes from the batacchio or bataccio — called the 'slap stick' in English — a club-like object composed of two wooden slats used in Commedia dell'arte...

 or satire
Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...

 are present in most kyōgen plays. Some plays are parodies of actual Buddhist or Shinto
or Shintoism, also kami-no-michi, is the indigenous spirituality of Japan and the Japanese people. It is a set of practices, to be carried out diligently, to establish a connection between present day Japan and its ancient past. Shinto practices were first recorded and codified in the written...

 religious rituals; others are shorter, more lively, simplified versions of Noh plays, many of which are derived from folktales
Japanese folklore
The folklore of Japan is heavily influenced by both Shinto and Buddhism, the two primary religions in the country. It often involves humorous or bizarre characters and situations and also includes an assortment of supernatural beings, such as bodhisattva, kami , yōkai , yūrei ,...

. As with Noh, jo-ha-kyū
is a concept of modulation and movement applied in a wide variety of traditional Japanese arts. Roughly translated to "beginning, break, rapid", it essentially means that all actions or efforts should begin slowly, speed up, and then end swiftly...

 is a fundamental principle, which is particularly relevant for movement.

As with Noh and kabuki, all kyōgen actor
An actor is a person who acts in a dramatic production and who works in film, television, theatre, or radio in that capacity...

s, including those in female roles, are men. Female roles are indicated by a particular piece of attire, a – a long white sash, wrapped around the head, with the ends hanging down the front of the body and tucked into the belt, like symbolic braids; at the two points (either side of the head) where the sash changes from being wrapped around to hanging down, the sash sticks up, like two small horns.

Similarly, actors play roles regardless of age – an old man may play the role of Tarō kaja opposite a young man playing master, for instance.


Outfits are generally kamishimo (Edo period outfit consisting of kataginu top and hakama
are a type of traditional Japanese clothing. They were originally worn only by men, but today they are worn by both sexes. Hakama are tied at the waist and fall approximately to the ankles. Hakama are worn over a kimono ....

 pants), with the master (if present) generally wearing nagabakama (long, trailing pants).

Actors in kyōgen, unlike those in Noh, typically do not wear masks, unless the role is that of an animal (such as a tanuki
is the common Japanese name for the Japanese raccoon dog . They have been part of Japanese folklore since ancient times...

 or kitsune
is the Japanese word for fox. Foxes are a common subject of Japanese folklore; in English, kitsune refers to them in this context. Stories depict them as intelligent beings and as possessing magical abilities that increase with their age and wisdom. Foremost among these is the ability to assume...

), or that of a god. Consequently, the masks of kyōgen are less numerous in variety than Noh masks. Both masks and costumes are simpler than those characteristic of Noh. Few props are used, and minimal or no stage sets. As with Noh, a fan is a common accessory.


The language in kyōgen depends on the period, but much of the classic repertoire is in Early Modern Japanese, reasonably analogous to Early Modern English
Early Modern English
Early Modern English is the stage of the English language used from about the end of the Middle English period to 1650. Thus, the first edition of the King James Bible and the works of William Shakespeare both belong to the late phase of Early Modern English...

 (as in Shakespeare). The language is largely understandable to contemporary Japanese speakers, but sounds archaic, with pervasive use of the form rather than the form that is now used (see copula: Japanese). For example, when acknowledging a command, Tarō kaja often replies with , which in modern Japanese one uses . Further, some of the words and nuances cannot be understood by modern audience (without notes), as in Shakespeare. This contrasts with Noh, where the language is more difficult and generally not understandable to a contemporary audience.

There are numerous set patterns – stock phrases and associated gestures, such as kashikomatte-gozaru (with a bow) and Kore wa mazu nani-to itta sō. Iya! Itashiyō ga gozaru. "So first, what to do. Aha! There is a way to do it.", performed while bowing and cocking head (indicating thought), followed by standing up with a start on Iya!. Plays often begin with set phrases such as Kore ha kono atari ni sumai-itasu mono de gozaru. "This is the person who resides in this place." and (if featuring Tarō kaja) often end with Tarō kaja running off the stage yelling Yaru-mai zo, yaru-mai zo! "I won't do it, I won't do it!".

Lines are delivered in a characteristic rhythmic, sing-song voice, and generally quite loudly. Pace, pitch, and volume are all varied for emphasis and effect.


As with Noh, which is performed on the same stage, and indeed many martial arts (such as kendo
, meaning "Way of The Sword", is a modern Japanese martial art of sword-fighting based on traditional Japanese swordsmanship, or kenjutsu.Kendo is a physically and mentally challenging activity that combines strong martial arts values with sport-like physical elements.-Practitioners:Practitioners...

 and aikido
is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy, and religious beliefs. Aikido is often translated as "the Way of unifying life energy" or as "the Way of harmonious spirit." Ueshiba's goal was to create an art that practitioners could use to...

) actors move via , sliding their feet, avoiding steps on the easily-vibrated Noh stage. When walking, the body seeks to remain at the same level, without bobbing up or down. Plays also frequently feature stamping feet or otherwise hitting the ground (such as jumping) to take advantage of the stage.

As with Noh, angle of gaze is important, and usually a flat gaze is used (avoiding looking down or up, which create a sad or fierce atmosphere, which is to be avoided). Characters usually face each other when speaking, but turn towards the audience when delivering a lengthy speech.

Arms and legs are kept slightly bent. Unless involved in action, hands are kept on upper thighs, with fingers together and thumb tucked in – they move down to the sides of the knees when bowing.


Kyōgen is performed to the accompaniment of music, especially the flute, drums, and gong. However, the emphasis of kyōgen is on dialogue and action, rather than on music or dance.


Kyogen is generally performed on a Noh stage, as the stage is an important part of the play (the space, the reaction to stamps, the ease of sliding, etc.). It can, however, be performed in any space (particularly by amateur or younger performers), though if possible a Noh-like floor will be installed.


In addition to the kyōgen plays themselves, performances include short dances called . These are traditional dramatic dances (not comic), performed to a chanted accompaniment, and with varied themes. The movements are broadly similar to Noh dances. The often archaic language used in the lyrics and the chanted delivery means that these chants are often not understandable to a contemporary audience.

Kyōgen today

Today, kyōgen is performed and practiced regularly, both in major cities (especially Tokyo and Osaka) and throughout the country, and is featured on cultural television programs. In addition to the performances during Noh plays, it is also performed independently, generally in programs of three to five plays. New kyogen is written regularly, though few new plays enter the repertoire. As with Noh, many Japanese are familiar with kyōgen only through learning about it in school or television performances. As with Noh, many professional performers are born into a family, often starting performing at a young age, but others are not born into families and beginning practicing in high school or college.

In media

Kyogen is a concept addressed in xxxHolic, and is the title for the second episode of the anime. The English alternative used is 'Falsehood'.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.