enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館



“Engei” (演芸) refers to popular entertainment. The expression came into use towards the end of the Meiji period (1868–1912) and the start of the Taisho period (1912–1926) as a collective term for drama plays (such as “kabuki”) and “yose” (寄席; vaudeville-like theatre). Today, it generally refers to forms of popular entertainment other than drama plays, examples being “kodan” (講談) and “rakugo” (落語).

“Kodan” (講談) is a form of storytelling in which the narrator sits behind a lectern called “shakudai” (釈台) and narrates a story while marking a rhythm with a fan or wooden clappers and modulating the pitch of his voice. The stories include tales of military exploits called “gunki” (軍記), tales of noble family disputes called “oie sodo” (御家騒動), and tales dealing with the life of people who are not samurai class called “sewamono” (世話物). Originally, “kodan” was known as “koshaku” (講釈), and the narrator would place the epic “Taiheiki” (太平記) or a similar classic tome on the “shakudai” and explain the contents to the audience in a simple manner.

“Rakugo” (落語) is a form of comic storytelling that minimises lengthy narrative descriptions and instead focuses on dialogue between characters (all of which are voiced by a single narrator). Each story consists of three parts: a prelude called the “makura”, the main story called the “hondai” (本題), and the closing line called the “ochi”. “Rakugo” was originally known as “otoshibanashi” (落とし噺) or “mukashibanashi” (昔噺). It became known by its present name during the middle of the Meiji period. Nowadays, “rakugo” is a collective term for a number of storytelling styles in addition to comic storytelling. These subgenres include “ninjobanashi” (人情噺), “shibaibanashi” (芝居噺) and “kaidanbanashi” (怪談話).

There are numerous other forms of “engei”. The following are some examples: “daikagura” (太神楽), which consists of dancing, acrobatics, storytelling, and boisterous music; magic shows called “kijutsu” (奇術), in which the performers use magic tricks and sleight of hand to deceive the audience’s eyes; “kyokugoma” (曲独楽), which involves large and small spinning tops; papercutting performances called “kamikiri”(紙切り), in which the paper-cutter takes requests from the audience; a one-man opera called “rokyoku” (浪曲), in which the person performs sentimental ballads with singing sections and spoken-word sections called “tanka” (啖呵) to the accompaniment of a “shamisen”; a form of stand-up comedy called “manzai” (漫才), which features a double act engaging in comic dialogue with each other; and “monomane”, in which impressionists perform impressions of celebrities or mimic animal noises. All of these myriad forms of “engei” continue to feature prominently in “yose” and “engei” halls as well as on radio and television programmes.