enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館



“Kyogen” (狂言) is a theatrical genre consisting largely of scripted spoken-word comic performances. It emerged as the comic elements of “sarugaku” (猿楽) became increasingly refined and formalised. In “kyogen”, masks are used only for animal characters and spirits; other characters, even female characters, are performed maskless. Unlike “noh”, “kyogen” features no historical personages or personages from classical works. Instead, the plays feature stock characters that represent common people. One such character is Taro Kaja (太郎冠者).

“Kyogen” traces its origin to the Muromachi period (1336–1573), when Kan-ami and his son Zeami developed “noh” as an extension of “sarugaku” (猿楽). Once “noh” was established, performances of “kyogen” started alongside it. Initially, however, “kyogen” performances were heavily improvised and lacked clearly scripted plots, making it difficult to ascertain the exact nature of the early performances. During the Edo period (1600–1868), “noh” enjoyed the patronage of the Edo Bakufu government, and “kyogen”, similarly, became incorporated into the feudal system of the time, which was known as the “bakuhan taisei” (幕藩体制). Under this system, theatre programmes were codified, and the players could devote themselves to refining their arts. Consequently, a number of “kyogen” schools emerged. Two such schools were the Okura and Sagi schools, both of which were under the direct control of the Edo Bakufu. Another school was the Izumi school. This school served as a purveyor to the Imperial Court in Kyoto, and it enjoyed the patronage of the Owari and Kaga clans.

“Kyogen” survived the period of chaos that followed the Meiji Restoration of 1868, although Sagi school discontinued during the Meiji era. After the Second World War, “kyogen” finally became recognised as a genre in its own right (as opposed to a sub-genre of “noh”). In the post-war years, critics praised “kyogen” for its concise structure and techniques, coupled with its precise and emphatic expressions. Indeed, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he expression ‘”kyogen” boom’ entered the popular lexicon. “Kyogen” has also attracted global interest. Today, it is performed around the world, and there are exchanges with non-Japanese theatrical arts. Moreover, “kyogen” actors increasingly appear in modern theatre productions, movies, and television dramas.