A painting of Encho Sanyuutei (三遊亭円朝), a Rakugoka, by Kiyokata Kaburaki(鏑木清方)
Rakugo (落語, "fallen words") is a Japanese verbal entertainment. The lone storyteller (落語家 rakugoka) sits on the stage, called the Kōza (高座). Using only a paper fan (扇子 sensu) and a small cloth (手拭 tenugui) as props, and without standing up from the seiza sitting position, the rakugo artist depicts a long and complicated comical story. The story always involves the dialogue of two or more characters, the difference between the characters depicted only through change in pitch, tone, and a slight turn of the head.
The speaker is in the middle of the audience, and his purpose is to stimulate the general hilarity with tone and limited, yet specific body gestures. The monologue always ends with a narrative stunt known as ochi (落ち, "fall") or sage (下げ, "lowering"), consisting of a sudden interruption of the wordplay flow. Twelve kinds of ochi are codified and recognized, with more complex variations having evolved through time from the more basic forms.
Early rakugo has developed into various styles, including the shibaibanashi (芝居噺, theatre discourses), the ongyokubanashi (音曲噺, musical discourses), the kaidanbanashi (see kaidan (怪談噺, ghost discourses)), and ninjōbanashi (人情噺, sentimental discourses). In many of these forms the ochi, which is essential to the original rakugo, is absent.
Rakugo has been described as "a sitcom with one person playing all the parts" by Noriko Watanabe, assistant professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Comparative Literature at Baruch College.
An example story from Yonezawa Hikohachi's collection:
A man faints in a bathing tub. In the great confusion following, a doctor arrives who takes his pulse and calmly gives the instructions: "Pull the plug and let the water out." Once the water has flowed completely out of the tub he says: "Fine. Now put a lid on it and carry the guy to the cemetery."
For the poor man is already dead. The joke becomes clearer when one notes that a Japanese traditional bathing
Shinjuku suehirotei is a famous vaudeville theater in Tokyo which hosts rakugo events.
Asakusa Engei Hall is another famous vaudeville theater in Tokyo which hosts rakugo events.