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JAPAN: Kyogen, Traditional Comic Theater

There are four forms of traditional Japanese theater which include, Kabuki, Noh, Bunraku and Kyogen.

Noh is the oldest theater art form still regularly performed today. Its stories are derived from traditional literature and it features only male actors. Noh integrates elaborate masks, costumes and various props in a dance-based performance, requiring highly trained actors and musicians. Emotions are conveyed using stylized gestures and masks are utilized to represent the various roles such as ghosts, women, children and elderly people.

Kyogen which literally translates to “mad words” or “wild speech” developed alongside Noh and was performed along with Noh serving as a break between acts. To this day, it retains close ties with Noh and is sometimes designated as Noh-Kyogen. Kyogen, like Noh, features only male actors however, that is where the similarity ends. Where Noh theater is formal, symbolic and solemn, Kyogen is comical, satirical and presents humorous stories of daily life. Its primary goal is to make its audience laugh. The performers do not wear extravagant costumes, make up or masks. Instead they are dressed in simple kimonos and are accompanied by a chorus.

It is said that Kyogen was a major influence on the development of Kabuki theatre. It was adopted as the official form of entertainment during the Edo period and was subsidized by the government. Further, since Kyogen was performed along with the Noh, it was patronized by the upper class.

There were once three schools of Kyogen which included the Sagi School, the Okura School and the Izumi School. The Sagi School was closed down leaving only the Okura and Izumi schools to quietly cultivate their art. After World War II, many forms of Japanese traditional arts were revived. Consequently, Kyogen’s popularity increased once again and today it is performed and practiced regularly throughout the country and is featured on television programs. In 2001, Kyogen was designated by UNESCO, along with Noh, as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

One interesting fact is that during the post-war period, foreigners were allowed to participate in Kyogen as amateur performers. Today, foreigners who reside in Japan and possess sufficient Japanese language skills are afforded the opportunity to practice this traditional art form with amateur troupes.

There are many places to see Kyogen performed including Tokyo and Osaka but what better place to enjoy this traditional art form than in a town that is dotted with traditional Japanese houses and where geisha and maiko roam the streets? Gion Corner located within the Gion district of Kyoto presents several of Japan’s traditional performing arts including the Kyo- mai dance performed by maiko dancers, Gagaku court music and Bunraku puppet theater all on one stage. While you are there, be sure to visit the Maiko Gallery where videos of dances, maiko hair decorations and other items are on display.

Admission to Gion Corner is ¥3,150 for adults, ¥2,200 for audience members between the ages of 16-22 and ¥ 1,900 for those between the ages of 7-15.

The theater is easily accessible from the JR Kyoto Station, via city bus 206 or 100. Get off at the Gion bus stop and the theater is merely 5 minutes on foot from that point. Alternatively, you can take the Keihan Line train to Gion Shijo Station and again the theater is only 5 minutes away on foot.

 

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Maiko Gallery

Maiko Gallery

 

Web page:                               http://www.kyoto-gioncorner.com/

Address:                                  Yasaka Hall, 570-2 Gionmachi Minamigawa, Higashiyama-ku

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