A Talking Horse and the Tragic End of a Rakugo Founder

Hi everybody, Eishi here! How’s your day going?

As usual, here’s another quirky history lesson that you might enjoy.

It is about one of the founders of rakugo, the Japanese traditional art of comic storytelling.

Before moving onto the story of a talking horse, here’s a little history lesson for you.

The rakugo tradition began at Seigan Temple (誓願寺 せいがんじ) in Kyoto.

The head monk of this temple, Anrakuan Sakuden (安楽庵策伝 あんらくあんさくでん, 1554-1642), was a well-known raconteur of the day.

He compiled a joke book called “Seisuishou” (醒酔笑 せいすいしょう) with over 1,000 kobanashi (小噺 こばなし) or short stories. This 8-book series was published in 1623.

It is generally agreed that he was the founder of rakugo.

Then, this art was introduced to Osaka and initially developed as a form of street performance, incorporating lively music and wooden blocks (used like slapsticks) to get the attention of the passerby.

In Edo/ Tokyo, rakugo developed mainly as an “indoor art” that was performed in dedicated yose or rakugo theatres and zashiki or Japanese traditional rooms with tatami mattresses, paper screens, etc.

The founder of Edo Rakugo was Shikano Buzaemon (鹿野武左衛門 しかのぶざえもん).

He is the hero of the sad story I’m about to tell you.

In 1693, cholera was widespread in Japan and claimed many people’s lives.

In this national emergency, a ronin (a samurai without his master) and a greengrocer plotted a scam to get money off innocent people.

They tried to carry out their cunning plan by telling people a story something like this:

There once was a talking horse.

One day, this wise horse prophesied that nandina and Japanese plums will protect you from the plague!

We happened to have a lot of those!

Buy one, get one free!

It’s a very timely story right now, but as you can see it was not a very believable scheme.

Soon they got arrested, and the ronin was executed, and the greengrocer was sent to a remote island.

Now, these criminals confessed that they got the idea of a talking horse from Shikano Buzaemon’s book…

For this reason, he was also sent to Izu Ohshima Island (伊豆大島 いずおおしま) and died there…

What a terrible end for someone who established rakugo in Edo!!!

Rakugo performers have to be careful about what kind of stories they tell…

Hope you enjoyed this little history lesson!

If you did, please follow my YouTube channel as well.

Even though I have been sharing these stories here, my real intention is to make them into videos like the ones below.

I unfortunately can’t produce videos during the lockdown because I have my little imps aka kids hovering all over the place…

It’s only a click away to help my rakugo career. Thank you very much for your continued support!!!

Reference

落語「通」検定 社団法人落語協会

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