Learning to be funny. Training and social relationships in Rakugo



Japanese stage arts such as kabuki or bunraku have attracted attention from both Japanese and Western scholars - both stage arts are hereditary: fathers teach the art to their sons before these even can talk. While kabuki and bunraku have scenarios, rakugo has no written texts. All stories are handed down orally from master to disciple. On top of that, a rakugo performance may change on the spot - if the performer wishes to. Young men who wish to join the guild of performers ask a master to take them on as disciples. The performers are very rarely blood-related to the masters they learn from - out of necessity the rakugo society has many strict rules. During the first three to five years of training young men (in some cases women) are not allowed to drink, smoke or date. Abstinence enables them to serve they masters and most of all focus on learning the art of rakugo. After years as audience member and event organizer, I have gained the trust of performers and with it access to their hierarchical and close-knit society. Based on autobiographic material and interviews I will take a detailed look into the training and as well as the performers’ social relations.