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  • Japanese: 狂言 (kyougen)

Kyôgen is one of the chief forms of traditional Japanese theatre. Developing alongside Noh in the Muromachi period, kyôgen is often performed as part of a Noh program, but is a lighter, more humorous, form, and often features commoner/peasant characters.


Kyôgen was traditionally performed very often as a comic interlude (ai-kyôgen) between acts of a Noh play. These interludes frequently retold the story of the Noh play in a different way, or from a different perspective, providing audiences with a more accessible understanding of the plot; this also allowed audiences to relax and take a break from the highly refined and aesthetically intense Noh, preparing them to better enjoy or appreciate the second half. Kyôgen continues to be performed alongside Noh in this fashion today, but is also often performed on its own; many kyôgen plays do not function as interludes for any particular Noh play, but stand on their own, with their own distinctive plots.


Heavily patronized by the Muromachi shogunate and Imperial Court, kyôgen was also later patronized by figures such as Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and by the Tokugawa shogunate. During the Tokugawa period, Noh and kyôgen were considered shikigaku, or official ritual arts of the shogunate. The Ôkura and Sagi schools of kyôgen were the only two which served the shogunate in an official capacity, while the Izumi school survived on patronage from daimyô and certain other elites outside the shogunate. The Ôkura and Sagi schools also enjoyed patronage outside the shogunate, from figures such as the lords of Kaga, Chôshû, Yonezawa, Aizu, and Satsuma domains. The Ôkura was generally considered higher status (and incidentally has older written records associated with it), but the Sagi school is said to have been more preferred, or favored, by most shoguns.

In the Meiji period, however, the final iemoto (head) of the Sagi school, Sagi Gonnojô, is said to have failed to properly arrange for his succession, and the Ôkura and Izumi schools remain as the only two officially recognized professional schools of kyôgen active today. The Sagi school tradition continues, however, among non-recognized performers (i.e. outside of the iemoto system) based chiefly in Yamaguchi City and Sado-ga-shima. Other schools of kyôgen include the Nanto Negi school, active chiefly only in the 16th-17th centuries, who were criticized by figures such as Ôkura Toraaki as "degraded" and "wrong-headed" for their excessively comic, even lewd, approach.[1]


  1. Andrew Tsubaki, "The Performing Arts of Sixteenth-Century Japan: A Prelude to Kabuki," Educational Theatre Journal 29:3 (1977), 303.