Sagi school

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  • Japanese: 鷺流狂言 (Sagi ryuu kyougen)

The Sagi school of kyôgen was one of the two leading schools of the theatre form officially in the service of the Tokugawa shogunate, during the Edo period. Though still practiced by several groups in Yamaguchi prefecture, Sado-ga-shima, and elsewhere, the Sagi school is no longer today recognized as one of the official professional schools of kyôgen.

The school claims Sagi Niemon Sôgen (1560-1650) as its founder. Niemon was a favorite performer of figures including Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, and after the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate, Niemon and his nephew Den'emon were brought into the shogunate's service as official court performers, alongside members of the Ôkura school of kyôgen. Niemon and Den'emon quickly came to be seen as two of the top-ranking performers of their time. Though the Ôkura school boasts older written records (and is thus more closely associated with the origins of the art), and is generally considered the more refined, or "higher," of the schools, the Sagi style seems to have been favored by most of the shoguns.

The Sagi school also enjoyed the patronage of many of the realm's most powerful daimyô, including the lords of Kaga, Chôshû, Yonezawa, Aizu, and Satsuma domains, who were determined to cultivate high arts in their own courts, and to demonstrate their refinement and culture to others.

By the Meiji period, however, the Sagi school was in rough shape. Sagi Den'emon X, reportedly suffering of poverty and consumption, committed seppuku in his home in Tokyo in 1882, and the last iemoto (officially recognized head) of the Sagi school, Sagi Dennojô, similarly died destitute in a hotel room in 1895 without anyone succeeding him as iemoto. This marked the end of the Sagi school as an officially recognized "professional" traditional art form.

However, the Sagi school continues as a non-professional, provincial, art form today. The Sawane lineage of masters, active on Sado Island until 1969, traced its origins to Mikawa Seikan, the final shogunal magistrate overseeing Sado, who practiced Sagi style kyôgen in Edo and promoted it back home in Sado in the Bakumatsu and into the Meiji period. A second lineage of Sagi style kyôgen, the Mannomachi line, was started by Tsuruma Heizô, a student of Sagi Gonnojô, in 1885, and remains active today. Sado performers also look back to figures such as Hanashi Gen'ai, who returned home to Sado in 1825 with a teaching license earned from Sagi Niemon XVI in Edo, and a Sado Sagi Kyōgen Research Society (est. 1984) remains active today.

Meanwhile, in Yamaguchi prefecture, Sagi kyôgen was patronized by the local lords during the Edo period, and in 1886, a former samurai and professional kyôgen actor[1], Shôsaku Shun'ichi (b. 1816), who had studied under Sagi Den'emon X, began a new lineage of disciples which remains active today. Sagi kyôgen was named an Intangible Cultural Art by Yamaguchi prefecture in 2007.


  1. He retired in 1885, but returned to active teaching and performing the following year.