What is Roukyoku?

Roukyoku is a performance that makes people sympathize with the characters’ sadness, or show the characters’ dream of success. It is also called an “adult’s lullaby” that gives peace to the weary mind.

Accompanied by a shamisen, it tells a story using “tanka”, the characters’ lines, and “fushi”, an explanation of the of the scenes and characters’ feelings, which is sung with a unique melody.

There are various themes including stories of the raid of Ako roshi (lordless samurai of Ako domain), yakuza stories, success stories, and even stories taken from Koudan, Rakugo, Kabuki, and literary works.  “Kokkeiyomi”, which has a lot of humorous parts, was also popular. It was a rare performing art where many female and children actors took active roles since the old days.

Roukyoku has its roots from “Utazaimon” and “Chongare”, performances given at the gate of a house. It is said that performers from Osaka spread it to the Kanto area as “naniwa-bushi” from the end of Edo period to the beginning of the Meiji period. In the Kansai area, it was known as “ukare-bushi”. At the end of the Meiji period, Tochuken Kumoemon and the 2nd generation Yoshida Naramaru began reciting in large halls. Later it began to be called “Roukyoku” and gained popularity throughout Japan through vinyl records and radio.