Rakugo, which is written with characters meaning “falling words,” is the Japanese art of the professional teller of funny stories. It is a direct descendant of the ancient art of the village storyteller, the teller of tales, and the jester employed by large households in the Middle Ages. In Japan in the 1790s, it moved into the theaters and its material today is largely a modernized version of the funny stories of the Edo period (1603–1868 CE).

Rakugo performers wear kimono and sit, kneeling on a cushion. In this sense they might be called sit-down stand-up comedians. They use no props except those that a gentleman of the Edo period might have had about him—a fan, a pipe, a handkerchief, and a tobacco pouch—although these days, ...

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