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Rakugo is comic storytelling, mainly in the form of dialogues. It was developed in the Edo period (1603-1867), and was performed in entertainment halls called yose. It is customary to include a punch line called ochi at the end of the story. Since a performer plays several characters in a story, the use of facial expressions and pantomimes is essential to capture the audience's imagination.
The storytellers (rakugoka) are ranked according to their skill and experience. A beginner is referred to as a zenza and performs at the beginning of the program. A rakugo master, shin-uchi, is the last to perform. Shin-uchi literally means, "one of true value" or "one who strikes the heart". The name came because of his true worth as a storyteller to move the hearts of the audience.
The Rakugoka wear kimonos and sit on a cushion (zabuton) in the middle of the stage. There are no scenery or props except a hand towel (tenugui) and a fan (sensu). The towel is used to represent books, bills or a wallet. The fan can be chopsticks, pipe, swords, cigarettes, or pen.
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