Books or websites introducing traditional Japanese stage arts to people from other cultures often include photos or videos of kabuki actors in gorgeous kimono, masked noh performers sliding along a cedar floor or the bunraku puppeteers together with the musicians accompanying them. While women do perform in these arts (see Coaldrake 1997; Kano 2001; Edelson 2009; Geilhorn 2011), the performers shown are generally men. This is also true for rakugo, a simple stage art, where one performer kneels on stage and enacts stories. Usually, though, rakugo is not introduced in monographies on Japanese stage arts. Within the National Theater complex, however, rakugo has its own stage—the National Engei Hall. It is performed there as well as in various privately run theaters which specialize in rakugo, called yose, and are located in Ueno, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Asakusa in Tokyo. It can be performed anywhere with an elevation, even just a table or a few beer crates; thus rakugo shows are on in countless smaller venues around the city. And female rakugokaFootnote 1 have taken hold.

By 2021, women made up 5% of Tokyo’s rakugoka (Tōkyō Kawaraban 2021) and no doubt, more will have started their zenza training by the time these sentences are printed. In yose line-ups and rakugo shows, the number of female performers has increased and female performers have become more prominent and popular in the last decade.Footnote 2 One woman, Ryūtei Komichi, made it into a list of twenty performers with the most yose engagements in 2020 (Gokurakurakugo 2021). Her solo shows regularly fill the 300-seat auditorium of the National Engei Hall.

In this chapter, I will analyze the obstacles which female performers face over the course of their career and during performances—and the various strategies they take in order to overcome these.

1 Introduction to Rakugo

Throughout the Edo period (1603–1867), rakugo never had the same support of the ruling class or aristocracy that other arts had. It was the entertainment of ordinary people: Edo’s male population, mainly tradesmen and artisans (chōnin) (Nagai 1971; Teruoka 1979) spent their evenings at the yose after a hard day of work. About 200 performers were estimated to perform in these venues in the Bunka-Bunsei years (1804–1830: Yushima de rakugo no kai 2017, p. 9). According to Katō (1971, p. 266), there are sources which count as many as 700 yose in Edo. Quoting the Ōedo Tokai Aramashi Nichiyō Kanjō (likely authored around 1854–1860), Katō states that each of the 400 yose had 100 visitors per day on average. The yose was an “extension of home in an era when most families had minimal living space” (Brau 2008, p. 65). The audience members knew each other, as they all lived within walking distance from the venue.

Up until the early Shōwa period, performers were held in contempt by the general public, but in the 1950s critics elevated rakugo to a traditional performing art to improve its standing. Prefixes such as koten (traditional repertoire) and dentō (tradition) were added to give it more dignity. Today, with a total of 859 performers in all of Japan, of which 594 reside in Tokyo (Tōkyō Kawaraban 2021), there are more performers than ever in the history of the art. The annual number of shows held in Tokyo has nearly tripled from 4,907 in 2005 to 11,137 in 2015 (Morishige 2016).

The appeal of the art, both for audiences and performers, possibly lies in the fact that at any given time, there is only one performer on stage. Rakugo is often introduced in English as “story-telling,” as rakugoka act out their stories (hanashi) mainly through dialogues between characters. The performance never follows any standardized scripts, scenarios or patterns, nor does it shy away from scatological jokes and indecent topics. A rapid dialogue unfolds between the protagonists and there is no time to change costumes or pick up props. Kneeling on a cushion, a rakugoka wears the same kimono during the entire performance and only uses a handkerchief-like cloth called tenugui and a folding fan for props. Rakugoka show that they are switching characters by turning their head left and right and by using vocal and physical attributes such as changes in posture, gesture or dialect/sociolect and linguistic registers or by employing role language (yakuwarigo). A samurai is shown with straight posture, talking in the sociolect of the samurai class; a young boy is portrayed with shoulders dropped and fiddling hands, face slightly looking up to the adults of the hanashi. While the number of repertoire pieces in traditional rakugo is limited, performances vary greatly depending on numerous factors, ranging from the performer’s career, stage experience, portfolio, interpretation and make-up to time restrictions, gender, age and experience of audience members, the season and position within the line-up (Stark 2017).

Much like fans of classical music do not tire of listening to the same Beethoven sonata many times, even if performed by the same pianist, rakugo audiences enjoy listening to the same hanashi many times, even if performed by the same rakugoka. It is perhaps this freedom left to the interpreter that appeals to audiences and rakugoka alike. While a sonata has a score to be followed, rakugo is much freer and performers can arrange the hanashi as they see fit. This space for self-expression and individuality creates an incentive for performers to create a strong Kunstfigur. Many fans today follow specific performers rather than going to a specific venue (Weingärtner 2021).

While this description of rakugo seems to offer many opportunities for female performers, they face a number of obstacles. Koten rakugo’s stories were created by men and performed by men for male audiences, depicting a world of men (otoko no sekai). Many stories revolve around the “three pleasures” (sandōraku), literally “drinking, gambling, whoring” (nomu, utsu, kau). And yet, the number of professional female performersFootnote 3 is steadily increasing.

2 Women on Rakugo Stages

Female rakugoka have not always performed on Tokyo’s yose stages. There was opposition to women performing rakugo, so they appeared on stage but as iromono, in arts such as juggling, magic and manzai (funny dialogues)Footnote 4 that would not spawn much tension or strain audiences’ listening capabilities. There had been women who started training or performed at the yose as rakugoka, but none reached master status. Women had been banned from public performances since 1629. The ban drove women “into alternative private performance venues and radically affected not only the involvement of women in music and dance but also the character of the Japanese theater” (Foreman 2005, p. 40). Only the rich could afford female stage performers, asking geisha to give private evening performances (zashiki). This ban was never officially lifted, but the mention of female performers in early police statistics (Keishichō ed. 19121926) shows an (at least tacit) approval. Some entries in Uemura (1965) and Yamamoto and Kokuritsu Gekijō Chōsa Ikusei-bu’s (2015) lists of historic performers and their relations are marked as onna (woman/female), but it is not clear whether these were female rakugoka. It is highly likely that they were onna dōraku, i.e., female performers who played shamisen and drums on stage alone or with other women.

The first printed reference to female rakugoka is in a transcribed discussion between rakugoka Kosan IV, Saraku V, Konan I,Footnote 5 journalist Ōtei Kinshō, critics Imamura and Iketani in 1947. The five men reminisce about female yose performers from the Meiji period and Imamura refers to Yajirōbei and Iroyakko as rakugoka (Ōtei Kinshō et al. 1947, p. 17). Both women, however, quickly seem to have disappeared from the stage: Yajirōbei became a geisha and Iroyakko married En’yū I (ibid). Female rakugoka appeared again in the Taishō period (Tabe/Tanabe 1966), but there are no records mentioning their names.

In the 1950s and 1960s, two women caught the attention of Japan’s mass media. Shunpūtei Shōkyō was 17 when she started training under Ryūkyō VI in May 1952 (Fujin Kurabu 1957; Yomiuri Shinbun 1957). Nine years later, she married fellow rakugoka Baikyō (Shūkan Myōjō 1961) to become a mother and a homemaker (Shūkan Heibon 1969). In 1964, a young woman with the stage name Momono Hanayo started training under Momotarō III (Shūkan Yomiuri 1966). However, no information can be found on her after 1969. There are a few sources mentioning other female rakugoka, leading to the conclusion that these did not train in the profession very long (Yanagiya Tsubame V 2009 [1967], p. 39; Kōriyama 1999, p. 147).

Although the above-quoted newspaper and magazine articles about Shōkyō and Hanayo were positive and enthusiastic, audiences and performers did not see women fit to perform the art: Blogger Hangan published mimeograph prints on their blog—likely dated 1965–1969. These show audience survey responses to watching the professional female rakugoka Hanayo performing Sutokuin, a hanashi created around the beginning of the nineteenth century, about a servant walking around Edo trying to find the girl his master’s son fell in love with, using only a poem as a clue in his search. Feedback on Hanayo’s performance ranged from: “[She] is destroying the beauty of the original Sutokuin” to “It’s embarrassing to watch a woman play female characters” (Hangan 2011).

By post-World War II, the number of yose had decreased dramatically and rakugo was no longer available in Tokyo neighborhoods as part of everyday life. Why audiences and male performers did not see women as fit to perform rakugo was perhaps due to the fact that by then, many rakugoka did not improvise and almost all did the same version of hanashi (Yanagiya Tsubame V 2009 [1967], pp. 38–42; Katsura Beichō 1986 [1975], pp. 51–54). Only in 1993, San’yūtei Karuta and Kokontei Kikuchiyo became the first two female performers promoted to “shin’uchi” master status (Tōkyō Kawaraban 1993). During her zenza training, Karuta had to endure spectators jeering and heckling “Get off stage! This is no place for a woman!” (Mainichi Shinbun 2016). Still in 2010, when Tokyo’s yose stages were already home to approximately 20 female rakugoka, Shinkyō claimed that “the female voice lacked the capacity to impersonate the protagonists portrayed in rakugo” and “therefore, women in general were not capable of performing rakugo well” (Sahin 2021, p. 5).

Male rakugoka also claim that one of the reasons why women cannot be adept at performing rakugo is because representation of women in rakugo is based on kabuki techniques (Katsura Beichō 1986 [1975], pp. 52–53), including the use of voice. However, female characters in kabuki are very diverse (Leiter 19992000), and male-kabuki actors of female characters (onnagata) have constructed “an ideal fiction of ‘female-likeness’” (Mezur 2005, p. 1), a feminine beauty which has “little to do with the anatomical body of the actor” (Kano 2001, p. 31). As the onnagata’s use of voice is often quite different from the one used to depict women on yose stages, and only very few female characters in the rakugo world show a similar idealized image of women, this argument is fallacious. Moreover, Balkenhol (1972) showed that the voice pitch of male rakugoka portraying female characters did not vary greatly from the one employed for male characters.

3 Difficulties

There are a number of obstacles for women choosing a career as rakugoka. Let us follow a fictional woman called Sakura, born in 2001, on her journey to become a professional rakugoka. In March 2023, Sakura would graduate from university where she had been a member of the rakugo club (ochiken). By performing herself and attending shows of female rakugo masters like Ryūtei Komichi and Benzaitei Izumi, Sakura would be well aware of the many obstacles facing her.

3.1 Portraying Female Characters

Sakura would know that long-time audience members have for most of their life only seen male performers, so with older spectators in particular, female performers portraying female characters “do not seem right.” In portraying female characters, male performers use gestures (folding hands, picking their kimono’s collar) and linguistic features associated with women, but they do not raise their pitch (Balkenhol 1972). Even though these conventions can be adapted by female performers, women portraying female roles are criticized. For example: “I can’t believe you are a woman and so bad at acting women” (Yomiuri Shinbun 1987); “It was extremely unnatural” (Shimazaki 1995, p. 54); “[She] is destroying the beauty of the original” (Hangan 2011).

Sitting in the audience and reading fans’ comments on Twitter, Sakura knows that a major obstacle for female performers was and is the linguistic expectations of audiences. In rakugo, a conversation between the characters is played by the same performer. With the exception of ninjōbanashi (emotional stories depicting certain traits of human nature), many dialogues do not have a narrative arc, or it is secondary. A performance of Chōtan (the long-fused and the short-fused) can last over 20 minutes, built around a dialogue between a patient man trying to tell his impatient friend his kimono caught fire. Oyakozake (below) consists mostly of a man trying to convince his wife to give him more alcohol. Audiences are captivated by the unfolding dialogue, which depends greatly on the performer’s skill in depicting the characters. The focus on the dialogue also means focusing on language. Japanese speakers use a variety of nuanced gendered first-person singular pronouns in order to indicate power or position. This means that in conversations between male protagonists—who make up the majority of hanashi dialogue—rakugoka make frequent use of male language and male-gendered pronouns.

As Okamoto and Shibamoto Smith (2004) and Nakamura (2014) have shown, the notion of masculine and feminine language is a social construct. The desired femininity in linguistic behavior reflects self-control, modesty and deference (Hanashi—Rakugo-kei Jōhō Saito 2019) and although for female rakugoka, the use of male language is not a performance of a linguistic self but merely of a character, it is often not seen as such. This is possibly one of the reasons why audiences initially rejected female rakugoka and why female rakugoka are still under more scrutiny than their male peers: their language was deemed unbecoming. Kokontei Engiku, who raised Kikuchiyo, the second woman to ever become shin’uchi, recounts that when initially teaching her a story, he changed the main characters into more politely talking female characters as he did “not like women talking crudely” (Zorozoro 1993, p. 5).

3.2 Navigating Androcentricity and Misogyny

We can imagine Sakura thinking long whether she should become a rakugoka. She would be well aware of the androcentricity of the rakugo community and its hanashi and also know about the audiences’ and producers’ misogyny. As the stories unfold in the audience’s imagination, as Beichō states, “the slightest reluctance or resistance would become an issue” (Katsura Beichō 1986 [1975], p. 53). Without any background and no variety in costumes, make-up and props, rakugo audiences rely on the performer’s appearance, visual expressions, gestures and voices. On stage, rakugoka often cite good-looks as an obstacle for they may potentially distract audiences.

Similarly, women performing hanashi written for men can potentially distract audiences. The rakugo repertoire has been created over centuries by men for mainly male audiences, the story lines and performance conventions are thus androcentric, and somewhat misogynistic: Jisankin, for example, centers around a man who agrees to marry an ugly and pregnant maid he has never met in return for having his debts paid; Bunshichi Mottoi tells the story of a plasterer who sells his daughter to the pleasure quarters for 50 ryō—with the promise to take her back still a virgin a year later upon repayment—only to give away the very same money to a young man in order to prevent him from committing suicide. Many male rakugoka do not shy away from bragging about their sexual or romantic conquests, even when they pay for that sexual activity.

Sakura would also be well aware that in many hanashi, female characters are absent, have few lines or are flat characters, and only a few characters in general are called by names. Many hanashi in Tokyo rakugo, for example, feature carpenter Kuma/Kumagorō, his craftsman friend Hattsan/Hachigorō or the carefree simpleton Yotarō. Others are simply identified by their profession or status: the landlord (ōya), the old retiree (goinkyo), the merchant house master (danna) and his son (wakadanna), a number of craftsmenartisans, daimyō and nameless samurai. With the exception of women in ninjōbanashi,Footnote 6 female characters are mostly defined through their relation to male characters in the story: there are Kumagorō and Hachigorō’s wives, the merchant house master’s wife, an artisan’s or craftsman’s wife or daughter, the old woman living next door and a samurai’s daughter or a Yoshiwara prostitute. If a female character bears a name, it is usually to help understand the dialogue, as in the case when she is called to do something.Footnote 7

Many of the popular (i.e., often performed) hanashi do not have one single female character, or when one appears, her lines are usually very few or reduced through a technique called denwa-ma (“telephone pause”). This technique stresses the perspective of the main character: the audience only hears one half of the conversation as in a phone conversation. The performer adds brief pauses after each line leaving time for the audience to imagine an answer or reaction.

Female characters are often expressed as denwa-ma in a conversation, i.e., an incision during which the performer ceases to talk and in which the audience imagines the other character’s (often female character’s) lines (Balkenhol 1972, p. 217; Welch 1998, p. 26). As a result, the percentage of lines for the female characters can drastically decline, as is shown in the scene below where a man is trying to trick his wife into allowing him to drink more alcohol—even though he has promised his family that he would stop drinking.


Verse What? We don’t have any more alcohol? You say this is enough? No way can this be enough. Bring more. What? What are you saying? I’m drunk? Who, me? You must be kidding. I am not drunk. Look at me, this isn’t drunk! I have only started drinking. Don’t be ridiculous. Seriously, I am not drunk. I am fine.

(Yanagiya Kosan 1966, p. 90)Footnote 8

Performers can choose to leave out the wife’s lines as her opposition may easily be imagined by the audience. This might be because the performer decides to focus on the description of the main character, i.e., the drunken husband, or because the performer is not too confident portraying women or simply due to time constraints. From the performing perspective, fewer characters are easier to perform—and from the audience’s point of view—easier to understand.

Rakugo’s female characters are not as differentiated as for example in kabuki. The women who appear in hanashi are almost all fictional (Horii 2009, p. 92) and can be grouped in roughly two categories: portrayed as elegant and sexy such as the ones in Edo’s pleasure quarters, or as daughters and wives of respectable craftsmen, affluent merchants or noble samurai families. The latter “absolutely must not be portrayed as sexy or elegant” (Katsura Beichō 1986 [1975], p. 51). Exaggerating female traits in the former is easy, and will leave lasting impressions with the audiences, especially if a skilled male performer is sturdy, stout or below average beauty standards. Women not working in the pleasure quarters are considered more difficult to perform. Here, femininity is often portrayed through posture (giving the impression of heavy head accessories in the character’s top knot or a broad obi restricting movement), gestures (folding hands to make them look smaller) (Katsura Beichō 1986 [1975], p. 52), looking down or bending one’s head slightly to the side (Tatekawa Danshun and Yanagiya Sanza 2012, p. 10) as well as using linguistic registers.

3.3 Who to Imitate?

In Sakura’s rakugo club, there probably would have been a number of female students—but when it came to the actual art, all students would be learning hanashi from recordings or transcriptions of professional male rakugoka. The rakugo way of life is learned by imitating senior performers—and for women, there are currently few female rakugoka they can observe and learn from. The limited number of female performers thus turns out to be another obstacle.

Sakura would start out her rakugoka career as zenza. The word zenza is a compound of the logographs 前 “before” and 座 “stage,” i.e., “before the main act,” as zenza opens the show. Tokyo’s yose theaters do not have dedicated backstage staff; shows are run by zenza. Once Sakura has been accepted by a master, she and her zenza peers would do everything from dressing senior performers and pouring them tea to performing part of the background music. Even though they are given this responsibility, they are not yet considered full members of the rakugo community. Even though hanashi are taught in one-on-one sessions, delivery techniques such as pacing, dynamics, diction, timing, emphasis and pauses, the different variants and patterns of a hanashi are not actively taught, but in literal translation are to “stick to the body” (mi ni tsuku), i.e., are acquired through immersion (Inada and Morita 2010, p. 69). Rakugoka in training intently listen and observe differences in delivery, thus learning how to read and react to audiences. This type of learning, however, becomes an obstacle for female trainees who are not exposed to the performances of senior performers of their own sex. Female rakugoka learn from their own (in the majority of cases male) shishō (master) or from male peers in their mon, the socio-artistic family of rakugoka under the same shishō.

3.4 That Voice of Yours Is Gross

Although rakugo was developed around the timbre and pitch of the male voice, characters are not differentiated by changing voices the same way an adult might read differently the grandmother’s and wolf’s lines in a fairy tale such as “Little Red Riding Hood.” The lines of female characters in rakugo are not reproduced at a high pitch (Horii 2009, p. 115; Balkenhol 1972, pp. 117–20). Instead, a higher pitch is foremost reserved for situations when characters get excited (Horii 2009, p. 116).

However, as audiences are used to hearing male rakugoka, and because the female vocal range is higher than the male (Traunmüller and Eriksson 1995), the higher vocal range of females was long considered a problem, especially with hanashi whose protagonists are mainly men; female rakugoka often were told their voices were “gross” (kimochi warui) (Kanno 2018). Sakura would know well that audience members may have such prejudice against female rakugoka and would then avoid shows with a female line-up.

3.5 Training

Another hurdle to Sakura’s career as rakugoka would be finding a shishō, a master to raise her. Without a shishō to vouch for her education, she cannot start training. For the first years of their career, Sakura and her zenza peers would always be paying attention to what is happening on stage, despite being extremely occupied with miscellaneous backstage chores such as pouring tea, folding kimono, storing away and putting out shoes, playing the taiko and opening and closing the curtains. Since the outcome of a performance depends on audience reaction and interaction, zenza acquire and improve their skills by observing both the audience and the ways in which senior performers steer around mishaps and difficult audiences.

At the yose, zenza encounter a wide variety of hanashi of differing complexity levelsFootnote 9 and naturally remember storylines and different interpretations, variants and patterns including pacing, timing, emphasis and pauses of a hanashi. This experience “naturally cultivates the understanding of hanashi” (Hirose 2016, p. 168; see also Yanagiya Tsubame V 2009 [1967], p. 90) and is “not implemented to learn how to do rakugo, but to learn how to become a rakugoka” (Inada and Morita 2010, p. 125). Since knowledge and skills are expected to be absorbed, senior performers rarely give direct advice to their younger apprentices, and newcomers might not even receive any feedback from their masters, be it negative or positive (San’yūtei Enjō et al. 1986, p. 131).

Zenza training is often described as very hard, as zenza are to obey any senior performer no matter what they are told. Although training at the yose and exposure to the art is considered to be of utmost importance, the first female rakugoka in the 1950s to 1970s were not given the opportunity to train there. They were taken into their masters’ households to learn good manners (gyōgi minarai) until they were eventually allowed to perform as futatsume (Yanagiya Tsubame V 2009 [1967], p. 39). The fact that the generation of Shōkyō and Hanayo missed out on the training made them miss the chance to become a member of the yose community and also denied them the opportunity to cultivate their understanding of hanashi. This is possibly one reason why audiences and peers alike did not consider them full-fledged performers. When Karuta was taken in by Enka in 1981, she insisted on going through the same zenza training as her male peers and she declined to be promoted to futatsume early. Since then, all rakugoka have undergone the same zenza training at the yose. Comparing the length of training of female performers to that of their male peers who started training at the same time, we can say that in general, it does not differ much (Tōkyō Kawaraban 2021). Assuming that Sakura could start yose training right away, her training would take approximately 14 years. During their career, rakugoka also learn hanashi from senior performers outside their mon—this approach to the art strengthens the bonds forged among peers, no matter their gender.

In 1993, when Karuta and Kikuchiyo were promoted to shin’uchi status (though not necessarily for their artistic accomplishments) (Brau 2008, p. 144), audiences had become less interested in rakugo (Hirose 2020, pp. 14–36). The promotion was an attempt to catch the audience’s waning attention and attract more female spectators (Asahi Shinbun 1993; Mainichi Shinbun 2005). Female performers are still differentiated as josei (no) rakugoka and joryū rakugoka—female rakugoka and lady rakugoka, respectively—by media, audiences and producers although the distinction of the official title was abolished by the Rakugo Kyōkai in 2000 (Asahi Shinbun 2011). The use of prefix is significant as it implies that rakugo performers are male; and female rakugoka are a deviation from the male standard (see also Kano 2001, p. 32). Some young female rakugoka reject the genderizing prefix (Hirose 2016, p. 218) but eventually seem to care more about audiences appreciating their art (Ryūtei Komichi 2021; Benzaitei Izumi and Shunpūtei Ichihana 2021).

Whatever the prefix, the fact that they were promoted ahead of their peers (Zorozoro 1993) due to their gender caused ill feelings toward Karuta and Kikuchiyo (Asahi Shinbun 1991; Brau 2008, p. 144). Today, both men and women go through the same length of zenza training. Both are promoted to shin’uchi once they have completed approximately 14 years of training (Tōkyō Kawaraban 2021). The fact that all rakugoka are going through exactly the same training (Hirose 2016, p. 218), has likely also increased the acceptance of female performers among their peers and audiences alike.

Backstage, Sakura and her zenza peers of both genders learn how to exercise kizukai: they acquire the skills of recognizing people’s needs which are not communicated in a direct way and learn to act accordingly, either by serving or by self-restraint: for example, as part of her training, Sakura would be expected to carry the bags of any senior performer she accompanies. For outsiders, however, it looks like an old man is making a young petite girl carry his heavy bags, putting him into an uncomfortable position; she might even be mistaken for his girlfriend or mistress (Hanashi—Rakugo-kei Jōhō Saito 2019).

Fig. 1
A tweet from Renji Koza includes four photos of various people in a room along with some text that is written in a foreign language.

Tachibana Renji tweet showing male performers inside the green rooms of venues and yose theaters (Tachibana Renji 2021)

As can be seen in the photos of the tweet quoted above (Fig. 1), yose theaters and venues usually have only one place, called the green room, where all performers stay before and after their performances and change from street clothes into their kimono. If physically possible, some male performers leave the room in order to give female performers some privacy when changing their stage clothing (Hanashi—Rakugo-kei Jōhō Saito 2019). This means that their mere presence already inconveniences (male) senior performers, i.e., makes them feel uncomfortable due to their gender.

3.6 Harassment and Abuse of Power

Reading rakugoka biographies and interviews, Sakura would know well that, while the yose could not be run without zenza, they are not yet considered full-fledged members of the rakugo community. They are “trained to endure contradictions” (mujun ni taeru shugyō) (Inada and Morita 2010, p. 156)—even if asked to undress and dance naked, rakugoka in training obey (Yanagiya Kaeru 1973, pp. 43–44). It is also not unheard of that shishō resort to corporal punishment (Kokontei Shinchō Ichimon 2006, p. 19; San’yūtei Enka and San’yūtei Karuta 1994, p. 134). It is easy to imagine that male performers might take advantage of their female peers and especially zenza, the lowest in the hierarchy. As the shishō’s authority is absolute, if she would resist his sexual harassment, he could excommunicate (hamon) her, which would mean the end of her rakugo career (Kawayanagi Tsukushi 2010, p. 14).

There are no interviews in which a female rakugoka stated to have been a victim of sexual harassment. As female performers are still a minority, few are willing to speak out or take action. For instance, in an interview upon their shin’uchi promotion, Karuta and Kikuchiyo downplayed sexual harassment:

There was no vicious sexual harassment, it was more like something between a lingering touch and a brush. […] After all, it was us who choose to join this world. So, we shouldn’t be surprised at this […] There are women, who want to be touched but aren’t, so we are actually lucky. (Zorozoro 1993, p. 4)

The above quote is from an interview conducted by the interviewees’ male seniors published in a magazine edited and self-published by the Rakugo Kyōkai, to which both interviewers and interviewees belong. Under such circumstances, it is unlikely that the two young women would have openly said how they truly felt. Close to thirty years later, female interviewees tend to perpetuate male views: “There really is no world without sexual harassment”; “A little sexual harassment puts the ladies in a good mood. That’s how we women are.”

The survey “Hyōgen no genba harasumento hakusho 2021” [2021 White Paper on Harassment in the Field of the Arts] interviewed artists of all genders from contemporary art to musicians, actors and anime creators regarding harassment at their workplace. Since the rakugo community is even more male-centered than contemporary arts, design and anime/manga/photography mentioned in the survey in which 80% responded to having experienced sexual harassment in some capacity (Hyōgen no genba chōsa-dan 2021), it is highly likely that female rakugoka also have experienced sexual harassment, even from their own shishō—who are supposed to protect their deshi. While Enka claims that some male peers refrained from molesting Karuta, he also openly admits to having groped Karuta himself:

It’s not that I do not touch her myself. I’m not afraid to say something like, ‘Let me touch you.’ It would be rude for her master not to touch her when other masters are freely touching her. (laughs) (San’yūtei Enka and San’yūtei Karuta 1994, p. 134)

With the publication of the 2021 survey, sexual harassment has become a focus of the media. In summer 2021, a female rakugoka in Osaka filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against a male peer, stating that he had made her drink alcohol and then had committed an “indecent act” (waisetsu na kōi) against her in December 2017 and harassed her repeatedly between 2018 and 2019 (Chūnichi Shinbun 2021). Power harassment also is an issue likely to be discussed further, as San'yūtei Tenka filed a lawsuit against his own shishō seeking 3 million yen in compensation for abusive language and violent behavior (Yahoo Japan news 2023). While these cases might be an extreme, it can be assumed that female performers have found ways to ward off unwanted remarks and sexual advances. In her interview, Komichi asserted: “If you want to harass me, I’m going to turn tables and harass the harasser.”

4 Strategies for Female Empowerment

While men are put in categories of shinsaku (own stories)/koten (old repertoire), wakate (young performers)/kanban (old and popular performers), media and fans are likely to categorize women only by their sex—as josei/joryū (women/female). But there are a number of strategies female rakugoka can implement to overcome the above-mentioned obstacles.

4.1 Choosing Your Own Portfolio

You have to find stories that only you can do. […] In a line-up of 12 performers, you do not want the audience to think: ‘Oh, is that all women have to offer?’ (onna no hito, konna mon ka) (Ryūtei Komichi 2021)

Rakugo imposes comparatively few limitations on its performers compared to its sister arts of jōruri (narrative ballads accompanied by shamisen), kōdan (recitations of military or historic tales) and naniwabushi/rōkyoku (melodic and narrative recitations accompanied by shamisen born in the early twentieth century). Performers “speak with an everyday voice, use everyday tone (kuchō) and everyday language” (Yano 2016, p. 21). Any rakugoka has the choice to perform either traditional koten or shinsaku rakugo. Koten hanashi are set in the Edo, Meiji or Taishō period and are well-known, to the point that experienced audience members can correctly guess the hanashi just by listening to the first lines or the free-talk section before the hanashi starts (makura). Koten hanashi are androcentric, but many of their other characteristics have clear merits which female rakugoka can use to their advantage. For instance, hanashi do not have a copyright and there is no original script or scenario which performers must adhere to. Character names are more of an in-group code shared with the audience (Horii 2009, p. 22), i.e., not all character types are meant to be the same in all version of one and the same hanashi: in one version the main character can be married, in another the character of the same name is a teenage apprentice living with relatives. Only the characters’ personalities are static: a hothead is always a hothead; a stingy person is always stingy; there are few dynamic characters, which make hanashi easy to perform.

Once performance permission (age no keiko) has been given, the cues which indicate different characters of a hanashi, may be freely modified and adapted to fit the performer. Rakugoka may also add characters to a hanashi, like a main character’s partner or child, or a character who comments on the storyline. If they feel that a character is not adding meaning to their interpretation or is difficult to perform (see denwa-ma), or that the performance must be shorter than usual, rakugoka may cut side-characters or reduce their lines. In stories that are set in the Edo period, they may choose to let a character comment on current affairs. The fact that any rakugoka may perform any hanashi and enjoys “flexibility in terms of how to present the material” (Shores 2021b, p. 464), works in favor of female rakugoka.

Not all stories are koten rakugo, i.e., created and set in the chronotopic frame of Edo-period Japan, with its characters codified to belong in that period through behavior, narration techniques and linguistic registers. There is also the possibility of doing shinsaku: new hanashi which have been created by the performer herself. They can be set in any time period. With popular rakugoka, these hanashi have become somewhat like their performers’ trademark.

While most female performers start their training with the goal of performing koten, some end up finding a niche performing shinsaku. Benzaitei Izumi, for example, initially started out with koten, but when her shinsaku were well received both by audiences and senior performers, and when producers offered her stage opportunities, she gradually became a shinsaku-only performer (Benzaitei Izumi and Shunpūtei Ichihana 2021). Kawayanagi Tsukushi was taken in by her master under the condition she exclusively performed shinsaku (Kawayanagi Tsukushi 2010, p. 10).

4.2 Role Models: Master and Peers

Picking the right master is as difficult as picking the right life partner. (Sumiyoshi 2022)

In order to become a rakugoka, young men and women have to be taken in by a performer of shin’uchi rank. Doing so, they join his mon, the socio-artistic family of rakugoka under the same shishō. The formerly mentioned associations are mainly administrative units arranging, for example, stage opportunities at the yose theaters (Horii 2009, p. 173), functioning as a point of contact for media outlets but they cannot prevent a shishō from taking in a deshi. It is the shishō himself, and often also his family who decides whether he accepts to train somebody. However, even though male rakugoka have known female peers or senior performers since the mid-1980s and do not condemn female participation on the yose stage, many declare that they do not take in female deshi. They feel the same as Beichō, who stated in 1975 that he did not have the confidence to train them properly: “It is about as difficult as creating a new performing art” (sore ha atarashii gei o hitotsu tsukuriageru gurai muzukashii na no desu) (Katsura Beichō 1986 [1975], p. 54).

There may also be personal reasons as in the case of Maruko, whose wife was opposed to him taking in a female deshi (Tatekawa Koshira et al. 2018). Another male rakugoka stated in a private conversation that he would not trust himself enough to make sure not to molest (te o dasu) her under the influence of alcohol or when traveling to remote venues and spending the night at the same hotel, even though in different rooms. Apprentices spend hours every day with their shishō.

Thus, performers with a career of under five years often sound like carbon copies of their masters. With female deshi, this is different. For example, Karuta, who had nobody to imitate, tried out a number of approaches such as changing male protagonists into women or using a lower-pitched voice, observing what worked with audiences (Mainichi Shinbun 2005). Even today, with 91% of female performers receiving training under a male master (Tōkyō Kawaraban 2021), we can assume that they have difficulties finding role models and that imitating their own masters might not be a good choice. Karuta, who was aware of these difficulties, repaid her own shishō’s kindness (ongaeshi) by raising female rakugoka (Mainichi Shinbun 2005)Footnote 10 and to date, two of her own female deshi have been promoted to shin’uchi.

Rakugoka always stress that the shishō is imperative for success. Indeed, if someone’s shishō is popular, or his fellow deshi under the same shishō do not have any deshi of their own, a young rakugoka is likely to receive many stage opportunities, even at the yose. Here they can connect to peers, both with similar or longer careers, which in turn may create new stage offers and/or new fans. Rakugoka educated in the Rakugo Kyōkai and Rakugo Geijutsu Kyōkai learn their craft at the yose where they are constantly exposed to other performers’ hanashi. These associations, however, in 2021 had only eight and six female shin’uchi respectively (Tōkyō Kawaraban 2021). Of these, Komichi is the only woman to receive regular yose engagements.

The yose line-up is arranged to provide maximum diversity for the audience’s enjoyment. Iromono arts are included in between rakugo and kōdan for diversity. On the rakugo side, there are usually a junior followed by senior rakugoka, one known for funny stories followed by a performer known for quiet stories, a rakugoka known for their shinsaku followed by one known for their koten interpretations. For any rakugoka, it is important to differentiate themselves enough to catch the attention of yose directors and be regularly cast for the ten-day run (shibai).

Audiences also demand diversity. Performers only decide the hanashi they will perform while on stage (Shores 2021b; Stark 2017): one featuring thieves may be followed by a quarreling couple, then a samurai followed by a hanashi about a drunkard. Ideally, there should be no two hanashi about the same topic. A young female performer in this context provides for variation in the line-up. A look at current programs, however, reveals that usually only one female performer can be found in a twelve-to-twenty-person line-up.Footnote 11

4.3 Voice Production

The first female rakugoka, with no role models to imitate, tried out many different approaches from falsetto voices (uragoe) to depicting women in their own natural voices (jigoe) (Shimazaki 1995, p. 54) or in a low-pitched voice (Mainichi Shinbun 2005) to depict multiple male characters. In 2009, cultural critic Horii stated that their high vocal range would be an obstacle for women: if they forced themselves to produce lower pitches for male characters, this would “be a burden for the spectators and probably also a burden for the performer” (Horii 2009, pp. 120–121). But with more and more female performers, it is possible that Horii has become used to listening to female voices on rakugo stages or female performers have become more skilled in their interpretations as a consequence of an increasing number of role models. When Kamigata’s Katsura Niyō became the first female performer to win the prestigious NHK award for rakugo newcomers in 2021, Horii commented to the NYT: “I have never seen anything as good as her version of the story she performed” (Rich and Hida 2021). Katsura Niyō had received full marks from all jury members.

Rather than the pitch, it is a rakugoka’s ability to create a melodic line which grabs the audience’s attention and a rhythm and pace which moves the storyline forward in a way that is easy and comfortable to listen to. Performers of both genders mostly only use unexpectedly high-pitched voices to draw the audience’s attention.

4.4 Appearance on Stage

Unlike other Japanese stage artists, whose plays are announced to the audiences in advance, rakugoka decide which hanashi to give on the spot (Horii 2009, p. 64; Shores 2021b; Stark 2017). Rakugoka do not wear costumes to match their roles but use one single kimono per hanashi, in which they perform all characters—from little boy to old woman. Most performers, though, have a number of kimono to match the season and/or the different hanashi they perform: rakugoka who create shinsaku, might for example choose to wear a bright red kimono for a hanashi set on Christmas Eve. If a samurai is the main character of a hanashi, a rakugoka is likely to wear hakama pants over his kimono. In a story with a wakadanna (a merchant house son), he might choose to wear elegant stripes (Yanai 2018, p. 23).

In everyday life, different kimono are worn for different occasions. Kimono have different levels of formality, only visible to the informed. The same way we can choose to wear jeans or an evening gown to the opera, a kimono wearer selects their kimono by cloth, dye, color and pattern. A tsumugi kimono, for example, is considered casual, the equivalent of denim. Its thread is first dyed and then woven and sewn. Kimono with the artistic family crest on the textile, kuromontsuki (black), iromontsuki (non-black) are worn for formal occasions such as weddings. While in the past, most rakugoka chose kuromontsuki, today many choose to wear tones of blue, green, gray and brown or to combine these with accents of another color (Yanai 2018, p. 23).

As a rule, the color of a kimono should not distract the audience. Therefore, the majority of performers choose to wear a single color and for the most formal occasions, such as shin’uchi promotion shows, kuromontsuki. A rakugoka might wear tsumugi for the intro at their own show, but would never wear tsumugi in a guest appearance with a senior performer. For most performances, male rakugoka would wear somemono or orimono.Footnote 12 The choice of kimono can also depend on the performer’s position in the line-up. A younger rakukoga should not wear an expensive kimono of high-level formality, but the kimono’s formality should match his own ranking. Younger performers might even confer with senior performers in the same show about what they intend to wear, so as not to end up with similar color combinations (Yanai 2018, p. 35) (Figs. 2 and 3).

Fig. 2
A photograph of a woman, who wears a light-colored denim dress with bright fabric around the waist.

Miyatsukuchi as shown in Komichi’s kimono

Fig. 3
Two photographs of the woman wearing a different colored dress with an overcoat, and bright, and dark fabric around the waist.

Women’s (left) and men’s (right) kimono as worn by Komichi (left) and Ichihana (right) in comparison, showing the position of obi, haorihimo and mon

With all the above choices, female performers have the possibility to make one more choice: to wear either men’s or women’s kimono. While patterns for both seem similar, the latter have side-slits below the armpit called miyatsukuchi. These openings help to adjust the hem and with it the layer around the waist (ohashori) to adjust for a female wearer’s bust as shown in Fig. 4. Another visible difference is the obi. The women’s obi-sash sits right under the breast and is about 34 cm wide. Male rakugoka use kaku-obi, a stiff cloth about 10 cm wide, which sits very low, just below the navel. This location makes moving both on stage and backstage easier (Satō and Tamura 2014). Certain stories cannot be performed if a rakugoka wears a women’s kimono. For example, gestures to indicate that a character is looking for their tenugui cloth inside the kimono are difficult, if not impossible, to portray wearing women’s kimono because of the obi width. Performers who decide to wear men’s kimono need to dress with under-kimono first (nagajuban), wear a collar-pin (eridome), shitajime, obi, hadagi undershirt, tabi socks and zōri sandals. Wearers of the women’s kimono require at least kimono, nagajuban (or alternatively hanjuban undershirt and susoyoke underskirt), koshihimo string belt, datejime (fabric belt worn between kimono and obi to secure kimono and nagajuban), obi (tied in taiko-musubi style),Footnote 13 obijime, obiage sash, obimakura (pad to make obi look fuller), obiita-plate, hadagi, tabi and zōri.Footnote 14 With fewer items, the men’s kimono makes it easier and quicker to dress and undress. As zenza move around the gakuya (green room) all day and most are inexperienced kimono wearers, female zenza today wear men’s kimono. Upon promotion to futatsume, they may choose to wear women’s kimono.

Fig. 4
A photograph of a woman, who wears a light-colored denim dress with dark fabric around the waist, and patterned cloth between the slits.

Ichihana demonstrating gestures of stowing away a tenugui inside the kimono

In modern Japanese society, women wearing a women’s kimono are usually seen as the embodiment of Japaneseness and femininity (Goldstein-Gidoni 1999). And some female rakugoka are thus advised to do so by their own shishō, such as Komichi:

When I started training, my master told me to train in a woman’s kimono. ‘If you wear a man’s kimono, you will show that rakugo is a man’s art. Don’t pretend you are a man [otoko no kawa o kaburu na]. When you go up on stage and appear in front of the audience, it’s you, Komichi, a woman, who plays the role of goinkyo, it’s Komichi, a woman who plays the role of Hattsan. There is no way to hide the fact that you are a woman, whether in the green room or on stage. (Ryūtei Komichi 2021)

The choice, what to wear, like the choice between koten and shinsaku, is personal and each performer decides herself what is easiest to perform in and what signal she wants to send to her audiences.

Another such signal is hair and make-up. The majority of male rakugoka chooses between short-back-and-sides, crew cut or buzz cut. If the forehead and ears are shown, audiences can easily imagine male characters in the Edo period when men shaved their pate and tied up their long back-hair into a topknot onto the top of their head; if a performer wore their long hair down and unconsciously flicked it away from their face, audiences would imagine a samurai wearing his long hair down. If a performer decided to go on stage with glasses, beard, earrings or eyeshadow, audiences would imagine a samurai with glasses, beard, earrings or eyeshadow. Just like their male peers, many female rakugoka wear their hair short; some wear their hair so boyish that elder performers mistake them for boys (Hanashi—Rakugo-kei Jōhō Saito 2019). If they have longer hair, they tie it up so that there is no hair that can get in the way of their hands or the audience’s imagination.

As for make-up, gestures touching the face or sweat under stage light might smear the make-up (Hanashi—Rakugo-kei Jōhō Saito 2019) or it might rub-off on the haori or kimono sleeves and ruin the expensive silk garment. Therefore, many female rakugoka refrain or reduce make-up to an absolute minimum.

4.5 Stage Persona: Playing with Femininity

Rakugoka of either gender have the choice to accept/refuse professional stage engagement offers or produce their own shows. Small-scale organizers usually receive a head-shot or stage photo from the performer to be used in advertising, but for self-produced shows, the photos used on fliers are often curated specifically for the show. With 594 performers (Tōkyō Kawaraban 2021) competing for the attention of approximately 10,000 audience members in Greater TokyoFootnote 15 and about 44 shows staged every day in pre-pandemic days (Tōkyō Kawaraban 2020), fliers need to stand out visually to catch the audience’s attention. Some female rakugoka play with femininity or adopt aidoru imagery. One of the photos used for fliers for Kingentei Nonoka (Kokontei Yūsuke since February 2022) showed her posing in a kimono reminiscent of a high-ranking courtesan (Kingentei Yonosuke 2020). Chōkarō Momoka’s fliers of her early futatsume days (when she was still named Pikkari) often were very feminine, like Fig. 5. showing her in a bridal dress.

Fig. 5
A poster of the woman in two different dresses with some text written in a foreign language.

Copyright Chokaroh Momoka

Shunpūtei Pikkari flier for May 2014 shows.

However, finding the right balance of appealing to a diverse fan-base without deterring existing fans is difficult. Since the majority of Tokyo’s rakugo-fan-population regardless of the performer’s gender is male, the atmosphere of an all-male audience might deter potential spectators. Some male fans see female performers as potential girlfriends or partners—as attested by rakugoka Ichihana: “When I got married most hardcore-fans disappeared” (Benzaitei and Shunpūtei 2021).

5 Conclusion

There are a number of factors which possibly have helped women’s acceptance on the yose stage. Unlike kabuki, noh and bunraku, rakugo is in general not passed down through family lines.Footnote 16 Rakugo also does not apply the iemoto (headmaster)-system.Footnote 17 Since the Meiji period, women have performed in yose shows in other arts such as gidayū (narrative performances), rōkyoku (melodic and narrative recitations), manzai (funny dialogues), shamisen-mandan (funny monologues accompanied by shamisen-music) and also kōdan (recitations of military or historic tales). Furthermore, the Asakusa Opera and Revues (musical theater including opera, operetta and dance; cf Yamanashi 2019) and later on the cinemas (Sheruman/Schermann 2019) were located in the same (shitamachi) areas of Tokyo and the same people attended as audiences, i.e., were both geographically and demographically close to the yose. All these factors possibly increased acceptance of women on stage.

As rakugoka perform on their own, strains on relationships among the artists as Allmendinger and Hackman (1999) have seen with orchestra musicians with women entering previously male-exclusive institutions, seem unlikely within the rakugo world. Rather than the rakugo world accommodating female perspectives in conjunction with female participation and visibility increasing, it seems that female rakugoka themselves will adapt and change further. Rakugo is an art created in cooperation with the audience: rakugoka achieve recognition mostly from audiences that provide performers with an external motivation to improve and excel. It also means that acceptance of a performer and their style depends on the audience. In addition, societal changes have influenced the acceptance of female rakugoka. When Shōkyō and Hanayo trained in the 1950s and 1960s, the ideal of ryōsai kenbo (good wife and wise mother)—the idea that while men were advancing the nation in public, women had to “create a pleasant home environment to help nurture the family and protect the nation” (Stalker 2018, p. 105)—was still strongly present, but attitudes have changed since then. The last entry on Hanayo is found in 1969—a year when less than half of women aged 25–29 were in employment (Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism 2012). More than fifty years later, in 2021, 83.2% of women aged 25–34 were in employment (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications 2022). When society expects women to take care of their husbands and children, working as a freelance artist is still difficult. In 1981, when Karuta started training with Enka II, he made her promise to never get married as he had already seen many female geinin quit upon marriage (Iwagami and Iwakami 2004, p. 14; Asahi Shinbun 2011). Osaka’s Ayame got married, but could not meet the expectations of her husband, who wanted her to return home before him in the evenings and cook; he eventually started to beat her (Shimazaki 1995, p. 55).

As society changes, so do audiences’ approaches and attitudes as well as performers’ opportunities and lifestyles. Komichi, who started her training 22 years after Karuta, admitted that her shishō was sad when she moved further away due to her marriage. She also stated that her getting married was never an issue: “My shishō and his shishō are both married, there is no way I would not be allowed to get married myself” (Ryūtei Komichi 2021). More recently, in 2008, a single mother (Harusameya Fūko n.d.) and in 2017 a married woman with two children (San’yūtei Arama n.d.) joined the ranks of the Rakugo Geijutsu Kyōkai.

Although Shōkyō and Hanayo were not allowed to train as zenza at the yose, today all rakugoka, no matter their gender, are trained there. The fact that all go through the same training process, for the same amount of time, has strengthened female rakugoka’s acceptance. They may still hold back in criticizing or admonishing male junior performers or still have the feeling of requiring male performers’ “approval to be here” (irete moratte iru) (Hanashi—Rakugo-kei Jōhō Saito 2019), but this might change in the future.

The number of female performers is currently still small and there is usually only one female rakugoka in a yose line-up of twelve to twenty rakugoka. As female rakugoka are still a minority, neither their associations, the yose directors nor male peers feel the need to take action to accommodate female perspectives or preferences. Even in 2022, yose events staged to exclusively feature female rakugoka do not end with a hanashi but an ōgiri-improv-quiz or a dance (Daigo rakkyō redīzu tadaima sanjō! 2022). That said, organizational progress with a possibility to advance female perspectives has also occurred: in 2010, Karuta became a director (riji) of the Rakugo Kyōkai board (Asahi Shinbun 2011). Today, she proactively looks after female juniors and raises her own female deshi, both now are shin’uchi themselves. During the last decade, Tokyo’s rakugo world has become a space that welcomes female participants. Women no longer require considerable resolve (kakugo) when deciding to pursue a rakugo career (Hanashi—Rakugo-kei Jōhō Saito 2019). Male shishō seek out the advice of female performers and ask them to help their female deshi. Female zenza now have a wider variety of role models, some doing koten, some shinsaku, some changing koten, some not, some stressing femininity, some sporting a masculine look.

This chapter has only briefly analyzed different strategies female rakugoka currently follow. They all warrant thorough examination and analysis: language use of female rakugoka in comparison to male peers; strategies regarding performance (hanashi) and appearance on stage—both during and after completing zenza training; changes in perception and acceptance among audiences and male peers and so forth. At present, while Komichi is very successfully carving out her position at the yose, there is not yet a position of a “woman who can fit any line-up” (Ryūtei Komichi 2021). As the number of female rakugoka increases, each will have to find her own brand and stage persona in order to be cast for the yose line-up. In 2021, 61% of the female rakugoka noted in Tōkyō Kawaraban (2021) were not yet shin’uchi, i.e., they are still in a period of training (zenza) or are futatsume, a period in which they (no matter their gender) are still trying to find their own style, and where both audiences and producers still allow them to experiment and “mess up” (Hirose 2016, p. 192).

Although 2020 and 2021 likely experienced a dent in deshi-intake due to the COVID-19 pandemic (Di Francesco 2023), rakugo is as popular as ever. With female rakugoka of the second generation, such as Komichi and Izumi, popular on Tokyo’s stages, female participation is likely to increase further. Male shin’uchi seem to be less reluctant to take in female deshi and eventually audiences will no longer see performers such as Komichi and Izumi as performing “from the female perspective” (josei no mesen) but as from the “Komichi-perspective” and the “Izumi-perspective.”

Rakugo critic Hirose lauds shin’uchi Komichi as a “model case” of women who do “straight koten” (Hirose 2020, p. 337) as she does “not let [audiences] feel any unnaturalness of women performing rakugo” (p. 338), stressing how her approaches may be suggestions, pointers and inspiration for future female rakugoka (p. 339). Indeed, Komichi seems to have become the first female rakugoka to succeed if measured in terms of the number of yose engagements (Gokurakurakugo 2021). As Beichō predicted in the 1970s: once the number of spectators who have seen skilled female performers increases and the existence of female rakugoka is no longer considered an oddity, the audience’s sense of discomfort should disappear (Katsura Beichō 1986 [1975], pp. 53–54).

Komichi stated that she creates her own precedents (zenrei ha jibun de tsukuru (Ryūtei Komichi 2021). If it hasn’t been done yet, she will be the first to do so. Let us dare hope that many others will follow, creating their own precedents.