NIPPONIA No.22 September 15, 2002
Special Feature*
Written by Komatsu Megumi
Photos by Sawano Toshiyasu
Other photo credits:
Shigeyama Kyogen Association
Kyogen is Japan's oldest form of spoken drama. It is closely associated with the Noh theater and was originally performed during the intervals between the acts of a Noh play. But while Noh themes are mostly solemn, Kyogen presents a comical or satirical view of everyday situations, making it easier to enjoy.
Above: Shigeyama Motohiko (left) and his brother Ippei in a kyogen skit.
Right: The folding fan is an important prop on the kyogen stage. It is used to portray a wide range of actions, from eating to spying on someone.

Kyogen is attracting more and more Japanese youth, captivating them because of the young actors now appearing on the stage. The actors who have sparked this craze are members of the extended Shigeyama family, which belongs to the Okura-ryu school of kyogen based in Kyoto.
Kyogen's recent popularity is partly due to two members of the family, Shigeyama Motohiko, 27, and his brother Ippei, 23. They used to appear in TV dramas and musicals, and this got young people interested in kyogen, the brothers' main line of work. Soon young fans were attending plays performed by the Shigeyama family, and falling under the spell of other youthful kyogen actors as well.
But these Shigeyama actors are realistic about the boom. "Our current popularity is not due to the appeal of kyogen itself. We can't just sit back and relax — we want to learn more about kyogen, which is the most important part of our acting careers."
That's why, in 2000, six young kyogen actors formed a Kyogen study group called "Toppa!"
In the past, the first step to becoming a kyogen performer was to start learning performance techniques and scripts from a master who belonged to a specific family group. An apprentice learned theatrical art forms passed down within the family from one generation to the next. But these young actors decided to go a step further — they hone their skills by creating other study opportunities as well.
Their ultimate objective is to master kyogen in order to keep alive classical traditions handed down from the past. They also make sure the audience enjoys every comical moment of the performance.
"First of all, we want people to have a good time watching us. After all, kyogen is entertainment! And to increase our exposure, we perform in different kinds of places — at Noh theaters, of course, but also at inns in Kyoto for students on school trips, at wedding halls, and elsewhere."
Photo taken in 2000, during a performance by "Toppa!", a kyogen study group formed by six young members of the Shigeyama acting family.
What do Motohiko and Ippei hope to achieve as actors carrying on this traditional drama?
"Our main objective is to make sure the kyogen traditions handed down by the Shigeyama family stay alive. Kyogen is meant to be enjoyed, and if we present it in an enjoyable way, people will continue to go and see kyogen performances well into the future." NIPONIA


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