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Japan's Traditional Male Entertainer (Houkan/Taikomochi) ARAI

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Comparison between TAIKOMOCHI and its European version "FOOL/JESTER" and similarity between the two cultures

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zasikiasobi

TAIKOMOCHI ARAI's performance with Geisha for entertainment.

A sort of game played between Taikomochi and Geisha to struggle for coasters of sake bottles to the accompaniment of their singing under the rule that the loser of the game is required to drain the sake cup.
Geisha on the right side and Maiko on the left side are enjoying the outcome of the game.


photo presented by courtesy of Mr. KURODA, Isokazu

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In Europe, the Holy Roman Empire established around the middle of the 10th century saw dissolution of the Church in the middle of the 11th century, resulting in appearance of poor wandering abbeys' monks and students called "goliard", among whom there were such educated persons as to create parodic humorous poems "Carmina Burana", some turning into strolling performers called "Jongleurs" and jesters called "Buffoons".

Similarly at the beginning of the 12th century, Japan underwent transition in its political culture from aristocracy-based to "samurai" (military class)-based with a consequent change in the situation of Buddhism prevalent in the country, resulting in appearance of new sects of Buddhism accepted by the samurai society. Around 1265 when the first English Parliament was called into session, Japan saw advent of Buddhist monk Ippen Shonin (1239-1289) known as the founder of the JI Sect of Buddhism, which was to have significant influences upon Japan's subsequent culture and art.

In the 13th century Europe, the above-mentioned strolling performers "Jongleurs" seem to have played such an active role in entertainment that they proved themselves useful not only on the commonalty's wedding and other auspicious occasions, but also on the nobility's ceremonial occasions, resulting in their existence being regarded as vital to the court life of the nobility, which caused some of them to turn into performers in the service of the court - "Minstrels".

Court performers "Minstrels" had their roles to play in entertaining court guests at banquets through their storytelling techniques. However, in their capacity as persons in the service of the nobility, the court performers seem to have basically had knowledge of good manners and capability of offering their advisory opinions on occasion with their social status subsequently promoted to such a level that in the court of French King Phillip V, a court fool or a jester kept by the nobility, held an official position, performing intellectual activities as their trusted retainer.

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Among the episodes of the court fools in the service of French King Phillip VI (1328-1350) is one featuring a court fool who saw a dispute between a person who was eating bread while relishing a smell from a grill restaurant and the owner of the restaurant who was claiming the payment from the bread eating person for the smell and settled the dispute by letting the restaurant's owner hear the sound of the coins possessed by the bread eating person, who successfully paid for the smell with his coins' sound. This sort of brief comic folktale called "Fabliau" in Europe is also found in episodes in early days of Japan, where people used to eat mainly fish as their animal food, like one telling a person who ate boiled rice with a smell from an eel restaurant as an accompanying dish and paid to the restaurant for the smell with his coins' sound.

Around 1347 when Europe suffered from the widespread prevalence of the "black plague" (pest), Japan, where military government "Muromachi Shogunate" (1333-1499) was established with the warrior ("samurai") class asserting their authority over the political affairs, similarly saw appearance of "Doboshu" from the above-mentioned "JI Sect of Buddhism" - attendants to the "shogun", the premier of the government, who had knowledge of good manners and capability of collecting information to provide the "shogun" with general judgment and advice, while creating new culture and art to serve him in a humorous manner.

Around 1492 when Christopher Columbus discovered the New World of the Americas, Japan underwent transition to "Sengoku ("Warring States") period (1500-1575) when warriors in power struggled with one another for power expansion, leading the above-mentioned "Doboshu" to give advice on strategies and stratagems in their power struggles. When the "Sengoku" period was over, moving into 1600, when England established the East India Company, Japan saw the power struggles among the warriors brought to an end with its unification achieved by warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616) who established the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1603 in the town of Edo (now Tokyo, capital of Japan), restoring domestic political stability, which immediately caused some shogun attendants "Doboshu" to turn into commoners, finding their positions in "Kuruwa" (high-class cultural solon-like pleasure quarters where "Yujo", courtesans also called "Tayu", highly educated and well versed in culture and art, served "Gosho", wealthy merchants and other similar rich guests) by entertaining these guests at banquets through their humorous and erotic storytelling techniques basically in a polite manner, while giving them advice on business strategies, leading to the birth of "TAIKOMOCHI".

Slightly prior to 1618 when the Thirty Years' War broke out in Germany, Japan saw a collection of more than 1,000 brief comic stories (corresponding to their European counterparts written around the 13th century) compiled under the title of "Seisuisho" by Anrakuan Sakuden (1554-1642), the 55th chief priest of Seiganji Temple, who is alleged to be the originator of "TAIKOMOCHI".

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In 1861 when the US Civil War began, TAIKOMOCHI, the role of whom is to entertain guests at banquets together with Geisha (their female counterparts keeping the guests company in drinking and talking, while presenting their dancing and singing performances), peaked in number at about 600 across the nation which, in those days, underwent transition in its political regime from "military" to "civilian" to mark the opening of new period "Meiji" (1868-1912). Since 1945 when the war ended in defeat for Japan, TAIKOMOCHI have continued to decrease in number at such a high space that they now number only about five (about four in Tokyo and myself). This means that I am the only one labeled as TAIKOMOCHI in the vicinity of Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan (and home of the imperial court during more than 1,000 years from 794 to 1868) and the birthplace of Japan's culture, suggesting that this tradition observed in this region is on its way to extinction. Notwithstanding this, I am working hard in the hope that my performance will be of some help to you in gaining happiness full of smiles.

I made my debut as TAIKOMOCHI in 1972 when I was 26 years old and have since continued this career as my vocation, receiving many orders to serve at banquets including ones with foreign people among guests served, where I make it a rule to introduce myself by saying "I am a Japanese crazy pierrot". In 2001, I was given an opportunity by Kadokawa Shoten Publishing to publish a book of my own writing titled "Ma-no-Gokui (The Essence of Timing in Performing Arts). In addition, I have served as host of a weekly radio program for the past 10 years, while having written a weekly column for the local section of national newspaper Asahi Shimbun for the past three years. Having received requests for lectures as well as Taikomochi entertainment at banquets in various districts across the nation, centering round the Kyoto area, I am leading a busy life every day as TAIKOMOCHI. I wish you all of you the best and every happiness.

TAIKOMOCHI ARAI (as of August 2002)

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e-mail:houkan@mitene.or.jp


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englishe01-houkan@mitene.or.jp