Manzai is a kind of traditional art in Japan. It occurred as the art of speech for New Year celebration throughout Japan, which was the origin of manzai. It is often distinguished by putting a place-name on it.
In manzai, a pair of performers called "tayu" and "saizo" is a basic unit, but in performances not in front of houses, but in "zashiki" (parlor), the number of performers are from more than three to up to a dozen.
Fans and musical instruments
In many manzai, the performers use a folding fan like "maisen" (folding fan for dancing), but in Mikawa manzai they often use a "chukei" (a kind of folding fan in nogaku, when we see the closed one from the side, its end is spreading).
Concerning musical instruments, basically there's only a "kozutsumi" (small hand drum) played by saizo, but according to the repertoire, shamisen and kokyu (Chinese fiddle) are added or sometimes drum, shamisen and clappers are used. In Echizen manzai and Kaga manzai, a "suri-daiko" (making a sound by scraping a kozutsumi with a thin bamboo plectrum) is used.
In ancient times, imitating the costume of "bugaku" (court dance and music), tayu put on "torikabuto" (ornamental hat in bugaku), but in the Muromachi period tayu seems to have put on "samurai-eboshi" (formal headwear for court nobles), "suo" (ceremonial dress of lower-class samurai) and "hirabakama" (man's formal divided skirt) and saizo put on something like "daikokuzukin" (hood like the god of good luck) and normally shouldered a big bag. Also, as the manzai performances in front of houses became more common during the middle of the Muromachi period, then tayu wore "tatsutukebakama" (man's formal divided skirt). During the Edo period, Mikawa manzai, which were preferentially treated by the Tokugawa family from Mikawa province, were allowed to belt on a sword and to wear a "hitatare" (a kind of court dress in old days) with large family crests. The manzai spread across Japan became more diversified in its costume by incorporating the elements of "noh" or "kabuki" later.
The origin is not clear, but manzai is theoretically considered to have changed from 'toka' in the Nara period.
(Toka is the event to celebrate spring at court and so on, when the dancer of "otoko-toka" (male-toka) danced stomping, he sang 'bansuraku,' and when the dancer of "onna-toka" (female-toka) danced, she sang 'senzuraku.')
Also in gagaku (ancient Japanese court dance and music), the song called "manzairaku" as well as "senshuraku" to celebrate the longevity of the lord had been carried on, from which the name allegedly became "senzumanzai," and simply "manzai." In addition, there is a theory that the name originates from the folk beliefs that Toshigami (the god of the Year) visited each house to give a celebration in the New Year. This means that the man possessed by the god acted Toshigami and walked around to give a celebration and later he went in and out of the court and the word 'senshubanzei' (literally, one thousand autumns and ten thousand years) to celebrate the longevity was the origin of the name, so as to welcome bumper autumns thousands or ten thousands times.
As "Shin sarugoki" (a kind of textbook about manners and cultures of Kyoto in Heian era), where parts of the entertainment and social situation during the 11th century were written, has the description 'senzumanzai no sakahogai,' we can know that manzai as an entertainment already existed around the Heian period.
Senzumanzai was an annual practice of the New Year among the aristocrats during the late Heian period and the senzumazai hoshi (Buddhist priest wishing a New Year) visited each house to give a celebration and danced. Replacing the aristocrats who were on the wane, samurai families became powerful after the Kamakura period and the priests visited the great and powerful such as temples, shrines and samurai families. In the Muromachi period, Shomonji (a group of itinerant performers whose work encompassed both no performance and religious ritual) substituted for the senzumanzai hoshi and during the middle of the Muromachi period, they performed in front of ordinary houses.
Propagation and expansion
It seems that the manzai in Yamato Province (Nara Prefecture) was performed as senzumanzai in Kyoto and later introduced to Owari-manzai and Mikawa-manzai and furthermore across Japan, however, both Owari-manzai and Mikawa-manzai does not accept the origin of tradition. Also, some insist that Echizen-manzai (Nootsubo-manzai) originates from the tradition connected to Emperor Keitai about 1500 years ago. However, in the region where the manzai was introduced after the Edo period, the process of tradition is mostly elucidated. It is said that Kaga-manzai originates from Echizen-manzai, Akita-manzai, Aizu-manzai and so on from Mikawa-manzai and Iyo-manzai from Owari-manzai.
Decline and revival
During the Meiji period, even more manzai which have the names of the place, appeared separately in many regions, but many of them originated from Mikawa-manzai and Owari-manzai. Mikawa-manzai, which was under the influence of the very Buddhism-oriented Onmyodo (way of Yin and Yang; occult divination system based on the Taoist theory of the five elements), changed into Shinto religion, survived through the policies of state-sanctioned Shinto religion and seems to have been performed in the court until the middle of the Taisho period. On the other hand, Owari-manzai was more and more entertaining and some gave performances throughout the whole year. The new Owari-manzai gave rise to the basic form of manzai. The traditional manzai performed in front of the houses in the New Year was also popular among folks until around World War II. However, many of these different manzai declined after World War II and Yamato-manzai discontinued because of no succession.
Many of the existing manzai in each place across Japan have found successors and been revived, but Mikawa-manzai (Anjo City, Nishio City and so on in Aichi Prefecture) and Echizen-manzai (Echizen city in Fukui Prefecture), whose time of formation is said to have been old, were designated as the nation's significant intangible folklore cultural assets in 1995, and so was Owari-manzai (Chita City in Aichi Prefecture) in 1996.
Manzai around Japan
Akita-manzai (Akita Prefecture)
Aizu-manzai (Fukushima Prefecture)
Kaga-manzai (Ishikawa Prefecture)
Echizen-manzai (Fukui Prefecture) The nation's designated cultural assets folklore cultural assets (December 26, 1995)
Mikawa-manzai (Aichi Prefecture)The nation's designated significant intangible folklore cultural assets (December 26, 1995)
Owari-manzai (Aichi Prefecture)The nation's designated significant intangible folklore cultural assets (December 20, 1996)
Ise-manzai (Mie Prefecture)
Yamato-manzai (Nara Prefecture)
Iyo-manzai (Ehime Prefecture)
Takadera-manjai (written as 高平良萬歳 or 高平萬歳 in Chinese characters) in Okinawa Prefecture is generally a program of dancing which extracts one scene from kumi-odori (combination dance) called 'Manzai Tekiuchi' (Vengeance Fulfilled) and is different from the manzai in this section. In the traditional manzai in Okinawa, manjai-koshi (strolling comic dancer) in the Shuri suburb of Aniya hamlet seems to have stood by the gate of each house, given celebration words and made dolls dance at the beginning of the year, but in the Taisho period they were not seen in Nakijin and so on, and only the word manjai-koshi remains.