After seven centuries, the humour is still funny!


Above: An example of one of the many colourful costumes worn by kyogen performers

Life too stressful? Feel in need of a good belly-laugh? Then York has just what you need: a theatrical lecture-demonstration of Japanese comedy, called kyogen.

Right: Kaoru Matsumoto, on the right

“They’ve been Laughing for Seven Centuries!” says the flyer inviting people to attend the evening of riotous fun.

Featuring Kaoru Matsumoto, the event will take place Thursday, Sept. 25, 7-9pm, in York’s Burton Auditorium. And here is something else to tickle you: Admission is free.

Kyogen translates as “crazy talk” or “nutty talk”. It is one of the oldest traditional Japanese theatre forms, having amused people for 700 years. Children love it, too – perhaps even teenagers.



Performer Matsumoto is one of Japan’s most renowned kyogen masters, and he presents an engaging program of witty, interactive skits highlighting the physical and vocal comedy of that special comedy medium. Audience participation is invited, so here’s your chance to try out your own skills with humour. 


Left and right: Masks used in kyogen

“They’ve been Laughing for Seven Centuries!” is presented by York’s Department of Theatre, Faculty of Fine Arts and the Japanese Section, Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics, Faculty of Arts. For more information about the event, contact Norio Ota at the Department of Theatre, Faculty of Arts, ext. 22257.




Left and right: Kyogen performers

Matsumoto’s public performance at York is just one of a series of appearances in his Canadian tour, marking the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and Japan. Co-sponsored by the Consulate General of Japan and supported by The Japan Foundation and the Canada Council for the Arts with the assistance of the Japan-Canada Fund, Matsumoto’s visit includes an artist-in-residency at York University, involving presentations and workshops with students in the Department of Theatre and a performance at Glendon College; public lecture-demos at The Japan Foundation, Toronto, the Embassy of Japan, Ottawa, and the Montreal Botanical Garden; and workshops for professional actors at Equity Showcase Theatre, Toronto, and Odyssey Theatre Company, Ottawa.

Primary organizers of the activities at York have been Prof. David Smukler of the Department of Theatre, Faculty of Fine Arts, and Prof. Norio Ota, who heads the Japanese Section in the Dept. of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics in the Faculty of Arts. Ota is acting as translator for all of Matsumoto’s appearances.

Kyogen is classical comic theatre which is thought to have its roots in entertainment brought to Japan from China in the eighth century or earlier. Eventually, it was adopted by performers of serious noh plays. While noh is musical in nature with a serious dramatic side, kyogen emphasizes dialogue and humour. The two art forms received the patronage of the military aristocracy until the time of the Meiji Restoration in the latter part of the 19th century. After that, the arts were kept alive by family groups. Today, professional kyogen players perform independently and as part of noh programs.