Though the Japanese are a nation of readers, they love also to listen to the tales of the professional storyteller, who is quite an artist in his way. The lower sort of story-teller may be seen seated at the street-corner, with a circle of gaping coolies round him. The higher class form guilds who own special houses of entertainment called yose, and may also be engaged by the hour to amuse private parties. Some story-telling is rather in the nature of a penny reading. The man sits with an open book before him and expounds it,-the story of the Forty-seven Rōnins perhaps, or the Chinese novel of the "Three Kingdoms" (Sangoku Shi), or an account of the Satsuma rebellion, or of the old wars of the Taira and Minamoto families in the Middle Ages;-and when he comes to some particularly good point, he emphasises it by a rap with his fan or with a little slab of wood kept by him for the purpose. Such a reading is called gundan if the subject be war; otherwise it is kōshaku, which means literally a "disquisition." The hanashi-ka or story-teller proper, deals in love-tales, anecdotes, and imaginary incidents.
The entertainment offered at a yose is generally mixed. There will be war-stories, love-tales, recitations to the accompaniment of the banjo, the same programme being mostly adhered to for a fortnight, and a change being made on the 1st and 16th of the month. As the number of such houses in every large city is considerable, hearers may nevertheless find something new every night to listen to, and the higher class of story-tellers themselves may realise what for Japan is a very fair income. For they drive about from one house of entertainment to another, stopping only a quarter of an hour or so at each,-just time to tell one story and earn a dollar or two by it.
Many foreign students of the Japanese language have found the yose their best school; but only two have hitherto thought of going there, not as listeners, but as performers. One is an Englishman named Black, whose command of Japanese is so perfect, and whose plots borrowed from the stores of European fiction prove such agreeable novelties, that the Tōkyō story-tellers have admitted him to their guild. The other-also an Englishman, of the name of John Pale-is said to sing Japanese songs as well as any native.
Book recommended - Sketches of Tōkyō Life, by J. Inouye.