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Rakugo performer Katsura Niyo becomes 1st woman to win major NHK award

Katsura Niyo, who was chosen as the winner of the grand prize at the NHK Shinjin Rakugo Taisho, is seen holding the trophy at NHK Osaka Hall in Chuo Ward, Osaka, on Nov. 1, 2021. (Mainichi/Satoko Yamashita)

OSAKA -- For the first time, a female rakugo performer has won the grand prize at Japanese public broadcaster NHK's annual competition for young rakugo performers, the Shinjin Rakugo Taisho.

    Katsura Niyo, 35, won the prestigious award seen as a major boost to young rakugo perfomers' careers for her performance of "Tengusashi." She is the first woman to win the grand prize since the contest was first established in its previous guise in 1972. Niyo expressed delight at winning, saying, "I wanted to be the first to win it, I'm so incredibly happy."

    In all, 107 rakugo performers participated in two initial rounds in Tokyo and Osaka, with six finalists competing at NHK Osaka Hall on Nov. 1. It was Niyo's second time in two years to reach the final round. Tengusashi is a comedic story featuring a man considering catching tengu mythical creatures to make money. Her energetic performance of the man's earnestness got her a perfect score from the panel of five judges, which included renowned rakugo performers Katsura Bunchin and Yanagiya Gontaro.

    After her victory was confirmed, Niyo smiled and said, "As a female rakugo performer, I want to thank Tsuyu no Miyako and Katsura Ayame for leading the way."

    (Japanese original by Satoko Yamashita, Osaka Cultural News Department)

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