Famed Japanese rakugo storyteller and designated Living National Treasure Yanagiya Kosanji died of heart failure in Tokyo on Thursday. He was 81.
Kosanji was noted for his skillful feigning of ignorance and clever impersonations of characters.
He gained popularity for his style of telling classic tales using techniques he learned from rakugo greats, such as his master Yanagiya Kosan.
Rakugo is a traditional Japanese art of verbal entertainment. Storytellers remain seated throughout their performances.
Kosanji was also famous for the makura small talk he gave as warm-ups to main stories. He was so popular that tickets for his performances sold out quickly.
During his tenure as the head of a rakugo association from 2010 to 2014, Kosanji sought to reenergize the industry.
The Tokyo native launched reforms, such as adopting a performance-based system, instead of the conventional seniority-based promotion for storytellers, to reach the highest grade of shinuchi.
In 2005, Kosanji received the Medal with Purple Ribbon, a prestigious decoration bestowed upon individuals who have contributed to academic and artistic developments, improvements and accomplishments.
In 2014, he was designated as the third Living National Treasure in rakugo.
Kosanji had been performing live for many years despite suffering debilitating symptoms of rheumatism.
His agency says he performed in front of an audience on October 2.