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TOKYO (AP) _ Kosan Yanagiya, a popular storyteller recognized by the Japanese government as an official national treasure, died Thursday. He was 87.

With his round, smiling face, the bald Yanagiya was well known for his skillful use of a Japanese fan while performing ``rakugo.''

The art form, which has its roots in the 17th century, is a popular form of comic monologue in which performers don kimonos and tell stories while kneeling on a cushion.

Yanagiya, who often appeared on television, served as chairman of the Rakugo Association, a grouping of 225 storytellers in Tokyo, from 1972 to 1996.

In 1995, he was designated a Living National Treasure by the Japanese government, the first rakugo storyteller to be so recognized.