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Bunraku (Ningyo-joruri)

BunrakuBunraku is one of the Japanese traditional puppet theaters.
Generally Japanese traditional puppet theater is called "Ningyo-joruri".
"Ningyo" means puppet, and "joruri" means the storytelling with shamisen which is one of Japanese plucked string instruments.

Bunraku is one of Ningyo-joruri which had developed in Osaka, so it is the most popular puppet theater in Japan.

History of Bunraku

The puppet theater in Japan was born in the 17th century.
The excellent players and playwrights appeared at the time, and it got very popular.

Ningyo-joruri in Tokushima city But in the 18th to 19th century, Kabuki is the most popular theater, and the puppet theater fell out of favor.
In 1872, Bunrakuken Uemura established a puppet theater named "Bunraku-za" in Osaka. Since then it regained popularity.
The name of Bunraku comes from this.

Elements of Bunraku

Performance and dramas

Commonly one performance has 1 to 3 dramas.
It takes 2 to 3 hours to play one drama, so it takes 3 to 5 hours to enjoy a performance.
The contents of dramas are mainly historical stories and tragic love stories.

Puppet

Operating the head A puppet of Bunraku has very simple structure.

A head with eloquent look, both arms and both legs are attached to the simple frame, and Kimono covers them.

A puppet is played with three puppeteers.
The lead puppeteer uses the head and the right arm, the second one uses the left arm, and the third one uses the both legs.
So they must move own parts with synchronization with other puppeteers.
Commonly the second and third puppeteers is cloaked head-to-toe in black costume.

Dayuu and Shamisen

Dayuu and Shamisen In Bunraku, a narrator tells the drama with shamisen. The narrator is called "dayuu".

He tells both the story and the words of the characters.
Shamisen accompanies the dayuu, and the player plays it when the dayuu tells a story and sings.

Stage

Stage of Bunraku is large as a puppet theater.
As three puppeteers play one puppet, there is a depth of stage.

Seeing Bunraku

We can see Bunraku at National Theater of Japan in Tokyo and National Bunraku Theater in Osaka.

National Theater of Japan


Stage of Bunraku
(Most photos above are from Information-technology Promotion Agency, Japan.)





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