The heads (kashira) of the Bunraku puppets are divided into male and female, and then classified into categories according to the age, rank (social class), and distinguishing personality traits of the role they portray, and all of them have special names reflecting their special characteristics. If the play is different but the type of character is the same, the same head might be used for different characters in different plays. Sometimes, in order to match the character more closely, they are even repainted to give the right skin tone, or the wig might be changed, as the heads as used for one role after another. Also, there are a number of heads that are specific to certain roles, and there are several used for child roles and numerous other characters that are attached to one-man puppets (tsume-ningyo). The heads are the responsibility of the "head master" (kashira tanto), who prepares them and repaints them for every performance. In addition, another important aspect of his work is that he carefully checks the strings and levers that control the movements of the eyes and mouth, and if he finds any problems, he fixes them right away.


A Bunraku puppet's head

 

The Mechanism of the Puppets' Heads

The movement of the eyes, eyebrows, and mouth of the puppet heads is achieved by the main puppeteer, by moving, with the fingers of his left hand, the levers attached to the dogushi stick in the doll's neck. If he moves the special little lever that is attached to the head with shamisen strings, the puppet's head can be made to nod up and down in time to the shamisen music. This movement also relies upon a special construction called bane ("spring"), which is made out of baleen.

 

 

Copyright 2004, by the Japan Arts Council. All rights reserved.