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Photo caption: An example in which two operators can be seen manipulating a puppet.

It is thought that the history of "moving dolls" is quite long in Japan. At the very least, in the Heian period (784-1185), there was a group of artists who traveled all over the country performing as "puppet operators." These itinerant performers were known as kairaishi and kugutsumawashi\both of which mean "doll manipulators." By the thirteenth century, these traveling "puppeteers" had become attached to shrines and temples, and, through becoming connected with joruri at the end of the sixteenth century, the art of the puppeteers was no longer seen on the streets but in small halls. In the beginning, they were only "small halls" in name, as the puppeteers would stretch shoulder-high curtains, from behind which they would hold the puppets above the curtain as they operated them, and joruri was also performed in this manner. The puppets had no feet, so the operators had to thrust their hands in the hems to make the "feet" move; but the dolls had moveable hands and arms that could be manipulated to perform simple movements. At about the time that the Takemoto-za was opened, the puppets were small and manipulated only by a single operator. But as time went by, improvements were made, such that by 1734 a plan was devised to have three operators per puppet. Two years later, the size of the dolls was doubled, making them close to the size used today (which is about 2/3 the height of the average person). It is also thought that the stage itself was changed at about the same time in order to accommodate the three manipulators.

After the collapse of both the Takemoto-za and the Toyotake-za puppet theatres, a small joruri hall was opened near Kozu Bridge in Osaka, and in 1811 it found itself within the precincts of the Inari Shrine. The proprietor was a man named Uemura Bunrakuken, and it was in 1872, after it was relocated to Matsushima, that the hall became officially known as the Bunraku-za.


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