Bunraku is the traditional puppet theatre of Japan, a high-level stage art of which Japan can be very proud. Bunraku was originally the name of the theatre in which this puppet drama was performed, but gradually it came to be used as the name of the art itself and is today used as the official name of the puppet theatre. The art only came to be known as "Bunraku" around the end of the Meiji era (1868-1912); up until that time, the art was known as ayatsuri joruri shibai ("puppet joruri plays") or ningyo joruri, or "puppet narrative drama." Now, joruri is a type of shamisen music, and the name reflects that the puppet plays were performed to a joruri accompaniment. Bunraku's world renown stems not only from its high-quality artistic technique, but also from the high level of its joruri music and the unique nature of manipulating the puppets―each puppet requires three puppeteers to bring it to life. Throughout the world there are a number of types of puppet theatre, and they all treat with simple stories such as myths and legends. There is no other art that requires a whole day for its long, serious drama to unfold. Furthermore, in most of the world's puppet theatres, great pains have been taken to hide the manipulation of the puppeteers from the audience. There are several methods of achieving this: suspending the puppet from strings attached to the ceiling, as with marionettes; placing a hand within the puppet and moving it with the fingers, as with guignol puppets; and casting shadows upon a screen, as with the wayan kulit shadow puppets. But in Bunraku, the manipulators appear openly, in full view of the audience. These two characteristics, which make it completely different from the other puppet theatre traditions around the world, can be said to be the reason that Bunraku is called the most highly developed puppet theatre art in the world.
 


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