Invitation To  BUNRAKU


Formation period

Various performing arts with a range of origins combined to form a new performing art.

Beginning of the art of narration

The art of narration in collaboration with biwa music
"Shokunin Zukushi Utaawase (Shichijuichiban Shokunin Utaawase)"
Copy of the original manuscript
(Tokyo National Museum collection)

Depiction of the love story of Princess Joruri
"Joruri Junidan No Soshi"
(General Library, The University of Tokyo collection)

In Japan, there was a vocal music lineage where stories such as "Heike Monogatari (The Tale of the Heike)" created in the 13th century are narrated in collaboration with music by instruments such as the biwa (a lute-like instrument). Later, a play entitled "Joruri Hime Monogatari (The Tale of Princess Joruri)" gained popularity, and this type of performing art of narrative music came to be known as "joruri." In around the 16th century, the stringed instrument that was brought from the Ryukyu Kingdom of Okinawa and developed into shamisen came to be used.

Intersection of joruri and doll manipulation

The art of doll manipulation
"Jinrin Kinmo Zui" Vo. 7
(National Diet Library collection)

By the Heian period (around 794–1192), it had become common for doll acrobatics and doll plays to be performed by performance troupes that traveled all around the country. A text entitled, "Kugutsuki (The Diaries of Doll Manipulators)," describes the lives of doll manipulators (kugutsushi) who made a living through the art of doll manipulation. This art of doll manipulation intersects with joruri, forming Ningyo joruri in around 1600 that develops into what we now know as Bunraku.

Flourishing of kojoruri

An early-17th century theater
"Chikujozu Byobu"
(Nagoya city Museum collection)

Ningyo joruri became a boom in Kyoto and Osaka and also spread to Edo. This period witnessed the emergence of various narrators, including those skilled in heroic stories, those skilled in stories of grief, and those who have outstanding musicality. Different schools of Ningyo joruri developed and became popular in various areas of Japan. Joruri up to around the late-17th century is called kojoruri.