Ningyo joruri is a traditional Japanese performance art that utilizes puppets, with each operated by three people, to act out different stories. It's also known as Bunraku. In 2003, it was registered as a UNESCO Intangible World Heritage.
The History of Ningyo Joruri
Ningyo joruri came in to fashion around the year 1400 and started with a love story about a beautiful rich man's daughter called Joruri-hime. In addition, ningyo joruri was born from combining the joruri narrator (a type of dramatic recitation accompanied by a shamisen) and the art of using puppets. Although Kansai is the center of ningyo joruri, it broke off into several schools and spread as far as Edo (old name of Tokyo).
Three Roles on the Ningyo Joruri Stage
Three people operate each puppet. They are covered in black clothing, but in some cases they show their faces during important scenes. The narrator of the drama called "tayu," cleverly expresses the world of the story by playing the part of several characters and depicting the scene among other roles. Music is also important in ningyo joruri. In bunraku, they use a futozao which has a deeper sound than a normal shamisen (three-stringed guitar).
How to Enjoy Ningyo Jurori
During the performance there are a many words and expressions that are different from present Japan and can be difficult to understand. However, the theater also offers earphone guides, with which you can hear thorough explanations, or you can borrow monitors that show subtitles.
Ningyo Joruri in Various Areas
Ningyo joruri is also being performed in halls and theaters of rural areas outside the large cities. At the National Bunraku Theatre located in Chuei, Osaka-shi, Osaka, you can also enjoy Noh among other traditional performance arts.
The Ningyo Joruri Program
Ningyo jururi is divided into jidaimono, which are stories from before the Edo period (1603 to 1868), sewamono, which depict the daily lives of the common people, and keigoto, which has more focus on music. The most common example of jidaimono is Yoshitsune Senbonzakura, while Sonezaki Shinju is for sewamono, and Gojo Ohashi for keigoto.
*This information is from the time of this article's publication.