The National Bunraku Theatre is an arts centre designed is to preserve, develop and pass on traditional arts forms from the Osaka and Kyoto area called the Kamigata. The main art form the centre focuses on is a type of puppet drama known as Ningyo Joruri or Bunraku.
There are only a few puppet plays every year and the season runs for a two week run. The puppets have been popular for centuries and during the Edo period the shows become very popular with common Japanese people.
Today the National Bunraku Theatre is one of only a few places in the world where you can see this fascinating art form. English programs and translations through ear pieces are available for most shows.
The centre also is home to other forms of art when the Bunraku is not performing. The centre also has a major role in archiving historical material relating to the bunraku and the Osaka area’s performing arts. Opening in 1984, the building is quite interesting as it was constructed with a mix of traditional and modern Japanese architecture. There are key elements from the traditional Edo era incorporated throughout the buildings technologically advanced design.
The puppet show itself is quite unique and is probably the most sophisticated form of puppetry found in the world. There are no strings, the puppeteers hide by dressing in black robes and sometimes wear black hoods, but at the National Bunraku Theatre the main puppeteer is often unhooded. The puppets are quite large, being about half the size of an adult person. Three people are needed to control the main characters.
The plays are usually based on a traditional story with conflicts between social or moral obligations and human emotion. One of the most famous of the bunraku playwrights is Chikamatsu Monzaemon who dates back to the 17th century. In fact the puppet shows date back to around the 10th or 11th century when they were entertaining people in nearby towns to Osaka and Kyoto, as well as Awaji Island on the Sento Island Sea.
The easiest way to visit the theatre is by catching the train to Namba subway station, take the Sennichi-mae subway line one stop east to Nippon-bashi Station. Exit 7 will bring you right outside the theatre.