Fans of Bunraku and traditional puppet theater take note: the Awaji puppet troupe will be performing at the National Theater in Tokyo on January 27 and 28!
[Update, Nov. 29: I’ve just learned both performances are sold out.]
This is a rare opportunity to see the Awaji puppets away from their home base on Awajishima, the largest island in Japan’s Inland Sea. I was there last week, where I got my first look at Awaji Ningyo Joruri 淡路人形浄瑠璃. It’s a very old form of theater that combines puppets with dramatic recitation and shamisen accompaniment. I saw a scene from a play called the Keisei Awa Naruto 傾城阿波鳴門. The figures cloaked in black are the performers manipulating the puppets. Three for each puppet. You’re supposed to pretend you don’t see them.
This art form evolved from the religious and ritual use of puppets. Once upon a time, puppet artists from Awaji Island were known throughout the country with more than 1,000 performers in some 40 troupes performing on the island and throughout Japan. Uemera Burakuken, who founded the Bunraku Puppet Theater in Osaka in the 19th century, originally came from Awaji Island. I’d love to see Awaji puppetry as it was traditionally performed, outdoors and by candlelight.
The Awaji puppet troupe has performed in the United States, France and Spain, but they don’t come to Tokyo very often. Their last performance in the capital was several years ago, also at the National Theater. Here’s a snippet of video from their 2008 performance in New York.
The performance on Friday January 27, which begins at 6:30 pm, will feature the following works: three acts from the play Tamamono no mae Asahi no Tamoto 玉藻前曦袂 — Michiharu Yakata no Dan; 道春館の段; Shinzenen no Dan 神泉苑の段 and Kitsune Nanabake no Dan 狐七化けの段. The program for the Saturday performance, which begins at 1 pm, is Ebisu-mai(Dance of the Fisherman God)戎舞; Amagasaki no Dan 尼ヶ崎の段 from Ehondai Kouki 絵本太功記 and Kuramayama no Dan 鞍馬山の段 from Okushu Hidehira Uhatsu no Hanamuko 奥州秀衡有鬙壻.
Tickets are 3,600 yen for one performance, or 6,600 yen for both. Student tickets are 2,500 yen per performance. You can reserve seats by calling 0570-07-9900 or 03-3230-3000 between 10 and 5. It’s also possible to order tickets online; check out these instructions first. Please note that the performance is listed on the English website not as the Awaji Puppet Theater but as January Japanese Folk Performance.
You can also see Awaji puppet theater pretty much year round on Awaji Island at the Awaji Ningyoza theater. (No English on the website, unfortunately.)