enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館



“Bunraku” is a form of puppet theatre featuring three kinds of performer: narrators called “tayu” (太夫), “shamisen” players, and puppeteers called “ningyotsukai” (人形遣い).

The first references to “bunraku” appear in the 20th century. Until then, it was called “ayatsuri joruri” (操り浄瑠璃) or “ningyo joruri” (人形浄瑠璃). “Bunraku” traces its roots back to puppeteers called “kugutsushi” (傀儡師), as well as to traveling performers called “biwa hoshi” (琵琶法師), who narrated the “Heike Monogatari” (平家物語) to the accompaniment of the “biwa” lute. A play titled “Joruri Hime Monogatari” (浄瑠璃姫物語) gained popularity in the late 15th century, and this led to the genre of storytelling being called” joruri” (浄瑠璃). Around this time, the “shamisen” was introduced to the Japanese mainland, and the “shamisen” started accompanying the “joruri” plays. By around 1600, “shamisen”-accompanied “joruri” had become fused with the puppetry techniques of puppeteers known as “ebisukaki” (夷舁). Now that storytelling, “shamisen” accompaniment, and puppetry were combined, the template for “ningyo joruri” (puppet “joruri”) was in place.

In 1684, Takemoto Gidayu founded a puppet theatre called Takemotoza(竹本座)in Dotonbori, Osaka. Takemoto established a new style of chanted narration called “gidayubushi” (義太夫節; Gidayu music), which differed from the narration in “kojoruri” (古浄瑠璃),the “joruri” plays that came before. Meanwhile, dramatist Chikamatsu Monzaemon was penning outstanding “joruri” plays.The combination of “gidayubushi” and these plays proved a hit, significantly extending the boundaries of “ningyo joruri”. The mid-18th century was the high watermark for “ningyo joruri”. During this time, a number of masterpieces emerged, including “Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami” (菅原伝授手習鑑), “Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura” (義経千本桜), and “Kanadehon Chushingura” (仮名手本忠臣蔵). These plays soon became adapted for “kabuki”, and they continue to be staged in both “kabuki” and “bunraku” theatres to this day. In the 19th century, “bunraku” focused on refining existing plays rather than producing new ones. During this time, “ningyo joruri” became known as “Bunraku no Shibai” (文楽の芝居; Bunraku Theatre), after the name of a theatre promoter Bunrakuken. Subsequently, it became known as “bunraku”.

Today’s “bunraku” retains the plotlines and puppetry techniques perfected in the 18th century. As such, it serves as one of the key examples of Japanese classical theatre alongside “noh”,” kyogen”, and “kabuki”, and performances are still held, primarily in the National Bunraku Theatre (Osaka) and the National Theatre (Tokyo).

Note: On the panels, as for the order of the name of the Japanese person, their family name is written first, and then their given name.