The grand festival (Chiryu Festival) of Chiryu Shrine is held in Chiryu City, Aichi Prefecture, from May 2 to 3 once every two years. It is a historic festival, which began in 1653. The festival is famous for Bunraku performance. It is designated as a National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property.
It is unique in the way that Bunraku in Chiryu is performed on the floats. It began in 1747 and has a history of 250 years. Currently, various plays from the traditional Bunraku repertoires are performed on the four floats.
There is also one more float participating in the festival, where Bunraku by Karakuri dolls is performed. It is a very unique performance in that only dolls perform a thorough play from the Bunraku repertoires. Since it requires a high level of techniques in operating the dolls, it is also designated as a National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property.
Abeno Seimei is a legendary figure known as the master of Onmyoudou, a traditional esoteric cosmology based on Chinese Five Elements and Yin and Yang. His portrait appeared in Konjyaku Monogatari (stories, modern and ancient) in Heian Period and Ujishuui Monogatari in Kamakura Period. His legendary stories have also been passed down in a number of Kabuki and Bungaku plays.
Much of his birth and life remain a mystery. It is said that since childhood he had the power to see mysterious phenomena. Later he studied under Kamono Tadayuki, a master of Yin and Yang philosophy, and voraciously absorbed knowledge of astrology, the calendar and divination. It is said he was able to manipulate the soul, metamorphosing freely, called “Shikigami”, cure the sick and was even able to master the power to bring rain. Above all, his characteristics are said to come from his ability to read space-time and decipher secrets of the calendar. He wrote some guide books including “Senji-ryakketsu”, which theorize the relationship between Chinese Five Elements and divination.
Seimei lived until he was 85 years old which was quite rare at that time. After his death, his descendants became known as Tsuchimikado Clan and retained the political power behind the history. Even today, Abe Seimei fascinates people and Abe Seimei Shrine in Kyoto, a shrine dedicated to him, attracts many visitors.
Bunraku is a traditional puppet theater comprising three key elements: puppet performers, a chanter and a shamisen player. During the performance, puppets are manipulated by skilled performers while a chanter recites to the sound of a shamisen guitar. Their performance is enchanting and inexplicably erotic and spectators are captivated by the elegance of the puppets movement. Kiho Bunraku is a Bunraku that has been passed down for generations in the southern part of Ehime prefecture.
In the early Edo period, there were three puppet theater groups considered the best in the land. One of them, dating back more than four hundred years was Awaji Puppet Theater troupe lead by Kamimura Heitayuu. Their performance has been passed down in this region along with the puppets and complete sets of costumes during Meiji period, which have been carefully preserved to this day. Among them, thirty nine of the doll’s heads, which were created by Tenngusa who was considered a master artisan, were especially highly regarded and have been designated as tangible folklore cultural assets by the prefecture. The puppet performers are also designated as intangible cultural assets by the Kihoku Town.
In order to preserve Bunraku and nurture its successors, Kihoku Bunraku Preservation and Kihoku Bunraku Kouenkai were formed and they have been actively involved in performing at schools and senior centers. They also perform with other nearby Bunraku groups every few years.
Anori ningyo shibai is a puppet play performed at the Anori Jinja Temple in Ago-cho, Shima-shi, Mie Prefecture. This puppet play has been passed down as a form of dedication to gods during festivals at Anori Jinja, and is a folk entertainment with a history of about 400 years.
Anori ningyo shibai dates back to 1592, when the Lord of Shima, Kuki Yoshitaka, visited and prayed at Anori-no-Hachimangu (today's Anori Jinja) before participating in the Bunroku-no-Eki (Toyotomi Hideyoshi's Invasion of Korea). Kuki was successful in Korea. On his return, to show his gratitude for the divine protection he was given, he ordered a puppet performance, which is thought to be the origin of the Anori ningyo shibai.
What is unique about Anori ningyo shibai is that each doll takes three people to maneuver. Although it is difficult to synchronize their movements, having three people operating one doll enables them to perform a variety of gestures, motions and dynamic movements. This performance in which three people maneuver one doll can only be seen in Bunraku puppetry. In 1980, Anori ningyo shibai was designated as a significant intangible folk cultural asset of Japan.
Naoshima-onna-bunraku is a form of traditional puppetry that has been designated as an intangible cultural asset of Kagawa Prefecture.
It dates back to the Edo period from its beginnings on Naoshima island in Kagawa Prefecture. Naoshima island is in the Seto Inland Sea, near Shikoku, the smallest and least populated of Japan's four main islands. Naoshima is close to Okayama Prefecture on the mainland in Honshu.
During the Edo period, the fiefdom of the lord of Naoshima (of the Takahara clan) was confiscated, falling under direct government control. The new Edo government lifted prohibitions on entertainment for the public. Entertainments thrived, including Kabuki (traditional Japanese theater where performers wear elaborate make-up) and Noh (classical Japanese drama). The Naoshima-onna-bunraku originated from a form of puppetry, at this time, called Ningyo-jyoururi, in which dolls performed to shamisen music. However, during the Meiji period, bunraku puppetry on Naoshima lost popularity and eventually died out.
However, during the Showa period, the art of Bunraku here was revived and restored by three women, and since then only women have performed Bunraku.
While playing the shamisen, three women maneuver one doll or puppet and narrate a story. Bunraku is indeed a tradition of great substance in Japanese culture.
Surrounded by silent forests in the mountains of Kumamoto Prefecture lies Kyu Seiwa Village. Here, a traditional form of Japanese puppet show known as Seiwa-buranku continues to this day. In 1979, the show was designated as the Kumamoto Important Intangible Cultural Heritage. Bunraku is a traditional form of Japanese puppet theater that involves two types of performances: the puppet show and Joruri, which is a combination of chanting and shamisen playing. Seiwa-bunraku originates from the end of the Edo period. It was performed by strolling troupes between 1848 and 1858 to farmers who loved the Joruri music. The farmers hosted the puppet shows to wish for a good harvest. For a while, Seiwa-bunraku disappeared, however a preservation association was formed after a performance was given during the ceremonies to honour the accession of the Showa Emperor. The association is committed to adhering to and keeping this traditional art form alive. Furthermore, in 1992, the Seiwa Bunraku museum was established, and now Seiwa Village is known as the home of traditional bunraku arts.
National Bunraku Theater is the fourth national theater in Japan. It opened in 1984 as the theater to present Bunraku, an UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage, and other theatrical performances such as Buyo (Japanese traditional dance), Hogaku (Japanese traditional music), Minzoku Geino (folk performing arts), and Engei (traditional popular performing arts). Designed by one of Japan’s representative architects, Kisho Kurokawa, the reminder of yagura (a watch tower), which an approved theater conventionally had in front in the old times, is set up on the upper front of the building. On the first floor inside, pictures of shibai-e (scenes from kabuki plays) painted by Shoshin Hasegawa V are put up in accordance with the plays being performed. The main hall is large enough to equip 800 seats. As its name shows, this theater plays the role of promulgating Bunraku. Bunraku is the traditional puppet theatre that Japan can boasts to the world. It was originally the name of the theatre in which this puppet drama was performed, but gradually it came to be used as the name of the art itself and is today used as the official name of the puppet theatre. Bunraku consists of three parts; joruri or a narrative drama, shamisen music, and the puppets plays. These three components are performed together to create the unique world of Bunraku.