AWAJI NINGYÔ JÔRURI

AWAJI NINGYÔ JÔRURI - National Intangible Folk Cultural Asset

Sanbasô

Ningyô-jôruri, literally meaning ‘puppet’ and ‘narrative’, is one of the representative Japanese traditional theaters along with kabuki, which has been popular among ordinary people for 400 years. A narrator called the “tayû” and a three stringed lute shamisen player collaborate to accompany the puppets’ performance on a stage. Usually, one puppet is operated by three puppeteers. If operated by skilled puppeteers, a puppet can create a beautiful and strong expression which looks sometimes more ‘real’ than a human being.

AWAJI NINGYÔ JÔRURI

The puppet heads used in Awaji ningyô are larger than that of Bunraku. A dynamic performance by the bigger size of puppets and special feature of the quick change of costumes and stage settings attracts people. In addition, religious puppet tradition is still surviving in Awaji. Every new year, Sanbasô, a sacred puppet, pays a visit to homes on the island to give people a blessing. Seaside villages welcome the auspicious Ebisu-mai, a dance of the Fishing and Shipping god, to pray for a large catch and safe sailing. The jôruri narrative has also taken such a firm hold that a genre of folk song ‘danjiri-uta’ has been derived from it, which is often sung on festive occasions.

The puppet heads used in Awaji ningyô are larger than that of Bunraku. A dynamic performance by the bigger size of puppets and special feature of the quick change of costumes and stage settings attracts people. In addition, religious puppet tradition is still surviving in Awaji. Every new year, Sanbasô, a sacred puppet, pays a visit to homes on the island to give people a blessing. Seaside villages welcome the auspicious Ebisu-mai, a dance of the Fishing and Shipping god, to pray for a large catch and safe sailing. The jôruri narrative has also taken such a firm hold that a genre of folk song ‘danjiri-uta’ has been derived from it, which is often sung on festive occasions.

Thus ningyô-jôruri has been popular for hundreds of years in Awaji. It was, however, endangered by such new forms of entertainment as movie, radio, and TV after World War II. Many puppet troupes ceased to perform until finally the Awaji-ningyô-za is the only remaining active theater today.

Maestra shamisen player Tsuruzawa Tomoji

Awaji-ningyô-za, taking over the tradition of Yoshida Denjiro-za, one of the big theaters in Awaji, has given performances abroad several times as well as their daily regular show at their home theater on the island which receives much acclaim. Eighteen members (9 male, 9 female), including Maestra shamisen player Tsuruzawa Tomoji (1913- ), designated as a ‘living national treasure’, try hard to present the rich world of human emotions and feelings realized by a strong narrative, deep sound of shamisen, and superb operation of puppets. We hope the audience enjoys the essence of this marvelous theater art, born as a flower of the Edo culture, developed and handed down through many generations here in Awaji.