Bunraku’s First OneriDisplaying appeal of traditional puppet theater in Asakusa Third set of Nippon Bunraku Project performances

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The oneri procession along Nakamise-dori

Many tourists delighted by the spectacle

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The oneri procession at Kaminarimon, the main gate to Sensoji
Bunraku puppet theater is one of Japan’s representative traditional art forms, and the world’s first Bunraku oneri was held on October 14 in Asakusa, one of Tokyo’s most popular tourist destinations. An oneri is a procession by actors to announce a series of performances, and is usually associated with Kabuki theater. This oneri was held to announce the third set of performances of the Nippon Bunraku Project, which seeks to demonstrate the appeal of traditional Japanese culture, on a specially built outdoor stage on the grounds of Asakusa’s Sensoji temple. The puppeteers and other performers proceeded with their elegant puppets along Nakamise-dori, the narrow shop-lined street that leads to Sensoji, attracting the attention of many visiting tourists.
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Proceeding to Sensoji’s main hall (the smoke is from burning insence at the hall’s entrance)
Bunraku, originally known as ningyo joruri, is an art form that combines chanted narration, shamisen (a three-stringed instrument) accompaniment, and puppetry. The Nippon Foundation launched the project in 2014 to promote Bunraku, based on the concept of being able to watch the performance up close, while eating and drinking, in an outdoor, open atmosphere. The first set of performances was held at the Roppongi Hills complex in Tokyo in March 2015, and the second set was held at Naniwa-no-Miya Park in Osaka in October 2015. The third set, held October 15-18,* was titled “Nippon Bunraku in Asakusa Kannon” (Asakusa Kanon is another name for Sensoji).
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The Nippon Foundation Chairman Yohei Sasakawa speaks in front of Sensoji’s main hall
Oneri is generally associated with the world of Kabuki, and this was the first time the ceremony was conducted for a Bunraku performance, even in Osaka, where Bunraku originated. The procession was led by a large banner that read “Nippon Bunraku” in large letters, traditional criers announcing the procession, and a Buddhist priest from Sensoji, followed by the puppeteers, narrators and shamisen accompanists who would be performing, Yohei Sasakawa, Chairman of The Nippon Foundation, Masayuki Nakamura, director and executive producer of the Yokohama Noh Theater and the project’s overall producer, and representatives of the Asakusa tourism and merchants’ associations. Many Japanese and non-Japanese tourists took pictures as they slowly proceeded from Sensoji’s Kaminarimon main gate to the main hall.
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After the oneri, puppeteer Tamao Yoshida, shamisen accompanist Tomisuke Toyozawa, puppeteer Kazuo Yoshida, and narrator Mutsumidayu Toyotake (left to right) answer questions in front of the stage area
In front of the main hall, Mr. Sasakawa welcomed members of the media and other onlookers. He was followed by Kazuo Yoshida, one of the puppeteers, who spoke on behalf of the artists and introduced the plays to be performed. Next, Mr. Nakamura spoke briefly about the history of Bunraku and his hopes that the audiences would enjoy the open-air performances in the historic entertainment district of Asakusa. Next, prayers for a successful performance were offered at the main hall. The stage, which was set up behind the main hall, can be knocked down, moved, and reassembled. Outfitted with gold decorations and fixtures, the stage is made of Japanese cypress from Yoshino, a region near Nara famous for this type of wood, which is the standard material for Bunraku stages. The cotton curtain was dyed with the letters “Nippon Bunraku” using traditional techniques, and Tokyo Skytree was visible above the back of the stage roof.

Third set of performances is a big success

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Photo of the Bunraku stage, with Tokyo Skytree in the background.
The first performance took place in the afternoon of October 15, and the theater was filled to capacity with roughly 350 people attending. Under a bright, sunny autumn sky, the audience watched two plays with the sounds of the shamisen and narration reverberating in the open air. During the intermission, the roles of the shamisen and narration were explained, and people lined up to have their pictures taken with the puppets.
  • The original schedule was for an afternoon and evening performance to be held every day during October 15-18, but both the afternoon and evening performances on October 17 had to be cancelled because of rain.
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Scenes from the performances

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