shamisen (instrument)

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Preview screening of Universal Pictures, “Kubo and the two strings”. 3D animation movie for children. Kubo is a Japanese boy who plays shamisen (Japanese traditional musical instrument) and control origami like magic. 

I did a short origami demonstration there. It was good to meet many children who came and showed me their origami samurai hats.

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Ena Bunraku

Hiroshi Watanabe 


Description from Wiki:  “Bunraku (文楽), also known as Ningyō jōruri (人形浄瑠璃), is a form of traditional Japanese puppet theatre, founded in Osaka in 1684. Three kinds of performers take part in a bunraku performance: the Ningyōtsukai or Ningyōzukai (puppeteers), the Tayū (chanters) and shamisen musicians. Occasionally other instruments such as taikodrums will be used.

The most accurate term for the traditional puppet theater in Japan is ningyō jōruri (人形浄瑠璃). The combination of chanting and shamisen playing is called jōruri and the Japanese word for puppet (or dolls, generally) is ningyō. It is used in many plays.

Bunraku puppetry has been a documented traditional activity for Japanese for hundreds of years.

Bunraku’s history goes as far back to the turn of the 18th century when Uemura Bunrakuken came to Osaka from Awaji and began his own theatre. Originally, the term Bunraku referred only to the particular theater established in 1805 in Osaka, which was named the Bunrakuza after the puppeteering ensemble of Uemura Bunrakuken (植村文楽軒, 1751-1810), an early 18th-century puppeteer on Awaji, whose efforts revived the flagging fortunes of the traditional puppet theater…

Bunraku puppets

The head

The heads of the puppets (kashira) are divided into categories according to gender, social class and personality. Certain heads are created for specific roles, others can be employed for several different performances by changing the clothing and the paint. The heads are in effect repainted and prepared before each presentation.

The preparation of the hair constitutes an art in and of itself. The hair distinguishes the character and can also indicate certain personality traits. The hair is made from human hair, however yak tail can be added to create volume. The ensemble is then fixed on a copper plate. To ensure that the puppet head is not damaged, the finishing of the hairstyle is made with water and bee’s wax, not oil.

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Q: Is your job difficult? If so, why?

Maiko Umechie of Kamishichiken district answers… yes, it can be difficult sometimes. There is a lot of classes everyday with traditional instruments like shamisen, but the biggest challenge is to understand every guest and take care about them. It’s not easy to be flexible and notice every little detail.