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Discover BUNRAKU|BUNRAKU for Beginners

Monday,17th December 7:00 pm (scheduled to end at 9:25 pm)
4,000yen / Student 1,500yen (including tax)
Online Sale & Telephone Reservation
from 7th November 10:00 am
Box Office Sale
from 8th November 10:00 am
Buy tickets
0570-07-9900 (Domestic Call Only)|03-3230-3000 (IP phone)
'What's Bunraku'


This performance “Discover BUNRAKU” consists of two parts to guide you to
the world of BUNRAKU,

  1. BUNRAKU Guidance

    "How to Appreciate BUNRAKU in English"

    "Discover BUNRAKU" will start with an introduction to Bunraku by Stuart Varnam - Atkin, who will also involve some demonstrations.


    (Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy)

    It is one of the three great masterpieces of Bunraku and Kabuki. This is a jidaimono (period drama) piece that features the deification legend of Sugawara no Michizane, who is a renowned scholar and politician (845-903) and is later enshrined as the god of scholarship, as well as the activities of the triplets who have a connection with Michizane.


English, Chinese(Mandarin), Korean, Spanish, French and Japanese at the theatre:Free!

Enjoy with English subtitles above the stage.


BUNRAKU is one of Japan’s representative traditional performing arts, designated an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2003.

It was in Osaka that Bunraku has been developed over 300 years. It is a closely collaborative form which synchronizes narrative recitation, shamisen music and puppetry in performance and is praised as the most highly sophisticated puppet theatre art in the world. The narrator, Tayu, portrays not only the voices and emotions of all characters but also the locations and seasonal scenes of the story by himself. Shamisen player acts out the lines of the play and the characters’ appearance and personality. One puppet is operated by three puppeteers, which is very unique in the world. The main puppeteer manipulate the head and right hand, and the left hand and legs are operated by each puppeteer.

For details, please see Invitation To Bunraku . You can learn more about BUNRAKU before the performance.

Invitation to Bunraku


Message from Stuart Varnam-Atkin, Navigator of BUNRAKU Guidance

It is a great honour and pleasure to be able to present this Discover BUNRAKU event on the National Theatre stage. As an actor, storyteller and avid theatregoer, I have been fascinated by Bunraku ever since my visits to the Asahi-za theatre in Osaka in the 1970s. I look forward to introducing the aural and visual elements that make up this unique theatrical world, and I hope you will enjoy my interaction with the highly skilled and dedicated professionals, both humans and puppets, who perform it. I also hope you will take every chance to see and hear their performances in the future, both the tragic and deeply moving as well as the amusing and supernatural.

NavigatorKATSURA Kaishi (Rakugo Storyteller)

Stuart Varnam-Atkin was born in England and graduated from Oxford University. His work includes acting, narrating, writing and TV work. He co-presented NHK TV’s Trad Japan and is currently a presenter on the TV series Walking with Writers (Open University of Japan). He is the regular narrator for Japan Video Topics (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and a sumo commentator on NHK. His books include The Best of Japanese Culture (IBC) and Trad Japan Mod Nippon (NHK).

Story of SUGAWARA DENJU TENARAI KAGAMI (Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy)

This piece depicts the struggle and suffering of Takebe Genzo, who was a retainer of the renowned but overthrown politician and scholar Sugawara no Michizane (called Kan Shojo in the play) and now runs a village school (terakoya), and his wife Tonami, in their frantic efforts to save the life of Kan Shusai, the son of Kan Shojo. Their hardship are combined with the emotional conflicts of Matsuomaru and his wife Chiyo, who received favors of Kan Shojo but now serve his archenemy Fujiwara no Shihei.

Takebe Genzo is a master for a small village school (terakoya) located deep in the mountains far from Kyoto (a capital at the time). Entrusted to look after Kan Shojo’s only son Kan Shusai, Genzo gives shelter to him and fosters him as his real son. While Genzo is away, a boy who wants to enter the school visits with his mother. His name is Kotaro, and his mother Chiyo enroll him and then leaves the school.

Genzo comes back with a terrified look on his face. It has been revealed that he is hiding Kan Shusai, and he was ordered to surrender the boy’s head. He searches for someone among the children at the school to serve as a substitute but no one resembles his master’s son. When Tonami comes with the newly enrolled Kotaro, Genzo sees Kotaro resembles Kan Shusai in his well-bred manner and resolves to use him as the substitute.

The retainers of Fujiwara no Shihei, Shundo Genba and Matsuomaru arrive. Matsuomaru, who can recognize Kan Shusai’s face, accompanies Genba to verify whether the head is truly that of the boy. Pressured to behead the boy, Genzo reluctantly decapitates Kotaro and hands over Matsuomaru the bucket that the head is put in. Matsuomaru declares that the head is genuine, and the retainers leave the place with the head in their hands.

Genzo and Tonami are relieved by the success of their plan, but Kotaro’s mother Chiyo then comes to pick up her son. When Genzo tries to cut her down to prevent exposure of their secret, Chiyo dodges a sword, and surprises the two by asking whether her son succeeded in serving as the substitute for Kan Shusai. Matsuomaru then appears in this scene. The truth is that Kotaro was the only son of Matsuomaru and Chiyo. Although Matsuomaru now serves the villain Shihei, he had long wanted to be of service to Kan Shojo, to whom he was deeply indebted.

Matsuomaru had also helped Midaidokoro, Kan Shusai’s mother and a wife of Kan Shojo. She finally is able to reunite with her son after this incident. With everything now out in the open, Kotaro’s funeral takes place. Matsuomaru and Chiyo give farewell to their son, with the joy of having rescued Kan Shusai along with the grief over the loss of their only child.

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Instant Info

Tickets Now on Sale!

Online Sale & Telephone Reservation
from Wednesday, 7th November 2018, 10:00 am (GMT+8:00)
Box Office sale
from Thursday, 8th November 2018, 10:00 am (GMT+8:00)
4,000yen / Student 1,500yen (including tax)
Buy Tickets

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