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Discover BUNRAKU|BUNRAKU for Beginners

9th and 14th December,2019 7:00 pm(scheduled to end at 9:10 pm)
TICKET PRICE (including tax)
4,100yen / Student 1,500yen
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 & International calls)
'What's Bunraku'


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

  1. Guidance:‘Introducing the Unique World of Bunraku’Navigator (in English) = Stuart Varnam-Atkin

    Stuart Varnam-Atkin will present an introduction to Bunraku, including demonstrations by the human performers and the puppets.

  2. Performance: Kikai-ga Shima (from the play Heike Nyogo no Shima)

    This scene from the popular masterpiece by Chikamatsu Monzaemon, the ‘Shakespeare of Japan’, focuses on the tragic events surrounding the high priest Shunkan, who was exiled to a remote island after a failed conspiracy to overthrow the Heike clan.
    Top performers, a spectacular mobile set, emotional dialogue, and a heartbreaking climax… It’s a thrilling and moving experience.


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).

A View from the Stalls (by Stuart Varnam-Atkin, Japanologist and writer)

300 Years of Shunkan

I was delighted to be invited as the English guide for this year’s Discover BUNRAKU, and I hope you will find my introduction to the unique world of Bunraku interesting and informative.

Part II of the event will feature Kikai-ga Shima, a famous act from Heike Nyogo no Shima, the popular masterpiece written by the great playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725). This will commemorate the 300th anniversary of its first performance in Osaka in 1719. The play focuses on the tragic events surrounding an actual historical figure, the high priest Shunkan, who was exiled to a remote island with two fellow aristocrats after their failed conspiracy to overthrow the leader of the Heike clan. The act is named after the island (which literally means ‘The Island of Demons’), but it’s commonly known as Shunkan.

Watching this powerful performance will perhaps make it clear why Chikamatsu has long been known as the ‘Shakespeare of Japan’. The playwrights both found their themes in contemporary life as well as the chronicles of past events. This play is derived from a story in the 13th century Heike Monogatari (The Tale of the Heike), as is December’s main Bunraku programme (Ichinotani Futaba Genki).

It includes passion, compassion, companionship, love, hope, remorse, relief, revenge, respect, rage, cruelty, arrogance, loneliness, anticipation, disappointment, shock, sadness, and despair… Chikamatsu plumbs the psychological depths, and the onstage emotions ebb and flow like the Prussian blue waves of the Pacific Ocean that serve as the striking backdrop.

Chikamatsu considers what it is to be human, to be alive, and to co-exist with others, using exquisite language and a fine sense of dramatic flow, including some surprises and truly shocking moments.

Top performers, a variety of costumes, a spectacular mobile set, emotional dialogue, and a heartbreaking climax… It’s sure to be a thrilling and moving experience.

Tickets Now on Sale!

Online Sale & Telephone Reservation
from Thursday, 7th November 2019, 10:00 am (GMT+8:00)
Box Office Sale
from Friday, 8th November 2019, 10:00 am (GMT+8:00)
4,100yen / Student 1,500yen(including tax)
Buy Tickets
Box Office

OPEN 10:00 am-6:00 pm

0570-07-9900 (Domestic call only)

(IP phone & International calls)


National Theatre (Tokyo)

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Tokyo 102-8656

Telephone : 03-3265-7411

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