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Discover BUNRAKU|BUNRAKU for Beginners

14th December,2020 7:00 pm(scheduled to end at 9:10 pm)
TICKET PRICE (tax included)
4,100 yen / Students 1,600 yen
Online Booking & Telephone Reservation
from 14th November 10:00 am
Counter Sales at the Theatre
from 15th 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 (in English)

    Navigated by Stuart Varnam-Atkin, it includes an explanation of the stage and interactions with a narrator, a shamisen player, puppeteers and puppets.

  2. Performance:‘Kuzunoha Kowakare’from Ashiya Doman Ouchi Kagami.

    This 1734 play with supernatural elements tells the legendary story of a boy who would one day become a master court astrologer, including his mother’s emotional parting from him. It was the very first play in which each main puppet had three operators, which made possible some spectacular stage effects, such as the mother’s transformation into her real animal form!


English 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 Discover BUNRAKU on the National Theatre stage as we end this very difficult year for both performers and audiences. As an actor, storyteller and avid theatregoer, I’ve been fascinated by Bunraku ever since I first saw a performance in Osaka in the 1970s. It’s a fascinating theatrical experience that is truly a feast for the ears and eyes. I hope you will enjoy my interactions with the narrators, shamisen players, puppeteers and puppets and you, too, will realize just how cool Bunraku is!

Navigator KATSURA Kaishi (Rakugo Storyteller)

Stuart was born in England and graduated from Oxford University. He has lived in Japan since the 1970s, teaching, narrating, writing and acting. His TV work includes co-presenting Trad Japan (NHK) and Walking with Writers (Open University of Japan), sumo commentating, and voice coaching Japanese actors. He narrates Japan Video Topics for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and his books include The Best of Japanese Culture (IBC), Trad Japan Mod Nippon (NHK) and Great Dialogues from the World of Shakespeare (Japan Times).

Ashiya Doman Ouchi Kagami

Part II features a full performance of a famous act from the play Ashiya Doman Ouchi Kagami. First performed in 1734, it’s a work with supernatural elements that has a special place in history as the very first in which each of the main puppets was handled by a team of three operators.

This development had tremendous effects on the lifelike appearance that could be created, not least of which was the addition of feet and the illusion that the characters were really walking and sitting. This was further enhanced when movable mouths, fingers, eyebrows and eyes were introduced shortly afterwards. The ‘Golden Age of Puppet Theatre’ that followed included the creation of three masterpieces: Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami (1746), Yoshitsune Senbonzakura (1747) and Kanadehon Chushingura (1748).

Ashiya Doman Ouchi Kagami is based on a 10th century legend involving the rivalry of master court astrologers. One of them, Ashiya Doman, appears in Kuzunoha Kowakare as a small insect-killing boy called Doji. Foxes have long been imbued with magical powers, including the ability to transform themselves into humans, and the boy’s mother, Kuzunoha, is actually a fox in disguise. At the heart of the Act is her gradual return to vulpine form. Before her emotional parting from her son, she writes a poem to him and his father on the shoji doors, holding the brush in her mouth.

If you miss Kuzunoha,

In Shinoda Forest,

In Izumi Province,

You will find her,

Filled with regrets.

The actual writing cannot be done effectively on the Bunraku stage, so it’s left to our imagination, but there are other spectacular effects in store, proving just how cool Bunraku can be (no spoilers).
Incidentally, according to the legend, father and son did go and find Kuzunoha in the forest, and, thanks to her, little Doji was able to understand the language of animals, just like Dr. Dolittle.

Tickets Now on Sale!

Online Booking & Telephone Reservation
from Saturday, 14th November 2020, 10:00 am (GMT+8:00)
Counter Sales at the Theatre
from Sunday, 15th November 2020, 10:00 am (GMT+8:00)
4,100 yen / Students 1,600 yen(tax included)
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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