1. Sado Archive
  2. Bunya Puppet Theater

Bunya Puppet Theater

Bunya-bushi is a form of traditional Japanese narrative music accompanied by a shamisen (Japanese lute) which used to be performed on Sado Island during the Edo period as an art form for the blind. Then it came to be used during puppet theater performances until in 1872 it was established as a set - Bunya Puppet Theater.
The structure of the puppets and the way they were manipulated changed during their development into puppet theatre. Instead of inserting the hand from underneath, the back of the kimono was split vertically and the left hand was inserted through the split to grab the stick that formed the body, the head was moved by wrapping a thread around the middle finger, and the right hand was inserted into the right sleeve of the garment.
This allowed for a wider range of emotional expression and quicker movement compared to Bunraku Puppet Theater, since the puppets could be manipulated by one puppeteer instead of three and the head could still move back and forth and from side to side.
From the Meiji Period (1868~) through the Taisho period (~1925), Bunya puppets were widely popular among the islanders, and at its peak there were more than 40 theatres. However, the number of successors began to decline, and by the end of WW II they were on the verge of extinction.
Against this background, the Sado Puppet Theatre Preservation Society was established in 1977 to preserve these puppets on the island. In that year, it was designated an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Asset by the national government, and each troupe strives to train successors to preserve it.
Currently, they can be seen at festivals and performing arts events in various regions – for example at Osaki Soba no Kai in December and February.