World Travel 2013-2014, Bunraku and the Lights of Namba

Today was a rather fun day. In the morning we headed out to Namba Nankai Station in Osaka to go to the National Bunraku Theatre. Bunraku is a traditional art form which involves puppets being operated by up to three people while accompanied by a narrator and shamisen player. I had done a bit of research on Bunraku about two years ago when we first came to Japan, as I was interested in seeing a performance, especially as it originated in Osaka.

There are only a few seasons each year for Bunraku, with each season running for 3 weeks. Fortunately for us, one of those seasons occurs at the New Year and we were in Osaka and had the time to head along to a performance. We opted for the morning session (part 1 of 2) which started at 11am, and I’m not sure what I was thinking the performance would be like, but I was a bit surprised. The first act called ‘Ninin Kamuro’ (Two Apprentice Geisha) lasted for only 10 minutes featuring two geisha apprentice puppets dancing to music; however, the following two acts were a lot longer. The second act, ‘Gempei Nunobiki no Taki’ (The Nunobiki Waterfall) went for about an hour and a half and was a rather dramatic story about two clans struggling for power against each other and the lengths a family went through to protect the heir of one of the clans. The amount of emotion that the three puppeteers were able to convey through each puppet was amazing.

The final act ‘Kesei Koibikyaku’ (The Courier for Hell) is a love story of a young man who illegally uses money from his employer to free a prostitute and run away with her so that they can commit a double suicide. Yeap, not exactly light hearted stuff but the story was brilliantly portrayed through the puppets, narrator and shamisen player. It wasn’t until three and a half hours later that we managed to see daylight again and begin the hunt for food at 2:30pm. It’s amazing to think that the three acts we saw were only small segments from plays which would normally take a full day to perform.

The rest of our day was spent wandering around the Namba area hunting for gifts and checking out the light displays. If you’re ever in Osaka during the Bunraku theatre run, definitely give it a go. Second class tickets are 2,300 yen (about $25 AUD); however, I’d highly recommend getting the audio guide as well (650 yen or about $8 AUD) as it helps with understanding the story and provides a lot of background information on Bunraku, the puppets and actors, stage as well as the performances.

Leave a Reply