Visit backstage the traditional art of the “Awaji Ningyo Joruri” puppet show
Awaji Puppet Theater Company, a specialized theater for traditional Awaji Island puppet shows (Ningyo Joruri), offers a backstage tour. This traditional art is designated as a National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Asset. Why don't you try this behind the scenes learning experience?
Knowing the secrets of the stage greatly enhances one’s appreciation of the play!
Head over to the Awaji Puppet Theater near Fukura port
The Awaji Puppet Theater is situated in front of the Fukura port where the popular “whirlpool cruise” boat departs. The main entrance is accessible via an outside stairway. The multilingual audio guide is available at the reception. As the audio explains about the play, listening beforehand will be is very helpful to attain a deeper understanding of the play. You should check the schedule on the official website, as different plays are performed every month.
The play we attended and were allowed to visit backstage was “Ebisu Mai” (Ebisu is the patron god of fishermen and tradesmen; mai means dance) which started out as the first production of the Awaji Nigyo Joruri theater. You may have to spend a little time at the waiting room in front of the theater before the tour starts, but it’s well worth it.
Visit backstage and learn about the stage structure and settings
We were first given an explanation of the stage structure by a puppeteer. In his introductory lecture, he described the terminology and setting devices of the Ningyo Joruri stage using illustrations and videos. After this interesting introduction, it was time to go backstage. Photography is allowed backstage, so don't forget to bring your camera!
Find out about stage tricks and precious cultural properties on a real theater stage.
Next, we got up on the theater stage. A part of stage’s lower floor, called funazoko (literal meaning: ship bottom), is not visible from the audience side. This helps the acting puppets stay on the audience’s eye level. After, we could check all the other stage features, one example being the fusuma painting panel, known as dogugaeshi on Awaji island, which changes frequently according to scenes in the background.
They also brought down the costume collection poles “Isho-yama” that are usually only lowered from above between the scenes. These beautiful kimonos for the puppets were arranged hanging on these poles in lines. We could see the costumes from 120~130 years ago. They told us these gorgeous kimonos would cost about 50,000 dollars in total! It was a luxurious experience to see them up close.
After the backstage tour, the time arrived for the actual Awaji’s traditional performance art
The backstage tour finished as we passed through an auxiliary stage for a tayu, the narrator of the play and a shamisen instrument player. When we returned back to the audience hall, puppeteers showed us how to control the puppets. It was amazing to see the puppets in their hands looking so alive! We watched the subtle smooth movements of its hands and head while listening to the explanations step by step. Finally, the performance of the "Ebisu Mai" began. This was a fortune-bringing play in which Ebisu, the god of good fortune, ended up granting wishes. A chosen wish from participants was read on stage and we cheered and clapped loudly so that the wishes would come true. When the performance ends, you can take a commemorative photo with Ebisu. Let’s have a good omen for good things to come!