What is Kuruma Ningyo?
As a genre, Japanese puppet theater is not considered a form of entertainment intended primarily for children. Rather, it is a major form of popular entertainment that originated in the days of the samurai warrior elite.
Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo is a form of puppet theater created by Nishikawa Koryu I around the end of the Edo period (the middle of the 19th century). It is called Kuruma Ningyo because the puppeteer sits on a small wooden seat with wheels (rokuro-kuruma) and operates a puppet (ningyo). The use of the rokuro-kuruma was an innovation that enabled each puppet to be manipulated by one person, in contrast to the older form of puppetry called Bunraku, in which three people are needed to operate one puppet.
The puppets are approximately 4 feet tall, some with articulated fingers, hands, eyelids, or mouths. While seated on the rokuro-kuruma the puppeteer manipulates the puppet's right hand directly, while handling the left hand and the head skillfully with his left hand. Pegs beneath the feet of the puppets are grasped between the toes, giving the appearance that the puppets are walking directly on the stage. This direct one-to-one relationship between the puppet and the handler lends energy and realism to the performance, while allowing for flexibility and high-paced performance styles as well as narrative subjects previously outside of the traditional puppetry repertoire.
The puppets enact stories from classical Japanese literature as well as famous events of the more recent Edo period.
The Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo troupe has been designated as an "Intangible Folk Custom Cultural Asset" by both the Tokyo and national governments.
In the past fifteen years, Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo has toured extensively in Europe, Asia, South America, and the United States, often in collaboration with Shinnai performer Tsuruga Wakasanojo XI.