National Bunraku Theater

National Bunraku Theater, Nippombashi: Address, Phone Number, National Bunraku Theater Reviews: 4.5/5

National Bunraku Theater
4.5
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One of the few places where bunraku, traditional Japanese pupper theater, can be enjoyed, this theater combines the latest in theater technology with architectural elements from the Edo period in Japan.
Suggested duration
2-3 hours
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4.5
163 reviews
Excellent
107
Very good
44
Average
9
Poor
1
Terrible
2

lsli88
Renton, WA300 contributions
Family
I'm certainly not a theater/Broadway type of person, so I typically would not visit this type of venue. However, I knew it was a unique aspect of Japanese culture and theater, so I decided to visit anyway. I purchased the tickets online - at the lowest rate (I recall it was 2300 yen), i.e. worst seats, and hoped for the best. You can also buy tickets for single acts, so that's another option for skeptical theater-goers. But you cannot buy single act tickets online. You can only buy single act tickets at the theater.

The first 15 minutes in the theater were the most difficult for me as I was near to falling asleep. However, the storyline picked up for me and I was actually quite interested and entranced for the next 2.5 hours! My interest grew as the story progressed so I think you just need to make it through the initial hump. The storyline is quite complex and intricate. It was explained fairly well by the audio headsets that translated some of the action to English. Unfortunately, it doesn't translate everything said by the narrator, so you do feel like you're missing some of the story. However, it did suffice and the translation was interesting. Nevertheless, you do see and feel much of the action from the puppets/puppetmasters themselves - actions did speak louder than words. The coordination among the puppetmasters (there are three puppeteers for each puppet) was amazing. Actually, I thought the narrators were the stars of the performance as they evoked wide ranging emotion and put all their energy into the performance - it was simply amazing. Each person requires at least 10 years of training - and the lead puppeteer of the puppet requires the equivalent of 30 years of training. It was a one of a kind experience that I'll never forget. Unfortunately, my companion had to leave after 2.75 hours - and I had to leave as well - and I couldn't stay for the final act.

There are a few logistical concerns though. First, be prepared for a 3-4 hour play if you want to see it from beginning to end. Actually, the play takes an entire day - so you buy tickets for either half of the play, so you can actually sit there for eight hours - if you want. Second, some acts are quite long - one act was nearly 1.5 hours in length (while another was 20 minutes), so be sure to go to the restroom after each act. Third, if you go at the 4:30 PM showing like I did, there's a good chance you'll get hungry. There are two sets of intermissions. One intermission was 5 minutes in length and another was nearly 30 minutes in length. The Japanese theater-goers came prepared unlike me. Most brought their own dinner - bento box and ate in the area outside the theater during the long break. We didn't know this - so obviously, I was famished 2.5 hours into the play (another reason why I left before the end of the play). So you may want to bring your own dinner or perhaps buy dinner at the theater which didn't seem very enticing. Not many people seemed to buy dinner at the theater so that is not a good sign. Finally, if you don't understand Japanese, I would highly suggest that you purchase the audio translation rental. I believe the rental price was about 600 yen or so.
Written December 11, 2013
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Andrew N
Honolulu, HI34 contributions
Couples
We attended the 11:00 performance of the Bunraku theatre which lasted until 3:15. It was fantastic!

Here are four ways to increase your enjoyment of the Bunraku performance:
1) As the puppets are not life size, costuming exquisite, and hand movements of the puppets extraordinary, it is better to sit as close as possible to the front. Order tickets on-line at National Bunraku Theatre. Earlier is better if you want better seats.
2) There is a small display/museum on the ground floor, where you enter the theatre. Visit this display/museum first before the play to increase your understanding of the genre.
3) The audio guides are a must! Pick them up on the second floor. Cost is Y700 with a Y1000 deposit. They provided not only the narration (I don't think it was a word for word translation), but background information, such as the training for Bunraku performers and explanation of background sets, etc.
4) Buy a bento lunch prior to arrival at the theatre. Although bento lunches are available at the theatre, you can be better variety and price from outside vendors. During intermission and breaks, the theatre goers merely broke out their bentos and ate them in their seats.

Enjoy!
Written January 26, 2019
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

NGfromPGH
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania34 contributions
Family
An afternoon at the National Bunraku Theater was a highlight of our trip to Japan. Bunraku began in Osaka and is drawn from kabuki theatrical traditions. It uses elaborate puppets--large ones, maybe half the size of people--and scenery to act out serious dramas. The main repertoire seems to be from the 18th- and 19th-centuries.

The most important caution I want to give is that the performance we saw was absolutely not designed for very young children: a performance lasts about 4 hours, and the 2 pieces we saw involved mass murder, sexual betrayal (as a plot element--no, there was not puppet sex), and demonic possession. There was a family program listed for the morning which we did NOT attend, and that appeared to be more light-hearted. I can imagine many kids, say, 11 and up loving the spooky bloodthirsty dramas we saw, but families with small children should be careful to inquire about the family-friendly programs.

We rented the English audio, which I strongly recommend for English-speakers who don't know Japanese, and it was great: it not only summed up key action and dialogue but alerted us in advance to watch for some exciting effects we are glad not to have missed.

The puppets are amazingly expressive, and the whole event (which includes shimasen accompaniment and a narrator as well as the skillful puppet handlers--3 handlers to a puppet) was quite stimulating and gripping even though we do not understand Japanese.

A few tips:
--There are refreshments in the lobby during intermission, but there are also very long lines at the restrooms: make a plan if you hope to take advantage of both.
--We highly recommend a ramen restaurant almost directly across the street from the theater, but we didn't get the name of it. It's a little hole-in-the-wall in which you buy tickets for ramen dishes, but the ramen was amazing and it's perfect for just before or after the performance.
Written July 26, 2016
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Fran H
Wellington, New Zealand9 contributions
Solo
I loved this experience of the traditional stylised Japanese theatre of puppetry. With 3 or more people manipulating each puppet, and the voices and music provided by separate performers, there was a subtlety and variation to the performance that I hadn't expected. I didn't bother with the translating audio option, as the printed information explained the story well enough and I enjoyed just focusing on what I was seeing and hearing on stage.

There were two separate shows on today - one starting at 11am and a different play at 4pm. The whole performance lasts for 4 hours, but I only paid to see one section, or act - the 'Seven Gods of Good Fortune', which lasted 40 minutes. That cost 500 yen, while the cost for the whole 4 hours ( with a couple of short intervals) was 5,800 yen.

The counter staff were able to explain the options and give me instructions in English. There is also a video kiosk in the main foyer which has information about Bunraku Theatre available in English, French, German and Chinese. All very easy and enjoyable.
Written January 20, 2012
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

JAG
Bloomington, Indiana65 contributions
Business
While Bunraku puppets are one of Japan's great serious theatrical art forms, and are often mentioned along with Kabuki and Noh, they are much more accessible to foreign visitors. Tickets are affordable and easy to come by. Plays are highly varied and offer English headphone translation. Make sure to sit close to the stage, on the right if possible, and bring a bento lunch box to eat during the performance like the locals. This summer they were offering a short and spectacular morning show for children and novices that featured a very informative demonstration of the operation of the puppets. Shows are early (typically 11AM, 2PM and 6PM), so plan ahead.
Written August 8, 2014
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Larry B
Pattaya, Thailand27 contributions
Couples
Absolutely brilliant! In Osaka, do yourself a favour and take in a bunraku program.

Bunraku: "Japanese puppet theater in which puppeteers, dressed in black and visible to the audience, manipulate large puppets to the accompaniment of a chanted narration and musical instruments." [Dictionary.com] Bunraku dates back to the early 17th Century.

The puppets and sets are breathtakingly beautiful; and the narration and music (always performed live, never recorded) add to the beauty. Don't think "for children" when you think of bunraku; it is an art form for adults.

During the season, there are 2 different bunraku programs daily, at 11:00 and 16:00. Each program consists of 2 plays and lasts about 4 hours. Seats are 6,000Yen (with the back two rows only 2,400Yen). At 6,000Yen (about 53$US), I consider this to be a bargain! See the Theater's website for more information. (If you want to catch only one of the two plays on the program, you can buy a ticket by going to the Theater on the day of the program.) Snacks are sold in the lobby during intermission.

NOTE: Be sure that you rent the Earphone English Audio Guide (700Yen, after a refundable 1,000Yen deposit): "provides essential translation of dialogue and lyrics, as well as explanations ... Comments are carefully timed to coincide with the action on stage."
Written December 15, 2017
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Mousa2015
Melbourne, Australia14 contributions
Couples
We weren't quite sure what to expect from Bunraku but decided to give it a go based on the excellent reviews on TripAdvisor. It was definitely worth seeing this incredible art form that is hundreds of years old! The puppets were so beautiful and intricate, and the people operating them were very skilled in making them come alive with delicate and fine movements. The music is very haunting and the narrating is really something else!

We would recommend getting the audio guide for the performance as it helps with understanding what is going on and is not overly intrusive while watching the show (you'll need 1,000 yen per person as a safety deposit which is returned to you when you give back the audio guide).

When we visited in April, they seemed to have two shows per day - one at 11am and one at 4pm - which each had two acts. You can buy tickets just for a single act of the show, which we would suggest considering the show is quite long (usually around 4 hours). Tickets for a single act are half the price of the full show (1,500 yen per person when we went), and the audio guide is half the full price too (300 yen per person). You can seemingly only buy tickets for a single act on the day of the show at the box office at the theatre. We bought ours in the morning for the 4pm show.

As an FYI, this does not seem appropriate for small children due to the long run time of the show and the stories having quite violent and/or mature content.
Written April 26, 2017
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Nomad65843395326
Sydney110 contributions
Solo
I was curious to see this unique japanese cultural experience, and was half expecting to be a bit bored, but the Bunraku was quite entertaining. Obviously the style of music is completely foreign to our usual fare, as is basically everything else about the experience, but when the story is good, it's easy to get involved. The operation of large, gorgeous puppets by 3 people, two of whom have black bags over their heads, is a skill that takes many years to learn. The guy who operates the feet has to learn for 10 years, the guy operating the left hand, another 10 years, and the main puppeteer, operating the head and right hand, more than 10 years beyond those first 20. And they have to be perfectly in-sync with one another!
There is an option to see one act (about 1500 yen) or the whole show (5800 yen for a good seat). If you have the time, see the whole show, because you will be exposed to the different forms of music and narration (some shows have one narrator and one shamisen, others have several narrators and musicians). There are 2 intervals if you see the whole show, and you can buy food and drinks at the theatre. Souvenirs and other merchandise are for sale, and there is a small exhibition about the different elements of the Bunraku (how the puppets are made and operated, the costumes, the shamisen, and so on). There is an English commentary available through a small receiver (1000 yen deposit, 650 yen hire), and there is a brochure , in English, introducing the Bunraku. You will also receive a printed sheet with details of the stories in the day's show, all in English.
I really recommend the Bunraku - it's totally Japanese, totally unique and, apparently, a dying art form. Don't miss it!
Written January 14, 2013
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Kiku2
Sydney, Australia9 contributions
Solo
Attending a performance at the National Bunraku Puppet Theatre in Osaka is a highlight. Check the schedules in advance, as the troupe only performs at certain times of the year.

It is fascinating to see and hear how the troupe works together to bring these puppets to life. You haven't seen teamwork and discipline until you have seen one of these performances. :

The puppeteers:
Most of the half to full life size puppets are manipulated by 3 puppeteers who are so perfectly syncronised. The omozukai manipulates the head and the right arm, the hidarizukai the left arm and the ashizukai (who the audience doesn't see) works the legs.
You know that the puppeteers are present, yet you don't notice them.

The narrator:
The wide range of the tayu (narrator) gives every puppet an individual and distinctive voice and personality.
If you know the basic plot (English language leaflets are available), it's not difficult to follow the play and figure out the different characters by listening to the tayu and the accompanying samisen player. Both are integral to the performance as a whole. It is a personal choice, but I prefer to listen to the performers without an audio guide in my ear.

It may be out of print, but if you are interested in Bunraku, I recommend tracking down 'The Faces and Hands of Bunraku' by Barbara Adachi. The book not only covers the performers - the puppeteers, tayu, samisen player - but the equally important people behind the scenes, such as the puppet makers.

You don't have to be based in Osaka to see Bunraku. It's not difficult to commute from nearby Kyoto for the day - just check with Kyoto's Tourist Information Centre for train and subway details.

Bunraku theatre is not for children. I can still remember seeing a class of upper primary/junior high school children fast asleep in their seats during a performance.

If you are attending the full performance, be prepared. I suggest purchasing beforehand a bento box or sandwiches and a drink, to take to the Theatre.

Enjoy.

Written January 31, 2016
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

GeauxFrogs
Biloxi, MS1,400 contributions
Couples
Purchased tickets as I had heard it was wonderful. I was not disappointed by the amazing puppetry and theater, but no one warned me about the length of performance. The play I attended was 4 hours in total. While amazing it was honestly just too long. BUT, I'd still suggest you go. It is a national icon, and quite frankly an artistry you will NOT find anywhere else in the world. Insider Tip: Pay for the translator in your native language if you don't speak Japanese. It's worth every penny so you can follow the story.
Written June 1, 2014
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

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