• Performing Arts

Local Puppet Theater Group in Miyazaki Pref. Wins Award for Traditional Culture

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kimitomo Maeda, far left, and others report receiving the award to the Miyakonojo mayor in December.

MIYAKONOJO, Miyazaki — A group preserving local ningyo joruri puppet shows in Miyakonojo, Miyazaki Prefecture, has received the Pola Award for Traditional Japanese Culture in the regional culture category.

The group is working to pass down the Yamanokuchi Fumoto Bunyabushi puppet show to posterity.

“We’d like to grant the wishes of our predecessors and bring [the puppet show] to future generations,” said Kimitomo Maeda, 77, who serves as the head of the group.

According to the group and the city of Miyakonojo, the Yamanokuchi Fumoto Bunyabushi puppet show spread during the Edo period (1603-1867). It has been passed down through generations and appreciated by local people on festive occasions.

The puppet shows discontinued for a while after World War II but gained a new life in 1951 when local people formed the preservation group. It was designated as an important intangible folk cultural property by the central government in 1995. Currently, the puppet show is performed four times a year in March, June, September and November.

The Pola Award for Traditional Japanese Culture is presented annually by the Tokyo-based Pola Foundation for the Promotion of Traditional Japanese Culture to those succeeding precious traditional craftsmanship, traditional performing arts, folk arts and events.

The foundation praised the Yamanokuchi Fumoto Bunyabushi puppet show, the winner of the regional award, as “a nationally valuable traditional performing art that has been handed down to the present day, with puppets each manipulated by a single puppeteer and the Bunyabushi music that used to be very popular in the early Edo period.”

Since the preservation group has been teaching local elementary school students how to use the puppets for about 30 years, the foundation commended the group for “giving about 580 children an opportunity to experience the tradition.”

In December, Maeda and some of other group members visited the Miyakonojo municipal government to report on receiving the award to the mayor.

“There are problems, such as a shortage of successors, but I have hope that some of the children we’ve taught may come back one day,” Maeda said. “I’m grateful to the award for taking notice of culture in a rural area in the Kyushu region.”

Courtesy of the city of Miyakonojo
A performance of the Yamanokuchi Fumoto Bunyabushi puppet show in June last year