I am making preliminary contacts in connection with a proposed tour for a program of traditional Japanese
storytelling, music, and puppetry. The group of performers is headed by a Living National Treasure. In addition to their concert performances,the artists can give puppetry and shamisen workshops to adults and/or
young people, and also lecture about their genres.
I’m writing you in the hope that you are acquainted with individuals and organizations that have a special interest in the arts of Japan.
At the present time, the tour is tentatively scheduled for approximately three weeks duration in 2011 or 2012, in Australia and/or New Zealand.We are also exploring the possibilities of a tour to Canada. We are leaving the dates and locations tentative and broad to retain flexibility.
I would be grateful if you could give me advice and information about anyone who might be interested in these performances or know about suitable venues for these events. Although the most likely venues are universities, any suitable venue will be considered.
The program features the narration and singing of shinnai master Tsuruga Wakasanojo XI, who tells the story and does the voices for the puppets of the Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo troupe, accompanied by shamisen players.
On this tour, there will be approximately five to ten people coming from Japan, the size of the group depending on the duration of the tour and the financial support available.
I don't know how much you know about shinnai, Kuruma Ningyo, and these performers. Let me give you some brief background on shinnai narrative songs and Wakasanojo sensei, as well as on the puppetry.
The singer/storyteller is shinnai master Tsuruga Wakasanojo (Living National Treasure), the 11th iemoto of the Tsuruga school of shinnai. Shinnai is narrative song (“jou’ruri” in Japanese), that is, storytelling that includes music. While the narrator tells and sings the story, he also speaks the voices of the characters in the story, males and females, adults and children. In other words, it is a combination of singing and voice-acting. In a typical performance, one narrator is accompanied by one or two shamisen players.
The Shinnai genre originated in the Edo Period. The first works written in shinnai style date back to the mid-18^th century. Wakasanojo sensei maintains the traditions of his performance field, and in addition, is actively working to expand his art beyond its original form. One of his major innovations especially for overseas audiences is that he performs one of the shinnai works (approximately 50 minutes) entirely in English.
In 2001, Wakasanojo sensei was designated by the Japanese government as a Living National Treasure, an honor reserved for a small number of very outstanding traditional performers and craftspeople. In 2009, the
Emperor awarded him the Order of the Rising Sun medal because of his contributions to the preservation of traditional culture, both within Japan and also overseas.
Wakasanojo sensei is in great demand as a performer, and has given concerts in many places in Japan, as well as in more than fifty cities in more than twenty countries. At his hosts' invitation, he has returned for additional performances to four of eighteen locations where he had performed in the U.S., including the Smithsonian Institutions in Washington, DC, indicating the great interest in his performances among English-speaking audiences.
In Japan, Wakasanojo sensei regularly performs on TV and radio, as well. His charming manner makes his lectures and media interviews both informative and delightful. As a master teacher, his shamisen workshops
are both enjoyable and successful. Although some in the overseas audiences have been of Japanese extraction, most of the members of the audiences have been people without ties to Japan.
I am Wakasanojo sensei's student, and, as a volunteer, I assist him with arrangements for some of his overseas performances.
The Kuruma Ningyo puppets are very similar to the more well-known Bunraku puppets. Like Bunraku, Kuruma Ningyo puppetry is not primarily for children; the puppets enact serious stories from classical Japanese
literature. A major difference is that each puppet is manipulated by one puppeteer, unlike Bunraku, which requires three people per puppet.
Like shinnai, Kuruma Ningyo puppetry originated in the Edo Period. The Kuruma Ningyo troupe is unique in Japan. In 1962, the Troupe was designated as an Intangible Cultural Asset by the Tokyo municipal government, and in 1996, by the national government, as an Intangible Folk Custom Cultural Asset. The Troupe is much in demand in Japan, and also regularly performs overseas.
More information about Wakasanojo sensei and the Kuruma Ningyo puppeteers can be found on the web site of one of their U.S. tours: http://www.shinnai-usa.org/wakasanojo.shtml
Although my ultimate goal is to identify organizations that would be interested in hosting these events, I do not expect the Storytelling Guild to be a sponsor or presenter, nor am I asking you to refer me to anyone who would do that. Rather, this is a step in a networking process in which I am gathering advice and information from knowledgeable people, after which I will follow up on leads that they give me.
I would appreciate any advice that you could give me about people and organizations who might be interested in a performance tour by these outstanding artists, or who might have information that would help me arrange such a tour. I will follow up on your recommendations by sending those people a letter like this one.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
On behalf of Tsuruga Wakasanojo XI
Japanese Traditional Performing Arts Tours
Narrative Song and Puppetry / Shinnai and Kuruma Ningyo