#32 Shikou Yoshida


Shikou Yoshida is a puppeteer at the Awaji Puppet Theater Company, one of the biggest and most successful puppet troupes from the early 17th to mid 20th century. Shikou joined the Theater Company upon graduating from junior high school on Awaji Island where he started to learn puppetry. Since then, he has worked with puppets and given lectures on the movement of puppets not only in Japan but also in the USA and some European countries.

Photo: Awaji Puppet Theater Company

Interview with Shikou Yoshida

– Please tell us about Ningyo Joruri.

Yoshida:

Ningyo Joruri is a traditional Japanese puppet show that combines three types of work; a narrator called “Tayu” who voices the puppet, a shamisen player, and a puppeteer.

An origin of Ningyo Joruri traces back to wooden doll shows to pray for the God introduced by a person named “Hyakudayuu” in Awaji island, which is an island off Hyogo prefecture. The technique of moving wooden dolls was developed to Ningyo Joruri around 400 years ago. Ningyo Joruri was originally performed only by one person as a way to pray to the gods during traditional shinto ceremonies. Many groups of people who performed Ningyo Joruri travelled all over Japan for their performances. As performers sought for their puppets to move more smoothly as human beings do, they started to control the puppets with three people rather than one person. This method gained popularity in Awaji Island, and subsequently spread all over Japan.

– What made you decide to become a professional player of Ningyo Joruri?

Yoshida:

My hometown in Awaji Island had a Ningyo Joruri group, and since I was little I learned songs called “Danjiri uta”, which are sung at the last scene of Ningyo Joruri performance. But my first exposure to Ningyo Joruri was not until I went to a junior high school where I officially started to learn Ningyo Joruri through a club activity at my school.

Since I didn’t like to study when I was in a junior high school, my teacher suggested that I pursue a career as a Ningyo Joruri performer after junior high school. I was too young at the time to further consider his suggestion. At that time, I simply thought it would be a good choice for me as I didn’t have to study at a high school. It was around 40 years old when I finally realized that I really liked my profession. There was no a-ha moment for me but it suddenly came to me as a natural feeling. Until then, I was not quite sure if I really liked this job or not. Sometime I liked it, but sometime I didn’t. When I finally asked my wife to let me continue this job, she had already knew I had a passion for Ningyo Joruri. 30 years have passed since I started my career, but I still have many things to learn and I feel my career has just started.

– Awaji Ningyo-za, which you belonged to, has flourished by preserving the tradition of Ningyo Joruri especially in Awaji Island. Some tradition may have changed as time goes by but there must be something that have never changed. Can you ple