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Japanese puppetry performance opens Theatre season

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Date: Wednesday, September 11, 2002
Contact: Larry Joseph, (808) 933-0881

For Immediate Release

As part of a U.S. tour, the University of Hawai`i at Hilo Theatre presents a Japanese traditional performing arts presentation of puppets and narrative song on Sunday, September 29 at 7:30 pm.

"Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo and Shinnai" features the puppetry of the Koryu Nishikawa troupe accompanied by the singing and shamisen playing of Shinnai Master Wakasanojo, the 11th Iemoto of the Tsuruga school of Shinnai music and a National Living Treasure of Japan.

Shinnai is fundamentally a storytelling art. In Japanese musical tradition, there are many kinds of shamisen music. The two main types of music accompanied by shamisen are lyrical songs and narratives set to music. Shinnai songs fall into the latter category. They are narrative songs in which a story is partly sung and partly spoken. Shinnai is performed by a narrator/singer accompanied by two shamisen players. Tsuruga Wakasanojo is a new leader in the shinnai world, maintaining the
traditions of shinnai while, at the same time, spreading the experience and understanding of shinnai throughout Japan and the rest of the world. Unlike other types of old Japanese music, shinnai was traditionally not used as an accompaniment for Japanese dancers or puppets. Wakasanojo sensei has been changing this tradition, adapting shinnai songs to be suitable for use with dance and kabuki, and with Japanese puppets, so that the music can be more widely heard.

Tsuruga Wakasanojo has been designated by the Japanese government as a Living National Treasure, an extraordinary honor currently held by around 100 performers, artists, and craftspeople.

The Kuruma Ningyo puppets are large (nearly 5 feet tall) and can be very expressive. The style is called "Kuruma Ningyo" because the puppeteer sits on a small seat with roller wheels when operating a puppet. This small seat, and the fact that only one person is needed to operate each puppet, distinguishes Kuruma Ningyo from Bunraku, another form of traditional Japanese puppetry in which three people are needed to operate each puppet. The one-to-one relationship between puppeteer and puppet in Kuruma Ningyo allows greater flexibility and realism as the puppet and puppeteer move in unison.

The Kuruma Ningyo Troupe has been honored with many awards. They have been designated as an "Intangible Folk Custom Cultural Asset" by both the Tokyo and national governments.

For the past fifteen years Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo and Shinnai has toured extensively throughout the world, including Europe, South America and the United States. Each year they spend over 100 days on performance tours. The current U.S. tour is funded, in part, by the Japan Foundation.

Tickets for the show, priced at $15.00 general, $12 seniors and $10 youth, are available Monday - Friday from 9:00 am through 2:00 pm at the UH Hilo Theatre Espresso Bar. Credit card reservations can be made online at or by calling (808) 974-7310.

By request of the artists, children under 12 years of age are discouraged from attending the performance. For disability accommodations, please contact Heidi Veilleux at (808) 933-3209.

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