Japanese puppet play revived
On 2nd and 3rd June 2017 a long-lost Japanese Bunraku puppet play will be staged at the British Library by performers led by the shamisen-player Echigo KakutayÅ« and puppeteer Nishihashi HachirÅbei. Entitled Echigo no Kuni Kashiwazaki KÅchi HÅin godenkiè¶å¾åæå´å¼ç¥æ³å°å¾¡åè¨ or âThe Life of the High Priest KÅchi from Kashiwazaki in Echigo Provinceâ, the anonymous play is a highly fictionalised version of the life of the monk KÅchi HÅin (died 1363) whose mummified remains are preserved at the SaishÅji Temple in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture.
Front cover and first page of KÅchi HÅin godenki. The latter bears a slightly different form of the title - KÅchi ShÅnin - and Kaempfer has rendered the title as Kootsi Foin (BL Or 75.g.23(1))
To coincide with these performances, the full text of the play, consisting of 16 leaves and including 6 double-page black-and-white illustrations, has been digitised and made available on the British Library Digisited Manuscripts website (BL Or 75.g.23(1))
KÅchi HÅin encounters a demon (BL Or 75.g.23(1) fol 7r)
The play belongs to a genre known as jÅruri, a form of dramatic narrative performed by a chanter (tayÅ«) to the accompaniment of the shamisen. More specifically it is described as kojÅruri (âoldâ jÅruri), the term applied to texts that predate the era of the renowned playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon. From the early 17th century the stories came to be used for the traditional Japanese puppet theatre, originally called NingyÅ jÅruri or âpuppet jÅruriâ and today more widely known as Bunraku.
According to a note at the end of the text it was published in Edo (now Tokyo), in 1685 [JÅkyÅ 2] by Urokogataya based on an original version (shÅhon) produced by the chanter Edo MagoshirÅ . Not long afterwards it was acquired by the German Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716), author of the History of Japan, who served as physician to the Dutch East India Company at Deshima from 1690-92. During this time he collected books, manuscripts, maps, natural history samples and ethnological artefacts which were to serve as the source material for his later writings on Japan following his return to Germany. Clearly Kaempfer was interested in this play text as there are annotations in his handwriting identifying some of the main characters.
After Kaempferâs death in 1716, his collection was purchased by the physician, naturalist and collector Sir Hans Sloane and subsequently entered the British Museum on its foundation in 1753. So it was that the text of The Life of KÅchi HÅin left Japan and found its way to London.
A note on the inside of the front cover records that in December 1770 it was examined, along with other Chinese and Japanese books in the Museum, by a Chinese model-maker named Chetqua who mistakenly declared it to be âa Chinese story bookâ.
Erroneous note by Chetqua inside front cover (BL Or 75.g.23(1), front)
Thereafter for almost two centuries it remained in the British Museum Library, largely unremarked, until its significance as the only surviving copy of the play was recognised by Professor Torigoe BunzÅ of Waseda University in 1962.
In 1973, along with the rest of Kaempferâs books, it was transferred to the newly established British Library.
Although the text of the play was published in Japan in 1966, it was not until 2009 that The Life of KÅchi HÅin was revived and performed again, primarily through the efforts of Donald Keene, Professor Emeritus of Columbia University. This performance in London will bring the story of KÅchi HÅin to life in the city where the play text has been preserved for almost 300 years.
Yu-Ying Brown. âOrigins and Charactersitics of the Japanese Collection in the British Library, British Library Journal, 24 (1), 1998, pp. 144-157.
Yu-Ying Brown, âJapanese Books and Manuscripts: Sloaneâs Japanese Library and the Making of the History of Japanâ in Arthur MacGragor (ed.), Sir Hans Sloane: Collector, Scientist , Antiquary, Founding Father of the British Museum (London: British Museum, 1994), pp. 278-290.
Torigoe BunzÅ and Charles Dunn (eds). KojoÌrurishuÌ : Daiei Hakubutsukan-bon . ToÌkyoÌ : Koten Bunko, 1966