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Dead medium: Karakuri; the Japanese puppet theater of Chikamatsu
Source(s): AUTOMATA AND MECHANICAL TOYS, an illustrated history by Mary Hillier. Bloomsbury Books, London 1976, 1988. ISBN 1 870630 27 0.

page 36

"In the book *Karakuri Zui* published in 1797 (kindly translated for me by Suzume Matsudaira) an historical account is given of the founding of a famous mechanical theatre and the family who carried it on for over 100 years. Early in the 17th century, a man called Yasui Doton created a favorite pleasure spot in Osaka by joining two branches of the Yohori River with a canal. (...) On 25th May 1662, a little theatre for the performance of karakuri was opened here by Takeda Omi. The performances may be judged to have been a clever combination of working devices, conjuring and showmanship. (...) During the next 100 years there were at least five generations who adopted the name of Takeda Omi or Takeda Izumo (...)

"The founder, Takeda Omi I, was born in Awa and seems originally to have made his name as a clockmaker. (...) Originally he made 'sand clocks' (((sand pouring from a hopper to drive a series of gears and wheels.))) A famous clock he presented to the Emperor of Japan worked by lead weights suspended from a key-wound cylinder. This was his piece de resistance; he took eight years to construct it (...) The 'Eternal Clock' not only struck the time of day but showed the seasons, the months and the days (...) It brought Takeda great fame and more especially permission from the Emperor to open a theatre for the mechanical toys which (...) Takeda had exhibited publicly to earn a living.

"After establishing the little theatre by the waterside and running it for some twelve years, Takeda left the operation of it to his young brother Kiyotaka (Takeda Omi II). The repertoire (...) is pictured in a lively manner in a little three-volume book published in 1730, *Karakuri Kimmo Kagamigusa* ('Instruction in Kamakuri') with woodcut illustrations by the well-known Ukiyo-e artist Kawaeda Toyonobu. (...) The show was obviously intended mainly for adults although a few children are also watching the curious mixture of wizardry, trickery and mechanical expertise. (...)

"Among 28 separate items pictured in *Karakuri Kimmo Kagamigusa* some seem to have been worked by actual clockwork (always with wooden cogs and gear wheels) others by purely physical power, driven by running sand or water movement or even on a system of levers and pulleys. (...)

"One of the acts is a fortune-telling doll pointing in turn to portraits of different gods. From the snatch of conversation it is clear that this also involved a sort of lottery. (...) One of the cleverest inventions was a little tumbling man: 'An acrobatic doll that turned head over heels down three steps.' This (...) seems to have inspired later European toymakers who were producing a miniature version based on the same idea by the end of the eighteenth century.

"The fame of the theatre and these makers of automata spread, and through the first half of the eighteenth century there is reference to them in various books. *Kagami Choja Kagami* 1714 described a very rich man's house and how it contained an artificial tiger made by Takeda Omi I. It blew wind from its mouth into the guest room when the weather was hot like a sort of automatic fan.

"The Karakuri performances enjoyed such a vogue that competitors also opened up other theatres. A young man called Yasagoro was spoken of as an unrivalled master of the art in 1705 and especially good at 'Water Magic:' the close proximity of the river meant that wheels and machinery could be worked by water power.

"With the second generation of Takeda Omi the mechanical devices were put to a more serious purpose. The great Japanese playwright Chikamatsu, who devised dramas in the classical tradition of the Kabuki stage, was no more than a child of eight when the Takeda theatre opened in 1662. (...) By 1705 when he was already famous, we find Chikamatsu settling down as the playwright of another prosperous Osaka theatre, Takemoto, run by yet another member of the Takeda family (Takeda Izumo, himself a playwright). Instructions which accompany some of his plays include such comments as 'Grand karakuri in which Princess Jamateru changes into a mermaid,' or 'Princess Ikoma's spirit runs after Izuta along the pine tree branch. Grand karakuri will be shown in this scene.'

(((Takeda Omi III had his greatest triumph in Edo (now Tokyo) in 1741.))) "This was the greatest performance in his lifetime and created such a furore that the crowd rushed his theatre and the doors were closed at opening time for three consecutive days. (...) Apart from their skill in performance, the dolls must have been most beautifully constructed and attractive in appearance since they appealed to so many contemporary artists. But perhaps the public taste became more sophisticated (...) It is possible also that the standard of performance had deteriorated (...) We are told that by 1758 the theatre performed 27 programmes a day, starting at 8 in the morning and ending at 4 in the afternoon. (...) By 1772 the last of the theatres had closed down and a tradition which had flourished for over 100 years died.

(...) "In modern times enthusiasts have skillfully reconstructed some of the toys after Takeda's originals, and using the same materials, Professor Tatsukawa built a model of the tea-serving doll which worked so successfully it was given a programme on television."