Columbia Receives Adachi Collection of the Japanese Puppet Theater Bunraku

Barbara Adachi has donated an extraordinary collection on the Japanese puppet theater Bunraku to the C.V. Starr East Asian Library at Columbia University. Bunraku, one of the world's most highly developed forms of puppet theater, is a collaborative effort of narrators, musicians, and puppeteers. The puppets are nearly lifesize (two and one-half to almost five feet tall) and weigh anywhere from ten to fifty pounds. Each is operated by three puppeteers, except for those with minor roles. Mrs. Adachi, a former columnist for two Tokyo newspapers, has lectured widely on Japanese crafts and theatre, and has written several books, including The Voices and Hands of Bunraku and Backstage at Bunraku.

The materials in the collection cover the past thirty years of Bunraku history and include more than twenty thousand photographs of rehearsals, performances, backstage materials, and puppet construction. The collection contains programs in English and Japanese, texts of the plays performed, and audio and video recordings. Amy Heinrich, director of Columbia's East Asian Library, said that "We are very grateful to Barbara Adachi for donating this unique collection of materials to Columbia. This is an extremely important resource for scholarship on the traditional puppet theater and its renascence in the postwar period. Our hope is to take the collection and create a completely cross-referenced database of holdings and to gradually digitize the photographs for access via the Internet."

Ms. Adachi, who has lived most of her life in Tokyo, witnessed her first Bunraku performance in 1935, at the age of eleven. Her extensive involvement with the troupe began in the 1960s and continues to this day. She has attended over four decades of Bunraku and Kabuki performances, conducted over one-hundred interviews of performers and craftsmen, and taken thousands of photographs of both traditional Japanese theater and crafts. The photographs, in both color and black-and-white, concentrate on dress rehearsals (butaigeiko) and workshop techniques. Ms. Adachi has toured with the troupe both in Japan and in the United States, appearing with them for demonstrations, lectures, and television performances. She is married to James Shogo Adachi, an attorney, who maintains a law office in Tokyo.

Donald Keene, Columbia University Shincho Professor Emeritus of East Asian Languages and Cultures, who wrote the forewords to Mrs. Adachi's books on the Bunraku, noted that "No other foreigner, and probably no other Japanese, possess the intimate knowledge of what goes on before and behind the scenery. This collection represents the years Mrs. Adachi spent watching Bunraku performances, and her almost equally long years of gaining the trust and friendship of the men and women who make up the organization. Columbia is very fortunate to be the recipient of such a remarkable and extensive collection, one that documents an art that is a glory not only of Japan but of the entire world."

The materials from the Adachi Collection are currently being processed and will be available for viewing by the University community in the near future.

Images from the Adachi Collection