New Digital Collection: Bunraku Puppet Theater

(NEW YORK, January 23, 2009) Columbia University Libraries announces the new online digital resource, The Barbara Curtis Adachi Bunraku Collection. Bunraku, a type of Japanese puppet theater, is an unusually complex dramatic form involving a collaborative effort among puppeteers, narrators, and musicians.

The Bunraku Collection
Images from The Bunraku Collection

The Barbara Curtis Adachi Collection, given to Columbia's C. V. Starr East Asian Library in 1991, is one of the most extensive collections in the world, visually documenting this rich performance tradition. The collection represents four decades of close contact and respectful collaboration between Ms. Adachi and the Japanese National Bunraku Troupe, the leading performance group of Bunraku in the world, and documents the significant revival of Bunraku's popularity in the second half of the twentieth century. "The Barbara Adachi Collection is a rare and valuable collection of puppet theater artifacts and photographs by a photographer and collector who had an unique inside view," said Haruo Shirane, Shinchō Professor of Japanese Literature and Culture at Columbia University.

“Barbara Adachi’s hope was to spread the pleasures of Bunraku widely, and make the form accessible to many people,” said Amy Heinrich, director of the C. V. Starr East Asian Library from 1988-2008. “We are honored to have had the opportunity to do so with this site.”

The Bunraku gallery is divided into plays, productions, authors, backstage subjects, kashira (puppet head types), and characters. It documents the form's revival in the second half of the 20th century, through more than 13,000 slides and over 7,000 black-and-white photographs of rehearsals and performances.

The new website provides integrated real-time searching and browsing of both English and Japanese content. Staff at Columbia University’s Starr East Asian Library prepared detailed metadata for each component of the collection, allowing the web site to provide rich contextual navigation so that relationships among the performers, characters and plays can be explored dynamically.

According to Donald Keene, University Professor Emeritus and Shinchō Professor Emeritus of Japanese Literature, the website “is very attractive, easy to use, and should be a treasure to anyone interested in bunraku. It is particularly valuable because the photographs document a period of bunraku when there were outstanding narrators, samisen players and puppet operators; it would be hard to match them today.”

The Adachi Bunraku Collection Web site is a collaborative effort of the Starr East Asian Library, the Libraries’ Digital Preservation and Digitization Division, and the Libraries’ Digital Program Division. The project was funded with a generous grant from the Freeman Foundation and builds on an earlier preservation and access grant from the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities.

Columbia University Libraries/Information Services is one of the top five academic research library systems in North America. The collections include over 10 million volumes, over 100,000 journals and serials, as well as extensive electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, maps, graphic and audio-visual materials. The services and collections are organized into 25 libraries and various academic technology centers. The Libraries employs more than 550 professional and support staff. The website of the Libraries at is the gateway to its services and resources.

The C.V. Starr East Asian Library is one of the major collections for the study of East Asia in the United States, with over 820,000 volumes of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tibetan, and Western language materials, as well as some holdings in Mongol and Manchu, and over 6,500 periodical titles. The collection, established in 1902, is particularly strong in Chinese history, literature, and social sciences; Japanese literature, history, and religion, particularly Buddhism; and Korean history. The Library’s website is located at: