Increasing Access to Columbia’s Japanese Puppet Theater Collection

NEW YORK, June 8, 2005 - For the first time scholars at Columbia and around the world will gain access to Columbia’s Barbara C. Adachi Bunraku (Japanese Puppet Theater) Collection. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) awarded $155,000 to Columbia University Libraries to improve the condition of and access to the collection, putting researchers in touch with over 12,500 slides and nearly 7,000 black-and-white photos of rehearsals, performances, and workshops, as well as theater programs in Japanese and English, texts of the plays, and audio-recorded interviews.


“At present this remarkable collection is completely uncatalogued and scholars are aware of it largely through word of mouth,” explained Amy Heinrich, Director of Columbia’s C. V. Starr East Asian Library. “NEH’s generous investment assures that scholars from a number of fields from literature to history will be able to experience this important theater heritage in visual as well as print form.”

The Bunraku Collection, given to the C. V. Starr East Asian Library in 2000, is one of the most extensive in the world documenting the rich performance tradition of bunraku, a form of puppet theater consisting of a collaboration among puppeteers, chanters, and musicians. The “actors” or puppets themselves are usually two-thirds lifesize (2.5 to almost 5 feet tall) and are manipulated by three puppeteers who are fully visible to the audience, but usually hooded. The puppeteers do not speak; it is the chanters who recite all the spoken parts and the narratives, altering their voices to represent each of the characters and to provide the narration. The musicians accompany them on the three-stringed shamisen.

Materials in the collection will be accurately identified and logically arranged, and researchers will be presented with descriptions of the contents and their significance. Access will be provided through a detailed online finding aid searchable in both Japanese and English, made freely available over the Internet. The original objects will be better preserved, both because the existence of a good finding aid will eliminate unnecessary handling of the materials, and because improved storage will limit future environmental threats to the objects. Existing damage due to acidic paper and magnetic media deterioration will be addressed, and groundwork will have been laid for future digitization of the outstanding images in the collection. The project will be completed by Spring, 2007

Selected images can be viewed at

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed on this website do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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 765,000 volumes of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tibetan, and Western language materials, as well as some holdings in Mongol and Manchu, and over 6,000 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

Columbia University Libraries is one of the top ten academic library systems in the nation, with 9.2 million volumes, over 65,650 serials, as well as extensive collections of electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, and other nonprint formats. The collections and services are organized into 25 libraries, supporting specific academic or professional disciplines. Columbia Libraries employs more than 400 professional and support staff to assist faculty, students, and researchers in their academic endeavors. The Libraries’ website at is a gateway to its print and electronic collections and to its services.

06/08/05 JD