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Traditional Japanese Technology - About the Karakuri Puppet intro video

The video “Karakuri puppet – 4K Ultra HD,” created by TokyoStreetView – Japan The Beautiful, introduces two traditional Japanese wind-up puppets: "Yumihiki Doji" (弓曳童子), the puppet of a boy drawing a bow, and "Mojigaki Ningyo" (文字書き人形), the calligraphy puppet.

In this three-minute video, you can see how these famous puppets work, so we highly recommend watching the video if you're interested in the following two questions:
・How do traditional Japanese Karakuri puppets move?
・What is the history and culture of traditional Japanese Karakuri puppets?

This article focuses on the traditional Japanese technology “Karakuri” puppets, which is said to be the origin of robot creation.
To begin with, please take a look at the video to see delicate and intricate movements of the puppets.

About the Puppets "Yumihiki Doji" and "Mojigaki Ningyo"

Image of a Karakuri puppet
Source of Photo :YouTube screenshot

The two puppets "Yumihiki Doji" and "Mojigaki Ningyo" are representative examples of Japanese wind-up puppets, as well as the famous puppet “Ocha Hakobi Ningyo (お茶運び人形),” the teacup carrying puppet.

The first puppet "Yumihiki Doji," which you can see at 0:05 of this video, grabs four arrows firmly and shoots them at its target.
The puppet aims at the target carefully, sometimes raising its face and even changing its own facial expressions.

From 1:52 you can see another mechanized puppet “Mojigaki Ningyo,” holding ink brushes in its mouth and hand and writing letters on paper in the other hand. You'll be amazed when it starts writing two different letters at the same time!

About Karakuri Puppets- Traditional Japanese Technology

Image of a Karakuri Puppet on a Parade Float
Photo:A Karakuri Puppet on a Parade Float

Karakuri wind-up puppets have a long history; dating all the way back to the Heian period(794-1185).
Back then, hand-puppeteered Karakuri puppets were mostly used for entertainment during rituals or at theaters.
It is said that this kind of wind-up puppet was developed further in the Edo period(1603-1868).
Wind-up puppets were a kind of pop culture back then; they were used as toys to play in tatami rooms or placed on festival floats.
Today you can see these puppets at traditional Japanese puppet shows such as Ningyo Joruri (人形浄瑠璃), Takayama Festival (高山祭り, Takayama Matsuri) in Gifu prefecture, Karakuri Ningyoshibai Hall in Gunma prefecture, Takeda Marionette Theater (竹田人形座, Takeda Ningyo-Za) in Nagano prefecture, and many more.

There is a book called "Karakuri Zui" (機匠図彙), showing structures and mechanical drawings of Karakuri wind-up puppets. It includes how to make nine different kinds of puppets.
The best puppet creators in the Edo period are said to be Oumi Takeda and the “Karakuri Master”(からくり儀右衛門, Karakuri Giemon) Hisashige Tanaka. Currently Tanaka's works are preserved at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo.
Today Mr. Tamaya Shobei IX, the professional Karakuri puppet craftsman, restores, repairs, produces and sells puppets.

Karakuri wind-up puppets are powered by wood, springs, and threads, and therefore don’t require electricity.
The technology of traditional Karakuri puppets is highly valued, as it is said to have had a profound impact on western technology

Overview of Karakuri Puppets

Image of a Karakuri Puppet
Source of Photo :YouTube screenshot

In the video "Karakuri puppet – 4K Ultra HD," you see the two automatic wind-up puppets: "Yumibiki Doji" and "Mojigaki Ningyo."
The movements of both puppetss is quite interesting; It's as if the puppets are changing their own facial expressions.
Also, don’t overlook the tiny puppet below Yumibiki Doji turning a lever!

In addition to the two puppets in this video, there are various other kinds of Karakuri wind-up puppets: magician puppets, spirit buying puppets, airplane operating puppets, and more.
If you are interested in traditional Japanese technology, please look into some of these other puppets as well!

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Last Updated : Sep. 15, 2020
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Karakuri Puppets With Delicate Movements: Traditional Japanese Technology, Realistic Movements, and All Done Without Electricity!
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