Senior citizen drives the young generation to preserve puppet theatre tradition in Ishikawa

KITA Yoshitake has been involved with the preservation of "Fukaze no Dekumawashi", a Japanese puppet drama called ningyo joruri that has a history of 350 years. Dekumawashi refers to a puppet that is made with two wooden sticks placed in a shape of a cross, a head placed on top whilst the rest of the body is dressed in kimono. There is no movement of the eyes, mouth, arms nor legs. The puppet is manipulated up and down, left to right and those movements express different emotions.

This traditional performance art originated in the village of Oguchi-mura Fukaze, a community that no longer exists because the village has been submerged under water when a dam was built in the 1930s. Today the heritage of dekumawashi continues to be performed in the Fukaze-shinmachi community of Hakusan City. However, only a few are involved keeping this heritage alive and most of them are senior citizens. It is a major concern that this tradition will be lost and nobody will be left to perform dekumawashi.

Therefore, Yoshitake decided to record the tradition down in paper - from manipulating the puppets, the order of appearance in each drama, and all other technical details. With this written handbook, the traditional performing art could be handed down to the next generation. Nevertheless, he says coaching puppeteers directly is the best way to accurately teach the fundamental principles of this puppetry tradition.

Yoshitake said: "To the young people, help me carry on the tradition to the next generation. When I become too old to move, show me a dekumawashi performance." He is eagerly waiting for the younger generation to get involved.

What motivated you to start dekumawashi?

I've seen dekumawashi since I was little and always thought it was cool. I dreamt of being able to manipulate the puppets myself someday. When I first tried it, I had a hard time because I couldn't get the puppets to move the way I wanted them to.

How do you express emotions when you can't move the puppet's eyes, mouth, arms and legs?

You move the puppet around to the right and to the left, up and down as you keep the rhythm with the feet. Emotions are expressed by how slow or fast the puppet's movements are, or how weak or strong the feet taps the floor. The most important thing is to understand the story and the role of the puppet, and to immerse yourself in that role.

What do you look for in a young person to whom you could pass down the tradition?

Anyone who is passionate. Especially someone who cares deeply about their hometown, who has a big heart, and would be able to carry on the dekumawashi tradition.

Tell us about the charm of Ishikawa Prefecture, or a place that is special to you.

My hometown, which was the original home of dekumawashi, now lies under the water of Tedorigawa Dam. But when I move the puppets, I can visualise my old village of Oguchi-mura Fukaze. The deep snow in the wintertime. The rivers's crystal clear water. Wonderful memories of my hometown are still fresh in my mind and they have a special place in my heart.

Can you give us a message for young people as a torchbearer?

I witnessed the Olympic Torch Relay of the Tokyo 1964 Games and I've always dreamt of doing something like this. Don't be afraid of challenges, and your dreams will come true. Challenge, challenge, challenge!

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