The Puk Pupa Teatro is Japan's first modern theatre created specifically to stage puppet plays. It regularly holds performances in its charming Shinjuku theatre, and until the pandemic came along, counted 80 puppeteers among its members.

Puk Pupa Teatro presents about 10 different plays a year, with performances on more than 120 days (plays for families and plays for adults that run for 10 or more days). A recent show they put on was Wani ga machi ni yatte kita わにがまちにやってきた (A Crocodile Came to Town).

Puk Pupa Teatro uses a range of puppets and puppetry techniques, including rod puppets, hand puppets, shadow puppets, and traditional Japanese puppets. There are a variety of folk puppetry traditions in Japan, and the puppet theatre is proud of bringing these cultural treasures up to date in a modern setting.

Photo by George Lloyd

The puppeteers don’t hide their faces In a Puk Pupa Teatro production as they do in the more traditional bunraku puppet shows, but after a few minutes, you stop noticing them, as your attention is captivated by the wonderful story being enacted in front of you on the theatre's diminutive stage.

The miniature furniture, brightly coloured sets, lively music, and short duration of each show is sure to captivate children’s attention. To see a theatre full of children sitting in rapt silence as the story unfolds is a wonderful experience!

Photo by George Lloyd

But their shows are popular with adults too and are usually in Japanese and English. The theatre has a long history of collaborating with foreign puppeteers, part of its commitment to internationalism and peace (it is called La Pupa Klubo in Esperanto).

Puk Pupa Teatro was founded in 1929 by the late Toji Kawajiri, the elder brother of its Artistic Director, the late Taiji Kawajiri (1914-1994) and soon became a Tokyo favourite. Being an artistic group based on freedom of expression and anti-war ideals, Puk Pupa Teatro was hounded by the authorities during the war and had to change its name several times.

But Puk Pupa Teatro flourished again after World War II and moved into its current building in 1971. Since then, it has expanded to incorporate a troupe of more than 80 members and has become a meeting place for puppeteers from around the world.

Since 1971, the theatre has hosted 50 performances by outstanding puppet theatre troupes from throughout the world, among them Percy Press and his Junior (Great Britain), Albrecht Roser (Germany), Dick Myers (U.S.A.), Jim Gamble (U.S.A.), Jean-Paul Hubert (France), Richard Bradshaw (Australia), the Central Puppet Theatre-Sofia (Bulgaria), and the State Puppet Theatre-Varna (Bulgaria). At any one time, there is usually a Puk Pupa Teatro-affiliated troupe of puppeteers on tour in Japan. Puk goes abroad too: its puppeteers have performed in Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Poland, Australia, Canada, the USA, and Mexico.

Photo by George Lloyd

In addition to puppet plays, PUK also rents out its facilities for film screenings and other performing arts, and has played host to performances of Portuguese guitar, French chanson, Japanese drum concerts, and variety shows.

You can see some short films of Puk Pupa Teatro productions here and enjoy more videos online on their YouTube Channel.

You will find Puk Pupa Teatro at Yoyogi 2-12-3, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo. It is a five-minute walk from the south exit of Shinjuku station. Even if you don't plan to see a puppet show, it's worth visiting the theatre, as the café on the ground floor does one of the best (and certainly most economical) espressos in Tokyo.

For more details, and to see the performance schedule or book tickets, see the theatre's website (available in Japanese and English) or call 03-3370-5128.

By - George Lloyd.

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