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Hats Off To The Karakuri Yagura In Ningyocho, Tokyo

Hats Off To The Karakuri Yagura In Ningyocho, Tokyo

Tokyo 2017.05.03 Bookmark

The Karakuri Yagura, located at Ningyocho, Tokyo, entertains visitors with a unique performance by mechanical puppets.

Translated by Shinji Takaramura

Written by Mitsuhisa Kanoo

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The History of Ningyocho and Karakuri Yagura

ningyocho yurai

Ningyocho is a town in the Chuo ward of Tokyo. Although it is now an urban area, this town used to have an entertainment district where various theaters, including Kabuki theaters, lined the streets. Puppet shows were especially popular with the common people, as they were relatively cheap. So the puppeteers, who controlled the ningyo (puppets) also came to live in this area, and it was named Ningyocho.

The theaters disappeared with the times, and there was nothing to remind the people of the past era. But in November of 2009, the Karakuri Yagura was built in memory of those days.

Karakuri are automatons or mechanical puppets, while a yagura is a tall structure, like a tower. As it can be seen from afar, the tall structure was used by barkers, to call out to the prospective customers.

Puppets are installed inside the Karakuri Yagura at Ningyocho. When the time comes, the puppets appear to entertain the passersby. This article is about the unique Karakuri Yagura and its puppets.

1. Edo Rakugo Karakuri Yagura: a Gadget With an Edo Feeling

edorakugo karakuri-yagura

There are two stations at Ningyocho: the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line station and Toei Asakusa Line station. The Asakusa Line is connected to Keikyu Line and Keisei Line, both of which offer direct access to Narita and Haneda airports. To reach Ningyocho, it takes about 40 minutes from Haneda Airport, and about 90 minutes from Narita Airport, so it is convenient for visitors from abroad.

At Ningyocho Station, head for the A1 Exit and turn left. The Edo Rakugo Karakuri Yagura is a short walk away.

A clock is at the top, with three panels below it. No machinery can be seen. But when the minute hand points to XII...


...the music starts, and the curtain at the bottom box is drawn. A puppet reminding of a rakugoka (performer of rakugo, or traditional Japanese comic storytelling) starts moving left and right. A story about Ningyocho, told by the rakugoka Tatekawa Danko, starts.


Then the three panels below the clock turn and the puppets appear. They are (from left to right) a fishmonger, a carpenter carrying a toolbox, and an attractive geisha.

edorakugo karakuri-yagura chouninn

Samurai and townsfolk puppets appear on the opposite side. The show is only two minutes long, but it evokes the feeling of Ningyocho in the days gone by. Be sure to check the expression and clothes of the puppets.

There is another Karakuri Yagura in Ningyocho. The following is about the Edo Hikeshi Karakuri Yagura.


Edo Rakugo Karakuri Yagura

Address: Tokyo, Chuo ward, Nihonbashi, Ningyocho 2-3
Hours: 11:00-19:00
Nearest Station: Ningyocho Station (Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line, Toei Asakusa Line)
Access: One minute walk from A1 Exit of Ningyocho Station.

Edo Hikeshi Karakuri Yagura: A Tribute to the Firefighters

edohikeshi karakuri-yagura

The other Karakuri Yagura is located across the street. Head back to the A1 Exit of the subway station, follow the crosswalk to the opposite side, turn right and you will arrive at Edo Hikeshi Karakuri Yagura. Hikeshi is an old Japanese word for firefighter.

As with the Rakugo Karakuri Yagura, this gadget also comes to life when the minute hand points to XII. A Kiyari, which is a work song sung by the log-carriers, flows from the speakers.


The panel turns, and a puppet appears. The puppet, carrying a long stick, is doing the Matoi Furikomi.

In the old days, a firefighter climbed up on the roof of a building with a decorated long stick called Matoi, to guide the other firefighters to the scene of a fire. This act was called Matoi Furikomi.


The photo above shows the Hashigo Nori (ladder-top stunts). It is said that the ladder was used to look for the scene of a fire, and the training on the ladder evolved into doing stunts.

hashigonori yane

At the end, the roof of the Karakuri Yagura rises and another Hashigo-Nori puppet appears, to perform at the height of eight meters.

Both Karakuri Yagura comes to life on the hour from 11:00 a.m. to 7 p.m., every day. The puppets move animatedly, re-creating the feeling of the days gone by.

Ningyocho is the perfect place to enjoy the puppets' performance, as they were a part of this town.


Edo Hikeshi Karakuri Yagura
Address: Tokyo, Chuo ward, Nihonbashi Ningyocho 1-17
Hours: 11:00-19:00
Nearest Station: Ningyocho Station (Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line, Toei Asakusa Line)
Access: One minute walk from A1 Exit of Ningyocho Station.

The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting.

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