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An introduction to the Bunraku puppet theatre: Kanadehon Chushingura

In this short article, Professor Andrew Gerstle shares his expertise on a Japanese traditional art form and introduces you to one of the most popular plays in the bunraku puppet theatre, Kanadehon Chushingura (仮名手本忠臣蔵), which premiered in Osaka in 1748.

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Professor Andrew Gerstle, a Fellow of the British Academy, was born in the USA, and studied Japanese culture at Columbia, Waseda (Tokyo) and Harvard Universities. A specialist on drama, literature and popular culture of the Tokugawa era, his current project is on erotic books (shunga), and plans to publish a translation of Onna dairaku takara-beki (Great Pleasure for Women and their Treasure Boxes, c. 1757). He taught at the Australian National University from 1980-1993, where he became Professor. From 1993 he has been Professor of Japanese Studies at SOAS, University of London. He published his first book on the playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725) in 1986, and later a translation of five Chikamatsu plays. He has led international research projects in Australia and the UK, resulting in many edited/joint publications. In 2005 he co-curated an exhibition on Osaka Kabuki at the British Museum, which went on to the Osaka Museum of History and the Waseda University Theatre Museum in Tokyo. This led him into the visual culture of 18th-19th century Japan where he encountered shunga (spring pictures), Japanese traditional erotic art. Realizing its importance and the taboo in modern Japan over it, he organized a research project that led to the British Museum exhibition in 2013, 'Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art', which subsequently inspired the first Shunga exhibition in Japan in 2015, thereby breaking a modern taboo.

Publications include Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art (co-author), British Museum Press, 2013; Edo onna no shungabon (Erotic 18th Century Books for Women, 2011); Chikamatsu: Five Late Plays (2001); Kabuki Heroes in the Osaka Stage, 1780-1830 (2005); Onna shimegawa oeshi-bumi (2007); and Bidô nichiya johôki (2010), two translations of erotic books for women.

He is currently in discussion with British Museum colleagues and others on the project, 'The Role of Art Salons in 18th-19th Century Japan'.

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