Bunraku Puppet Theater

I love puppetry in any form. I had the opportunity to watch one performance of Bunkaru when I was in Tokyo in late May. The concierge reserved a 7000 yens ticket(US about $74) for an afternoon performance. It was a good value. I had a center seat five rows from the stage in the National Theater in a performance that lasted five hours, with one 30 minutes and a fifteen minutes intermission. Very inexpensive by Broadway standards.

The audience was a mix of the young, middle aged  and old. The curtains was beautifully painted.  People either brought in their own snack boxes or bought them there. I remember that in the Cantonese opera theater I went to as a child(decades ago), the theater was dirty by the end of the performance, with melon seed husks, orange rinds on the floor. Venders gawk snacks and toy swords, horse whips for the kids. I’m sure such theaters nowadays are not as noisy and dirty. In the National tTheater, the audience ate very neatly!

Bunkaru combines puppetry, musical accompaniment on the Shamisen and narration. The puppets were full sized in the performance I saw. I understand that they are usually half sized. Three puppeteers operate one puppet. The chief puppeteer manipulates the head and the right arm while two lower ranked puppeteers manipulate the left arm and the legs. They are dressed in black. The lower ranked ones’ faces are covered in black, while the chief puppeteer’s’ face is not covered. I found that jarring. It’s true, he’s a star and well known to his fans. But I want the illusion of not seeing the puppeteers, who did an excellent job.  The movements were nuanced and detailed.

On the side of the stage, in the audience section, but sitting above them were the musician and the narrators, who took different roles. One narrator was a tall handsome man. I enjoyed looking at him until he spoke the dialogue! To project his voice and to convey the drama, he opened his mouth very wide as he enunciated, grimacing throughout. So did the other narrators who were not as handsome. I stopped looking at them and concentrated on the English translation through the earpiece which cost a small amount to rent.

The usual plays acted are historical stories about loyalty, conflict and emotions. I enjoyed the play but found it too long drawn out. It was slow going. But I enjoyed it nonetheless. I left at the second intermission because I wanted to return to the hotel before dark. I would have liked to see the curtain call, to see whether the lower ranked puppeteers removed their black hoods.


Blessed are the librarians. As a writer of historical middle grade novels and nonfiction, librarians have helped me tremendously in my research. Starting from my local library  only five blocks from my house to the librarians in the Bay area, California, they are unceasingly helpful and enthusiastic in assisting me.

In the San Francisco Historical Society, the librarian first doubted that she could find material that old. She suggested that I should go to the Chinese historical Society. I told he I had been there already, but it did not have immaterial dating that far back to early 20th century. Lo and behold, she found me two volumes of records in English and Chinese (names hand written) of the Chinese businesses in San Francisco and Oakland with the addresses in that era.

The Maritime Museum, likewise, had volumes ready for me to peruse. I had emailed the librarian in advance.

The Oakland Librarian showed me maps of the landing pier of refugees from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. I never knew about the pier or that it jutted way out in to the bay.

The above research in July 2015 was for my second novel “The Girl With Big Feet.”


Last week I went to the Sterling Memorial Museum to see the exhibition of the Japanese Internment. I’m in the second big revision stage of “The Wrong Face.” It was a small exhibition, smaller than I had expected. I already went to the Poston camp in Arizona and interview six surveyors in LA in 2013. I still found a few nuggets of new information. I went there to read the diary of one survivor, Yonekazu Satoda,who was a recent high school graduate when he was sent to a camp. Only the first page was visible in the case. His handwriting was clear and legible.  I was given a link to read the rest of the dairy at my leisure. (I haven’t started yet.) Coincidentally, every chapter of my book starts with a short journal entry of the protagonist, a 11 yr.old when he entered Poston, 13 when he left. Mr. Satoda’s entries were as short!

I’ve been told and also know by experience, that middle grade historical novels are a hard sell to agents and publishers. And yet, without having sold the first one, I’ve started the second. Am I sadistic or what? But I do enjoy historical research and I believe,  have important stories to tell.

My MG novel

I was advised by a mentor to revise my debut middle grade novel, set at an internment camp for the Japanese in WWI, to make it more appealing to agents.  It may take me a long while to get it done. I’m writing  my second novel and some picture book texts. But I plan to do it, no longer how long it takes. The setting and plot are timeless and now TIMELY.

Marrying the enemy

I’ve been reading the books for young readers by Lensey Mamioka, because she writes the genre I’m interested in and she has a multicultural perspective. One more perspective than I have. She married a Japanese man she met in college.  Born in 1929, it took great courage for a Chinese to marry a Japanese.  Even today, the older generation of Chinese remember the Japanese atrocities in China and Hong Kong in the 1940s. Her experience of opposition of both families to the marriage informed her novel, Mismatch, a perceptive story invoking the mores of the Japanese and Chinese culture.

My neighbors are a German married to a Hungarian Jew who lost her father at Dachau. They are in the early eighties. That’s another marriage requiring great courage.