Lesson Plan - Topic – Bunraku Puppet Theatre Judith Dieckman
Tulsa Public Schools
Gifted/Talented - Elementary
PASS – Grade 5 – Language Arts – Standards 5, 6, 7
Visual Arts – Standards 1,2,3, 4
Objectives – Students will:
- Read, comprehend, and analyze the novel, The Master Puppeteer.
- Read, comprehend and select a Japanese folk tale for the purpose of
dramatizing a Bunraku style puppet performance.
- Design and build their own Bunraku style puppets.
- Perform a Bunraku style play.
Materials – Japanese folk tales Musical (rhythm) instruments
Round balloons Heavy paper plates or cardboard
Paper towel tubes Bathroom tissue tubes
Masking tape Black (electrical type) tape
White tempera paint Tag board
Hair extensions or yarn Pipe cleaners
Sheets or large pieces of fabric scraps
Time Allotment – 20 – 30 hours of class time
Background information. –
1. The novel, The Master Puppeteer, is set in 18th century Osaka, Japan. The action revolves around a Bunraku
theatre. Through the novel the students learn about puppet design, construction, and manipulation. Japanese
culture, manners and politics are also an important part of the plot. This is a great way to introduce Bunraku
and Japan to the students.
2. After reading several stories from Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories, the students select a story for their
performance. You can adapt the story to fit the needs of the class. For example, instead of one warrior,
create three warriors, instead of one lord of the castle, use a lord and lady, etc. Because a narrator tells the
story in a Bunraku performance, no lines need to be memorized.
3. The puppets need to be designed in an inexpensive and appropriate way for upper elementary or middle
school students. Instead of using a pre-determined pattern for the puppets the students and teacher do a lot of
problem solving together to create the puppet structure. The teacher can make her own puppet along with the
students to experiment with building techniques and model what methods of construction will work best.
The steps listed here are one possible solution, however many other ways and techniques could be used.
Only the steps for creating human puppets are listed, but the students can create whatever is needed, for
example birds, worms, skeletons, ghosts, spiders, etc.
4. Basic kimono can be built using rectangular shapes, so upper elementary and middle school students can
build them without too much difficulty. The students can lay out their fabric and sheets at the same time and
measure and tear the fabric in one hour long class period. We taped them together during another class
5. Music is very important in Japanese theatre performances, after listening to Japanese music, the students
recreate it using flutes, drums, and other percussion instruments purchased at discount and dollar stores or
borrowed from the school music department. To most Western ears Japanese music is non-melodic, so
making the music is non-threatening and can be fun for the students.
6. This complexity of this project makes it a challenge for some 5 th graders. This would be appropriate for 5th
grade accelerated students or middle school students.
1. Read and discuss the novel, The Master Puppeteer. This novel can be read to the students while the puppets are
being built or assigned as homework.
2. Read stories from Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories and select one to adapt for a performance.
3. Design and build puppets needed to tell the story.
a. Paper mache a balloon onto a paper towel tube for the head and neck.
b. Paint paper mache balloon and tube white.
c. Cut heavy cardboard or heavy paper plate into a long oval for the shoulders.
d. Cut a circle into the middle of the shoulder cardboard and insert the neck tube.
e. Cut two small holes in neck above shoulders and two holes in shoulder cardboard on either side of
f. Pull string around a candle to “wax” the string. This prevents the string from fraying.
g. Insert waxed string through the plate, neck and back through the other side of the plate. Wrap the
string around the neck below the shoulder cardboard and tie. This string allows the puppeteer to
turn the head without turning the entire body.
h. Tape the ends of a paper towel tube under the shoulder cardboard.
i. Run waxed string through two tissue tubes, through the shoulder paper towel tube and through two
more tissue tubes. Pull string tight and tape the ends of the string to the insides of the bottom two
j. Cut lightweight cardboard or tag board to fit around the shoulders and under the arm rolls. Cut an
opening in the center back of the cardboard for the puppeteer’s hand to grasp the long neck tube.
This forms the upper body of the puppet. Tape the body onto the shoulders in the front and back.
k. Cut hands from white cardboard and tape to the insides of the bottom arm tubes.
l. Tape yarn or weave, (hair extensions) onto the head using black tape. Cut and style the hair using
tape, string, pipe cleaners, and hair clips.
m. Draw eyes, eyebrows, nose and mouth on the face with permanent markers.
4. Make clothes.
a. Cut or tear old sheets or pieces of fabric into rectangles to form a basic kimono shape.
Body rectangle: Measure around the middle of the puppet body for the width of the main rectangle.
Measure the length from shoulder down to the length desired and double it for the length of the
Sleeve rectangle: Measure the length of the arm for the width of the sleeve rectangle. Measure
from the shoulder down to the desired length and double it for the length of the sleeve rectangle.
Cut two sleeves.
(Most fabrics will tear in straight lines so cutting is not necessary.)
b. Tape the inside of the fabric where the seams should be using masking tape. Underarm area is not taped
on body or sleeves.
c. Tear a long narrow strip of fabric for the collar and staple or tape the collar around the neck of the
d. Dress the puppet and tie a long rectangular piece of fabric around the puppet for the obi, the wide belt.
e. Cut a slit in the upper back on the kimono for the hand of the puppeteer to grasp the neck tube.
f. For male puppets, the kimono was cut short like a hapi coat. Pants were made with two rectangles taped
closed into tube shapes and stuffed with paper. One end of the tube was stapled to the bottom of the
cardboard body. The other end was stapled closed and a black cardboard (or construction paper)
oval was stapled onto the bottom for a shoe.
g. Dowel rods are taped onto the hand of the puppets for manipulation.
5. Rehearse the play. Student narrators can read the script. Students not performing play the music. The musicians in
Japanese theatre are on stage or visible from the audience, so moving the students from place to place and from
puppeteer to musician should not be difficult.
6. All students wear black pants and shirts and are completely visible during the performance. No attempt is made to
hide the puppeteers in Bunraku theatre. It can be challenging for the students to remain relatively still while
manipulating the puppets so the puppets show the movement and emotion of the puppet characters.
Assessment – Student participation in reading the novel and selection of appropriate stories, willingness to attempt
“new” art forms and ability to take direction.
Paterson, Katherine. The Master Puppeteer. New York: Haper Collins, 1975
Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories. Sakade, Florence, ed. Boston: Tuttle, 1958
“Bunraku: Puppet Theater of Japan” Video from the Japan Information Center in NYC.
Ozaki, Yei Theodora. The Japanese Fairy Book. New York: Tuttle, 1970