Mythical Origins of the Awaji Puppet Theatre Tradition

The text and images for this section on the Awaji puppet tradition have been contributed to JPARC by Professor Jane Marie Law. Readers interested in more in-depth treatment should see Professor Law's book Puppets of Nostalgia.

Each branch of the Awaji puppet tradition regarded the text Dōkumbō Denki (「道薫坊伝記」) as its founding narrative. Troupes from Awaji during the Tokugawa period took a copy of this document with them on their tours, and the text has in fact been found in places to which Awaji puppetry spread. Eight copies of this 1638 text have been found, and all appear to be transcribed from this one as their content is mostly identical.

Morioka "Dōkumbō denki" text
(GloPAD Image 1007093)

A translation1of the later part of the text (follows an abridged version of the Nihongi creation account):

- The Leech Child drifted on the waves for many months and years. At some point in the past, he arrived at Wakokuzaki and had the shape of a wheel. There, he became a kami of light. At that time there was a fisherman by the name of Murogimi (From this time, the leader of the fishermen began to be called Murogimi. Later, his surname became Fujiwara and first name was Hyakudayū Masakiyo). Once, he was sailing in a fishing boat when suddenly the sky became dark, clouds gathered and darkened the sun, and lightning flashed all around. Noting the strangeness of this occurrence, Hyakudayū drew near to a small child he saw floating in the water. The child had the shape of a deity, and was only about twelve or so years old. The child turned to face him and delivered the following oracle: 'I am the Leech Child of long ago. Until now, I have had no worship hall. You shall build me a temporary worship hall on the seashore.' The hall built as a result of this oracle was the Nishinomiya Daimyōjin (Ebisu Saburō Den) in Nishinomiya. In this shrine, a person by the name of Dōkumbō was capable of meditating for this kami and receiving his messages.
- But after the death of Dōkumbō, there was no one to appease the deity, and so the Leech Child caused heavy rains and winds, fishing disasters, and mishaps on land. Hyakudayū then reported this to the head of the Fujiwara family, who was in the capital, and an imperial order was issued ordering him to make a puppet with the same face and posture as Dōkumbō. Obeying this order, Hyakudayū manipulated the puppet before the worship hall of the Leech Child, and the deity's spirit calmed down. After this, puppets of this type in the likeness of Dōkumbō were unusually effective in appeasing the Leech Child. Hyakudayū then went around to many provinces and worshipped many gods.
- After this, Hyakudayū-Dōkumbō stopped at Awajishima and transmitted this art. It was here that the gods created the great country of Japan, and here is the island of Toyoaketsushima. Hyakudayū was given the title of ayatsurimono, or puppeteer. He lived at Sanjō, Mihara, Awajishima, and there he transmitted this art. It is said that here the people of old worshipped the myriad kami. After his death, Hyakudayū was worshipped somewhere in Nishinomiya. He was granted an imperial edict from the capital to appease divine spirits. As an appeaser of kami, Hyakudayū was later awarded the proclamation, 'The great country of Japan is a divine country. The person who appeases the divine will is therefore someone of the highest talents.'
   WARNING: This art is for the appeasement of kami. People should not take this lightly. If they do, it will weigh heavily upon them. People should be sorely afraid.
   Postscript: There was a record of this story before, but it has been lost. It was based upon a secret letter from the house of Yoshida, but since the old document has not been well checked, I have followed only the oral version.
Sakagami Nyūdō
Kan'ei 15, mid-summer

In the Awaji Sanjō Ōmidō shrine are three statues of the figures from this foundation narrative. To the left Dōkumbō, in the middle Hyakudayū, and on the right the figure of Ebisu, the kami who is the Leech Child grown. 

Awaji Ōmidō Dokumbō figure 
(GloPAD Image 1007074)
Awaji Ōmidō Hyakudayū figure
(GloPAD Image 1007075)
Awaji Ōmidō Ebisu figure


The Sanjō Ōmidō Hachiman Daibosatsu shrine as it was in the 1930s and in the 1990s: 

 Thumbnail Image   Thumbnail Image
Gate ball on the shrine gounds           A Sanbasō performance in 1930s


  1. 1. This partial translation in Religious Authority and Ritual Puppetry MN 1992 article, pp. 90-91.
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