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What do you think of when you hear the word karakuri?
You might recall a marionette you've seen in a TV show or a museum.
Most people probably don't understand what the word karakuri means.
In fact, this mysterious word came from the Edo period, which is not really a long time ago. It was used for mechanical engineering at that time, and people also called everything carriing out strange motions karakuri. Some technical terms like ,,,,,,, were also
read as karakuri, too. So, what was the origin of this mysterious word?
It is said that karakuri was derived from a loanword kairai when it was spoken with a local accent. Kairai means a marionette, and denotes a person who acts as ordered by others.
During the Song, dynasty in the 10th century, there were 8 senses for
kairai.
(Kenshi)... a marionette (a doll which is controlled by a rope)
(Joutoh)... mainingyo (a dancing doll controlled with its legs), bunraku (a classical puppet theatre)
(Sui) ... a puppet theatre on the water
(Yakuhatsu) ... a doll that moves by gunpowder
(Hiei) ... a shadow picture
(Hotei) ... a glove puppet
(Niku) ... controlling child's legs and arms from behind
(Kikan) ... mechanism
Seven of them have been handed down just as they used to be, and the other one (Kikan) has kept developing as karakuri.
Karakuri is an object that needs some mechanism to move, and it has evolved into a robot in modern times.

Now, let's focus on what sort of karakuri we can see today.
Two major types of karakuri are Dashi karakuri and Zashiki karakuri.

Dashi karakuri (Parade float karakuri)
is:
usually placed at the top of parade floats during religious festivals.
Those used in festivals in Aichi and Hida are very famous in Japan.
This karakuri range from marionettes controlled with strings to sophisticated automata that move by mechanical means using clockwork, springs, and gears.
Now then, why were they used for festivals anyway?
Fact: people used to hold festuvaks to see the spiritual word, and a marionette was an object of worship for their ceremony.
People humbly recognized the existence of God and thought that they also live at his will, just like the marionette moved which is controlled by pulling strings.

Zashiki karakuri (Indoor karakuri)
is:
what we can use at zashiki (a sitting room) in a house.
We can call anything from toys to ornaments Zashiki karakuri, if they have delicate mechanism and mysterious tricks.
The well-known karakuri dolls and karakuri tansu are some of them.
They move by hidden tricks which we cannot see easily, and it absolutely amazes us.
Zashiki karakuri is a transformation of devine Dashi karakuri.
It shows us fantastic sense and humor. More than anything, we can see the quality of Japanese karakuri technique by its playful touches.

 

 
   
       

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