Happy Saturday!

Sorry we’ve been a little quiet lately as we were busy handling some policy changes, but today, we are back again to talk about another form of Japan’s traditional performing arts; Bunraku.


(Bunraku Performane. Image © A For Radio)

Bunraku is the more commonly used name for Ningyo Joruri; ningyo refers to the doll/ puppet and joruri, a form of traditional Japanese narrative music. It is Japan’s traditional puppet theatre which has also been inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, just like Noh and Kabuki.

This form of theatre depends heavily on the synchronization of the narrator (known as Tayu), shamisen player and the puppeteers.

  • The tayu tells the story and lead the performance.
  • The shamisen player punctuates the narration, as well as add sounds to suggest the scene and enhance the characters’ emotions. The shamisen instrument supports and sometimes lead the Tayu.
  • In Bunraku, there are three puppeteers. The main puppeteer (known as omo-zukai) is in- charge of the head and the right hand of the puppeteer. Usually, the face of the omo-zukai is visible to the audience. Another puppeteer hidari-zukai operates the left hand and the other puppeteer ashi-zukai operates the legs. The path to become an omo-zukai requires many years of training. A Bunraku puppeteer starts out as a ashi-zukai, then becomes a hidari-zukai and finally becomes an omo-zukai.


(Bunraku Stage. Image © https://ich.unesco.org)

The narrator’s platform is called a yuka. It juts out into the audience area at the front right area of the seats. The yuka has a special rotating platform where the narrator and the shamisen player make their appearance. The platform will half rotate again to bring the first set of narrator and shamisen player backstage. While the second set of narrator and shamisen player will now perform to the audience.

Most bunraku plays are based on Japanese history and deal with the common Japanese theme of conflict between social obligations and human emotions. You can catch Bunraku at regular performances that are held at the national theatres in Osaka and Tokyo. Below is an excerpt of a Bunraku performance:









Hey, it’s Hana. In my first post I shared my little research on Kabuki. Today, I will be posting about another form of Japanese theatre called Noh.



(A Noh performance © www.japanesesymbolsofpresence.com)

Noh is a form of theatre that has been performed since the 14th century and it involves dance, music and drama. The word ‘Noh’ is derived from the Sino-Japanese word ‘No’ which means skill or talent. Noh performers use their body and visual appearances (i.e costumes) to suggest the essence of the story and not the full enactment, as it is assumed that Japanese audiences know the story’s plot very well. The language used is poetic, the movement is slow, costumes rich and heavy and tone is monotonous.

Noh Stage

(Noh stage © www.keioplaza.com)

Noh performances take place on a square stage with a roof that is supported by pillars. All its sides are open except the back, which has a wall with a painted image of a pine tree. A narrow bridge is connected to the stage and serves as an entrance for actors. Just like the bridge in a Kabuki performance, this bridge also has a symbolic meaning. While the hanamichi bridge in Kabuki is literally a path that connects two spaces in a single world, the hashigakari in Noh symbolizes the mythic nature of Noh plays in which the supernatural frequently appear.

There are 5 roles in any Noh performance and all are played by male performers. There’s Shite – the leading character, Waki – the supporting actor, Hayashi – the musicians, Jiutai – the chorus, Koken – stage attendants who assist in handing over of the props to the performers.

A key feature of a Noh performance is the mask that is worn by the shite. It gives the audience an idea of what character is being portrayed. The masks are carved from blocks of Japanese cypress. Performers wear costumes of multiple layers and textures to create an elegant effect as well as a bulky, massive figure. The props used will enhance their expressions.

For every Noh performance, there are intervals where comedy pieces about everyday life are performed. These are called Kyogen. Most kyogen is about 15-20 minutes long and involves two or three actors.

I have included a video below which is an excerpt of a Noh performance by Kyoto-based Kashu-juku Noh Theater. Enjoy!









ANNOUNCEMENT : Changes to SkillsFuture Credit Claim Procedure

SkillsFuture has announced that from 19th May 2017, SkillsFuture Credit (SFC) will be disbursed directly to only the training provider.

SFCSource : http://www.skillsfuture.sg/credit

With this change, please DO NOT make payment via paypal after you registered the course on Bunka’s website. Instead, please email to us at course@bunkalang.com indicating that you want to use your SFC.

Upon receiving the invoice from us, you may then proceed to submit the claim at www.skillsfuture.sg/credit

Please refer to this link for the user guide on skillsfuture credit (individuals)

Thank you.

The Bunka Team
24th May 2017

Oshigoto rules: Exchanging business cards Part II


In our previous post, we have discussed the situation for exchanging business cards with one single person. However, it becomes more confusing in the case when you need to exchange business cards with more people. It can be quite tedious if you have to receive a number of cards and remember everybody’s look and details within a short while. Worry not, there are a few ways to help you with remembering everyone better, and we should move on into discussing a little more about it.

In most cases, the “card-exchanging” process always starts from the person with the highest status, of the visiting party, and then the flow continues down the chain. This is very helpful in learning who is the decision-makers and it is important later on when making correspondence.


Once a card is received, be sure to keep the cards in a way that you know who it is from. For example, you may like to place the card from left to right according to the givers’ seating order, as seen from your own point of view. This helps to remind you the name of the person that you are talking to. Thus, cards should be kept on display for the remainder of the interaction.

Do not panic if the order gets a little messed up. As we have previously learnt about how sitting position reflects one’s status, it will definitely save you much effort on trying to remember which card belongs to who. Since we know how to tell the status difference by recognizing kamiza and shimoza, you can then refer back to the business card with the rank to find the right person.

Artboard 1-100

Always keep the business card of the person with the highest rank on top of your own business card case to show your respect.


Business card acts as a representative of a person. It is therefore very important to show respect to it as how you respect the person himself. Even when meeting a  group of people, it is always a good thing to do if you can take a moment to read each individual’s business card upon exchange. Most importantly, keep in mind that during a business situation, the cooperation or the team is far more important than any individual actions. Always address the group as a whole rather than single out individuals.

Learn Japanese words! 

複雑 (fukuzatsu) – complicated

基本的 (kihonteki) – basically

スムーズ (sumuuzu) – smooth

個人情報 (kojinjoohoo) – personal information

重要 (juuyoo) – important



にほんは、 そろそろつゆのきせつに はいります。

きょうはかさについての おはなしです。


みなさんは かさを なんぼんもっていますか。

にほんじんは へいきんで 3.3ぼん もっているそうです。

そして、にほんでの しゅりゅうは ながいかさです。

おりたたみの かさでは ありません。

せかいてきには おりたたみのかさが しゅりゅうのようです。

ですから、シンガポールでは、にほんのように ながいかさを あまり みかけません。


かさのいろは せかいでも にほんでも、

あお、こんが にんきのいろで、34%くらいです。つぎは、くろで、33%くらいです。

にほんのかさのとくちょうは かいがいのくにと くらべて

ビニールがさが おおいことです。

にほんじんは、あめにぬれることが すきではないようです。かさをつかうタイミングが、はやいです。



たてもののなかで すこしまちます。

あめが あがったあとで また そとに でます。

つぎのあめが ふりはじめるまえに いそいで いどうします。

にほんと シンガポールでは、あめのふりかたが

ちがうので、かさのつかいかたも、にんきのかさのタイプも ちがうんですね。

わたしは、シンガポールに きてから おりたたみのかさを つかっていますが、ながいかさのほうが すきです。

みなさんは、どんなかさを つかっていますか。


Oshigoto rules: Exchanging business cards



What are the must-have items for a business person?

When you are meeting your business partners for the first time, a neat and smart self-introduction is one of the most important factors that could lead you to success in a business partnership. A proper self-introduction includes the words and body language you use, the sincerity in you, as well as providing a summary of yourself. A business card helps you with summarizing your self-introduction and shaping it into a physical first impression that your prospective partner can refer back to in the future. However, as a business card is something that is so customized and personalized that you will not be able to purchase in any convenient store in case you forgot to bring one, it is definitely an item that you need to carry wherever you go.

A Japanese Business Card, or meishi (名刺), typically features the company’s name in the largest print, followed by the job title, name and contact information of the individual. This information is mostly presented in Japanese and sometimes in both English and Japanese.  meishi

Steps of exchanging business cards:

  • When presenting a business card to the other, the card should face up and to the person who is receiving the card so that it would be easier to read. A business card should not be presented over any obstacles such as tables or desks.


  • Introduce yourself by saying out your name, position/rank and the company that you are from. At the same time, bring the business card up to the receiver with your right hand.


  • Upon receiving a business card, look at the card and note the information on it. Take the card by holding on to the blank space on the card (usually the bottom corners) and make sure no words on the card is covered by your fingers. Reply with “お名刺頂戴致します (o meishi choudai itashimasu)” , which means “Thank you for the card, I will now keep it”.


  • Repeat aloud the name of the person who just presented you the card to confirm and end the sentence with ” よろしくお願いいたします (yoroshiku onegai itashimasu)“, which means “It is my pleasure to work with you”. Don’t forget to do the right ojigi here!



A received business card is usually kept in a smart case that is separated from your own business cards in order to avoid confusion. A case with partition can be used to keep both your own cards as well as received cards. Note that it is considered as rude if you write on a received card or just place it in your pocket.

The Japanese way of presenting a business card to another person is more ritualistic than any other places. Showing respects to a business card is as equally important as showing respects to a person. Therefore, it’s necessary to ensure that you present and receive a business card in the right manner.




Learn Japanese words! 

名刺 (meishi) – business card

交換 (koukan) – exchange

確認 (kakunin) – confirm

必携品 (hikkeihin) – must-have item

パーテーション (paateeshon) – partition



Oshigoto rules: Seating Arrangement



When Japanese gather around, there is a basic rule about sitting in the correct seat orders, and it is called the sekiji (席次) . In sekiji, people of a higher status always sit on kamiza, whereas people of a lower status will sit on shimoza. However, do we exactly know what kamiza and shimoza are? Today, we shall discuss these sekiji rules as well as what to be followed for various business occasions.

Seniority is a very important concept in the Japanese culture. Thus, the difference between a person of a higher status and a person of a lower status could be quite significant. Kamiza (上座) is the name of the seats specially prepared for people who are to be highly respected. They are usually the company’s higher management or top executives. Other than that, kamiza is also usually prepared for guests visiting a company. Shimoza (下座) is the opposite of kamiza; seats are prepared for people with lower ranks or positions. For examples, the younger or newer employees of a company. These seats are usually nearest to the entrance of a room.

However, someone who is seated in a kamiza or a shimoza position in a particular situation, may not hold the same status in a different situation. For example, in the below situation, seats are numbered according to the order of their status.

①     ②     

When we look at only seats 1 and 2, seat 1 is the kamiza whereas seat 2 is the shimoza. However, when we look at only seats 2 and 3, seat 2 now becomes the kamiza and seat 3 is the shimoza.


Reception Room and Reception Area 


In a reception room or at a reception area, the furthest seat away from the entrance is considered as the kamiza. These seats are usually long sofas rather than individual arm chairs, reason being it is more comfortable to sit on sofas.


Meeting Room


In a meeting, guests are always invited to have their seats on kamiza first. After that, employers from the hosting company will fill the seats in the order of their ranks.


In the Elevator 


The space right in front of the elevator fixtures is the shimoza. The person who stands at this area usually holds the door from outside of the elevator. After everybody else has entered the elevator, he will be the last one to enter and he will be in charge of the elevator fixtures.


On the Shinkansen 


The window seat that is facing the way the Shinkansen is travelling is the kamiza.




The seat right behind the driver is the kamiza, whereas the seat next to the driver is the shimoza. The person sitting on the shimoza is usually in charge of giving instructions or directions to the driver, as well as paying taxi fees.


Seat order indicates the status of a person. It can, therefore, be considered as an act of rudeness if one made a mistake in finding seats for himself.  Since sekiji rules vary for different spaces, it is important for us to practice sekiji regularly and plant it as a habit into ourselves.



Learn Japanese words! 

順序 (junban) – order

基本 (kihon) – basic

社員 (shain) – employee

お客様 (okyakusama) – guest/customer

出入り口 (deiriguchi) – entrance/exit

応接室(oosetsushitsu) – reception room

会議室 (kaigishitsu) – meeting room

エレベーター (erebeetaa) – elevator

運転手 (untenshuu) – driver

Oshigoto rules: Bowing


Some people greet by shaking hands, some by hugging, while some others by kissing. As for the Japanese, they have a unique way of greeting – by bowing. This particular manner of the Japanese is known as ojigi (おじぎ).

Ojigi is indeed a basic yet very important manner of the Japanese people. If one is unable to use ojigi at the correct place and time, no matter how strong his ability is, he will not be considered as a successful business man in the eyes of the Japanese people.  One could be viewed as rude and no common sense if ojigi is not implemented properly. It is, therefore, hard to maintain a harmonious relationship with others in Japan with the lack of knowledge of ojigi.

On the other hand, if one is able to handle ojigi well, on top of gaining favourable impressions, having a great and stable business relationship with your business partners would be much easier.


There are 3 common ojigi for business situations. These include eshaku (会釈), keirei (敬礼) and saikeirei (最敬礼), arranged in ascending order of sincerity. Let’s look at which type of ojigi is more suitable when we are placed in different situations.

Eshaku – the most casual ojigi:

Artboard 1-100Just like a salute, this is the most frequently applied ojigi. Together with a bright smile, It can be used on almost everybody, whom you have encountered, to show your respect to them.


Keirei – a common ojigi:

keireWith some smart aisatsu, this type of ojigi is used when welcoming or sending off customers. Don’t forget to lower your head and place both of your hands in front of your laps.


Saikeirei – the most courteous ojigi

saikeireWhen you think that you are surrounded by a very formal and serious vibe, it is time to apply this type of ojigi. It is usually used when expressing gratitude or apologizing.


How to do a professional self-introduction in the Japanese way?

  1. Ojigi
  2. Simple greetings : e.g. はじめまして (Nice to meet you)
  3. Introduce your name : e.g. 〇〇ともうします (I am ______ )
  4. Say something about yourself to let people have a stronger impression of you
  5. Greetings again : e.g. よろしく、おねがいします (It’s my pleasure to work with you)
  6. Ojigi again


Still sounds a little confusing and you are worried about not applying the most suitable ojigi at the right time? Just keep in mind that practice makes perfect. Nevertheless, nothing could go wrong with showing politeness, sensitivity and present yourself smartly with good manners when you are working with Japanese business partners.

Source: https://i1.wp.com/www.depepi.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/japanese-bowing-2-depepi.com_.gif?resize=400%2C243


Learn Japanese words!
仕事 (shigoto) – work
ビジネス (bijinesu) – business
常識 (jooshiki) – common sense
適当 (tekitoo) – suitable
人間関係 (ningenkankei) – human relationship
印象 (inshoo) – impression
笑顔 (egao) – smile
体 (karada) – body
両手 (ryoote) – hands
腰 (koshi) -waist


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The Bunka Team
26 April 2017

Japan’s Traditional Performing Arts – Kabuki


I am Hana, a new staff at Bunka Language School. Before working here, I was freelancing in the arts industry, doing playwriting as well as backstage work such as stage and production managing for various theatre and dance collectives. I love being able to participate in any arts and cultural events and always look forward to seeing how other countries conserve their culture and promote their arts.

Working at Bunka inspires me to enquire on the Japanese culture and arts further. So, I did a little research about Japan’s traditional performing arts and would like to share some of my findings with you.


kabuki1(Kabuki Theatre © Umemura Yutaka)

Kabuki is a traditional Japanese form of theatre and is recognised as one of Japan’s three major classical theatre forms along with Noh and Bunraku. It is listed as one of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. Originally, both women and men performed in Kabuki plays but later during the Edo Period, a restriction was placed, forbidding women from participating. This tradition has remained until today and male actors who specialise in performing women’s roles are called Onnagata.

A typical Kabuki program today consists of two dramas and one dance or dance-drama. It involves rhythmical lines spoken by actors, elaborately designed costumes, a dynamic stage and exaggerated actions by the actors. A Kabuki stage has a footbridge, called hanamichi, which leads through the audience, allowing for a dramatic entrance or exit. The performance is accompanied by a live music that uses traditional instruments. These elements above, produce a visually stunning and captivating performance.

Kabuki stories are usually based on historical events, moral conflicts, warm-hearted dramas, love stories and tales of tragedy or conspiracies. What is on show is often a part of a bigger story hence it will be good to read the synopsis of that show before attending. At some theatres, you will be able to rent headsets which will provide English narrations and explanations.

I hope I’ll be able to visit Japan and have a performing arts/ an art ‘marathon’ someday. I shall share on Noh and Bunraku soon. Thank you for reading my first post!


Learn new Japanese words!
歌舞伎 (kabuki) – a form of classical Japanese dance-drama
女形 (onnagata) – woman-role
花道 (hanamichi) – flower path
能 (noh) – a form of classical Japanese musical drama
文楽 (bunraku) – a form of traditional Japanese puppet theatre

We’ll be starting a new blog series next week! Stay tuned!