The Edo period saw educational opportunities for aristocratic and samurai families, as well as in later periods for the children of merchants, artisans, and farmers in theatre, private institutions, and schools for children, which were used as part of storytelling. Called terako-ya it was meant to help children to learn the names of birds, animals, and flowers. Later these images were recorded in many ukiyo-e omocha-e prints to inform the general domestic and international audiences.
Mastering the playful art of shadow puppetry was archived by one Ukiyo-e artist in particular, (Utagawa Hiroshige - 1797-1858), whose work is found in many museums throughout the world. This prolific woodblock artist created an instructive series of omocha-e released in 1882. Additionally, images along with toy pictures intended for youngsters, that demonstrates how to twist your hands into a snail or rabbit to mimic a bird perched on a branch. These clever figures range in difficulty from simple animals to sparring warriors, and are complete with prop suggestions, written instructions for making the creatures move, and guides for full-body contortions.
No one would think of cutting up an Ukiyo-e print today, but in the Edo period many Ukiyo-e works were used for playing with cut-outs, such as dress-up dolls and for making models, and from these pictorial puzzles and shadow pictures. They became extremely popular in early education, and before writing and the Japanese alphabet were developed. Based on the original Shadow play, also known as Shadow puppetry, it was the only available ancient form of storytelling and entertainment, and was used flat articulated cut-out figures, (shadow puppets), which are held between a source of light and a translucent screen, (scrim), or shoji panel in the home.
Locals and visitors are fortunate to still experience opportunities to see the Art of Bunraku,(also known as Ningyō jōruri ), is a form of traditional Japanese puppet theatre, founded in Osaka in the beginning of the 17th century. We also see performances still performed in the modern day referred to as Bunrakuza, after the puppeteering ensemble of Uemura Bunrakuken (1751–1810), an early 18th-century puppeteer from Awaji Island, whose efforts revived the flagging fortunes of the traditional puppet theatre. The puppets of the Osaka tradition tend to be somewhat smaller overall, while the puppets in the Awaji tradition are some of the largest, as productions in that region tend to be held outdoors. All but the most minor characters require three puppeteers, who perform in full view of the audience, generally wearing black robes. In most traditions, all puppeteers also wear black hoods over their heads. The shape of the puppeteers' hoods also varies, depending on the school to which the puppeteer belongs.
In the ancient Japanese tradition of Wayang Kulit, the medium of shadow puppetry is nothing short of a metaphor for the human soul to symbolize the character's inner qualities. Shadow puppetry is considered the oldest form of puppetry in the world, and it specifically focus on folk-tales and legends of the past. Below are a few images recorded in woodblock print by Hiroshige illustrating what young people experienced through puppetry experiences in their educational experiences.