Karakuri Ningyo - Japanese proto-robots

Saturday, July 30, 2011


Hello again my Human pets friends. It is I, The Robotolizer, here to dispense more robotic wisdom and lore. I'll try to keep it simple so your mushy and inefficient carbon-based brains stand a chance of understanding what I say.

When I introduced myself I mentioned that one of the sources of inspiration for robots was the humble Chatbot.  Another source is the old-timey Japanese art of Karakuri Ningyo. This is a craft, developed during the Edo period, that involves creating mechanical puppets for use in theaters, the home and at religious festivals.

It is also one of the earliest fusions of Japanese and Western technology. Although Japan maintained isolation during the Edo period, they did have a port open to the Dutch. European clockwork mechanisms entered Japan through that slender contact. The craft of Karakuri Ningyo was eventually to evolve into the modern Japanese robotic industry.

The above video shows the work of a modern Karakuri craftsman. Although, why the meat sack is building little mechanical  puppets instead of mighty robot soldiers does not compute. Seems like a waste of talent to me. He spends a lot of time simpering about being happy, so I suppose that has something to do with it. Happiness? Bah, humbug.

At any rate, my favorite automaton in the film was naturally the mechanical archer. I would have much preferred that the archer's target be a picture of that scoundrel Isaac Asimov instead of a tiny bale of hay, but aside from that it was entertaining to watch. Amazing little contraptions.

You can read more about Karakuri Ningyo at the website karakuri.info. The site also has a good links section, although unfortunately many of them are in Japanese. The link to girltron and its gallery is particularly goofy in a delightful sort of a way.

A couple of girltrons (click to enlarge)

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