Practical Sheet

Kamishibai

SHEET #17

(Japanese: 紙芝居, KAMI=paper, SHIBAI= theater, acting )
It was a form of street theatre and was used by a kamishibai-ya (kamishibai narrator) who moved by bicycle in cities to tell tales to the children.

Source: Photo from the Walter A. Pennino Postwar Japan Photo Collection, courtesy of the Center for Japanese Studies, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa

WHAT IS KAMISHIBAI? 

This ancient technique of narration (born in Japan in the 12th century and linked to Buddhist temples), was designed to “help” illiterate people, through the use of images that, in succession, strengthened and assisted the narrator telling the story.  

The storyteller uses illustrated plates that slides in front of the audience. On one side there are images illustrating the various passages of the story, while on the back, on the side facing the speaker, there is the written text. This allows the narrator to have both reference points with the story but also all the “space” necessary for improvisation.  

The images thus become a valuable support for children as in reading or listening to an illustrated book, in which images with colours and visual details reinforce the story.  

The Kamishibai has the charm of the slow story, of suspended time that allows everyone to “enter” in the story, image after image, word after word, can therefore represent not only a moment of fun but also of lightness becoming an important opportunity for all children. 

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT? 

The Kamishibai is a powerful narrative form halfway between reading and theatre, involving both auditory and visual aspects. Using a small theatre (of easy construction), the teacher shows the various scenes, which are thus “framed” and enclosed in the structure, capturing the attention of children. The “scene” slides away, showing the next one, thus creating a moment of waiting for the children.  

The action that reveals the next scene is important, so the teacher can choose to emphasize it by slowly reveal it or with a single quick gesture, depending on the story and the type of “emotion” you want to create. 

The narration with the Kamishibai is very effective in its simplicity, it is engaging and helps children to concentrate. 

The use of Kamishibai requires a good interpretative ability but, above all, it favours and stimulates the oral storytelling as well as the ability of synthesis, thanks to the fact that the story is divided into sequences and images that offer a reassuring “mediation”.  For this reason, at a later moment, the teacher can invite the children to use it to become gaito kamishibaiya( storyteller). 

HOW TO USE IT? 

Kamishibai is suitable for children of all ages and abilities! 

Currently Kamishibai is often used at school, in the library, in the playroom and at home. It’s a small theater that can be easily put on the desk using it as a scenic place to create a strong involvement between narrator and audience.  

Kamishibai has a wooden stage in which the illustrated boards are inserted (normally 10-16 boards). Each image is numbered on the back. The viewer sees the image while the narrator tells the story, slipping and reinserting the boards back into the slot, from front to back. 

Kamishibai can be also done without a wooden stage, only with the illustrated boards. 

Also because of their generous size (normally A3), Kamishibai can be used easily with both small and large groups as well as with an individual child. 

  • Without a stage
  • With a stage
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Sugano Tomoko – a board member of NPO STORYTELLERS’ASSOCIATION OF JAPAN 
03 azukibas.jpg
Front side of kamishibai 
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Back side of kamishibai 

EXAMPLES 

👉 Look at the tutorial how to tell the story with Kamishibai without a stage!  

👉 Look at the tutorial how to tell the story with Kamishibai with a stage!