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100 Years of Kamishibai

One of my New Year’s resolutions in 2024 is to begin this kamishibai blog to share with kamishibai enthusiasts around the world the many interesting Japanese materials about kamishibai that I have collected over the past 20 years. Most of these materials are not available outside Japan, and the ones that are often can only be accessed through a Japanese or East Asian library collection. By translating selections and summarizing articles and chapters, I hope to share topics and ideas of interest with all those who want to deepen their knowledge about the history, development, applications, and current state of this dynamic storytelling format.

On my most recent trip to Japan to present at the All-Japan Kamishibai Festival in Kawagoe last August, I picked up a copy of a special issue of the journal, Kodomo no bunka (Children’s Culture), focused on Kamishibai 100 nen—Aratana chōsen (Kamishibai’s 100 Years—New Challenges) July 8, 2023.

As many of you may know, kamishibai in the form we commonly use today was invented around 1930 so six years from now (2030) will be its centennial year. The journal, which is published by the Children’s Cultural Research Center in Tokyo, brings together many voices in the Japanese kamishibai community today to celebrate kamishibai’s 100 th birthday and to discuss the challenges that lie ahead. I thought this collection of essays, interviews and conversations would be an appropriate place to begin a series of blog posts.

I have been traveling and then had house guests for the past several weeks, but now I finally am returning to my synopses of the articles in the special issue “Kamishibai’s 100 Years.” The next article I will introduce in this post is actually my favorite so far. It is “from the archive” of the Children’s Research Center in Tokyo, which published this special issue. I find it to be an interesting choice after the 5-person discussion summarized in blog posts 3 and 4 because it takes up the same topic—the Future of Kamishibai—only from an earlier point in time: 1996. The author, Kamichi Chizuko (1935-2000) was a creator of kamishibai stories, a scholar of kamishibai, and an author of children’s literature. She was the head of the Kamishibai Research Association and headed the Executive Committee of the All Japan Kamishibai Festival. She was also on the committee that awarded the Takahashi Gozan Prize, mentioned in Blog Post 2. I have always like Kamichi’s writing and used her highly informative History of Kamishibai (紙芝居の歴史, 1990) when writing my own publications. I wish I could have met her in person, but she died in 2000, just as I was beginning my kamishibai research. […]
Before I get back to the subject of Kamishibai’s 100 year anniversary, I would like to take a moment to honor Children’s Day (子どもの日), which is celebrated in Japan on May 5th. Many years ago, the Japan Society in New York, asked me to write a series of short essays on all the Nenchu goji (年中行事)or annual festivals in Japan. I recently checked their website to see if those essays are still available and was delighted to see that they are still there in their “About Japan Teacher Resources”, but possibly not that easy to find. So here is the link to the one I wrote for Children’s Day, and this is how it begins: Children’s Day is the third of the five seasonal festivals (gosekku) that originally came to Japan in the 6th century along with the Chinese calendar. In China, the fifth day of the fifth month was thought to be heavily yang (as opposed to even numbers, which are yin), a coincidence that was considered auspicious but also potentially dangerous. According to the Chinese lunar calendar, this day would have fallen closer to the middle of June around the beginning of the rainy season, and this seasonal shift […]
As promised, this blogpost is a continuation of the last, where I provided a synopsis of a discussion among four influential voices in the world of kamishibai in Japan, moderated by the head of the Children’s Cultural Research Center in Tokyo, Suzuki Takako. In the beginning of their conversation, they looked back at the history of kamishibai and the various challenges it has faced, and in the second half, their discussion shifts to new directions in kamishibai’s future.  I should preface this synopsis of their discussion by pointing out that the people involved are, for the most part, the older guard of the kamishibai world today. Sakai Kyōko, Nagano Hideko, and Miyazaki Fumie all range in age from 70 to 80, and the youngest member of the group, Tsukahara is probably 40-50 years old. This is important to understand because the tensions that arise in this conversation amongst the participants come out of their greater or lesser ability to imagine definitions of kamishibai changing or expanding going forward. Perhaps the most fearful for kamishibai’s future is, in fact, the youngest member, Tsukahara, who wonders if kamishibai will even be around by 2030, its centennial year. He argues that unless there is […]
About me 

Scholarship and Creativity combined together

I’ve been fascinated by all forms of picture-storytelling, East and West, since childhood. As a visual artist, who has lived and studied in Japan for many years, I bring to my performances and residences an intimate knowledge of the language and culture. My programs bring Japan to life through story, song, and image, and the artwork and artifacts I create help students visualize the objects and landscape of everyday life.