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. This article was first published in 1996 in the journal Kanagawa Culture (神奈川文化) and again in 2000 at the time of her death in the Association for the Advancement of Kamishibai Culture Newsletter. 

According to Kamichi, 1996 was an especially promising time for kamishibai in Japan. The full title of her article is “The Future of Kamishibai: Reborn as a Medium for Human Interaction.” Kamichi begins by listing various signs of a kamishibai renaissance, including the popularity of several recent published kamishibai, the publication of major retrospectives about the heyday of street-performance kamishibai, and, as the last generation of street-performance artists retired, the donation of their collections to public libraries. But, she notes, the most prominent sign of kamishibai resurgence is the emergence of the tezukuri (hand-made) kamishibai movement.

As Kamichi points out, definitions of tezukuri kamishibai are vague because “hand-made” kamishibai have existed since the beginning of the format. The original street-performance cards were all hand-painted, and the early promoters of kamishibai, such as Imai Yone, Takahashi Gozan, and Matsunaga Kenya, all had to start out with hand-made cards before they came up with ways to publish them. But the present-day tezukuri kamishibai movement took off in Japan in the 1970s as a reaction to the sudden influx of mass-media—television and video games—that started consuming children’s time in the latter half of the 1960s. Parents, teachers, and librarians began working together to ensure that children continued to engage with books and literacy through the formation of bunko (home libraries) and community kamishibai workshops. In 1980, the Kanagawa Prefectural Library joined forces with the Kanagawa Prefectural Audio-Visual Education Alliance to start a Tezukuri Kamishibai Contest, and other places followed suite, including the Minoh Tezukuri Kamishibai Festival, which began in 1989 (sadly, this was discontinued in 2021). From 1986, the Children’s Cultural Research Center in Tokyo organized the All-Japan Kamishibai Festival, which continues to be held every other year in a different part of Japan, and this attracts kamishibai groups from all around the country to share their stories with each other.

Along with the emergence of the tezukuri kamishibai movement, there has been criticism that it encourages feelings of 自己満足 (jiko manzoku, or “self-satisfaction”)[1] in the performers, who are mostly amateurs, giving voice to their own, sometimes overly personal, stories. I struggled a bit with how to translate this concept because “self-satisfaction” or pleasing oneself is not considered a bad thing in the US and elsewhere. So why is it bad with kamishibai? From what I can glean from the context, jiko manzoku is negative because it means the performer is only thinking about drawing attention to themselves and not about their audience. This same critique was mentioned in the 5-person discussion in Blog posts 3 and 4 as a tendency toward 派手なパーフォマンス, which could be translated as “flashy performance” that is all show and no substance. This critique has been directed at the tezukuri kamishibai movement particularly by the “educational” kamishibai community.

[1] I was curious about the connotations of this word so I asked Tamayo Tsujino (a.k.a Tamachan), co-founder of the Tezukuri Kamishibai Kan, about it. Her insights are included at the end of this post.

I particularly appreciate the way Kamichi counters this criticism. She points out that all forms of kamishibai can be seen to have their own pitfalls. The street-performance kamishibai of the 1930s and 40s was critiqued for its lurid themes and unrefined images. Educational kamishibai, with its insistence on high moral tone and professional illustration, has a tendency to fall into condescending didacticism and formality. Tezukuri kamishibai may invite a certain amount of glitzy showmanship by amateurs interested in drawing attention to themselves, but it also brings people together to share their ideas in a direct, unmediated, and, as I have described elsewhere, a “democratic” way. As Kamichi points out, it is the simple and amateur quality of the illustrations and the untrained voice of the tezukuri performer that often makes the performance so engaging and places the audience and performer on the same level.

I also agree wholeheartedly with Kamichi that, just because tezukuri kamishibai are often created and performed by amateurs, this does not mean that the process should be taken lightly or engaged in half-heartedly. When people put their heart and soul into creating and performing a story, this comes across no matter what level of skill they may have. Kamichi reminds us that kamishibai is at its core a simple medium, which is highly effective at transmitting a message in an interactive way, and this ultimately is what makes it so appealing across cultures. In 1996, when she was writing this article, Margaret Eisenstadt was making headlines with her bilingual offerings of kamishibai through Kamishibai for Kids. Looking at an image of Margaret performing kamishibai for American children, Kamichi was struck by how similar it is to scenes of children enjoying kamishibai in Japan. 

Kamichi also mentions the work of Matsui Noriko to promote kamishibai in Vietnam and of the increasing number of kamishibai publishers in France. As Kamichi notes, the spread of kamishibai to other parts of the world is different from that of other traditional Japanese arts. Kamishibai is a simple medium that can bring any group of people in any country together and build community through interactive communication. She quotes the president of the Vietnamese publishing company Kimdon as saying that kamishibai is particularly important in Vietnam because of the sudden and dramatic shift to a consumer society where children are increasingly cut off from their families and each other because of the internet and video-games. I think we can all relate to the sense of increasing alienation from our immediate communities brought about by the allure of virtual worlds. 

Kamichi concludes the article by looking at the recent use of kamishibai in elder care in Japan, but she notes that the kamishibai stories created at the senior center she observed did not just focus on the elderly; they built bridges across generations. She gives a beautiful example of a story called “The Blue Sweater,” which relates how during WWII a little girl wanted a blue sweater but the war prevented her from getting her wish. 50 years later, she is able to find a sweater just like it and present it to her granddaughter. This story is a great example of one that appeals to all ages and helps us all relate to one another across generations and cultures through this unique “medium for human interaction” called kamishibai.

Understanding the “Jiko manzoku (自己満足) critique”: Insights from Tamachan

As I mentioned, I was intrigued by the use of jiko manzoku (self-satisfaction) as a critique of the tezukuri kamishibai movement, so I asked Tamachan (Tamayo Tsujino), co-founder of the Tezukuri Kamishibai Kan in Osaka, about it. I explained that “self-satisfaction” is not necessarily a bad thing in English. She told me that this critique has been directed at a younger generation of Japanese performers, who are treating kamishibai as a form of street performance and (in some cases) trying to out-do each other with creating a spectacle. She attributes some of this to a renewed interest in all kinds of street-performances, not only those in Japan but also in the West, which may be why the English word “performance” (パフォーマンス pafōmansu) is used to describe it.

Tamachan also does street performance kamishibai but feels that kamishibai is fundamentally different from other street spectacles, such as juggling, where the focus is on the prowess of the performers. It all comes down to a question of whether the kamishibai cards are the main actors in the performance or just playing a supporting role. If, as a performer, you treat the images on the cards as the main characters, then you will not draw attention to yourself, much like the Bunraku puppeteers who manipulate (animate) the puppet but are dressed in black so the audience barely notices them. Jiko manzoku refers performers who treat the kamishibai cards and story as supporting actors while making themselves the main focus or attraction. 

I think this is a very important distinction for all of us who perform kamishibai to think about and it may be more of a continuum than a simple choice between the two styles. For me, personally, I think the animation of the kamishibai cards is the main attraction, and I am mainly a supporting actor, trying to bring them to life for the audience. As Tamachan points out, however, people should feel free to choose how they want to perform their own stories, and there is room for all kinds of performance styles, but I think it is valuable to think about this distinction and figure out what balance you want to maintain in your own performances. Tamachan explained that jiko manzoku  is considered a negative term, but there is also the term jiko kotei (自己肯定), which means “self-affirmation,” and this is used in a positive sense in Japan.

It is a testament to Tamachan’s openness to all kinds of approaches, that she has pulled together an exhibition at the Nakanoshima Prefectural Library in Osaka, featuring more than 10 kamishibai artists from around the world. The title of the exhibition is “Welcome to the World Forest of Kamishibai: We Love Kamishibai!” and I end this Blog Post with a few pictures from the show.



2 Responses

  1. I also strongly believe that in Kamishibai the star should be the picture cards & the story. The performers are supporting actors no doubt.

  2. Hi Tara,
    I enjoyed this blog. Thank you. I think the criticism of self satisfaction also comes in with the current enthusiasm for telling personal stories rather than traditional or literary stories. All too often, a personal story is so narrow there is no relationship to the world outside of that person’s experience. No big picture. And personal story as therapy occurs too. Rather than bringing the audience safely home, they are often left uneasy, perhaps feeling the need to care for the teller. Obviously, not what any performer should be doing.

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