Kamishibai Corner

Thoughts, musings and discussions weekly about kamishibai, Illustrating, and picture books.

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 could cause instability and make people more vulnerable to illness and misfortune. The Chinese name for the festival, pronounced Tango no sekku (端午の節句) in Japanese, is still commonly used today. I would also like to share a kamishibai story I created for Children’s Day to explain why the carp is such an important symbol. It is called “How Dragons Came to Be,” which seems especially fitting since it is also the year of the dragon!
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 more effort put into nurturing a younger generation of kamishibai enthusiasts in Japan, kamishibai’s future in its country of origin is pretty dire. But how, he asks, is the younger generation going to be inspired to engage in kamishibai when there are so many other distractions from social media, the internet, and now AI? Interestingly, Tsukahara used ChatGPT to ask the question: What is the future of kamishibai? I will translate ChatGPT’s answer to his question later in this post. The one who is by far the strictest about her definition of kamishibai is Sakai Kyōko, president of Dōshinsha and […]
In my third blog post, I will share some insights from the third article in the special issue of the journal, Children’s Culture (Kodomo no bunka), titled Kamishibai’s 100 Years—New Challenges (Kamishibai 100 nen—Aratana chōsen, published by the Research Center for Children’s Culture, July 8, 2023).  Again, it is more of a discussion than an article, this time amongst four influential people in the world of kamishibai in Japan today, moderated by the Director of the Research Center for Children’s Culture in Tokyo, Suzuki Takako. The four discussants: Nagano Hideko, renowned picture-book and kamishibai author and president of the Kamishibai Bunka Suishin Kyōkai (Association for Promoting Kamishibai Culture) Miyazaki Fumie, kamishibai author and researcher and vice-president of the Kamishibai Bunka Suishin Kyōkai (Association for Promoting Kamishibai Culture) Sakai Kyōko, president of Dōshinsha publishing company and representative of Kamishibai Bunka no Kai (IKAJA) Tsukahara Shigeyuki, Professor of Children’s Education at Seisen Women’s College. He is also a professional clown and kamishibai performer and theorist. This discussion may surprise kamishibai enthusiasts outside Japan because of the relative lack of information available about how kamishibai is viewed in Japan today. Histories of kamishibai in English often begin with the street-performance art in the 1930s and end with the disappearance of kamishibai off the streets of Japan with the advent of television in the 1950s, as in Allen Say’s widely acclaimed Kamishibai Man (2005). Everything post World War II is often treated broadly as “kamishibai today,” and there is an assumption that, since kamishibai was invented in Japan, it must be thriving there. But there have actually been a lot of interesting movements, countermovements, setbacks and developments with kamishibai in the nearly 80 years since the end of WWII, and it has actually been a pretty bumpy road! As the discussants point out, kamishibai has been in […]
In my second blog post, I will share some insights from the second article in the special issue of the journal Children’s Culture (Kodomo no bunka), titled “Kamishibai’s 100 Years—New Challenges” (published by the Research Center for Children’s Culture, July 8, 2023). It is actually not so much an article as a transcript of a conversation between poet Arthur Binard and Yoko Takahashi, the granddaughter-in-law of Takahashi Gozan. The Takahashi Gozan Prize was established in 1961 and has been awarded annually ever since by the Research Center on Children’s Culture in Tokyo. Arthur Binard was given the 58th Gozan Prize in 2019 for his kamishibai “A Tiny Voice” (Chicchai koe). Selecting a series of details from the famous Hiroshima panels by husband and wife team Toshi and Iri Maruki, Binard composed a poetic text to create a kamishibai story about the horrors of the atomic bombing from the point of view of the animals that were affected. The conversation between Binard and Takahashi Yoko took place at the Tokyo Children’s Cultural Research Center hall during a retrospective exhibition of Gozan’s work. Imai Yone, Matsunaga Kenya, and Takahashi Gozan are usually mentioned together as the originators of “educational kamishibai” in Japan, but Takahashi Gozan brought a different set of skills to kamishibai compared to the other two (see Blog Post 1). Whereas Imai Yone was a Christian missionary and Matsunaga Kenya was an elementary school teacher, Gozan was trained in the arts as a designer and later became a children’s book and magazine illustrator/publisher. Just like Imai and Matsunaga, Gozan observed the mesmerizing power that street-performance kamishibai exerted on child audiences, and he put his efforts into creating the first kamishibai for kindergarteners (yōchien kamishibai). Gozan can be credited with transforming kamishibai into what it now has become in the minds of most Japanese: a medium for very young […]
The first article in the collection is a look back at the contributions of Matsunaga Kenya and the emergence of educational kamishibai. It was written by Asaoka Yasuo, Professor of Children’s Culture at Shirayuri University. He begins by briefly touching on the first “gospel” kamishibai, Young David, published by Imai Yone in 1933. Through her publishing company Kamishibai Kangyo Kai, Imai increased the size of the cards to B4 (street-performance cards were typically smaller) and is credited with establishing the format for published kamishibai that continues until today. Although Asaoka does not mention this, it was a member of Imai Yone’s kamishibai troupe who first brought kamishibai to the attention of Matsunaga Kenya, a student in the Education department, working with children in the Tokyo Imperial University Settlement (for an article on the history of educational settlements, click here). Matsunaga immediately recognized how the format could be used in teaching and set to work creating his own stories, He also understood that kamishibai was a dramatic format closely related to film so his first four stories were all based on movies. In 1933, he performed Jinsei Annai (A guide for life) based on a Russian film of the same name that had been released in Japan the previous year. The story centered on a juvenile delinquent who improves his life through hard work. This is widely considered to be the first educational kamishibai in Japan. Fig. 1 Children in a Grass Field (原っぱの子供達), November 25, 1941. Nihon Kyōiku Kamishibai Kyōkai (publisher). Kamishibai Collection, Hoover Institution Archives (2018C32.07) The First Original Published Kamishibai and the Invention of the Sashikomi Technique The following year, Matsunaga published the story in mimeographed sheets as an appendix to the magazine “Research on Children’s Issues,” which was put out by the Children’s Issues Research Association affiliated with the Settlement. […]