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. The illustrations provided just the black outline, like a coloring book, with images and text on separate sheets so teachers (or students) could color them in and paste them onto a cardboard surface to perform the story. This was a resourceful method of getting the story out to as many schools and teachers as possible at little cost to them.

After graduating from Tokyo University and becoming an elementary school teacher, Matsunaga continued his kamishibai activities from his home, which became the “Children’s Extracurricular Education Research Center.” Here, he continued publishing “A Guide to Life” and went on to create nine more titles. As a fourth grade teacher, Matsunaga created a kamishibai story with his students called Jichikai (Residents’ Council). The story is about a school that gathers money for the poor children suffering in Japan’s northeastern (Tohoku) region. When some of the money goes missing, they realize that one of the students stole it so that his ailing mother would have something to eat. They form a school “residents’ council” to plan how to help their classmate. Matsunaga created the script and his students illustrated the story. This is considered to be the first original published kamishibai of a story not based on an existing book or movie.

Matsunaga emulated the dramatic action in movies and invented the use of the sashikomi technique, which can often be found in published kamishibai of the 1930s and 40s but is rarely seen today.

Fig. 2 A simple example I created of the sashikomi technique. By pulling the half card with tabs out of the slits quickly, it looks like a rabbit suddenly pops out of the magician’s hat.

From Educational to Propaganda Kamishibai

While Matsunaga was one of the first to have children create their own stories, he also began creating stories to convey instruction from the school curriculum. Inamura no hi (The fires of Inamura), which is based on a true story from the Edo period (1603-1868) and was included in the Japanese literature textbooks, relates the story of a wealthy man who saves his village. After a large earthquake, the man realizes that a tsunami will soon strike the village, so he creates a distraction by setting fire to his own crops up on a hillside. While all the villagers run to the top of the hill to help put out the fire in his fields, the tsunami hits the village and everyone is spared. When the Educational Kamishibai Association of Japan was founded in July 1938, this was the first kamishibai they published. The Association went on to focus on publishing stories from Japanese ethics and history textbooks of the time.

It was a small step to go from creating ethical stories for elementary students about communities pulling together for a greater cause to making War Propaganda stories, inciting people of all ages to work together for the war effort. The Nihon Kyōiku Kamishibai Kyōkai (Educational Kamishibai Association of Japan) became one of the main producers of propaganda kamishibai, and Matsunaga contributed several notable scripts to this effort. Machi wa hogaraka ka (Is your town healthy?) focuses on developing the health and strength of the nation through a sports festival, and Chokin jiisan (The saving man) is about a father, who loses his son in the war, but chooses to put his efforts into saving money for the war effort. Both stories end with the words: “Wake up, Japanese citizens—let’s work together!” In this way, kamishibai transitioned from being a powerful educational tool for classroom instruction to a mass media used to rally the nation around a common cause.

Fig. 3 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)

Although Matsunaga’s legacy (and Imai Yone’s also) can never be disassociated from the taint of propaganda, Asaoka leaves the reader with an invitation to look again at the more than 25 kamishibai Matsunaga created in his lifetime in terms of the cinematic drama that he tried to achieve. This is an aspect of kamishibai that has inspired creators from the invention of the format (the first ever street performance kamishibai was based on a French film), and continues to inspire many of us creating kamishibai today.

Further links:

To read more about the rise of educational kamishibai, see

For an excellent digital story about the history of kamishibai as seen through the Hoover Collection, see

For an in-depth treatment of War propaganda kamishibai in English, see Sharalyn Orbaugh’s Propaganda Performed: Kamishibai in Japan’s Fifteen-Year War (Leiden: Brill Press, 2015)



4 Responses

  1. Hi, Tara, I really enjoyed today’s Dojo and also this article. I have one question. I’m not clear on who wrote the blog piece – you or Asaoka Yasuo? At first it seems as if you are introducing Asaoka Yasuo’s work, then within the same paragraph I began to think I was reading that article myself. But then I’m fairly sure that the very clear illustration of the sashikomi technique somes from your new mouse/magician kamishibai. I’m sorry to be so dense.

    • Thank you, Elizabeth, for giving me a chance to clarify. My goal with this blog is to share what is being written about kamishibai in Japan. I have collected a lot of materials in Japanese over the years with insights that I think will be of interest to kamishibai enthusiasts around the world who may not have access because of the language. So this is my synopsis of Asaoka’s article with some background information that I provided.

  2. While the early kamishibai-ya (and the syndicates that supplied them) launched kamishibai on the streets of Japan, it is educational kamishibai that survived and spread around the world. I am glad to now know more about Matsunaga Kenya. Will more about Imae Yone follow? Thank-you for this interesting and informative post.

    • Thanks, Walter, sorry for my delayed reply. My internet was down for a week! I am looking forward to sharing more about the history of educational kamishibai because there are many different movements and actors involved. It is not as monolithic as it sometimes may seem. And it is important to note that many of the early educational kamishibai promoters had real appreciation for the street performance artists. Imai Yone actually hired street-performance artists to create her first few bible stories.

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