Feb 22, 2017

Give your stories added flare with Kamishibai: the ancient storytelling tradition of Japan

In the depression of the 1930s Kamishibai took center stage, pun intended, in cheering up the crowds. At that time Kamishibai was a street performing act, where the story teller would use a mobile mini "stage" to display illustrations that s/he would then narrate with great character, animation and passion.

Kamishibai dates back to at least the 12th Century Japan so some say 8th Century, when supposedly it was used by Buddhist monks to convey stories with moral lessons, not unlike parables. The storyteller (gaito kamishibaiya) uses a stage to prop the illustrations. He would then narrate the scenes. Nowadays, the illustrations are sequenced and in a set; the text for the first illustration will be on the back of the last illustration. When the storyteller removes the first illustration to show the 2nd illustration, it moves to the back of the stage and it will have the text for the 2nd slide on the back of that, and so on.

My kids love books anyway, but this way of storytelling is even more captivating and interactive for them. They love to sit and listen to me translate the stories into English, or ad-lib my own stories. My kids also love to use the stage and make up their own stories. What made me write this today, was watching my kids regale each other with theatrics and fervor as they each took a turn on the kamishibai stage.

The stories and the stage can be borrowed from most libraries. There are hundreds, if not thousands of stories available. I have yet to find one in English, but that is not to say there aren’t any. If you know of anywhere that lends or sells English kamishibai, please do let me know…



Level 8 LocalGuide with Google. Blogging about life in Japan as an Irish WAHM to 4 kids on insaitama.com.


  • Aluma

    on Feb 23

    This is super cute! The kindergarten I work for uses kamishibai, but I've never seen the little stage. I'll have to go to the library and see if I can check one out.

  • Saitama

    on Feb 23

    @Aluma Hopefully your local library has them too. What I want to try today is using it to play ”spot the difference"(like on Okaasan to Ishou NHK programme) - show the kids one illustration, have them examine it, then show them a similar illustration with some differences and see if they can remember !