Tokyobling's Blog

Kamishibai – Volunteer Storytelling in Yokohama

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on May 11, 2012

Kamishibai, or 紙芝居 in Japanese is a very old Japanese kind of traditional storytelling involving pictures and a spoken story that was originally meant to teach buddhist principles and moral stories to illiterate people but these days it’s mostly funny or uplifting children’s stories. Kamishibai is one of the many amazing traditions that have survived over the centuries here in Japan, and the other week while walking in Yokohama’s famous Yamashita Park I saw this old man making the best of his electric wheel chair give a volunteer performance for both kids and adults. His voice had to be enhanced by a microphone but he still made full use of his dramatic voice and wooden clappers for special effects. Kamishibai as it looks today is most closely related to the way young men in the 20’s and 30’s would use this simple performance art to travel around the Japanese countryside and earn a small living during the hard economic times of the depression, and that is also when the storytelling turned from moral to entertaining. I can imagine local mothers were happy to have their unruly kids spend an hour or two listening quietly to the storytellers while they took care of the home! This man however, is a local volunteer and is proudly wearing the official Yokohama 150th anniversary t-shirt from 2009, cY150!


12 Responses

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  1. Coal said, on May 11, 2012 at 4:56 am

    My favourite kamishibai is the comic book guy in Inogashira-koen. He’s awesome!
    reading for you


    • tokyobling said, on June 1, 2012 at 1:27 pm

      Thanks for the tip! I haven’t seen him but I’ll keep my eyes open the next time I’m at the park! (^-^)


  2. Marie said, on May 11, 2012 at 5:50 am

    How it warms my heart to hear about things like this! And what a clever man to enhance the performance!


    • tokyobling said, on June 1, 2012 at 1:28 pm

      I totally agree! I wish more people were like him! (^-^)


  3. Emma Reese said, on May 11, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    Kamishibai is one of my childhood memories (as you may expect!) It was super popular as there wasn’t much entertainment back then. I don’t remember what I heard but clearly remember this episode when I was a first grader. The Kamishibai guy gave arithmetic questions (anzan) for different grades after finishing his story telling and gave out candies for the kids who could yell out the correct answers first. My brother (the baseball one) was one of the winners!


    • tokyobling said, on June 1, 2012 at 2:12 pm

      What a sweet story! It makes perfect sense so involve the kids like that! Baseball and math? Good brother! (^-^)


  4. Timi said, on May 11, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    This is the first time I see such a thing, but even now I would go and sit among those kids if I met one 🙂


    • tokyobling said, on June 1, 2012 at 2:13 pm

      If I had more free time I would have done that too! (^-^;)


  5. Ulrik said, on May 13, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    What a coincidence! I play music with some friends and our ‘teacher’ is a japanese lady. Tomorrow we’re doing this at the local school with ‘The crab and the monkey’ 🙂


    • tokyobling said, on June 1, 2012 at 2:20 pm

      Great! It must have been a fun day! Was it successful? (^o^)


  6. arialuna said, on May 14, 2012 at 8:19 am

    Kawaiii, I never saw it! In tokyo I never saw activity for child in my short holiday.
    thank you.


    • tokyobling said, on June 1, 2012 at 2:38 pm

      Thank you Aria! I have never seen them in Tokyo either, only on TV or this one man in Yokohama!


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