Kamishibai – Volunteer Storytelling in Yokohama
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!