About the Kamishibai Storytelling Alliance (KSA)
Welcome to the Kamishibai Storytelling Alliance SIG. Here we focus on kamishibai (literally, “paper theater”), a form of visual storytelling invented in Japan. Today, kamishibai is spreading around the world, including the US. In our monthly meetings, we will share kamishibai storytelling techniques and resources for all who are interested in learning more about this dynamic storytelling format and incorporating it into their own storytelling practice. We will also offer sessions where storytellers can sign up to get constructive feedback from SIG members on kamishibai stories they are in the process of creating or learning to perform.
What is Kamishibai?
Kamishibai (紙芝居), literally “paper theater,” is a form of street-performance art inspired by film and invented in Japan in the late 1920s. When silent film first entered Japan, it was never really silent because movie narrators, known as benshi 弁士, were almost always standing alongside, explaining the (often foreign) films to avid fans. In some cases, the movie narrators became more popular than the movie stars! Kamishibai storytellers made a living by selling treats to the children before the performances. With various quizzes and prizes introduced in between each of three different genres of stories–action adventures, sentimental dramas, and a humorous cartoon, the kamishibai street performance was truly a multi-sensory experience!
Street-performance kamishibai cards were inspired by these early films and like films in miniature, the images were designed to be animated through dramatic transitions from one card to the next. The performer pulls the cards out of the stage while narrating the soundtrack alongside, much like the early film narrators. When talkies came to Japan in the 1920s, it is said that many of these film narrators took to performing kamishibai in the streets to make a living. By the 1950s, when television entered Japan, kamishibai had become so popular that the first televisions were referred to as denki (electric) kamishibai!
Now hailed as a precursor of animé and manga, kamishibai has been gaining attention worldwide, as artists, educators, and performers of all kinds, inspired by the candy peddlers of the 1930s, strap stages to bicycles or otherwise transport them to schools, streets, museums and parks to entertain audiences of all ages. Award-winning author/illustrator Allen Say published the story Kamishibai Man (2005) about his recollections of the storytellers from his youth, growing up in Japan, and it has now become a selection in textbooks in the US. There are now international kamishibai festivals in Mexico, Slovenia, Australia, France, and, through the NSN Kamishibai Storytelling Alliance SIG, we hope to cultivate a vibrant culture of kamishibai in the US.
Many thanks go to Allen Say for giving NSN and KSA permission to use images from Kamishibai Man, by Allen Say (Houghton-Mifflin, 2005)!
The Kamishibai SIG is a Special Interest Group of the National Storytelling Network.