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Kamishibai History
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Picture-card storyteller teams up to pass down the traditional art By MAKOTO KONDO

Kyodo News

OSAKA — A professional picture-card storyteller and a planning and advertising firm are teaming up in Osaka to preserve and hand down the old-time art of picture-card shows.

           Professional storyteller Yushi Yasuno, 65, and Manga Artists Network Inc., led by Fumio Miki, plan to produce the next generation of storytellers, which the company will employ as regular workers and send them out to perform at events.

"There's no age limit in this job. We'll be able to help increase employment in our own small way," Yasuno said.

Yasuno, from Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture and active chiefly in the Kansai region,

has been a picture-card storyteller for about 40 years. Dressed in "hakama" skirt and dark hat, he uses clackers to attract kids to his show, typical of such storytellers.


"These days, children just aren't satisfied with only the classics," he said. To keep their attention, he throws in the occasional quiz.


More and more performance requests are coming in for the five-man Yassan Ichiza troupe, which Yasuno leads.


Yasuno worries picture-card storytelling will be forgotten unless it is firmly established as a profession instead of seen as a volunteer activity.


Manga Artist's Miki agreed to help out and decided to employ five to 10 people as trainees with a monthly salary of about ¥130,000.


Manga Artists Network anticipates that most of those hired will be the newly retired.


After the war, up to 50,000 picture-card storytellers, many who had been repatriated, traveled around the country by bicycle telling stories with the aid of picture cards. They also sold candy and snacks to help attract their youthful audiences.


    Trip to London


 31st May. To The Japanese Garden 99 years Celebration


To say that the trip to London as Kamishibai Man was successful would be to underrate it, it was the fulfillment of a personal dream.


I rode from my home in Newcastle on my Kamishibai bike complete with Box theatre on the back packed with seven stories, Ironic also, as it was “Seven Stories” (The Charity here in Newcastle) or as it was then know “The Childrens centre for the book” that started me off on this adventure, commissioning me to build my Theatre and perform Kamishibai in the streets of Newcastle to publicize the exhibition “Through Eastern Eyes”, thank you Seven Stories.


I arrived at the station with some trepidation would I be allowed on the train with my non folding bike and huge Theatre box I had booked a place, but still would I be allowed on? It couldn’t have been simpler, plenty of room in the guards van for bike and box. I had booked a seat also in the quiet coach and as this was at the other end of the train I walked still unruffled to enjoyed my stress free journey to London Kings Cross.


When I arrived it took exactly two minutes to extract my bike allowing for two ancient Tandamites, to extract their tandem. Then I cycled across London about two miles  much easier than I remember it, but then there are more cyclists now on the road. 


I arrived at my friends’ house in Primrose hill, Ray and Yozo they have lived there for more than 35 yrs. Yozo is Japanese and we had a fascinating conversation that evening about Kamishibai which he had seen as a child in Japan. I was struggling at the time to understand a character in a traditional Japanese/Chinese story Soguku the Monkey king, I thought the story to be a bit thin lacking in content but Yozo pointed out that in Japan the character is the dominant feature and not story line also that characters migrate from different stories and appear where they will to form new stories, further developing and changing maturing sometimes as they encounter more adventures, differing from the western tradition where the three bears are always appear with Goldilocks, and never grow old.


Ray who I have known longer, from my acting days, and have had many adventures with, including riding a 1936 Motorcycle to Morocco, cooked us all a delicious meal of Spaghetti, and as I remember it Spaghetti was the first meal Ray and I shared when we met over thirty years ago.  I went to bed buzzing with ideas and memories.

      I set of the next morning on the bike to cycle from Primrose hill to Shepard’s Bush through many back streets filled with recollections from the twenty years I spent as a young man in London, crossing the Regents park Canal, where Ray and I had adventures on a Long Boat, to arrive without incident at the Japanese garden at the back of the BBC Centre white City, where I first worked as an actor when I was 13yrs old 48yrs ago.

       I had arrived, I then undertook the most dangerous part of my journey, according to the “Risk Assessment” I had been required to do by the council, I was compelled to Push my Bike through the park to the venue, this had been deemed a “Low Hazard” which could be eliminated by pushing the bike, I was overtaken naturally by people on bikes cycling through the park, it’s a useful cut through to avoid the main road totally unaware of their precarious position viz a viz risk. I once wrote in a fit of peek at the bottom of a risk assessment which had taken me two hours to write.“I would be better employed checking my equipment than writing this risk assessment” I doubt anyone ever read it leastways no one commented.

     Akiko my agent for this event and the organizer appeared and my Tent was erected I set up changed into my costume and was ready to begin so far totally stress free. The shows went well, the Kamishibai man it appears is treated by the Japanese community as a minor “God” it must be the Kamishibai that has this love and reverence, and not me, much like people talk of “Punch and Judy” here. I was both asked about, and told about, Kamishibai, and my head is still spinning with details and facts. Consequently  my first story is usually "Two Brothers" which I told, by way of an explanation as to how Kamishibai might have started is now in a state of flux trying to absorb the myriad further facts I gleaned from Yozo the night before, Helen McCarthy the historian, and all the people in the park there on the Day.


   All too quickly, my three shows were over it was 4pm time to set off back to Kings Cross the train and home to Newcastle. I  arrived back in Newcastle at 10.02 pm still buzzing and was back in bed fast asleep by twelve, a round trip of at least 600 miles, I am already looking forward to the next trip with Kamishibai, truly  a transport of delight.



Kamishibai in use

Heres a treat Kamishibai from Canada
Video Player
Click the pic on the left to see a video of two brothers from Japan who still do Kamishibai
Evan though one of them has lost his voice!! Spooky as my first story was about two brothers one of whom had lost his voice
Its in Japanese
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