Kamishibai is still used as an educational tool by teachers in Japanese elementary schools, and seen at cultural festivals. It’s an ecologically friendly entertainment, needing only human energy.
There are still a few registered performers who were trained in the old tradition. Yuushi Yasuno, who works as Yassan and who can be seen elsewhere on this site, works with the Kyoto International Manga Museum , performing old and new stories. Visitors to the Museum can also see a display of original kamishibai boards dating from the 1930s onwards.
When he visited London in September 2008, Yassan told us there are only six or seven traditional kamishibai artists left in the Osaka region. Most kamishibai in Japan is now performed by schoolteachers. However, things are looking more hopeful. Yassan is training an appentice to carry on the tradition, and the worldwide interest in kamishibai will help to ensure the survival of this fusion of street art and storytelling.
Japanese-American author Allen Say wrote a beautiful illustrated book, Kamishibai Man, in which a retired kamishibai performer decides to return to his old rounds one last time. His wife makes sweets for him to sell, just as she used to, and he rides into a completely changed city, with huge buildings and traffic where there used to be old wooden houses and trees. But the people who live there remember him from childhood days, and when he opens up his wooden frame they gather round to reminisce.
Kamishibai is also spreading into the workplace. It has been adopted by some Japanese companies as a means of communication. Toyota uses kamishibai on the factory floor as part of its ongoing audit process, and for PR purposes. You can see an example of Toyota ’s use of kamishibai on page 7 of the first section of this PR article on the company’s overseas initiatives, Accelerating Environmental Initiatives as Global Toyota:
Many companies, including Toyota , sponsor kamishibai in Japanese elementary schools and produce storyboards for use in education. One of Toyota ’s examples, Papin and Tirol Go Fishing, teaches traffic safety rules, using two little rabbits to help pre-schoolers understand how to cross the road safely. You can see some of the boards in Jon Miller’s article here:
Artists like Sanzo Wada (1885-1960) used kamishibai as inspiration for prints and drawings. Masaki Miyamae (1957-2000) also used kamishibai as an experimental medium, merging performance art with drawing. Three years before his death, Miyamae performed a piece called Kamishibai at the opening of his solo exhibition at Galleria Finarte, Tokyo , having developed it over about five years with performances in his studio and other spaces. In one of these experimental shows he made a group of narrative drawings and then shuffled them at random before performance, deconstructing the story. In another he asked on an onlooker to perform using his drawings.
Kamishibai is changing, using new media and merging with many art and narrative forms. It’s even going digital – American company Accursed Arts have been selling a computer kamishibai package for several years, and anime and manga fans are beginning to use kamishibai as a medium for fan fiction. At the same time, the traditional kamishibai format of illustration-enhanced storytelling is going from strength to strength. Adults and children alike respond to the immediacy, personal connection and fun of a kamishibai performance.
Having come so close to losing this 20th century street art form forever, it seems we’ve managed to preserve it for the children – and adults – of the new millennium.