Kamishibai, literally “paper theater,” is a form of storytelling in which a storyteller recites a story and uses picture cards to convey the scenes of that story. Pictures are presented one at a time in sequence with the story. Kamishibai is said to be derived from the practice of Buddhist priests using illustrations to convey teachings to worshippers in the Heian Era (794-1185). Kamishibai as we know it began in the early Shōwa Era (1925-1989) and was a popular form of entertainment from the late 1920s through the 1950s. A kamishibai storyteller would travel by bicycle from location to location with a portable stage. The storyteller would announce his arrival with a clapper, and when enough children had gathered, he would begin the story. Storytellers turned every performance into a unique one by adapting their delivery to each specific audience. The storytellers, many of whom took up this profession after losing their jobs during the depression in the 1930s, would earn money by selling candy to children who attended performances. It is estimated that in 1948, there were 3,000 storytellers in Tokyo alone, and 50,000 nationwide.
The development of kamishibai slowed from about 1950 in conjunction with the revitalization of candy manufacturers, a spread of many different kinds of entertainment targeted at children, and an overhaul of preschools, kindergartens, and elementary schools. As a result of the spread of television from around 1958, its development declined at an even more rapid pace, and after 1960, kamishibai had all but disappeared. However, because many young kamishibai artists later switched to manga, the techniques used in kamishibai live on through the influence that they had on manga.
Although kamishibai all but disappeared in the 1960s, it did not completely die out. Performances are still occasionally given at certain times of the year at places such as libraries or children’s events. In fact, kamishibai performances will be given in various locations around Yamaguchi Prefecture during the summer!
Everyday from July 1st through August 31st, a kamishibai performance of Kaidan mimi nashi Hōichi (Ghost Story Hōichi the Earless) will take place every hour on the hour from 10 AM to 3 PM at Shimonoseki City’s Mimosusogawa Park. The performance will tell the story of a blind biwa (lute) minstrel, Hōichi, who is famed for his recital of Heike monogatari (The Tale of the Heike). One night, a visitor comes to the temple where Hōichi is staying, Amidaji (present-day Akama Jingū, or Akama Shrine, in Shimonoseki), and requests that he perform for his lord. However, because Hōichi is blind, he cannot see the true forms of the visitor who requested that he perform or his audience...
On Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays from July 1st through September 30th, kamishibai performances of Wakaki shishi Takasugi Shinsaku (A Young Man of Noble Ideas – Shinsaku Takasugi) will take place from 11 AM to 12 PM at Hagi’s Sosuien (in front of the statue of former Prime Minister Giichi Tanaka). This performance tells the story of the life of Takasugi, who was born in what is now present day Hagi and active during the Meiji Restoration, from birth until his death at age 28. Performances of Hagi no aidoru joki manjū (The Idol of Hagi, Steamed Manjū) will also be given at the same time and place. During the Russo-Japanese War, Russian ships appeared off the coast of Hagi. The residents of Hagi saw the boats and said “We’ll turn them into steamed manjū, cook them, and eat them!” This performance tells the story of manjū (buns filled with bean paste) made in the shape of ships as a result of this event.
Presentations of Dōwa shijin Kaneko Misuzu (Author of Childrens’ Poems Misuzu Kaneko) will take place on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays until September 30th aboard the San’in Kankō Ressha Misuzu Shiosai 1 train in the assigned seating car. Misuzu Kaneko was a poet who was born in what is now Nagato. Performances of Fūunji Takasugi Shinsaku (Hero Shinsaku Takasugi) will take place on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays until September 30th aboard the San’in Kankō Ressha Misuzu Shiosai 2 train in the assigned seating car (between Takibe and Hitomaru Stations on the San’in Main Line).
A performance entitled Hōfu Tenmangū to Sugawara no Michizane (Hōfu Tenmangū Shrine and Sugawara no Michizane) will take place in Hōfu on Saturdays and Sundays from July 18th through August 30th. Further details regarding performance content and location are unavailable at this time.