Japanese Paper Drama Tradition: Kamishibai

Japanese Paper Drama Tradition: Kamishibai

Background Information.
Editor's Note
: For more on the history of kamishibai, the Resource page on the Kamishibai for Kids website <http://www.kamishibai.com/resources/organizations.html> has links to PDFs of essays by Professor Jeffrey Dym and Ms. Donna Tamaki.

(kah-mee-shee-bye) or “paper drama” is a form of storytelling that began in Buddhist temples in Japan in the 12th century. The monks used e-maki (eh-mah-key) or “picture scrolls” to tell stories with moral lessons to people who were mostly uneducated. This traditional storytelling form evolved over the centuries into the use of beautifully illustrated boards by the kamishibai storyteller or gaito kamishibaiya (guy-toh kah-mee-shee-bye-yah). During the world-wide depression of the late 1920’s and 1930’s, kamishibai experienced a successful comeback because it enabled the unemployed storyteller to earn a small income during a time when jobs were hard to find. Its revival lasted well into the 1950’s when it was replaced by the popularity of television.

The kamishibai man, an itinerant storyteller, was also a candy seller which is how he made his money. He would travel village to village on a bicycle that held a small stage. When he arrived in the village, he would use two wooden blocks (clappers) or hyoshigi (hyoh-shee-gee) to announce story time. The children who purchased candy from him would receive the best seats closest to the stage. After the audience was seated, the storyteller would tell several stories using sets of illustrated story boards. He would insert the boards into the stage and remove them one by one as the story was told while he acted out the story. Many of the stories were serials that ended with cliffhangers and were continued on each subsequent visit to the village. The cards were beautifully hand illustrated. A short version of each story was written on the back for the storyteller to read. Because he embellished the stories with details not on the cards, the kamishibai man had to be a good performer.

Learning Goals.

  1. Students will appreciate the Japanese storytelling tradition of kamishibai.
  2. Students will understand the cultural importance of the role played by kamishibai storytellers.
  3. Students will create and perform their own kamishibai paper dramas.

Common Core Standards

  • Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words. (Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, Core Curriculum College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading K-12)
  • Analyze how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or beauty of a text (e.g., graphic novel, multimedia presentation of fiction, folktale, myth, poem). (Core Curriculum, Reading Standards for Literature K-5)
  • Compare and contrast the experience of reading a story, drama, or poem to listening to or viewing an audio, video, or live version of the text, including contrasting what they “see” and “hear” when reading the text to what they perceive when they listen or watch. (Core Curriculum, Reading Standards for Literature 6-12)
  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences. (Text Types and Purposes, Core Curriculum College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing K-12)

Key Concept.  

Essential Question. How did the kamishibai tradition impact Japanese culture?

Primary Source.  

Thought Questions.  



Focus Activity Ideas.  Day 1: Read and discuss Kamishibai Man by Allen Say to introduce the paper drama tradition to the class. (In the foreword, Mr. Say explains the importance of the kamishibai man in his own early life, and in his afterword, he gives a historical view of the traditional art form of kamishibai.) Identify key vocabulary (in above introduction and in the book).

Main Lesson Activity Ideas.
Day 2: Present the kamishibai story drama, “Momotaro: The Peachboy,” to demonstrate the art form. Discuss the differences between performing and merely reading the story cards. Next, divide the class into four mixed-ability small groups, each comprising five to seven students, to create a group kamishibai of a Japanese folktale. Then, assign each group a Japanese folktale previously read and discussed in earlier lessons. Examples of popular Japanese folktales are as follows: “Issun Boshi: The One-Inch Boy,” “The Bamboo Princess,” “The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks,” “Urashima Taro,” “The Magic Fan,” “Three Samurai Cats,” or any tales found in The Peach Boy and Eight Other Stories. Finally, have the group members take turns retelling their assigned folktale for familiarity.  

Editor's Note:  The story of Momotaro can be found here. (Viewing this story online requires a fast Internet connection. Teachers may prefer to download the PDF from the site instead).

(These stories will have been read the five days previous to Kamishibai Man being read in “Japanese Folktales Tradition.” Reading these other stories will help students better understand the qualities that families valued in their children and better understand some of their cultural beliefs. Each story should take one class period to read and discuss so that the students understand the main characters, setting, family values/beliefs, and story line. On the fifth day have them compare the four stories and categorize the folktales as more mystery or fantasy. Middle school students might need just one day to read their assigned folktale in order to do the kamishibai assignment on their story.)

Days 3-4: Assign each group member a specific task in creating their paper theatre: two card illustrators to make a title card and nine story cards with ring holes, 1-2 writers of the short version of the story depicted on each card to glue on back of story cards, 1 main storyteller to perform the story, and 1 optional prop person (clackers, candy, and “stage” to hold cards during performance) or teacher may provide clackers and candy. Give each group the following materials: crayons, pens, glue, white paper, single hole punch, 10 pieces of large tag board or poster halves, and large ring binders to connect the story cards. Have students use two class periods to create their kamishibai. (Be careful when gluing story on back of card as you cannot glue the story on the back of the picture it explains. It should go on the back of previous card since your cards are connected together. Your previous card has been moved to the back.)

Day 5: Each group presents their kamishibai to the class.

Extensions: Two lesson extensions are (1) to present kamishibai to other classes in order to promote this unique Japanese art form and (2) to create e-maki scrolls, the original Japanese paper dramas.

Summative Activity Ideas. Assess students throughout the lesson with questions about the kamishibai tradition. Have them retell the story, Kamishibai Man, in writing and then explain the importance of the role of the kamishibai storyteller in the villages. Assess the quality of the group kamishibai using the following criteria: appropriate individual participation, good group cooperation, effective story card presentation, illustrations match the story and its short version, readability of written short versions, and well-performed storytelling.

Battino, David, and Hazuki Kataoka. "Kamishibai Performance Tips." Storycard Theater. Leaf Moon Arts, n.d. Web. 11 June 2013.  http://www.storycardtheater.com/kamishibai-tips.pdf
A PDF with practical tips for creating and performing kamishibai stories.

Dym, Jeffrey. "Kamishibai in the Classroom." YouTube, 13 Sept. 2010. Web. 11 June 2013.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEId2SFRezY
A video showing ways teachers can incorporate kamishibai into effective pedagogical exercises in their classrooms.

McGowan, Tara. The Kamishibai Classroom: Engaging Multiple Literacies through the Art of Paper Theater. N.p.: Libraries Unlimited, 2010. Print.
A book introducing innovative ideas for using kamishibai performance and story creation as a teaching tool. The hands-on, interactive workshops outlined here were all developed in public school classrooms and other venues in the United States and are perfect for getting students involved in the fun and learning that occur when they create and perform original stories.

Dym, Jeffrey. "What Is Kamishibai?"  YouTube, 13 Sept. 2010. Web. 11 June 2013.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6URceEr_zc
A brief video introduction to kamishibai.

Kamishibai for Kids. Web. 11 June 2013.  http://www.kamishibai.com/
The Resource page in particular has links to useful essays on the history of kamishibai by Professor Jeffrey Dym and Ms. Donna Tamaki.

McGowan, Tara. "Kamishibai - A Brief History." Kamishibai for Kids, n.d. Web. 11 June 2013.  http://www.kamishibai.com/history.html

Momotaro or Little Peachling. London: Griffith, Farran & Co, 1892.  Web. 11 June 2013. http://openlibrary.org/books/OL7031415M/Momotaro_or_Little_peachling
Available as plain text, PDF and online animated version. 

Sakade, Florence. Peach Boy and Other Japanese Children's Favorite Stories. North Clarendon, VT: Tuttle Publishing, 2008. Print.

Say, Allen. Kamishibai Man. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005. Print.

Ms. Vicki Stroud Gonterman, M. Ed. is a veteran social studies teacher with 33 years in the Little Rock School District. She helped create the international studies program at Gibbs Magnet School when it was first established in 1987 and has served as the international studies specialist ever since. She has been an exchange teacher in both Sapporo, Japan and Bremen, Germany and has traveled on several study tours to Japan, China, and Mexico. Ms. Gonterman has garnered several prestigious awards over her career:

2009-10 Gilder Lehrman History Teacher of the Year for Arkansas
The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

2007-08 K-8 Social Studies Teacher of the Year
(Arkansas Council for the Social Studies)

2007-08 Phyllis Layton Perry Teacher of the Year
(National Council for International Visitors)

2006-07 Elgin Heinz Outstanding Humanities Teacher of the Year
(U.S.-Japan Foundation)

2005-06 Global TeachNet Global Educator of the Year
(National Peace Corps Association)

1988-89 Arkansas Fulbright Global Educator of the Year
(Arkansas Council for International Visitors) and numerous Little Rock School District Superintendent Citations.


Topic,Art; Theme,Culture; Grade Level,Elementary; Subject Area,English and Language Arts; Topic,History-Modern; Type,Lesson Plan; Topic,Literature; Topic,Popular Culture; Subject Area,Social Studies; Theme,Using Pop Culture to Teach About Japan; Subject Area,Visual & Performing Arts;
kamishibai, storytelling, literature, art, lesson plan, DOE, elementary,art