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History of Kamishibai

What is it all about? And how on earth to you say it?

How to pronounce Kamishibai is one of the most googled things about it so you are not alone! I'll break it down phonetically for you. Kah - me - she - bye and then blend kahme - shebye and you've got it. 

It is a traditional Japanese storytelling, street performance art which translates as paper theatre. This art form was developed in the late 1920’s. Some think that it evolved from Etoki which is a centuries-old form of performing arts that involves telling stories about Buddhist principles. 

Traditionally a Kamishibai Man would travel around the neighbourhood and from village to village on his bicycle with a theatre frame on the back. Children would know he had arrived at the sound of his wooden clappers, (hyoshigi) an instrument made from wood.

To earn a living the Kamishibai Man would sell sweets to the children who came to hear the stories. A good performance and variety of stories could help guarantee a good sized audience and therefore more sales of sweets. If you bought some sweets you got the best seats in the house right at the front. 

The Kamishibai men were artisans and would command big crowds who they would often leave on a cliff hanger to ensure they returned the following day or week to hear the next instalment of the story. Sadly the introduction of television which was known as denki Kamishibai (electric kamishibai) in 1953 saw a decline in the popularity of Kamishibai. Although this Japanese art form has largely disappeared, its significance and contributions have allowed Kamishibai to be attributed as an origin for manga.