Kamishibai Women


You may be familiar with Allen Say’s picture book, Kamishibai Man, set in Japan, about a storyteller who uses paper picturecards in a small wooden “theater” frame from the back of his bicycle. The art form of Kamishibai was very popular in Japan of the 1920s and might be considered a forerunner of manga, since the sets of picture cards "move" in and out of a frame horizontally.

San Bruno and Narita, Japan

Now, the Peninsula has its very own kamishibai women. Barbara B., San Bruno’s children’s librarian, has a fantastic homemade theater creation, courtesy of San Bruno’s Japanese sister city, Narita. The Narita townspeople have been kind enough to send her sets of the Japanese storycards, complete with rather idiosyncratic English translations. Barbara goes to local schools to do her kamishibai performances.

Woodside and Japanese Americans

Karen Y. of Woodside Library first used kamishibai in the 1990s when she directed Medaka no Gakko, a Japanese cultural summer program for K-5. Barbara suggested that a joint storytelling program would be fun, and so it was! We chose spring break weeks, first on Wed., April 3 at San Bruno and then at Woodside on Fri., April 18 .

Peach Boy Adventures

Photo of Karen Y. at kamishibai program.We launched the program with Momotaro, and then talked about folktales and all the different version in the San Mateo Library system. (See Karen Y.’s blog post, The Peach Boy and Other Folklore Delectables.) Barbara then spun a trickster tale, about a raccoon dog, or Tanuki. Instead of the homemade candies that kamishibai performers used to sell, our audiences were able to sample homemade Japanese pastries, or yaki manju. Barbara finished our set with storycards of another Allen Say book, Under the Cherry Blossom Tree.

Springtime in San Mateo County

Because this was a spring break program, we taught the Japanese words to Spring is Coming, a children’s song written in the early 1900s but still popular today. Speaking of popularity, our craft program of creating Happy Springtime cards with tissue paper cherry blossom petals was quite a hit. (Five petals are used to portray this iconic symbol of beautiful but short-lived glory; the cherry blossom was emblematic to the samurai class.)


Author Bio:

Although her three children are now young adults, Karen Y. still maintains her volunteer ties with Medaka no Gakko in Palo Alto by serving as their information resources person. And of course, she’s fond of kamishibai, and looks for 1950s versions for sale on eBay. Karen Y. will be doing a Kamishibai Program on Friday, July 25 at 2 pm at Woodside Library. Please come!

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