Inspired by the PaperTigers website current focus on literacy, Janet and I have been blogging about the topic recently, and one of the points that have come up is how children nowadays might be literate in ways that we adults have yet to explore. These thoughts and resulting comments reminded me of an interview Marjorie did with artist and illustrator Allen Say, in which he credits kamishibai, a traditional form of paper theater storytelling, as the source of much of his childhood happiness. Between the 1920s and 1950s in Japan, it was common to see kamishibai storytellers pedaling their bicycles, equipped with small stages. They would stop at street corners, or wherever children gathered, to sell candies and tell stories—often in installments, to keep kids coming back for more.
When TV first appeared in Japan, in the 1950′s, the kamishibai men started disappearing from the streets, and the medium, first referred to as “electronic kamishibai, was received with a lot of skepticism. Considered by many as the precursor of manga, kamishibai now exists in electronic format, for use on a computer (and why not, if the idea is to go where the children are?!), and its traditional format has seen a revival in schools and libraries in Japan. I’ve even heard of high-tech people using it as a presentation device, instead of –gasp!– powerpoint, praising it as a simple, engaging and very effective tool for presenting ideas.
Marjorie writes in her review of Allen Say’s exquisite book, Kamishibai Man—a book that was 32 years in gestation: “Jiichan returns home at the end of the day–a day which has been caught on film and broadcast via the very medium that brought about the demise of kamishibai…” and her words reveal one of the ideas the author alludes to in his story: “how innovation and change can appear threatening but through time and adjustment there is room for all.”
For more on Kamishibai: