Learning Kamishibai from the IKAJA masters

I am thankful to Mazni for taking me along to learn about Kamishibai from the masters at The International Kamishibai Association of Japan (IKAJA) in Tokyo recently. Frankly, I am not up to the storytelling performing part but I am more to the part on how to write and illustrate Kamishibai.

So, what is Kamishibai? Kamishibai is a form of visual and participatory storytelling that originated in Japan that combines the use of hand drawn visuals with the engaging narration of a live presenter. ‘Kami’ means paper and ‘shibai’ means play/drama, but Kamishibai doesn’t mean just paper drama, it is a form of culture, spreading in the world!  Typical kamishibai consists of a presenter who stands to the right of a small wooden box or stage that holds the 8-16 cards featuring the visuals that accompany each story. This miniature stage is used to be attached to the storyteller’s bicycle. The presenter changes the card, varying the speed of the transition to match the flow of the story he is telling.

From the first look, I thought it was easy to create Kamishibai, but as I attended Kamishibai short classes conducted by Ms. Etsuko Nozaka and Madam Kyoko Sakai, it became more clearer that creating Kamishibai story is more difficult than creating picture book story because the former needs to be in a format which later be told by a storyteller in front of audience.

Mazni brought her Kamishibai story and illustrations (in Kamishibai card format) and performed in front of the masters. And the input by the masters were very valuable. They practically go through from one card after another, advising on how it should be done, what to do, and what not to do. And they also advised on how the story should be told. Being in the picture book scene for many years, Mazni and I found that it is quite difficult to change the tone and style of storytelling that we are both accustomed to.

From the classes, I learned that Kamishibai extended into the real space, the real world. It involves social interaction and it has to be conveyed to audience in a correct manner. Do you get what I mean? To write and illustrate the story, I have to position myself in a storyteller’s shoes, which I am not. I told Mazni that I can try to write and illustrate Kamishibai because I am good at storytelling when no one is looking, but she has to be the one to tell it to the real audience. She agrees. Haha. She knows me too well to not let me tell the story myself.

Since the class was conducted at Kamishibai Hall at the office of Doshinsha Publishing Co Ltd (the main publisher for Kamishibai story cards in Japan), I get to view many Kamishibai stories and illustrations. Mazni herself bought some 16 sets of Kamishibai stories to bring home for her future storytelling sessions. Mazni is really into Kamishibai because she loves telling stories to children. It is her passion, and frankly, I think she is one helluva of a storyteller because I attended some of her storytelling sessions.

I know for a fact that if I create a Kamishibai story for a start, I have to go back to Tokyo and seek advice from the masters. Anyway, I am just glad that Ms. Etsuko is also in the picture book business (besides being a translator); she has written some picture books herself. And that means, I get to meet her at book fairs and get advice, because I don’t think that I can nail it by communicating through e-mail. They need to at least have me perform the storytelling in front of them for them to feel the story that I am telling; to feel the kyokan. The word kyokan refers to people confirming the meaning of life together through sharing the same feeling about something. Creating kyokan is the most important and essential aspect of Kamishibai.

Maybe what I understand and wrote here might not be correct at all, but I have high interest in writing/illustrating Kamishibai and I know that the learning process is not easy. Mazni and I, we have high hopes in improvising Malaysian folk tales into Kamishibai format and to be able to tell the stories in such a beautiful way. To do that, we just have to keep on learning until we get it right. God willing.

If you want to find out more about Kamishibai, you can visit these links: IKAJA and Doshinsha Kamishibai.

Here are some pictures from the classes:

MaznikamishibaiMazni performing her own Kamishibai story.

EtsukoEtsuko performing a story.

kyokoandetsukoMadam Kyoko and Ms. Etsuko giving their inputs about Mazni’s story.

kamishibaiFrom left: Ms. Hina, Ms. Etsuko, Mazni, me and Madam Kyoko.

If you are interested in hiring Mazni for a storytelling session, be it at home, school or children event, please contact her at: mazny.m.r@gmail.com. She will reply back with her rates and storytelling activity.



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  1. waaahhh seronoknya dapat tahu pasal ‘kamishibai’ ini, kak em!

    it is really interesting as i am an early childhood education student (diploma) always looking for lotsa other ways to tell stories for children…. huhu. 8-16 pics/illustration cards yea? quite a challenge juga nak buat tu.

  2. kak em… bole bagitau camna nak contact kak mazni?

    email atau blog dia. thanks! just curious, kak mazni tu illustrator like u, ke?

    camna korang berdua bole terpilih untuk blaja pasal kamishibai di sana?

  3. Dear Nisah,

    This is really an interesting technique. You could just email me for further info. My email is mazny.m.r@gmail.com . If you do, I might invite you for a special event with MBBY later.

    ~Kak Maz~

  4. Pertama kali saya dengar mengenai kamishibai dan saya rasa teruja! Saya pun suka bercerita dengan kanak-kanak. Rasa macam kena dengan minat saya.

    1. Kamishibai mcm menarik je.. saya suka storytelling 🙂 but more as an audience rather than presenter ^_^” Tapi, seronok je bila bayangkan buat kamishibai depan kanak2 tadika.. Mesti mereka sgt suka dan teruja 😀 Totally fun!~

  5. Seronok juga tahu pasal Kak Mazni. Saya selalu nampak K.Em tulis namanya. Tapi seronok juga bila K.Em cerita tentang keistimewaan empunya nama.

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