Kamishibai For Kids & In Manufacturing

Bang-bang, bang- bang. The loud noise of the wooden clappers, hyoshigi (hyo-shigi), signaled the beginning of the Japanese story. It wasn’t your ordinary book reading session. It was Kamishibai “paper drama”.

About twenty kids, with their parents, gathered at the Japanese American Service Committeein Chicago to get something their parents in the United States hardly ever experienced: Japanese folk stories told by narrators. It was a journey into the past.  No digital technology, no special sound effect or lighting: just words and pictures.  To add to the retro feel of the event some of the kids were wearing their summer yukatas, a kimono usually made of cotton, or happies, Japanese traditional straight-sleeved coats.

9-month-old enjoying his first Kamishibai story

Japanese Buddhists created Kamishibai in the 12th century.  In 1920s and 1930s monks used picture scrolls to convey stories with moral lessons to a mostly illiterate audience. I think of Kamishibai as a puppet show that stimulates you to run a quick check of your values.

Back in the day the storyteller rode a bicycle from one village to another.  His bicycle was equipped with a small wooden stage for showing the story cards. Today, storytellers Donna Sagami and Naomi Negi of the Japanese American Children’s Program arrived on four wheels but brought the same wisdom of the old stories to the new generation of Japanese-American kids and not only to them. Hidden behind the board Donna and Naomi told two stories titled “Momotaro (Peach Boy)” and “Bon Odori (Bon Festival Dance)” in English and Japanese.  This was the first time Kamishibai was being told in Chicago, IL.

See Donna and Naomi introduce the Momotaro story below.

To experience an online session of a Kamishibai check out Japanese American National Museum.

Besides stories for kids there are Kamishibai on more serious topics. One that Donna, a native of Japan who immigrated to the United States long ago, mentioned Heiwa No Chikai (The Oath of Peace).  The story is based on the testimonials of the children who suffered due to the atomic bomb. This piece conveys the brutality of the A-bombs and the agony they cause.  The Oath of Peace communicates a determination to maintain peace.  Nido To, (Never Again) is yet another uniquely crafted Kamishibai on the same topic where the images change from photographs to drawings, then from drawings to harie (pasted paper).  I was fascinated to find a collection of thoughtful Kamishibai that you can see here.

Kamishibai in manufacturing

My deep dive into this unique art of communication led me to a surprising discovery. Apparently lean manufacturing industry has tapped into the methods of Kamishibai.  Particularly Toyota has been using Kamishibai on the factory floor as part of its ongoing audit process.  As John Miller of KAIZEN Institute wrote on his blog “In TPS (Toyota Production System) Kamishibai are 21st century equivalent of audits of the kaizen culture”.  He described this form of reporting as cue cards for auditing a process.  For some reason Toyota’s headquarters was unable to provide me with further details on this matter.  Well, they lost a chance to brag, as is seems like their auditing method and efforts to keep the storytelling culture are useful and noble at the same time.

Curious as I am, I dug a little more only to find that Toyota sponsored Kamishibai in Japanese elementary schools and produced storyboards for use in education. One example is “Papin and Tirol Go Fishing”.  It teaches traffic safety rules, using two little rabbits to help pre-school kids understand how to cross the road safely.

My exposure to Kamishibai and all its fun and wisdom concluded with a Bon Odori dance around the traditional Japanese tower.
As all children, so did I receive a handmade Momotaro memory game to bring home.

Sneak peek of Bon Odory dance.

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