Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Kamishibai man

Continuing on the fascinating theme of Japan after my last foray into art at Zurich's Kunsthaus, there is always something interesting on the display table as you walk into the Children's section of Winterthur Library and it recently featured beautifully illustrated pictures from the book Kamishibai Man by Allen Say, as well as the book itself.

The story tells of how the Kamishibai man rode his bicycle into town where he would tell stories to children and sell candy from day to day. But gradually fewer and fewer children came running at the sound of his clappers, instead preferring to stay indoors watching TV. Finally only one boy remains and he has no money for candy. Years later the Kamishibai man pedals into town (which is now a very different and more unfriendlier place) to tell one more story - his own. And when he wakes up from a reverie of memories he looks around to see familiar faces - the children he used to entertain have returned all grown up and more eager than ever to listen to his stories.

Kamisibai was initially poor man's theatre, beginning in the 1930s as part of a long tradition of picture storytelling in Japan. It flourished at a time when the country experienced extreme financial hardship, due to economic depression. Many people went out onto the streets looking for a way to survive and kamishibai offered storytellers a way to make a meagre living. The kamishibai performer sold candy and told stories in serial fashion so the children would turn up each day to hear the next part of the story.

During and after World war II, kamishibai became an ever more integral part of society as a form of entertainment which could be transported into bomb shelters and even devastated neighbourhoods and at this time was treasured as much by adults as by the children.

By the 1950s kamishibai had become so popular that television was initially reffered to as denki (electric) kamishibai but as Japan became increasingly affluent kamishibai became associated with poverty, eventually disappearing completely. The artists who had made their living with kamishibai turned to more lucrative pursuits, notably the creation of manga comic books and later anime, but they never forgot their roots in kamishibai.

However, kamishibai and storytelling is making a comeback so I am hoping to see a kamishibai storyteller on a street corner sometime very soon.

No comments:

Post a Comment