I was walking down the street the other day and saw a group of kids and adults laughing in the park. I was very curious to find out what was happening, so I walked up towards them and realized that there was a storytelling man! All the kids were into his story, their eyes were sparkling. The audience was caught up in all the different voices he was using, and the touching illustrations to the story. The thing that impressed me most was that the adults seemed to be enjoying it even more than the kids, probably because it was so nostalgic. So, today we bring you the very nostalgic Japanese storyteller, Kamishibai-shi.
Written by Ryoko
Tranlated by Chiemi
Some of you might not know what he does: A storytelling man is a man who shows illustrations to a story in order, while narrating the story to the audience. He reads the dialogue and narration out loud, making him more a performer rather than just a storyteller. And sometimes the kamishibai-shi performs on the street, because originally kamishibai was a part of the old-style Japanese street musicians, Chindonya.
Storyteller Mr. Nagata back then.
The storytelling man was very popular 50 years ago.
Luckily, I managed to meet up with 78 year old storyteller Tameharu Nagata, who lives in Edogawa, Tokyo. Mr. Nagata has been doing kamishibai for 52 years, while making his living by running a small sweet shop with his wife, Yoshi. They showed me some old photos and told me about Kamishibai-shi.
Children in the old days
A kid wants to hold the wooden clappers.
Japanese storytelling Kamishibai was born at the beginning of the Showa period. Showa 20s (1940s) were the golden times for Kamishibai. Back then there were about 3,000 storytellers in Tokyo. However, in the 1950s the popularity was already declining because of the rapid increase of the saturation level of televisions and children’s after-school lessons. Nowadays we don’t have a chance to see them on the street at all.
The storyteller usually appears in the evening when the children finish school. Mr. Nagata loads about 30 kg of equipment onto his bicycle and cycles to where the children will gather. When he gets there, he beats a rhythm with his wooden clappers to announce his arrival, and walks around town while clapping to gather up more children.
This cracker, called Panda Bear, was created by Mr. Nagata.
All different kinds of starch syrups in the drawer.
The menu of sweets
Kids who come to listen to and see his story are also excited about the cheap sweets dagashi he sells. There are colorful starch syrups and Japanese biscuits in the shape of animals, but most of them are hard to find these days.
This is called eatable Katanuki. If you stamp the patterns out perfectly, you can get another one for free. You can still see this at some local festivals.
All of these sweets cost only around 20 to 50 cents.
Just a few kids are enough to begin his performance. Mr. Nagata starts to read the story as well as the dialogue of all the characters, including small kids and young ladies. And the way he tells the story is very energetic!
Kids are staring at the illustration. (Photo:Yoshihiro Tachigi)
Mr. Nagata always wears a hunting cap. This is one of his favourite photos of himself.
Mr. Nagata explains: I could be the only storyteller left in Tokyo now. I used to go to a lot of places to tell stories to kids, but I don’t do it very often anymore. But I do attend some local festivals and school festivals with this Kamishibai kit sometimes.
Mr. Nagata owns over 700 stories and many of them have action themes. Some of them include very violent scenes like people killing each other, so there was a time when people were quite critical. However, he kept collecting stories for many years and now they serve not only as the things he needs for his work, but also as an archive of Japanese culture which is slowly declining. Mr. Nagata showed me some parts of his great collection:
Ougon Bat (Golden Bat)
“Ougon Bat (Golden Bat)” is one of the most famous stories for Kamishibai. This scary looking Ougon Bat is in fact a preserver of justice battling against the evil black bat.
A girl who got caught by evil people.
Ougon Bat is going to rescue her.
Isn’t it a bit strange that the hero is a skeleton?
Tetsu no Tsume (Iron Fingernails)
According to Mr. Nagata, the very famous “Gekkou Kamen” is based on this “Tetsu no Tsume”.
White cape, yellow edge sunglasses and a crescent moon on his forehead
He got caught!!
They are in a terrible dilemma!
You might have probably noticed by now that Japanese manga has been inspired by the illustrations of these Kamishibai. Two of the great cartoonists, Sanpei Shirato, who is the author of “Kamui-den”, and Shigeru Mizuki, the author of “Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro“, used to be illustrators for Kamishibai.
Amazingly some of his collection are originals. Most of these Kamishibai are usually printed in a way to look exactly the same as the originals. But actually these provide a totally different atmosphere as their strokes inherit the soul of the illustrator.
Kyubi no Kitsune (Fox with nine tails)
Kyubi no Kitsune is a fox monster who has 9 tails.
The fox encounters an evil enemy.
Main character Jadoumaru turns into a snake and exterminates the baddies.
Jadoumaru finally turned into a snake!
…and a girl who is saved by Jadoumaru.
Finally, Mr. Nagata said: 50 years ago we didn’t have so many things around us, and especially entertainment for kids was very rare. But children and adults were living close together and everyone was greeting everyone on the street all the time. Back then children were still running around outside.
Compared to the old standards, we are now surrounded by so many products and have much wealthier lives. However, on the other hand it’s true that we might lose something in our hearts. So what can we do to make things better? I wonder if Kamishibai could give us some hints?
Thank you, Mr. & Mrs. Nagata. I hope you enjoyed the nostalgic world of Kamishibai!