Paper plays online

Kamishibai (紙芝居, "paper plays"*) were the missing link in Japan between theatre and TV. DoCoMo has a few post-war examples of the art archived online for your pleasure.

The site's all in Japanese, but it's not hard to navigate. There are three main sections: cartoons, action/adventure, and other. When you find one that looks interesting, click through to it. Then, if you're lucky, you'll see one or both of these buttons below the title card:

  • 一覧表示: view images and explanatory text (説明文) only.
  • 動画実演: play video, which includes narration and sound effects. (You'll have to choose whether you have an IDSN (slow) or ADSL (fast) connection on the next page.)
Note that not all of the items in the catalogue have video, and a lot of them don't even have still images. Bummer.

* Where "play" is 芝居, "be on the grass" (i.e. what commoners did as they watched plays).

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You can buy kamishibai sets for children through companies that sell educational materials for librarians and teachers. I have a kamishibai set for かぐや姫 (The Bamboo Princess). The text on the back of the cards is in Japanese with furigana and an English translation. It's quite entertaining.

The set was published by Kamishibai For Kids in New York with the permission of Doshinsha Co. in Tokyo, if anyone is curious.


Wow, cool. Have you tried performing it? How did it go?

I found the relevant homepages, I think: Kamishibai For Kids, Doshinsha (note that the file name in the latter case is "indexu.html", possibly the most charming Japaneseism I've ever seen in a URL)


I actually performed part of it for my Japanese 202 class, because every year we had to prepare a presentation of some sort for a "culture festival" as part of our final grade. I only performed three cards of it before the teacher said, "Well, that was nice. Why don't you tell us about your stay in Japan, like you told us last semester?" ...and the semester before that, and the semester before that, and...

Maybe, though, when my little niece is old enough I'll introduce her to the joys of kamishibai.

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