Kamishibai: Japan’s “paper theatre”

04 Aug 2017 in With Kids

Discover a great way to keep kids (and adults) captivated with the Japanese storytelling tradition of kamishibai!


Literally, it means “paper play” – and kamishibai is just that: a type of theatre featuring pictures mounted on card that are brought to life by a narrator.

It’s a typically Japanese art form – a predecessor of manga and anime – that plunges kids (and adults) into a world of fantasy and imagination.

Japanese street theater

A typical kamishibai story consists of a dozen images printed or drawn on card. At the beginning of the performance, the cards are mounted on a butai, a small wooden frame that serves as a stage. The narrator, known as the kamishibaiya then tells the story, moving the narrative along by pulling images out of the butai to reveal new ones underneath.

In Japan, the golden age of kamishibai was during the 1930s Depression and after the Second World War. Faced with tough times, many artists became itinerant storytellers – taking their butai from street corner to street corner and selling sweets to children before working their magic with kamishibai.


To ensure the audience came back for more, they would often finish with a cliff-hanger – promising to continue the story next time!

When television became popular in the 1950s, it was initially called denki kamishibai (electric kamishibai). Its arrival in households spelled the decline of kamishibai on the streets, with many talented kamishibai artists turning to other art forms, such as manga and anime.

Today, kamishibai may be less ubiquitous, but the tradition lives on!

kamishibai in Hakone

At Hoshino Resorts KAI Hakone, kamishibaiya narrate classic folk tales most evenings.

Hotel in Hakone

What better way to enjoy a bedtime story before heading to your stylish ryokan room?

Photo credits:
aki.sato / CC BY-SA
Sébastien Huette / CC BY-NC-ND
Ruth and Dave / CC BY

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