Paper Japanese Theatre Technique

by Giulio Rocca Google
Illustrations such as this scene of travelers on turbulent waters were used to narrate kamishibai stories.

Illustrations such as this scene of travelers on turbulent waters were used to narrate kamishibai stories. Images

Japanese paper theater, or kamishibai ("paper drama"), is a storytelling technique where pictures are used to help narrate a tale. Kamishibai is a fun way to entertain friends and family, as well as an effective teaching tool for teachers of children. You can celebrate this ancient art form by creating your own paper drama using your imagination and creativity.

Overview of Japanese Paper Theater

Japanese paper theater is a form of storytelling that originated in the 12th century Buddhist practice of employing picture scrolls to narrate moralizing stories. The art form experienced a revival in the 1930s during the the Great Depression and its aftermath. Storytellers would narrate tales and report the news using miniature wooden prosceniums ("butais") containing illustrated panels. Storytellers would seek to reproduce a theatrical experience by reading each character's part aloud using distinct voices and dramatic inflection.

Step 1: Design Illustrated Cards

You, too, can tell stories using the Japanese paper theater technique. Start by collecting all of the necessary materials: cards, drawing tools and a wooden frame large enough to accommodate the scenes. Next, illustrate a sequence of events depicting a story suitable for your audience. On the back of each card, write down the scene's script and sketch or photocopy a smaller version of the illustration displayed on the reverse side.

Step 2: Add Music and Sound Effects

Delight the senses by incorporating music and sound effects into your storytelling. Start your performance according to tradition by clapping together a pair of sticks in faster succession. Hardwood claves suit this purpose well and offer a clear sound. Consider reproducing meteorological sound effects, such as storm and rain, using the hardwood claves or other devices, as well as playing recorded music at appropriate times throughout the story.

Step 3: Perform Before an Audience

Finally, it's time to showcase your work. Make sure that all of your scenes are numbered and place them in order within the frame. Position the cards so that the text faces you and the illustration faces the audience. Rest the frame on your lap or on a flat surface such as a table. Then begin your performance and slide each scene to the back of the deck as the story progresses. Use your facial expressions and voice to breathe life into the story and enjoy yourself.

Photo Credits

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