KAMISHIBAI …a project abstract

Celia Yitzhak (Central Aravah Arts Center, Saper ISRAEL) speaking about a Kamishibai collaboration with Daveed and 4th grade students from Phelps Luck Elementary School, Columbia MD.


Kamishibai (Japanese Paper Theater) was an invention of 12th century Japan, where monks used large-formatted illustrations as a tool for sharing moral lessons and folktales to an illiterate public. This art form has evolved over the years and is now a potent teaching tool that is being used in schools and communities all over the world. I often refer to Kamishibai as PowerPoint 11 A.D.

Adaptable to an almost limitless list of content possibilities, Kamishibai is practically the great-grandparent of anime and manga and for that matter, comic strips and serialized cartoons. As such, Kamishibai is a perfect vehicle to reach out to early learners and other school-age youth. It is also a valuable tool for broaching even delicate subjects. There is a level of audience / performer intimacy in a Kamishibai performance that can never be duplicated in a traditional theater setting.

Back in 2008, in my role as Education & Community Initiatives Manager for Port Discovery Children’s Museum (Baltimore MD) , I began collaborating with Israeli children’s storybook illustrator, Celia Yitzhak, on a cultural connections program, targeting fourth graders: one class from a Maryland-based public school and the another class from the Central Arava of southern Israel. Students learned about narrative and descriptive writing, creating illustrations drawn from written content, story writing and story boarding, and finally creating and performing Kamishibai. At the end of the school year, both classes were connected via the Internet, so that they could finally meet and perform their Kamishibai stories for each other.

After the second year, Port Discovery decided not to continue to support the project. Fiscal considerations had to take precedence. Since the Museum has no other outreach interests with Kamishibai, I have decided to work on developing new Kamishibai opportunities outside Port Discovery.

Though the majority of the stories used were written by the students themselves, the Israeli students chose to also work with was an existing one, written in 1997 by an eleven-year old boy, who wrote a poignant short story about living and getting along in dangerous world: “When the Shark and the Fish First Met”.  Not an unusual title for a story about getting along, from a youngster growing up in Israel, where every home has a bomb shelter. The boy’s name is Gilad Shalit.

Now, let’s jump ahead ten years to 2006, where Gilad is in his early 20’s and a member of the Israeli Defense Force. In June 2006, Gilad was abducted during a cross-border raid by Hamas. Four years later he is still alive and is still a prisoner. His story so moved the Israeli students that they turned it into a Kamishibai piece. The power of their work is both moving and thought provoking.

This is an example of how Kamishibai can be used to introduce sensitive topics in a format that is appropriate for children.

My Vision

A two-year, multi-phase, multi-layered theater arts project:

  • Outreach Performances to elementary schools (poss. Middle schools)
  • In-school Kamishibai residencies, to include culminating event
  • Creation of a new theater piece drawn from student Kamishibai
  • New Theater piece performances for both schools and general public
  • Centerpiece of a fundraising campaign
  • Produce multimedia project for broadcast and fundraising
  • Develop collateral products for promotions, gift shop sales or fundraising premiums

Basic Nuts & Bolts

  • Create a core group of performers, who would be trained in how to perform Kamishibai.
  • Send them out to perform in elementary and middle schools throughout a targeted school district.
  • A single performance could last up to twenty minutes and be comprised of several stories and songs.
  • Select specific schools that would then participate in a Kamishibai writing project.
  • I recommend targeting one specific grade level and ensure that instruction is in line with state curriculum standards.
  • Since Kamishibai requires writing and illustrating, and since there may be more than one school participating in the Kamishibai writing project, I would recommend a team-teaching approach: one teaching artist would lead story writing and Kamishibai performance instruction, while the other would cover story boarding and illustrating. Since this would be a tag team approach, each pair could cover more than one school.
  • At the end of the Kamishibai writing phase, each participating school would celebrate a culminating event, where the students would perform their newly created works for their schools.
  • Once this phase has been completed, we take all of the newly created Kamishibai and select a best of the best. This material could then be used as the basis for creating a new theater piece that could be added to your following season for school performances.
  • This project will create significant work product that can be very beneficial to fundraising efforts and to gift shop sales, if there is one.

Curriculum covered

  • Social Studies
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Story writing
  • Visual Arts
  • Story boarding
  • Illustrating
  • Theater Arts
    • Kamishibai
  • Create theater piece from selected stories
  • Stage Production/Culminating Event
  • Kamishibai Cluster Performances in schools, parks and other public sites
  • Identify, assess and evaluate goals and curriculum standards


It is clear to me that new models for reaching audiences need to be explored. If the “…world is our stage…”, then combining outreach performances and artist residencies, with the production of a new theater piece creates dynamic new opportunities for artistic inventiveness and to further the cause of community-arts programming.

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