Couple telling story of kamishibai in U.S.

Kamishibai, literally “paper theater,” is a traditional Japanese art in which a performer tells a children’s story while showing pictures that describe each scene. A Japanese woman living in California and her American husband have been promoting the art of picture-story shows in the hope of sharing its fun with children on the other side of the Pacific.

Hazuki Kataoka, 47, who is from Nishi-Tokyo, Tokyo, and now runs an advertising and publishing company in California, and David Battino, a 44-year-old editor, have so far produced kamishibai kits for four stories in English and performed more than 80 shows at local primary schools and libraries.

Kataoka thought of promoting kamishibai in the United States in the summer of 2001, after seeing something she found odd at the local nursery school in which she had placed her son, now 13. She saw one teacher have the children listen to a cassette tape while showing them a picture book.

“She did it supposedly because she was focusing on showing the pictures,” Kataoka recalled. “However, I wanted her to tell the story to the children on her own while keeping aware of how the children were responding.”

The scene made Kataoka remember her mother, Harue, now 75, who often told her about kamishibai as one of her best childhood memories.

However, Kataoka found that the art is peculiar to Japan, so she decided to promote it in the United States.

In producing the kamishibai kits in English, Kataoka writes scripts, while Battino edits them, and some of the couple’s artist friends provide pictures.

Since 2003, Kataoka and Battino have released kamishibai kits for four stories. Two of them are traditional Japanese fairy tales–Momotaro (Peach Boy) and Kaguyahime (Moon Princess)–and the others are Jack and the Beanstalk, from Britain, and The Cat with No Name, from Russia.

When they visit primary schools and libraries in California, Kataoka and Battino often perform kamishibai while playing the recorder or singing songs. They also give talks to teachers and librarians on the attraction of such picture-story shows.

According to Kataoka, teachers often find it surprising to see that kamishibai can allow even children with short attention spans to easily remain focused during the shows.

An increasing number of local primary and middle school in California and some other states have gotten their students to produce kamishibai kits during classes in recent years, Kataoka says. She adds the topic will be featured in a local textbook for primary school students that will be used from next year.

During a recent visit back to Japan, Kataoka gave a lecture at Keisen University in Tama, Tokyo, in late June.

“In kamishibai, performers describe the feelings of characters and the atmospheres of stories, while enjoying sharing time together with their listeners,” said Prof. Reiko Iwasa, who organized the lecture. “Her talk made us understand the attraction of kamishibai.”

Kataoka said, “We’d be happy if we can make any contribution to promoting cultural exchanges between Japan and the United States.”

For details of the couple’s products, visit www.storycardtheater.com.

(Aug. 4, 2009) The Yomiuri Shimbun

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See related story: The Kamishibai Kids share an age-old Japanese story form (centraljersey.com Apr 25, 2010)

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