The Original Kamishibai

By Jon Miller Updated on May 22nd, 2017

By pure chance I came across a book on display at the local public library titled Manga Kamishibai: The Art of the Japanese Paper Theater by Eric P Nash. It is a history of the paper theater art form from the 1930s to modern times. The visual management system for auditing standard work within the Toyota Production System gets its name from the same kamishibai. For those who are not familiar with this lean management tool I can recommend reading What is a Kamishibai? as well as One Point Lesson: Kamishibai.

The artwork, styles and subject matter of kamishibai are quite varied and even included news announcements such as the World War II US Occupation announcement of the new constitution of Japan, pictured below.

The kamishibai is still an active tool for early childhood education. Although it was rare, I have a few rare childhood memories of the kamishibai performer visiting our neighborhood in Japan on his bicycle to tell his stories.

There are fewer and fewer people who make their living creating or performing kamishibai in Japan. In the book Manga Kamishibai the author quotes one kamishibai peformer he met in the 1980s, Mr. Morishita:

Kamishibai are a two-way street, as opposed to television, which is a one-way form of communication. Moreover, kamishibai are a source of moral teaching…television today has no moral emphasis…and it is something the children need.”

In the lean management system kamishibai also facilitates two way communication between the people who do the work and the leader who checks that standards are being maintained. As a way of reinforcing the elimination of waste and respect for people, perhaps we can say that it also serves as a form of moral teaching.Leader standard work, daily management, structured gemba walks with 5 why dialogues for teaching and problem solving are all elements that make the kamishibai system successful and lean transformations more sustainable. In the end thought it’s still about people and doing the right thing: morals and ethics. After more than 80 years the humble kamishibai man still has something to teach us.

  1. John Santomer

    May 27, 2010 - 2:52 am

    Dear Jon, A very good example that not all “new technology” are without setbacks. “Kamishibai” has shown itself to be sustainably good tool to imbibe moral teaching and ethics. These; are more often times lacking in today’s media and telecommunications. It’s such a waste! Television should have been a more effective tool to disseminate to a wider range of audience and with greater impact. So much has been sacrificed to gain ratings numbers in the ratings game that most networks would rather go dilly-dallying around the borders of morals and ethics. Specially these times, parents have accepted TV viewing time as a currency they can bargain with their children and have their young ones exposed to constant bombardment to a variety of shows. The “kamishibai performer” has all the chances to guide its viewers to proper morals and ethics and can address a viewer’s inquiry which is more likely missing to a parent allowing their children to view TV programs – even on a controlled time frame. Their absence makes the child’s unmonitored viewing time and questions go un-answered and could probably take the “raw” information in as a norm at a later stage. Perhaps proper “responsibility” is what’s missing in this technology that may yet still be a very good means of communication and teaching tool.

  2. Jon

    May 27, 2010 - 10:35 am

    Hi John
    I agree with you. It’s also ironic that we’re having this discussion via technology’s replacement for TV: the internet.

  3. Bill

    May 27, 2010 - 11:07 am

    I can’t blame the TV as the problem. The free market will provide exactly what the people ask for – which is sad, cheap entertainment currently. Though more interesting nature, history, and political discussion shows appear to be on the rise which is hopeful overall. It was never the producers job to have a moral or ethical obligation because who’s morals and obligations would they orient to? I certainly don’t want any of the governments (in any country) choosing those for my family.

  4. Joseph

    May 31, 2010 - 3:53 pm

    I think what this post is describing is systems with accountability and systems without accountability. The Kamishibai system has morals because if he taught poor morals people would soon stop paying him or even beat him up. He is real and can therefore feel pain.
    The person on TV is 1000 miles away when he is given access to our childrens minds. He also knows that most people live such busy lives that they will not take the time to pen a complaint to the boss of the TV station. So why should he care what you think. He has no accountability.
    Evil can only prevail when good men stand by and do nothing. The pen is mightier than the sword. People should take back the power and complain not sit and whine or worse acquiesce. If like Bill you sit and wait for the free market to sort out your concerns then you will get what you deserve. The free market is only free because we give it freedom. If the market shows that it does not deserve that position then it should be shown that “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” If enough people complain then the TV company will have to sack some one. Then the rest of the media will fall in line with what the PAYING public want. If you dont complain they may think that you agree with the stuff that they put on your TV.
    On the moral side let me say, “Wrong is wrong even if every one is doing it and right is right even if no one is doing it.”
    God helps those who help themselves.
    Have a nice day.

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