🎭 The Japanese Art of “Kamishibai”

Eric just put a great post about how he is enjoying his latest picture book as a “kamishibai.”

Kamishibai is a fabulous Japanese way of telling a story that works soooo well for English teachers too.

It’s very similar to reading a picture book.  However,  instead of turning pages you have each page printed and laminated.

This quite simple change opens up a whole new world of possibilities.   Here’s an example with the Genki English Gingerbread Man story:

Some of the very cool things you can do:

  •  “Rubato” i.e. being able to push and pull the timing to keep everyone’s interest high.
  •  You can quickly switch between pages like an action movie
  •  Slow down for suspense,
  •  Do a “slow reveal” for intense curiosity (the trait of geniuses everywhere)
  •  Go back and rethink
  •  Do fancy transitions, pull up one corner or one side or quickly give a sneak “flash” of the page  etc. etc.  all whilst being able to use your voice and body language to bring the story to life, all fully interactive with the kids in front of you.

In traditional Japanese settings the pages are printed and laminated as B4 pages

Ninja tip: The Genki English Picture Books are all written as “vector” graphics which means you can print them out at any size, A4, A3, B4, B2 even A0, all with perfect picture quality.   As you’re now getting paid your true worth,  you can afford to print in any of these sizes,  laminate them and you can use them for years!

And Japanese schools often have a Kamishibai Theatre where you can slot the cards into.   Here’s a picture of one from Amazon, although they are usually even more ornate than this!  You open the doors and pull up each page as you tell the story:

And in the digital, or online, age if you want to be super eco you can of course always use the pdfs on the screen like I do here with the new What do you want to be for Halloween? story:

And the Happy Halloween Story:

Do you notice the use of anticipation, timing, eye contact and body language?

Ninja Tip:   With the exception of the brand new What do you want to be for Halloween? story, all the others, including narrations, are also in the Genki English software.   This year we’re also experimenting by adding videos like above for all the stories to the “Student Pays” homework program.   If it works out well we’ll see if we can add them to the “Teacher Pays” option too!

A few things to watch out with these….

  • Be natural.  Don’t “grammartize” them by saying things like “Oh, check out the use of the first conditional here!” or “Now, can you identify the present continuous phrases for me?”   That helps no one 🙂
  • Do go over the top with the pronunciation and enunciation.  It’s a story.  Look at the best storytellers in your culture.   Do they stick to boring, straight, pronunciation and intonation?  Or do they pull and push and draw you into the story?  i.e.  don’t use “transcription” (teachers in Russia 😉 ) or anything like that 🙂
  • Use your body language, eyes and face.   The cool thing with kamishibai is that your hands are free.  You can move, you can use your eyes, you can use the best of the illustrations with the best human connections (i.e. eyes and hands!) to bring the story to life.   Don’t be boring 🙂
  • Don’t make kids read.   These are stories.  Stories are meant to be told.   The text is just there to help the narrator.  ( In fact Japanese kamishibai has the text on the back of the cards only, that way the audience only sees the pictures and the narrator! )
  • Don’t force the kids to say any lines.   With a well written story,  and I hope to think that the Genki English ones are, they are written with lots of repetition in special places, so any human listening will naturally, almost subconsciously, feel themselves repeating certain phrases without even realising it!   But of course if someone tries to “force” it on you, that motivation all falls apart.  So make sure you don’t force the kids to repeat. Trust the process. (And a good 20+ years experience of writing these things 😉 )
  • You can use video if you like.   The only reason we teach kids is that they learn pronunciation better than adult learners.  ( Adults learn the language more quickly, but getting that neutral accent is easier for kids)   So if your own English isn’t accent free, then there is no shame in using the videos.   After all you wouldn’t teach maths that was “nearly” right would we?  And also, how often do your kids get to hear books narrated by the author who also has lots of experience teaching kids and is a native speaker. 🙂    The only disadvantage with video is that we can’t change the timing to suit that particular class so weigh up the pros and cons and see what is right for you.   Ninja Tip:  You can use the videos above as your own pronunciation practice too.  Do you see how I push and pull the the words and sentences?  Can you mimic the changes and drama I put into it?   Can you do the same with your speaking style?   Ninja Tip 2:  Just make sure the videos you choose are from reputable sources,  some of the ones on Youtube have some very dodgy readings on there!! 🙂


So there you go,  with Genki English you have a couple of dozen of these kamishibai stories. And the kids love them!

You can find them all in the Teacher’s Set software,  the kids homework software and nearly all the pdfs are on the VIP area of the website!   Enjoy!

Be genki,







Richard Graham

Hello, I'm Richard Graham. When I was a kid I found school to be sooooo boring... So I transformed my way of teaching. I listened to what the kids were really wanting to say and taught it in ways they really wanted to learn. The results were magical. Now I help teachers just like you teach amazing lessons and double your incomes!

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