Kamishibai: Emotional Hook for Learning

“Kamishibai is a delightful way of introducing literature, culture, and the arts” to children, says MENC member Dorothy Kittaka. This traditional Japanese form of storytelling will draw students in while they make connections with music, the visual arts, language arts, history, culture, and character education.

What is Kamishibai?

Kamishibai (“paper theatre”) is picture storytelling that uses painted cards to illustrate a story that’s written on the back of the cards. The traditional stories teach life lessons and emphasize traits such as

Integrity Caring Common Sense Initiative
Perseverance Organization Flexibility Problem Solving
Responsibility Cooperation Patience Friendship
Curiosity Courage Resourcefulness Sense of humor

Original Kamishibai stories are written in dialog form, so the storyteller becomes an animated actor voicing different characters, making a compelling drama.

How to use Kamishibai:

  • Select a story and read it to the class using the story cards. (For example, the “One Inch Boy” teaches children that no matter what size you are, you can still achieve and be brave and honorable. Good for grades K–2.)
  • Have students use percussion instruments, tuned xylophones, and body percussion to add sound effects as you read the story again with the story cards.
  • Have students compose songs to go with the Kamishibai story as a class, in groups, or individually.
  • Have students create poems and haiku as a class to reflect the story line. This works with even very young children.
  • Tell the story again with story cards and musical accompaniment. Record it for listening and critiquing.
  • Older grades can write their own stories, illustrate them, and compose songs for them.

“Writing their own Kamishibai stories was a highlight with my students,” says Kittaka. See her lesson plans.



  • Engages students in learning.
  • Introduces Japanese culture.
  • Teaches positive life lessons.
  • Integrates music with visual arts, language arts, and social studies.
  • Leads to collaboration among teachers of various disciplines.
  • Encourages better writing, reading, musical, and artistic skills.
  • Can meet all of the National Standards for Music Education depending on how used.


  • Kittaka’s Unit Plan for using Kamishibai to integrate music and language arts
  • The Kamishibai Web site sells Kamishibai story cards, describes how to use them, gives their history, and much more at Kamishibai.com.
  • Kamishibai Man by Allen Say tells the history of the Japanese Kamishibai storytellers who used to sell candy from their bicycles, which had a wooden theater mounted on the back. Kamishibai became popular in Japan in the 1930s and remained so until the advent of the television.
  • “The Power of Integrating Music with Kamishibai Japanese Story Cards,” by Dorothy Kometani Kittaka, Spotlight on General Music (MENC, 2005)

Dorothy Kittaka retired from teaching in 2006 but continues to read Kamishibai stories in schools and at festivals, as well as making presentations with students at conferences and other venues. She recently traveled to Japan on a Fulbright Memorial Fund Journey where she observed firsthand the techniques of Kamishibai master storytellers. While attending a peace session in Japan, she, as a Japanese American who was put in an internment camp for three years during World War II, sat with Japanese teachers who survived the atomic bomb, and she realized that they were all survivors of violence and war. She also got to meet her uncle and aunt.


–Linda C. Brown, June 10, 2009, © National Association for Music Education (nafme.org)