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In Session: Emergent Means: Media, Performance, and Actuality in Interwar Japan
4: Kamishibai (Picture-Story Show) and Education in Tokyo Slum by Imperial University Settlement in the 1930s
Monday, March 22, 2021
12:30pm – 2:00pm EDT
University of Tokyo, Japan
Since the 1930s, kamishibai (picture-story shows) enjoyed immense popularity among children on the streets, but was seen by adults, especially the police, as suspicious media. At the same time, kamishibai was sought after as a means of children's education or missionary work. During this period, what kind of actuality did kamishibai effect in terms of social reform, and how did its performers strike a balance with entertainment?
In this paper, I focus on the Imperial University Settlement’s use of kamishibai shows in its activities. The Imperial University Settlement was established in 1924, growing out of relief efforts for the Great Kanto Earthquake, and began charity work in one Tokyo slum. Among its members, students at the Faculty of Education, such as Matsunaga Kenya, began to make use of kamishibai – reportedly, the first introduction to extracurricular educational activities. In this case study, I illustrate how both the production and performance of kamishibai shows clearly aimed to change the reality of homeless children, as exemplified by Matsunaga and his fellows’ production of a show based on the Soviet film Road to Life (1931), whose theme was the re-education of street children. Due to the show’s political nature, there was an incident of its performance being halted. Even so, by foregrounding kamishibai as an educational practice aimed at children instead of adults, and the goal of changing children’s daily lives over their politics, Matsunaga was able to seek children’s involvement in the show’s production and performance.