Sunday, December 26, 2021

Kamishibai (Paper Theater)


The World Kamishibai Day Celebrated its 20th Anniversary on Dec 7, 2021.

My daughter in Santa Barbara, California was surprised to hear about the celebration, claiming Kamishibai a lost art of storytelling. She should remember them from her preschool days in Japan, even though she did not spend much time there. She says she remembers seeing live theatrical performances called “Fairly Tales in the Park”. With a cast of 4-5 actors, this troop performed short plays for children at different parks. They were quite entertaining, dressing up as different characters and using props. It was much different from watching a movie or TV. I believe this performing group surprisingly still exists. I don’t recall ever taking my kids to see Kamishibai. When they were young, I took them to library programs and bookstore events before bookstores disappeared.

Kamishibai, the Japanese paper theater or picture story card show, once flourished during the depression years in the 1930’s that saved many unemployed adults, but disappeared at the advent of World War II. I sensed its revival while living overseas.

What I recollect about Kamishibai was how it demonstrated its power to communicate when the new Japanese Constitution was promulgated in 1948, using the old medium of popular entertainment to educate. An attentive street crowd was informed about important impending changes. The banner and sign advertised the new constitution coming into effect. The photo attached was taken from the famous book, Embracing Defeat by John Dower. Tokujiro Kanamori (1886-1959), State Minister under Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida was strongly involved.

The latest World Kamishibai Day initiative promotes the idea that Kamishibai lessons can imprint unforgettable memories in children, invoking the same level of curiosity and enthusiasm from rivaling content on smartphones and tablets.


The San Diego Library “Rebellious Miss Breed” retrospective purportedly continues ‘from Sept 2021 to Jan 2022' and its Kamishibai special program was scheduled at the Rancho Bernardo public library on November 19. I asked my friends, the Kaneko family, living nearby, to attend if possible and report back. Kaneko-san attended with her son’s family, including grandchildren aged 8 and 6. To my and their disappointment, no Kamishibai plays related to Miss Breed were performed that day. However, the grandchildren seemed to have enjoyed them all. The following three Kamishibai were performed by Mr. Walter Ritter, the narrator/performer, surrounded by 10 adults and a dozen children that made up the audience.

  1. Taberareta Yamanba, The Mountain Witch that was Eaten
  2. Chinese folk tale
  3. American tale

According to Mr. Ritter, two Kamishibai stories related to Miss Breed are available. I tried looking for a performance date, but could not find any. They are Boy Tetsuzo, about whom I know and talked to person, and Fusa Tsumagari.


One of the most well-known original stories that was first performed using Kamishibai was Ogon Bat (The Golden Bat), a Japanese superhero created in 1931. The popular character eventually made the transition to manga and anime adaptations.

Monday, December 13, 2021

The Tango as Therapy

Few visitors to Boca Raton, Florida, known for its affluence, imagined the area means literally 'the rat’s mouth'. This same Boca in Buenos Aires was named to its port by European immigrants. Today "Boca" thrives as "Junior Boca", young soccer teams adorned by local kids. La Boca, however, wears another face there. It is a popular destination for tourists, like me, to visit colorful houses and pedestrian street “Caminito”, where Buenos Aires tango dancers graciously and sensuously perform.

In 2001, I extended my trip to Brazil-Uruguay-Argentine (bordering Iguaz Falls) to Buenos Aires for two reasons: 1) to attend Buenos Aires Toastmasters meeting and; 2) to visit La Boca.

I took special social dancing lessons in my late teen days until I changed my major from economics to English. My favorite lessons were the waltz and the tango. When I heard music like La Cumparcita ("The Carnival", 1917) or Yira-Yira ("Go Round and Round", 1931), I was so exhilarated. I kept my dancing shoes separate from the family show rack. Lo, I haven't danced the Tango for a long time now.

In tango, steps, or rather leg glides, "Caminando" in Spanish, meaning "walking" is non-stereotype. The couple synchronize with the music, you and your partner and the environment. You follow no single specific rhythm. Because the dance is led and followed at the level of individual steps, the variations can occur from one step to another. This allows dancers from one step to the next, to vary the dance from moment to moment to match the music and the mood. I like the tango flexibility.

Another thing, tango lines your two kneecaps close, corrects your carriage, keeping your posture straight. I felt very refreshed, blowing off my stress after Tango dancing. Tango may be good for physical fitness, akin to Judo or Aikido. Strange that Tango has a therapeutic effect, blasting away daily stress. People in La Boca gathered to free themselves from nitty-gritty lives of poverty.

Tango music sprouted around the turn of the century (1900) in Boca neighborhoods. Most well-known was Carlos Gardel, a French-born Argentine singer, songwriter, composer and actor. Initially it seemed he had a tough time initially, even unable to buy Mate tea to drink, but gradually overcame the challenges. He succeeded in performing in New York and was a huge success.

Alas, he met a tragic death when his plane crashed in Medellin, Bogota in 1935.

I participated one night in Buenos Aires Toastmasters gathering named Morris Gellman and was welcomed as a speaker from the Orient. I remember I talked about Japan as volcanic islands archipelago. I am happy to report the Club is sound and going strong. Big cheers! I befriended Lidia Cobo, with whom I exchange emails. Below is a photo of the Cobo sisters.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

4215 Trias

I read the obituary of Miss Clara Breed when I was visiting San Diego as a traveler after retiring from Kyocera. I met Clara several times in the late ‘70s at a fundraising board meeting of the San Diego Balboa Park Friendship Garden project, with the Honorable Japanese Consulate General Will Happen Jr. as President, Clara as secretary (requested perhaps by Joe and Liz Yamada) sitting on the Board, and me, representing my employer - Kyocera.

The obituary opened my eyes to her career as the ex-President of San Diego Public Library, and her close associations with the Japanese community, especially with children during the very dark period when they spent their days in concentration camps during World War II.

I wrote "4215" with my felt-tipped pen, followed by "Trias" on the notebook I carried then and it became my Breed notebook ever since. Trias in Mission Hills, San Diego is located a bit north of Fashion Valley on the slope. The neighboring Hillcrest has UCSD Medical Center Complex on the plateau. I frequented the above mentioned Honorable Japanese Consul General Wil Hippen Jr.’s residence close to Presidio Park for various projects which included the Japanese Naval Force band reception on Ports Call.

Losing husband Ruden, a pastor, Clara’s mother Estella arrived in San Diego in the 1920s, invited by Estella’s sister and her husband. Clara graduated from San Diego High as an honor student. Her school activities were diverse - art, horseback riding, tennis and making graduation albums. She made her own miniature house zoo, feeding foxes, raccoons and possums. I assumed early San Diegans enjoyed a life close to nature.

In the obituary, I read Clara kept a boxful of letters from children and when I called Liz Yamada, she already donated them to the Japanese-American National Library (JANL). She introduced me to Tetsuzo Hirasaki for a meeting and I had a valuable conversation with Tetsu (he passed away shortly after we met).

I visited JANL and copied a few letters from children reading “Dear Miss Breed” as samples. I was told the library was in the process of sorting through them and would take at least six months to finish. Joanne Oppenheim, the author of the Dear Miss Breed (Scholastics), miraculously found out about Miss Breed by inquiring at JANL about her Japanese classmate and started interviewing 'Miss Breed's children'. I heard about Joanne’s interviews through Liz and waited until her book came out in 2006.

The Japanese edition of Joanne Oppenheim's book came out in July 2008. Not bad! The translation took me two years (I wish to thank Eisho-no-Kai members for partial translation) and only had to count days needed to find a publisher. Luckily, Kashiwa Shobo in Tokyo came to my rescue.

I have to thank Teiko Uemura as my great self-sacrificing partner. She helped organize the manuscript into a fine, neatly typed Japanese version. I met her at Kumamoto Toastmasters Club and we bonded over sharing a cordial spirit. She later moved to Hachioji, Tokyo but we remain tied in the same spirit.

Latest Honors bestowed upon Clara Breed:

2014: California Library Hall of Fame by California Library Association

2007: San Diego Women Hall of Fame in the Cultural Bridge Builder category

2006: Smithsonian Institute incorporated four of the Dear Miss Breed letters into lesson plans to be used in Business School documents