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A unique form of story-telling

Mandira Nayar

Taking children into a larger than life world of fantasy

NEW DELHI: Japanese candy sellers carried these "little box of stories" on the back of their bicycles in the 1930s and travelled to far-off places. Tempting young Japanese children with sweets and stories `Kamashibai', a story-telling form with loose papers and pictures, it was probably their first experience of moving images and voice.

"The children who bought the candy got a better place to watch. During the war it was used as support propaganda. At that time they used these images to promote cooperation among the people for the war. But after the war, we regretted it, so we decided to reinvent it with new stories. Teachers are now using it for educational purposes to train young children, old people and even children with mental and physical disabilities," says Kyoko Sakai, president of Doshinsha Publishing Company that prints the `Kamashibai' cards.

Coming all the way from Japan to take part in the great tradition of story-telling at the Asian Conference on Storytelling here in the Capital to promote the reading habit among children, they feel that there is a `bond' between the two countries.

While Kyoko might not be able to tell her story in English, she has pictures to help her audiences understand and Etsuko Nozaka from the International Kamishibai Association of Japan to interpret. "I think it is very interesting that Asians listen to stories in a different way. They understand the joy of listening to stories sitting together. Their body language is different. Europeans understand Kamishibai in theory, but they don't understand the feeling in the same way," says Kyoko.

From the back of bicycles selling candy during World War II to now being used to communicate with young children, the story-telling form has travelled a long way. Reinventing itself to find completely new tales, `Kamashibai' is now about spreading the feeling of joy. "This method of story-telling is very significant in the world today, especially with communication being lost due to video and television. `Kamashibai' helps promote the feeling of joy. It is spread through the story-teller to the audience and within each other in the audience," says Etsuko. Communicating this feeling of joy and overcoming any language barrier, Kamashibai is about taking children into a world of fantasy.

With imagination an important ingredient for this "flight", it is about introducing young children to a world in which their mind can create the pictures that they can see.

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