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Interview with Pepe Cabana Kojachi "Mukashi Mukashi"


Pepe Cabana Kojachi “Mukashi Mukashi” with one of his Kamishibai stages from
“Proyecto Kamishibai Perú”


Tell us a little bit about yourself, your childhood, overall background, and current occupation.

I was born and raised in Lima, which is the capital of Peru. I am the second of four children, and I had a very happy childhood. Playing games, reading, and creative pursuits were always around me because my parents always inculcated these things in us in some way or another. My mom always bought me comic books and albums of music, and my dad took us to the park every weekend to play soccer and bought us encyclopedias.

Our house was very small and simple, but we were surrounded by much love and respect. My mom is from Lima, Peru. Her mother was Peruvian and her father, Japanese. She always had a deep affection for her Japanese father and transmitted to us her love of Japanese culture.
My dad is from Ayacucho, Peru (both of his parents are Peruvian). Ayacucho is an important city in the Andes of Peru and is well known for its craftsmen. My dad also transmitted to us his and his ancestors’ customs and traditions.

As a child, I had a lot of fun playing with my friends in the afternoons and enjoyed watching black and white television with my siblings. I have some funny anecdotes related to the black and white TV. For example, I never knew that “The Smurfs” were blue... Being in front of that screen was really magic to me. I enjoyed the early Japanese TV series, such as Ultraseven, Astroboy, Paa Man, Steel Jeg, Space Giants, etc. One of my favorite TV programs was “The Japanese Puppet Theater,” and that was the first time I heard the sound of hyoshigi clappers before the stories started.

I started kindergarten when I was around 4 years old. At the beginning I cried a lot because I had to stay there, but later I cried a lot because I didn’t want to leave! I feel very lucky that my first teachers were able to stimulate my skills in drawing and acting. I always got good grades in these subjects.

One of the best memories of my childhood was the magic of Star Wars. I was so impressed by the entire fantasy world created by George Lucas and how he could transform objects and create costumes, spaceships, cities, etc. The Star Wars action figures were and still are my favorites.

When I finished school, I decided to study advertising and graphic design.  In 1989 I started working as a Designer and later as an Art Director and Creative Consultant in different advertising agencies. In 2002 I decided to go independent in order to have more time for my family (I'm married and I have 2 children) and to pursue personal projects relating to puppetry, storytelling, creative recycling, reading, and, of course, kamishibai, which I had already been researching.

Pepe Cabana Kojachi “Mukashi Mukashi” telling stories.

Today, I direct my own design studio, "Mukashi Mukashi" Tales from Peru, Japan and The World, and "Proyecto Kamishibai Perú." Thanks to all this work I have been able to travel and represent my country in Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Cuba, Bolivia, Spain, United States, Mexico and Paraguay performing shows and presenting at conferences and workshops.

How did you first find out about kamishibai?

When I was a child, there was a TV channel that broadcast Japanese children's programs dubbed into Spanish. It was a fascinating world where they taught children to create things from recycled materials and told stories with illustrated pictures. There were some Japanese stories among them. These shows left me with a lot of questions about all these unique activities with special names like origami or kirigami. I have always been very curious about everything.

Years passed and, as I began finding out more about my Japanese roots, I discovered the Elena Kohatsu Library at the Peruvian-Japanese Cultural Center in Lima. Since 2004, I have volunteered at the Cultural Center, and it was there that I first saw and touched a Kamishibai stage and illustrated cards, which had been donated by the Japanese government. That's when my journey with Kamishibai really began.

In 2008, I contacted The International Kamishibai Association of Japan (IKAJA) and became a member. As a result, Peru joined the growing list of countries that spread the word about the wonderful art of kamishibai. I am very proud that all my effort and perseverance of these years has been a part of it.

What made you want to start performing kamishibai?

Since the very beginning of my career, I have always looked for a medium that would allow me to communicate emotion, as well as experiment with the fusion of my Japanese-Peruvian roots. When I found out about the kamishibai wooden stage, I thought that it had a lot in common with the Peruvian “Retablo Ayacuchano,”a wonderful expression of folk art that also contains stories inside.

I said to myself, “If I want to develop Peruvian-Japanese fusion, what about creating a stage with the Peruvian art and the Japanese heart?” It was then that a unique and pioneering idea for merging the two cultures was born in my mind.  Another great motivation for me to perform kamishibai is the benefits it offers for promoting reading, based in the creation, illustration, and telling of the stories.


“Proyecto Kamishibai Perú” stages.


Do you make your own stages and do you make-up your own stories?

I have been very fortunate to be able to create a series of Kamishibai stages made entirely in Peru with the collaboration of artisans in wood, both folk and contemporary artists. Some of these stages are adapted to fit vintage bicycles, and I even have a stage that has been recently developed to fit on a single wheel vehicle that allows me to move around in smaller spaces.

I performed this year at the XVI International Book Fair in Lima 2011 with this new vehicle for the first time, and it was a great success!


Kamishibai stage in a vintage bicycle from ”Proyecto Kamishibai Perú”.

I have also created my own stories and illustrations. I always start each session by telling about kamishibai’s origins in Japan and showing a picture I made that reflects this history. After that, I share stories, many of which I have created and adapted to the reality of my country, with which the audience and I feel the closest affinity.

Kamishibai illustration by Pepe Cabana Kojachi “Mukashi Mukashi”.


Some of my stories are adaptations of tales by other authors and some I have developed to tell the history of institutions or to teach about important issues like plastic recycling campaigns.

Kamishibai illustration by Pepe Cabana Kojachi “Mukashi Mukashi”.


Kamishibai illustration by Pepe Cabana Kojachi “Mukashi Mukashi”.


Do you have a favorite story or kind of story?

All the Kamishibai stories I share mean a lot to me, but "Dragon's tears" is especially well received by children, youth, and adults. It is a story that seems to open their hearts completely.

Kamishibai stage from “Proyecto Kamishibai Perú” in Trujillo city, Perú.

This story has also inspired some of my own illustrations, as well as a wood carved toy and a large panel that are part of “Proyecto Kamishibai Peru” art exhibition. This art exhibition has been presented in cultural centers and art galleries around Peru.

Wood carved toy representing the story “Dragon’s Tears” concept by Pepe Cabana Kojachi “Mukashi Mukashi” and elaborated by Flaviano Gonzáles. Art piece from “Proyecto Kamishibai Perú”.


Whom do you see as your audience for kamishibai?
My audiences are mainly families, children and teachers.  I perform in theaters and auditoriums, private homes, libraries, classrooms, malls and parks.



Pepe Cabana Kojachi “Mukashi Mukashi” in a Kamishibai performance in Trujillo, Peru.



Pepe Cabana Kojachi “Mukashi Mukashi” in a Kamishibai performance at Goethe Institute, Lima-Peru.


What do you think kamishibai performance offers this audience and what has their response been when you have performed?

It is something truly magical that I cannot explain in words. Kamishibai always carries a message of joy and hope through the stories. Japanese tales convey a special message, and I appreciate this all the more because of my roots. The kamishibai stories that I have created come out of this appreciation and share the same philosophy.


The magic of Kamishibai. Pepe Cabana Kojachi “Mukashi Mukashi” in a kamishibai performance at Elena Kohatsu’s Library.


How is kamishibai similar to and/or different from other storytelling forms that are available to you in your country?

Kamishibai is unique, but there are other ways of telling stories in my country that were made to pass on customs and oral traditions. In these expressions of Peruvian storytelling, the “retablo ayacuchano” is one of the most popular. It is a structure that contains a story inside with characters modeled as small sculptures.

Mr. Mabilón Jimenez is one of the great masters of this art. I asked him to create one retablo, representing “The time of Kamishibai.” It depicts me with the kamishibai stage on a bicycle surrounded by the animals of Peru listening to the stories. The result was really amazing!!


Retablo ayacuchano. Concept by Pepe Cabana Kojachi “Mukashi Mukashi” and elaborated
by Mabilón Jiménez. Art piece from Proyecto Kamishibai Perú.


Retablo ayacuchano. Concept by Pepe Cabana Kojachi “Mukashi Mukashi” and elaborated
by Mabilón Jiménez. Art piece from Proyecto Kamishibai Perú.


We also have “Tablas de Sarhua.” These are a set of drawings on pieces of wood. The paints are prepared with colored earth and instead of a brush they use birds’ feathers.

Another one is the "Mate Burilado," which is depicted on a dried pumpkin so the artisan draws the story in about 360 degrees. The picture is completely linear. While you rotate the pumpkin you enjoy the story. As a graphic designer, I am always motivated to tell stories with the support of visuals.

What are your plans going forward for performing kamishibai or making them available to others?

My plan and my wish is to continue to promote Kamishibai, both as it emerged in Japan and also in the ways I have adapted it in a Peruvian-Japanese fusion. I am very excited and enthusiastic about this work, and we are glad that other countries have been inspired by our idea of ?? cultural fusion with kamishibai and have adapted it to their own situation and reality.


Pepe Cabana Kojachi “Mukashi Mukashi” explaining about his “Proyecto Kamishibai Perú”.

I would like to travel more around Peru and to other countries so that more people can know about our experiences working and developing kamishibai for promoting  interest in reading and art. We also want to keep conducting workshops and talks for teachers and to invite them to help spread interest in kamishibai and to share it with their students.

In Lima, October has been designated this year, and for the past three years, as the Kamishibai month. This event, named "Raymi Kamishibai, the paper theater fest” will involve an art exhibition with different kamishibai stages and performances in different parts of the city.

It is wonderful to be in contact with friends of kamishibai around the world, to share the art exhibition with them, and to show them the different Peruvian artistic expressions we have applied in our kamishibai stages. I want to extend a special thanks to Kamishibai for Kids for giving me this opportunity to let the global kamishibai community know about our work. I also want to thank all the Peruvian artisans as well as all the artists who joined and collaborated with my project “Proyecto Kamishibai Perú.” A special thanks goes to  Tatiana Ugaz Poémape and Cristian Jara Salazar for supporting this project and also to my children, Tato and Gaby, for being my ongoing motivation and inspiration.

If you wish to contact Pepe’s organization, please write to kamishibaiperu@gmail.com or visit his website http://kamishibaiperu.blogspot.com


Kamishibai for Kids ~ Cathedral Station ~ PO Box 629 ~ New York, NY 10025
Tel: 212-663-2471 ~ kamishi@kamishibai.com