Cambridge Library: Studying Japanese Vaudeville Troupes in 19th Century Britain Using Digitalized Resources

Previous studies on the history of Japanese vaudeville troupes have used a variety of source materials, such as historical documents in Japan's Diplomatic Records Office, posters and programmes of performing arts at foreign theatre museums, newspaper articles in Japanese and Western languages, as well as published records of their travels abroad, most notably including "Hirohachi nikki" (the diary of Takano Hirohachi). The recent digitalization of historical records may allow us to more easily access and organize the relevant source material. With the help of the "fully text searchable" index, the digitalized records could be a new weapon in the research of Japanese troupes of jugglers and acrobats.

Searching the ‘19th Century British Library Newspapers' and ‘19th Century UK Periodicals' databases may perhaps help us to shed a more detailed light on the activities of Japanese entertainers in Victorian Britain than had previously been possible, as the digitalized resources allow us to search not only newspaper articles, but also daily newspaper advertisements pertaining to troupe performances. I would like to further the study of the history of these performances. Using the two words "Japanese" and "Troupe", I could retrieve 1,839 items from the ‘19th Century British Library Newspapers' database (while, by comparison, typing in "Chinese" and "Troupe" retrieved only 83). Analyzing those 1,839 items, I was able to discover the course of Japanese troupes through the Victorian press, particularly noting the instrumental role of Tannaker Buhicrosan, as both a proprietor of Japanese troupes and the originator of the Japanese Village exhibition, held in London in 1885.

I would like also to focus on the phenomena of quasi Japanese troupes, whose performers were usually westerners in Japanese or oriental costume. The existence of quasi Japanese troupes demonstrates the popularity and commercial appeal of Japanese-style troupes in British music halls, variety theatres and circuses at the time. Typical quasi Japanese troupes included the Zanneto Troup, the Nemo Troupe of Japanese Jugglers, Derkaro Japanese Troupe, the Avrignys, Extraordinary Troupe of Japanese Jugglers, Korosko Bale Japanese Troupe and the Majilton Japanese Troupe. Despite their titles, most or almost all of the performers comprising these troupes were not Japanese.