A Biography of Henry Black: Theatre in Japan

Ian McArthur

A Biography of Henry Black: Theatre in Japan
Monash Asia Institute
1 July 2013

A Biography of Henry Black: Theatre in Japan

Ian McArthur

Unique among foreigners in 19th-century Japan, Australian-born professional storyteller (rakugoka) Henry Black (1858-1923) enthralled audiences with his adaptations of novels by Charles Dickens, Mary Braddon, and Fortua de Boisgobey. These tales, later produced as books, brought notions of European modernity to many ordinary Japanese.

Henry Black also acted kabuki roles, managed an orchestra, performed magic and hypnotism, lived with his Japanese male lover, drank heavily, and practiced tea ceremonies. His voice was recorded for the London Gramophone Company on the first disc-shaped recordings made in Japan.

In the 1870s, Black had joined the pro-democracy movement, promoting equal rights and an elected assembly. His later affiliation with the San'yu guild of storytellers, under the professional name of Kairakutei Burakku, enabled him to promote the movement’s aims through his stories. He became a naturalized Japanese and was shunned by his own family.

This is the first full-length English-language account of Henry Black. Translating Black’s narrated adaptations and drawing on newspapers and diary entries, author Ian McArthur demonstrates Black’s individual contribution to the modernization of Meiji-era (1868-1912) Japan.

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