By Ian McArthur
ONE OF Japan’s first foreign-born entertainers is the subject of my new book, the first about him in the English-speaking world.
Henry Black – On Stage in Meiji Japan tells of Australian-born British citizen, Henry Black (1858-1923), who made a career as a storyteller (/rakugoka/) and actor in Japan in the 1880s and 1890s. The book examines Black’s role in bringing nineteenth-century European notions of modernity to Japan in the Meiji era. The book would suit scholars of theatre, Meiji social history, the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement, the Meiji reform debate and the role of newspapers and popular literature in cultural transfer.
Black enthralled Japanese audiences with adaptations of popular mystery novels by European authors, including Charles Dickens, Mary Braddon and Fortune de Boisgobey. He also performed magic and hypnotism, lived with his same-sex Japanese partner, and indulged a passion for sake. His voice is on the first disc-shaped recordings made in Japan in 1903 for the London Gramophone Company, thanks to his cooperation with American entrepreneur Fred W. Gaisberg.
In the 1870s Henry Black and his newspaper editor father, John Black, addressed meetings of the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement, which sought to promote equal rights and an elected parliament.
Henry Black later affiliated with the San’yuha, one of Japan’s top guilds of storytellers. As a storyteller, Black continued to promote the prodemocracy movement’s ideals in theatres. His adaptations of European sensation fiction were also serialised in newspapers and published as stenographic books (/sokkibon/).
Henry Black also performed kabuki roles. His signature role was Banjuiin Chobee, for which he received tuition from the great kabuki actor Ichikawa Danjuro IX.
Black became a naturalised Japanese citizen in 1893.
/Henry Black: On Stage in Meiji Japan/is the first English-language book about Black. I have used translations of Black’s adaptations of European fiction, as well as newspaper and diary entries, to demonstrate his participation in the Meiji-era modernity debate. It includes photos of Black in kabuki roles and illustrations from his /sokkibon/.
*/Henry Black: On Stage in Meiji Japan/***
*By Ian McArthur*
RRP: AUD/US$34.95 paperback
273 pages (includes photos of Black in kabuki roles and illustrations from his /sokkibon/)
More information at
*The book contains the following chapters*
1. In the beginning
2. Old Japan New Japan
3. The move to Tokyo
4. A novice on the stage
5. The activist years, 1878-1886
6. From English teacher to /rakugoka/
7. In the golden age of the narrators
8. Adapting European sensation fiction
9. Sensation fiction as modernity
10. Adapting Dickens: dystopia and modern life
11. Face creams and tooth powder
12. Narrating the Meiji woman
13. Learning from the great Danju-ro-
14. A question of identity: the “imported Japanese”
15. The uncertain years, 1895-1900
16. Saved by new technology
17. The end of an era, 1908
18. No different from a Japanese