The Kawakami Troupe in Early Twentieth-Century Europe in the Context of Media History
In 1899, a Japanese theatre troupe, led by actor Otojirô Kawakami, set off for America to play for the public, but without any concrete plans. At first they were unknown and poor. In Chicago, for example, the fifteen-member company had nothing to eat for several days before one of their performances. However, as time went on they became known for their performances of pseudo-Kabuki pieces and in the following year they visited Europe. It was here that they became famous. In England, they performed in the presence of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), and in France at the Elysée Palace, as the guests of the president Émile Loubet.2
One of the climaxes of their long tour was their series of performances at the Exposition Universelle [World Exhibition] in Paris in 1900. Sadayakko, the wife of Otojirô, was much praised by André Gide, Paul ← 111 | 112 → Klee and Isadora Duncan,3 among many others.4 Japanese-looking clothes marketed under the name ‘Kimono Sada Yacco’ became so popular in Paris in the early twentieth century that advertisements claimed that every ← 112 | 113 → Parisienne possessed one; Sadayakko contributed much to making the word ‘kimono’ known across Europe.5 This first tour was such a success that the troupe toured Europe again in 1901–2.
Let us begin our examination by taking a closer look at the meaning their performances had in relation to the history of the German-language theatre. A highly impressed...
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