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Professor Risley and the Imperial Japanese Troupe: How an American Acrobat Introduced Circus to Japan--and Japan to the West Hardcover – December 4, 2012
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"[A] fascinating narrative . . . In chronicling Risley's checkered and colorful career, Schodt illuminates the rivalries and precariousness of the circus business and portrays vividly this early encounter between Japan and the West." (Recommended for all readers). Choice, April 2013
"An intriguing look at international relations, culture, the circus, and its effects on the modern day, 'Professor Risley' is a must for anyone seeking an original and offbeat take on history, highly recommended."Midwest Book Review
"Pick up Schodt's latest book and move well beyond a study of Japanese culture. Schodt takes us all around the world of 19th-century entertainment: the competition, the disdain, the copycats and the triumphs. It's a captivating story about a pioneer in international entertainment."The Japan Times
"If you have any interest in Japanese history -- whatsoever -- pick up this book. Schodt knocked this title out of the park. It's a real page-turner, and that's saying a lot when dealing with a history book." Japanator blog
About the Author
Frederik L. Schodt is an award-winning author of multiple books on the interplay of Japanese and American culture, with an emphasis on popular culture and on unique individuals who have made unusual cross-cultural contributions.
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A great story by itself, but, for me, the real fun of the book is in the story of how he brought a troupe of Japanese acrobats, jugglers and magicians to America and Europe, at a time when Japan had been in self-imposed isolation from the world for over 200 years. The historical facts of the story—the physical hardships of travel, the often cutthroat business practices, the racism of the public—make a fascinating backdrop to a tale of entertainment celebrity that often felt eerily familiar. One could easily imagine the troupe’s star acrobat, Hamaikari Umekichi (dubbed “Little All Right” by the American press) as a YouTube sensation today. This is the kind of historical book I really love—a fun, little-known story that puts history in a different perspective. Mr. Schodt has done a terrific job of turning a meticulously researched story into an entertaining—and thought provoking—tale.
After a brief preface explaining how he came to write the book, Schodt launches into the main text of Professor Risley and the Imperial Japanese Troupe. The first chapter, or "act," is appropriately titled "Setting the Stage" and provides the necessary background and historical context for the book. The next three acts--"The Risley Act," "Going for Gold," and "Into Asia"--explore the life of Professor Risley, the stage name of American showman Richard Risley Carlisle. Acts five through nine--"Yokohama, Japan," "Taking America," "At the Exposition," "The Long Way to London," and "The Matter of the Contract"--follow the formation of the Imperial Japanese Troupe and their nearly two-and-a- half-year tour of seven countries: the United States, France, England, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, and Portugal. Act ten, "Final Acts" traces the end of Professor Risley and the troupe and their lasting influence. The book is completed with an afterword, notes, select bibliography, and a thorough index.
In 1866, the eighteen men, women, and youths from the Sumidagawa, Matsui, and Hamaikari preforming families who would make up Risley's Imperial Japanese Troupe received the first official passports granted to ordinary Japanese citizens. Since the mid-17th century, the Japanese government had severely limited travel into and out of Japan. The opening of Japan helped to ignite an interest in Japanese art and culture across the world. A large part of the Imperial Japanese Troupe's success was due not only to the members' skill but to the perceived exoticism of their performances. For the first time the world at wide was being introduced to Japanese culture. At the same time, ordinary Japanese were finally allowed and able to see the world beyond their own country. The tour of the Imperial Japanese Troupe was a meeting, meshing, and clashing of cultures. And while the group was away, Japan itself was undergoing a revolution as the Meiji era was ushered in.
Professor Risley and the Imperial Japanese Troupe was absolutely fascinating. Additionally, Schodt's writing is an utter delight to read. Although Professor Risley and the Imperial Japanese Troupe has been thoroughly researched and has an academic bent to it, the book is still easily accessible and approachable even for more casual readers. One of the things that I particularly loved about Professor Risley and the Imperial Japanese Troupe is that it is filled with reproductions of historical photographs, artwork, newspaper clippings, playbills, advertisements, and so on, including sixteen pages in full color. They are a fabulous addition to an already great book. I enjoyed Professor Risley and the Imperial Japanese Troupe immensely. It's an incredibly engaging work on 19th-century popular culture and very easy to recommend.