The Imperial Japanese Troupe

Japanese Acrobats
K: Edwin S. Porter. P: Edison Manufacturing Company. USA 1904
Print: Library of Congress

“An Oriental man and boy walk on a stage with a painted backdrop of a garden or park, give a slight bow to the camera as if it were an audience member, and remove their silk jackets. Both wear dark tights and leotards with light-colored slippers; the man also wears grey trunks, and the boy sports a white cloth around his middle. Lying on his back on a fitted mat, the man juggles and spins the boy with his feet. The boy’s acrobatic movements include spinning in a tucked ball-like position, flipping lengthwise in a prone position, flipping from a standing position to a shoulder-stand, somersaulting from a standing to a sitting position, repeated flips involving both the hands and feet of the man, and other series of somersaults and turns. After finishing the act, the acrobats take a slight bow and run off the stage, then return for another bow before finally exiting.”
From Edison films catalog
Library of Congress

“This archive footage, from 1904, illustrates the kinds of acrobatic feats that were made famous by Professor Risley’s Imperial Japanese Troupe, a group of Japanese performers that toured the world in the late 1860s.”
The Japan Times, Jan 4, 2013

“With the help of the U. S. consul and local American merchants, Risley cobbled together the needed funding and secured permission for what was dubbed the ‘Imperial Japanese Troupe’ to head abroad. In early 1867, the troupe arrived in San Francisco and embarked on a strikingly successful tour across the United States and eventually around the world. (…) Risley’s Imperial Japanese Troupe ultimately played a signature role in introducing the then mysterious world of Japan to those in the West. Risley’s activities are a more or less perfect distillation of one of the major themes of my own work, namely how popular entertainment has served as a medium for cross-cultural exchange. (…) I want to highlight one last cultural artifact of interest. It is a short motion picture filmed in Thomas Edison’s New York Studio on April 29, 1904 now at the Library of Congress. It shows two Japanese acrobats performing what was by then known simply as a Risley act. It was this foot-juggling routine that catapulted its namesake to fame and fortune, and its performance by two Japanese entertainers aptly illustrates the ongoing legacy of international exchange via performance and popular culture.”
Matthew Wittmann: John Hewson Pruyn, Richard Risley, and the Misemono

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