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Friday, July 5, 2013

Japanese Circus Gets Arrested

While many of us who have been fortunate to see a circus and enjoy all of the fun and games, the actual running of a circus is not all fun and games. In fact, for the people who brought over the first Japanese performing troupe to the U.S., the circus life was a total three-ring circus... and not the fun type.

Before we start our journey, let me direct you to a pair of articles I have posted on Japan and the Circus, which will provide some background information... not that you will need it.

The article below contains some interesting things: it calls the Shogun the "Tycoon", and all of the Japanese performers seem to have Chinese sounding names... and I have a theory on that at the end of the article.

Sometimes it is fun to just jump into the deep-end and drown... how the hell does that saying go?

Anyhow... kudos to you if you know the reference in the next line - you're old. Of course, there's also a second unrelated reference, but I'm sure for those of you who know, it won't be difficult.

Come along Sherman, and let's get into our WayBack machine and travel back to October 31, 1867, where we can peer between the ink stains of a little newspaper known as the New York Evening Post, courtesy of the timelords at

The Troubles Of A Manager
Curious Experiences of Japanese Acrobats.

The excitement caused by the arrival of the Japanese jugglers in this city, and the deep interest felt for the unfortunate Little "All Right" are known to all, but few are aware of the difficulties and misfortunes encountered by the persons who brought these performers from Japan.

In October, 1866, Thomas F. Smith and Gustavus W. Burgess, two Americans then residing in Yokohama, Japan, entered into an agreement with several Japanese acrobats and jugglers to give performances in the United States and Great Britain. By the laws or customs of Japan no native is allowed to leave the country without the permission of the Tycoon.

Messrs. Smith and Burgess obtained authority to take the company and receive their services for one year from October 30, 1866. The penalty imposed upon the jugglers by the Tycoon for non-compliance with the terms of this agreement was death!

Twelve performers were selected. The principal ones were Foo-kee-matz, who acted as leader; String-kee-chee (sic?), Ling-kee-chee, and Ring-kee-chee, his son of nine years; with Zoo-shee-kee, Chee-Shau-kee, La-as-kee, Chee-zah-shau, Al-noo-schee, Fo-choo-chee and I-as-kee as assistants.

They were of one family, the servants of the house of Yoo-ku-chu, a Japanese prince. Messrs. Smith and Burgess paid the sum of six thousand five hundred dollars in Mexican gold to Yoo-ku-chu for their services for the time named. The performances were to begin on the arrival of the company in San Francisco.

The capital was furnished by Burgess until the troupe arrived at the point of destination, when the profits and loses arising from the performance were to be participated in by both—Smith receiving one-third, and the remaining two-thirds to go to Burgess.

The remarkable performance of the Japanese drew crowded houses throughout the country, and the receipts were larger than anticipated. Last spring, the company were playing to large houses in this city, and Ring-chee-chee, popularly known as little "All-Right," had become a favorite. After the performances in New York concluded in August, Mr. Smith was preparing to give the company a rest for a few weeks prepatory (sic) to embarking the troupe for Japan, and intended to put them under tuition of an English teacher and instruct them in the English language. Several of the company had already acquired some proficiency in our language, and one was acting as interpreter. Little "All-Right" had become particularly attached to the wife of Mr. Smith, and was rapidly learning to speak English, and, because of his activity of mind and general intelligence Mrs. Smith intended to adopt him, by permission of the Japanese government.

At this time Mr. Thomas Maguire offered Messrs. Smith and Burgess the sum of $15,000 for the services of the performers for a few weeks, to travel throughout the North and West. The company would agree to go with Maguire, on condition that they should come back to New York in October, as they desired to return to Japan. To this Maguire, it is said, assented, and the jugglers performed in Buffalo, Chicago and other cities, returning to this city about the 1st of September, where they met with Smith and Burges (sic). 

While absent on the western tour Maguire obtained the signatures of several members of the troupe, through the instrumentality of the Interpreter, to an extension of the contract to February 1, 1868. By the terms of this contract he was to pay Foo-Choo-Matz, for the troupe, twenty-five hundred dollars in gold, for which sum they were to perform in the cities and towns Maguire visited. 

When the money was given to Foo-choo-matz, and the matter explained, he refused to perform any longer, but expressed his desire to return to Japan. He claimed that the contract was not signed by the troupe, but that one of the troupe, without the authority of the others, and in collusion against them, signed their names without their knowledge or consent.

The company were preparing to return when Maguire caused the arrest of the Japanese troupe, for violation of contract to perform according to agreement, and the charge of embezzling twenty-five hundred dollars was preferred against Foo-choo-matz.

The whole company were taken before Inspector Leonard, at the Police Headquarters. Not understanding why they were thus arrested, and unacquainted with our language and customs, they were much excited, and "Little All-Right" expected they were about to perform "Hari-kari" upon his uncle, Foo-choo-matz. 

Inspector Leonard dismissed the case until the next day, confining Foo-choo-matz in the Tombs. The case was brought before Judge Hogan on the following morning. W.C. Traphagan (sic?) appeared as defendant's counsel, and explained the case as we have recited. Judge Hogan discharged the prisoners.

The troupe, with one exception, still remained fixed in their determination not to perform longer in this country, and refused to recognize the alleged contract.

Maguire got some control over the interpreter, who intended to remain in this country, and was endeavoring to influence the troupe to do the same. He was unsuccessful, however. Foo-choo-matz saw that the interpreter had acted treacherously, and told him that he would be beheaded when he returned to Japan. "Little All Right" hailed him as 'bad Jap."

Maguire, finding he could not enforce his agreement against the company, associated himself with Richard Risley, Edward Banks and William F. Shudt (sic?), and they made complaint to Judge Barnard of the Supreme Court, who, upon affidavits of complainants, issued an order for the arrest of Thomas F. Smith and Emma Smith, his wife, on the charges of, "First—Damages not arising out of contract; secondly, for injury to property; thirdly, that the defendants are not residents of this state; fourthly, that the defendants are about to remove from this state, with intent to defraud the plaintiff."

In default of twenty-five thousand dollars bail Mrs and Mrs. Smith were committed to the Ludlow street jail.

Maguire affirmed before Judge Barnard that he had entered into an agreement with Strin-kee-chee (sic?), Sing-kee-chee, Foo-chee-mats and Ring-kee-chee, to extend and continue their exhibitions until the last day of January, 1868, "at such times and places as the said plaintiffs may appoint in all respects in accordance with the terms of the agreement as originally made with them; that they would pay the sum of twenty-five hundred dollars in gold on the 20th of August, 1867; that the plaintiffs would faithfully and truly perform all obligations and pay all moneys according to the true intent and meaning of the contract made with Smith, which they have done; that the services and performances of the said Japanese troupe are of great value to the plaintiffs, and have hitherto realized them a very large income over and above expenses; that deponent is informed, and believes, and so charges the fact that they would have continued to perform and discharge their duties under the same but for the unlawful and wrongful interference of the defendants; that the defendants have succeeded in poisoning, corrupting and enticing away from the control and management of these plaintiffs the said Japanese performers." The plaintiffs laid their damages at fifty thousand dollars.

Mr. W.C. Traphagen (sic?), counsel for the defendants, appeared before Judge Barnard and showed cause why Mrs. Smith should not be held according to Voorhees Code, section 12, last clause: "No woman should be arrested in any action, except for a willful injury persons, character or property." Judge Barnard, upon his own motion, two days afterwards discharged Mrs. Smith, as the affidavits did not present such cause to hold her.

As the case would be a long time in litigation, and as Mr. Smith was obligated to the government of Japan to return the natives to their country in October, Mr. Traphagen (sic?) advises Mr. Smith to settle the case as quickly as possible, and compromise with Maguire, and others.
Mr. Smith contended that Maguire's interest ended at the expiration of the first contract, and he had no authority to make a contract with the troupe, but with him (Smith) as he was the authorized agent of the Japanese government to exhibit them in this country, and the troupe were obliged to return to Japan at the expiration of this contract. If a new contract were made, it must be made with the Japanese government. The Japanese were closely drawn to Mr. Smith, and would perform with no one else.

Mr. Smith's counsel said it was expedient to settle the case. Another troupe was on its way to this country, in which Smith had an interest, and finally Smith resolved to compromise if the terms were reasonable.

At this time there were two agents of the Japanese government in this country purchasing telegraph lines, instruments, steam engines, locomotives, cannon, fire arms, &c. Mr. Traphagen (sic?) had an interview with them to obtain an extension of time for Mr. Smith. One of these representatives was a prince of the royal family, who had the requisite authority. He agreed to extend the time until March; but the troupe must remain under the control of Mr. Smith. The charges against the interpreter were serious, and it was evident that he would be beheaded on his return to Japan.

Maguire agreed to receive ten thousand dollars to compromise the affair. The troupe were to travel throughout the country, and agent of Maguire's to accompany them and to receive a certain amount of the receipts and forward it to Maguire.

After a confinement of ten days in the Ludlow Street Jail, Mr. Smith was returned to his troupe, and started on a tour. They are now performing in the Southwest to crowded houses, and paying Maguire & Co. the ten thousand dollars which they had agreed to do by force of circumstances.

Pretty shady stuff going on! One honest man purchasing the services of a Japanese circus troupe with Mexican gold gets his troupe nearly stolen away from him by a greedy Circus promoter (really?) and one "Bad Jap" who tried to forge signatures on a contract... and still, despite the evidence that one 'Bad Jap' seemed to be the one doing the forging - and thus created a false document - the circus troupe was forced to work for the greedy Circus promoter and the one honest man had to pay damages to the greedy Circus promoter.

By the way... did you notice that when the original troupe was rented from Japan, the Americans paid for it with good ol Mexican gold? I'm assuming that means Mexican coins with gold content, and not gold ingots. I'm pretty sure that in 1867 Mexicans were not as beloved as they are now by Americans. (Did I keep a straight face?), what with the fact that after the U.S. annexed Texas and inherited it's border disputes with Mexico, the U.S.-Mexico war was troublesome... though Mexico did sell (forced sell) OVER half its land to the U.S. for $15 million... and in the ensuing years, a lot of Mexican's died from frontier 'justice'. So... Mexican gold? Why not American gold? I will not even do a joke here about legal and illegal immigrant tender.

The leader of Japan is a 'Tycoon'?

As for the curious case of the Chinese-sounding names for the Japanese performers, I asked most honorable Number One son for advice. He suggested that the performers were actually Chinese. Interesting thought, because China is known for its acrobatic performers... but, there is no way the Japan of 1866-67 would have allowed Chinese people to live on their land, and to pretend to be Japanese to fool the American business men.

So... what's with the name? When the troupe first landed in San Francisco from Japan, there were not going to be too many people there who spoke or read or wrote Japanese - maybe zero. San Francisco, at that time, had a huge Chinese population, however.

It is my supposition that if someone were to show the signatures of the Japanese circus troupe to say, a Chinese-English translator, they might interpret the kanji symbols of the names in a different manner.

Look... just as Peking is now Beijing even though the Chinese 'kanji' remains the same, so too is it possible that different translations were offered by a Chinese translator of the Japanese kanji.

The other possibility is that the writer of the newspaper article when asking the performers for their name, he simply had a gaijin's unfamiliar ear and wrote it to the best of his phonetic ability. Consider that even phonetically, these names are not very Japanese-like and more Chinese-like, I tend not to place much credence in this theory being correct.

Oh yes... Japanese signatures. Then, as now, and for hundreds and hundreds of years earlier, Japanese signatures were not written as we do in the west, but are stamped by a hanko in ink. Knowing this, if one could get his 'Bad Jap" hands on the troupe's hanko(s), he could quite easily forge everyone's signature on a document. And... to a judge, I'm sure all Japanese signatures look alike.

Finding actual archival documents from San Francisco is difficult at best owing to the Great San Francisco 7.8 Magnitude earthquake of 1906 that caused massive fires effectively wiping out a large chunk of that city's populace, buildings, and, of course most of its historical records.

Come along, Sherman. Put down that lighter and let's head home. That's quite enough history for you at this juncture.

Andrew Joseph
PS: WayBack Machine, not to be confused with the derogatory term 'wetback' (as a Canadian visiting the U.S., I have been called a 'Snowback'), is from the 1960s cartoon show: Bullwinkle & Rocky. The same with the line 'Come along, Sherman.'
Timelords... that's Doctor Who.


  1. Replies
    1. Skye - if the opportunity arises - go. Just the one time...
      I've seen the Russian circus and a Chinese circus.... and a Ringling Brothers one... always different...
      It's one of those things I didn't want to see as an adult, but after going I was always glad I did.