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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Japan's First Circus Visit To The U.S. - 1867

A while back, I wrote about a western circus visiting Japan and conversely Japanese acrobat performers visiting America – all back in the 1860s. You can read about that HERE.

Thanks to the folks over at, let’s take a look at another old-time newspaper article... the San Francisco Bulletin from January 15, 1867, and article simply entitled:


Academy of Music—Prof. Riseley’s troupe of Japanese acrobats and jugglers gave another of their wonderful performances last night to a crowded house. The daring act of climbing 25 feet on a ladder, balanced upon a man’s feet, and postering on the top of a pole after the ladder falls apart, was repeated with thrilling effect by the bright boy accompanying the troupe. The little fellow seems to be perfectly fearless, and cries out cheerily from his dizzy perch, “All a-right!” in a way that elicits shouts of laughter and applause, Another feat he performed last night was very amusing. He climbed up a large screen, balanced like the ladder, puncturing the paper covering to get hand and foothold of the lattice-work as he went, and turning to the side from the audience, changed his dress unseen and popped through suddenly in the form and mask of a fox or wolf-like animal, wagging his tail, scratching his ears, and seemingly bent upon a chicken raid. The tub and top feats were well performed, and the slack rope dance was greatly applauded. The company of Japanese that first played in this city were observed during the whole performance in the family circle. A new programme will be presented this evening, and tomorrow afternoon a special performance for the convenience of families will be given.

That’s cool. All I can say as a former journalist with the Toronto Star is that whenever you hear that in the days of yore, our forefathers wrote and spoke better English than we do in the 21st century – don’t you believe it. This was a very poorly written article. Yes, I can appreciate that there may have been limited space available for the full story and so may items were left off, but what remains was weak at best.

On the plus side, we are left with a simple description of what the Japanese circus troupe performed 146 years ago during its first visit to the U.S.

If you check out that article I wrote back on December 29, 2011, you'll see a bit on Riseley, and even see just what the heck that ladder act is all about, as there is a photo of the Japanese Fireman acrobats and even one showing a poster advertising the troupe.

Riseley had actually brought his American circus to Japan in 1864, consisting of 10 artists and eight horses performing bareback riding skills and a few other circus acts.

Anyhow, I do like the fact that every show is different... kind of like a Grateful Dead concert tour. That is what they mean by a new programme, right? I assume that there will be more than four acts... even if that wasn’t described.

What is interesting is the description of the act, which sounds a lot like the Chinese acrobat circus stuff – which is brilliant.

I don’t believe the Japanese still offer a global circus tour – but China does... and should they be in town,. Go check it out and see what the Japanese may have done decades past.

It won’t be the same, but you’ll catch a bit of the flavor.

Andrew Joseph

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