‘Japanese’ entertainment in 19th and 20th century Truro
By Maya King
Japanese-inspired entertainment appears to have been a popular cultural attraction for the people of Truro in the 19th and 20th century. This image, obtained from the Western Morning News newspaper, was photographed at the city’s ‘Japanese Bazaar’ in 1925. It depicts local Truro dancers who gathered together in outfits inspired by Japan’s traditional dress, the ‘kimono’, and entertained their audience with Japanese-inspired dancing.
Truro has hosted a number of Japanese or ‘oriental’ themed events, including an occasion in the Public Rooms of St John the Evangelist Church back in 1898. The three-day festival, hosted as a fundraiser for the Church parish, took place in the church hall, which had been decorated to depict the scene of a reimagined Japanese town, complete with traditional red-tiled houses and culturally conventional tea-rooms. Much of the inspiration for the Japanese decoration came from the well-loved Japanese-Edwardian operatic comedy ‘The Geisha’. Organisers of the event used the musical as a reference point for Japanese culture, with even melodies from the musical being performed at the event by a live band.
In addition to this, actual Japanese performers have also entertained the people of Truro. ‘Tannaker’s Real Japanese Troupe’, who were a worldwide touring group of both male and female Japanese acrobatic performers, came to amaze Truro with their astonishing acts in 1879. A newspaper advertisement for the event boasted the performing cast as “the only troupe of real Japanese!!!”, perhaps a curious and rather odd promotional tagline for us to read in our modern social climate, but what would have been seen as the publication of a rare cultural experience for those living in 19th century Truro. The performance included barrel-dancing, fire-spinning, native music with singing and dancing, bamboo walking and many other circus-like skills. Newspaper reviews claim that the hall was a “crowded house” for the event, and that the performers received “spontaneous [and] hearty” applause from their Truro audience throughout the evening. After the event, members of the audience were each gifted a Japanese novelty object to take home to remind them of the night. The troupe returned to the city again a decade later in 1889 to astound their audience once again with their “exceedingly clever” show.