OLD PHOTOS of JAPAN, a photo blog of Japan in the Meiji, Taisho and Showa periods

Old Photos of Japan
shows photos of Japan between the 1860s and 1930s. In 1854, Japan opened its doors to the outside world for the first time in more than 200 years. It set in motion a truly astounding transformation. As fate would have it, photography had just been invented. As the old country vanished and a new one was born, daring photographers took photos. Discover what life was like with their rare and precious photographs of old Japan.
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  • Kjeld Duits

    @Thomas Crane: Thank you!

  • Thomas crane

    SIR This web page is wonderful—a gateway to japan although gone are the olden days..at least you …

1890s • Kakubeijishi

Japanese Acrobats

Kakubeijishi (角兵衛獅子, also: Kakubeejishi) are acrobatics performed on the street by young boys who did handstands, somersaults and the like, either alone or with their partners. In this photo, three children perform a combination act. The acrobatics were accompanied by drums, usually played by an adult leader. Kakubeijishi has its roots in the province of Echigo (now in Niigata Prefecture). The stories about the origins of Kakubeijishi, and especially the boys’ trademark handstand, are absolutely fascinating.

According to these stories, Kakubeijishi started during the Edo Period (1603-1868). Annual floods routinely damaged harvests in the village of Tsukigata-mura (月潟村), currently part of Niigata City. With harvests destroyed, the villagers were often starving.

Among the villagers was a farmer by the name of Kakubei who was a former ronin (masterless samurai) of the Mito Domain (水戸藩), a prominent feudal domain (han) during the Edo Period. To earn money in spite of the floods, he taught his two sons acrobatics. The practice soon spread among the other children of the village.

One day, Kakubei was killed. During the end of the fight, he was able to bite off his opponent’s toe. In spite of his missing toe, this opponent managed to escape without being identified. To find their father’s murderer and revenge his death, Kakubei’s sons realized they had to look for somebody with a missing toe. They had to come up, however, with a way that would raise no suspicion. The solution was sheer genius. They included a large number of handstands in their routines, so they could check out people’s feet without anybody noticing. The stories do not say if they succeeded.

Kurama Tengu KakubeijishiIt is unknown if a real Kakubei actually existed and whether the events of the stories truly happened, but Kakubeijishi is still performed today and it still includes an extraordinary large number of handstands.

Kakubeijishi often appear in jidaigeki (a movie, TV or theater drama usually set in the Edo Period). A famous movie using Kakubeijishi performers as the main characters is Kurama Tengu: Kakubeijishi (1951, see poster on left). In this story, two Kakubeijishi performers lose their money. They are saved by the masked avenger Kurama Tengu. When they attempt to return the favor, they once again need his protection. Famous actress Hibari Misora (1937-1989) plays one of the child acrobats.

These days, Kakubeijishi can be observed at Tsukigata Hakusan Jinja (月潟白山神社) in Minami-ku, Niigata City, on the day after the Tsukigata Matsuri. The acrobatics take place annually on the fourth Sunday of June.

Kakubeijishi were not the only acrobatics performed on Japanese streets. On the streets as well as at Japanese shrines and temples there were countless acrobatic performances. Some of these even ended up traveling abroad. Here is a video clip from the Edison Archive of such acrobats:

The Google map does not show where the Meiji Period photograph was taken, but the location of Tsukigata Hakusan Jinja, where the Kakubeijishi can be observed.

Photographer: Unknown
Publisher: Unknown
Medium: Albumen Print
Image Number: 70512-0011

Quote this number when you contact us about licensing this image.
You can also licence this image online: 70512-0011 @ MeijiShowa.com.

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Posted by • 2008-08-02
Add Comment

SIR
This web page is wonderful—a gateway to japan
although gone are the olden days..at least you preserve it..these pages are a boon to researchers
yours,
Thomas Crane.

# Thomas crane · 2014-02-05

@Thomas Crane: Thank you!

# Kjeld Duits · 2014-02-05








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