From Borneo we went again to Singapore, where we had a return engagement to fulfil, and thence to Saigon, Cochin China, en rout for Hong Kong.
At Saigon I was offered the theatre, with staff, lighting and everything free of charge, provided I would give a performance. I had, however, some difficulty in getting a piano for my accompanist, as there was none in the theatre, and I was told that there was only one in the town, and that belonged to the mayor. As I could not very well give a performance without a piano, I called on the Mayor and explained to him the predicament I was in upon which he very kindly offered to lend his piano and even paid for its cartage to the theatre.
We had to open the box-office for the sale of tickets form five to seven in the morning as the heat of the day is so great that no one will go out, unless absolutely obliged, and at mid-day, I was told, no one is ever seen in the streets except for Englishmen and dogs. It certainly was about the hottest place I had ever struck, and the first night I performed there I had to leave the stage at least half a dozen times to put on a fresh collar, and my evening-dress coat was soaked with perspiration.
The theatre was built with openings between the boards, like the Novelty Theatre at Bombay, and during the whole evening flying bats were circling round the stage, some coming so close as to hit me in the face with their wings. They are horrid-looking creatures, and my wife nearly fainted when, just before the performance began, one got into her dressing-room. She rushed out in terror, saying that there was a thing like a rat with wings just over her mirror. We stayed for a week at Saigon and, notwithstanding the heat and the bats, had a very enjoyable time and were quite sorry to leave.
From Saigon we went to Hong Kong, and form there to Shanghai, where we opened to an audience of over 2,000 at the Lyceum Theatre, a theatre run by European amateurs. After playing there for two weeks, I went to the No1. Theatre in the Chinese City. I made a great success here, though, as I heard no applause, I was at first afraid that my performance did not appeal to them. But I was told afterwards that the Chinese, like the natives in some other countries which I have visited, do not applaud to show there appreciation, but merely grunt.
In China no woman is allowed to appear on the stage with a man. The performers must be either all men or all women. If all men, then mean have to play the women’s parts, and if all women, then women have to play the men’s parts. In consequence, I had to give the performance here without my wife. Even in showing pictures on the cinematograph, I had to deposit 1,000 dollars, as a guarantee that I would not exhibit a picture in which a woman appeared.
Immediately the curtain was lowered, the proprietors of the theatre set fir to hundreds of Chinese crackers, which were hung on long poles and which they had secretly planted near the footlights. They held these crackers over every part of the stage where I had stood and also in my dressing-room. This was done for the purpose of chasing the devil and his attendant demons away and of purifying the atmosphere, the burning of this compound of saltpetre being apparently considered as an antidote to the sulphurous presence of his Satanic Majesty.
My entertainment proved to be so great a draw that, though it did not start until eight o'clock in the evening, there were queues of Chinese outside the theatres early as 10 a.m. They brought their meals with them and small stoves, on which they cooked their dinners while waiting for the show to open. The Chinaman never grudges money for his amusements, and it was no uncommon thing for a wealthy Chinese merchant to take a score or more of the best seats for his wives, assistant wives and members of his family. In the language of the local Press, I had got Chow (the cant term for the heathen Chinese) by the pigtail, and the result of my séances amongst the Celestials spelt cash with a very large "C".
At Canton, to which we went on leaving Shanghai, there was a curious custom in existence somewhat resembling the ancient Curfew. Every street there has a gate which is locked at eight o'clock, and, in order to get an audience, I had to secure permission from the Totai (or Mayor) for these gates to be left open. I also had to get the Totai to furnish my wife and myself with an escort when we walked about the town, as there was at that time a very strong feeling against Europeans amongst part of the population, and we were continually being called "foreign devils" and were sometimes pelted with stones.
One night, during my entertainment, some of the side-windows of the theatre were opened owing to the heat, and a crowd of Chinese congregated at them to enjoy a free sight of the performance. My manager went out and ordered them away, but no sooner was his back turned than they were all there again, and this went on for some time. Eventually, he lost patience, and, getting a hose, drenched them with water. When the performance was over, we learned that a crowd of Chinamen - armed with sticks and stones - were waiting at the stage-door, ready to attack is when we made our appearance, and we were strongly advised not to venture out. Consequently we had to spend the night in our dressing room.
During my engagement at Canton I lost a valuable dog, a great pet of my wife’s, which I used in my performance, and, though I offered a reward, we got no news of him. However just before leaving Canton, while removing our baggage from the theatre, we found the bones of a dog under the stage. So, apparently some of the Chinese had stolen and eaten him, out of revenge for the drenching they had received.
From Shanghai we sailed for Nagasaki. Our advance-manager had, of course, preceded us to Japan, which was lucky for him in more ways than one, as about three days out from Shanghai we were caught in a typhoon. During all my travels this was the first typhoon which I had ever been in, and I sincerely hope it will be the last, as the experience was one I am never likely to forget. It came on without any warning, and our steamer seemed to be lifted clean out of the water and turned right round, until her stern was in the opposite direction from the one in which we had been proceeding. The typhoon lasted about for about twenty-four hours, and during that time all the passengers were in a terrible state. The Chinese sailors behaved in the most cowardly manner, lashing themselves to the masts and other parts of the vessel and leaving their wives and other Chinese women to navigate the boat. Several of the Chinese were washed overboard, and after the typhoon had subsided the sea was literally strewn with the bodies of those who had been lost from our own and other vessels.
Eventually we arrived at Nagasaki, and stopped just outside the harbour, when the police and Custom House officers came on board with letters and telegrams for the passengers, and I received a telegram from our advance-manager informing me that the theatre at Kobe, where we were to open was sold out for our first performance.
I was naturally very pleased at this, but my satisfaction did not last very long, for soon after the Health Officer came on board we learned that a case of bubonic plague had been discovered among the crew, in consequence of which we would not be allowed to proceed on our journey. We were to be taken to Nagasaki and put in quarantine on an island which was used for that purpose.
In due course we were taken in boats to this island and all our belongings as well. When we arrived at the quarantine station, the first thing they did was to separate the men and the women. Some Health Officers took charge of the former, and some Japanese women of the latter.
The men were conducted to bathrooms, each one having a bathroom to himself, and told to get into a bath-tub which had been prepared with some powerful kind of disinfectant, and the officers stood by and saw that we washed ourselves thoroughly with this concoction, which smelt horribly. My wife told me afterwards that she went through the same performance.
When we came out of the bath, we were given some Japanese-made clothes to put on, as all our clothes had to be disinfected, and you should have seen the sights we looked in these grotesque-fitting and ill-shaped garments. We were then taken to a large room and given some food and tea, and afterwards shown where we were to sleep at night. All the men slept in one long room, and the ladies in another.
The quarantine station was the only building on the island. We were kept there for over two weeks, which seemed more like two years to us, as we were without any news from the outside world in the shape of letters or newspapers. Meantime, the clothes which we were wearing when we arrived, and also all the clothes in our trunks, had been put in an oven and baked, this being the mode of fumigating apparel. When our time was up, and they were given back to us, the sight they presented was a thing to marvel at. All of my wife’s and my own clothes were practically ruined. They had shrunk until they were the size of children’s clothes, my trousers being up to my knees and my coat-sleeves up to my elbows. But we were so pleased to get away from the island, that I verily believe that we would have gone as Adam and Eve rather than remain there any longer.
On our arrival at Kobe we were met by our advance-manager, who told us that all the money had had to be returned to the people who had bought tickets for the opening night, but that our coming was very eagerly awaited, and that he did not doubt the house would be sold out again, so soon as we announced our first performance. This, indeed, proved to be the case, and our opening night was such a success that we played to crowded houses during the whole of our stay at Kobe.
From Kobe we went to Kioto, and from there to Osaki, Yokohama and Tokio, playing everywhere to large and appreciative audiences and being treated with much courtesy and kindness.
I had an amusing, but decidedly embarrassing, experience at our hotel in Kioto. On my arrival, I rang for the chambermaid and asked her to have a bath prepared for me. She went away to get it ready, and, in the meantime, I undressed and put on my pyjamas. Presently, the maid returned and conducted me to the bathroom, but, instead of leaving me, as I, of course, expected her to do, she locked the door, took up my flannel and, after soaping it well, stood there, apparently waiting for me to get into the bath. I began to take off my pyjamas, but the girl still stood there, and eventually I got into the bath, and she sponged and washed me as though I had been a child.
When I returned to my room and told my wife of what had happened she said :- "You must certainly have no more baths while you are in Japan." On speaking to the proprietor of the hotel about it, I was told that this was the custom of the country.
One night, after my return to England, I was relating my experiences at the Eccentric Club, in London. Arthur Roberts, the well-known comedian, happened to be present, and when I came to the tale of my first bath in Japan he jumped up, exclaiming :- "I say, when does the first boat leave for Japan?"
During our visit to Tokio, I made the acquaintance of a wealthy Japanese merchant, who invited my wife and myself to dinner at the house. When we arrived, we were asked to take off our shoes and were then conducted into the room in which we were to dine, where we had to sit cross-legged on the floor, as there are no chairs in Japanese houses. Dinner was served, and between each course a troupe of Geisha girls, which had been specially engaged for the occasion, entertained us by singing, dancing and playing on musical instruments. The whole thing seemed rather weird, but it was a pleasant novelty.
At intervals during the meal a large bowl was passed round containing the national drink saki (made of rice). It was almost tasteless, and I felt that one could drink a dozen bowls of it without it affecting one. But I was told by my host to be very careful not to drink too much as, since I was not used to it, it might go to my head. I said :- "Why, one could drink a dozen bowls of this; it tastes like nothing on earth!"
I could hardly touch some of the food. The fish, for instance, was not cooked at all, but served raw, with a little sauce. The only things I really did enjoy in the whole dinner were the salad, which was made of chrysanthemums and was really delightful and the sweets. I was told that no one is supposed to leave anything on their plates, to do so being considered an insult to your host, and if you really cannot finish what you have you must take home what is left. You are also supposed to take your plate home with you, as Japanese etiquette prescribes that no one else shall eat of that plate again.
We left after a very pleasant evening, but when I got into the street I could not stand; the saki had gone to my head. It had the same effect on my wife, and we had to be taken home to our hotel in rickshaws and put to bed.
I was also invited to dinner by Tenichi, the renowned magician. He was the inventor of the celebrated Water Trick, in which he would produce fountains from all kinds of receptacles and instruments and from his own body. He gave me a very good time, but I took care not to touch any saki on this occasion !
During our stay at Kioto we had the pleasure of witnessing the Cherry Dance, which is one of the prettiest sights in Japan. It took place at the native theatre, which looks from the outside more like a second-hand shoe-shop, owing to the fact that all the natives leave their sandals and clogs at the door. We were shown up a narrow flight of stairs into a very small waiting room, where, with several other sightseers, we had to wait our turn for the ceremonial tea which is given to all who take tickets for the upper and best part of the house. Presently, we were invited to enter another small room, conspicuous for its cleanliness, in which stood a number of small black-lacquer tables in the form of a square, at which little stools were placed for seating accommodation. One corner of the room was partitioned off, and beside the partition stood two other small lacquer tables, on which were bowls for making tea.
When we were seated like so many school children and silent as mutes, from the corner of the room a young Japanese girl made her acquaintance, beautifully attired in a black satin kimono, exquisitely embroidered, the under kimono being of white silk, and, like all the indoor kimonos, worn very long, so that it trailed on the ground all the way round, completely hiding the feet. With this was worn a very bright brocaded silk obi, with long sash-ends instead of the ordinary short bow. This is the ordinary dress for state occasions.
The young lady’s hair was most wonderfully and perfectly dressed. She was also a very pretty girl. She sat down at one of the tables and, taking up a small square of red silk, folded it crosswise very neatly and methodically; but, from the leisurely manner in which she did it, one would have thought that she had a thousand years in which to accomplish her task. Next she took up a Japanese teacup without handles and gently wiped it inside and out, and so with each cup in succession, until all were ready. Then, when the water boiled in the large bowl, she put in the tea, and there appeared two little girls, quite tots of about seven or eight years of age, who brought us each a round, sugar-coated ball made of some kind of sweetstuff. It was horrible and uneatable, but the little tots were delightfully quaint and pretty in their bright red embroidered kimonos and gorgeous obis, with their hair most daintily dressed.
The elder girl now ladled out the tea with the large wooden ladle into the cups and handed them to these little tots, who carried them round. After handing a cup to each person, they would bow very low and bow most gracefully. We all drank the tea, which seemed to me very poor stuff and most nauseous. Those who did not eat their cake or sweetmeat were supposed to take it away with them, and were given a piece of paper for the purpose.
On leaving the tea-room, we were shown into the theatre. One performance having just finished the audience had not yet quite dispersed, so we had to wait a few minutes. There were no seats anywhere in the whole building, even in the balcony where we found ourselves. So we had to squat on the floor, which we did in true Japanese fashion, and I don’t believe I ever had "pins and needles" so badly before in all my life.
The theatre was a small building, with a small, low stage which reminded one of a marionette performance. On each side of the theatre was a kind of raised platform, the same height as the stage, which I learned afterwards was a continuation of the stage. Now the audience began to come in, thronging and filling the lower part of the house, squatting on the floor, pushing, crowding and joking, and shouting to one another from all parts of the building. Some of them carried lanterns, and in so careless a manner, that is seemed a most marvellous thing that they did not set the place on fire. They walked about everywhere, even on the stage, without any fear of being warned off. The place was so crowded with people that we were hemmed in and could not move.
The footlights, which were enormous candles protected by pieces of tin, were now being lit. There were two gangways, on either side of the stage leading from the auditorium, up which came little Geisha girls in very bright kimonos, singing and dancing and posing with their little fans. The curtain then rose, and the girls went on the stage, where they continued the same performance. The scenery and background were cherry-tress in full bloom. On each of the other two stages on either side of the auditorium, occupying the same position as the stage boxes would in out theatres, sat twelve girls, playing samosans and other instruments. They were all dressed in blue kimonos, with their hair wonderfully arranged. They formed what we should call the orchestra. They sang and played in unison with the girls on the centre stage, making a very pretty picture and also a charming performance. Finally the girls who occupied the centre stage departed down each gangway-plank in the same way as they had arrived, and I wondered where their dressing-rooms could be. Afterwards came several sketches of Japanese life.
Their method of changing scenery is distinctly peculiar. Instead of being pulled up, as in our theatres, it turned upside down, showing another scene painted on the other side. The actors continued to play during the change. The performance continued from early morning until late at night, and no doubt they are the originators of the continuous shows, as well as of the revolving stage, which we saw for the first time in Tokio.
I tried to arrange to bring the Cherry Dance, with its original actresses, to England, but the Japanese Government would not allow the girls to leave the country without the guarantee of their safe return. I am quite sure that the Cherry Dance as I saw it in Kioto would make a sensation in London or in any other of the big European cities.
While at Tokio, I had the good fortune to witness a play in which the great actor Danjuro, the Henry Irving of Japan, was appearing. His acting was perfectly wonderful, and at times the whole audience would be in tears, and, though I did not understand a word of what was said, his performance made a profound impression on me.
Danjuro, I may here remark, is the stage-name of a family of actors which has been famous in Japan for something like a hundred and fifty years. The first of the line was Ichikawa Danjuro, who at the time of his death in 1704 - he was murdered on the stage by a fellow-player - had long been the leading actor of Yedo. His son, Kuzo, then a lad of sixteen, succeeded to his stage-name. Kuzo made a journey to the shrine of Marika, some forty miles from Yedo, to invoke the god to aid him in his art, and when he, in his turn, became a famous actor, he attributed his success to the interposition of Marika and took in gratitude the name of Maritaya as his "trade-name".
Every actor in Japan has since had three names; his own name, which seldom becomes public, his stage-name, by which he is always known, and his trade name, which distinguishes his branch from others of the same professional family. All Danjuro’s pupils took the stage name of Ichikawa, but some of them, on subsequently making their mark, founded their own historic families with new trade-names, which were also bestowed on all their pupils. In the theatre the audience shout out the actor’s trade-name, where in other countries he would be greeted with plaudits. Beyond this distinction between the various branches of the same professional family, the trade-name appears to be of little use.
In all there have been nine actors of the name Danjuro, though for nearly twenty years after the death of the eighth the name was in abeyance, when it was assumed by his half-brother, the great tragedian whose marvellous acting so impressed me.
On entering the theatre we had to remove our shoes, which were hung upon pegs in the hall-way and metal check handed to us, after which we were given a pair of slippers to put on before going into the auditorium. In Japanese theatres scenery is used, but there is neither curtain nor act-drop. The stages are made to revolve, so that, while one scene is being acted another is being set at the back, and at the conclusion of the scene which is being performed the stage revolves, and the new scene comes to the front, thus doing away with the necessity for any interval. When properties have to be brought on the stage, or removed, this is done by two men dressed in black alpaca, their heads covered by black hoods and their hands encased in black gloves. Thus dressed, the audience was not supposed to see them. At the side of the stage is a sort of box, in which sits a man with a book, who sings or chants from this book before a scene begins, to tell you what is going to take place.
The Chinese theatres are entirely different from those of Japan. In China the scene in the auditorium beggars description, but the acting is of a high order. Very little or any stage scenery is used, and the Philistine may be prone to think that this detracts from the realism of the play. On the contrary, it affords almost unlimited opportunity for the exercise of gestures, posturing and implication on the part of the actors. For instance, in the event of a scene by a graveside, the grave may be represented by a small dome-like structure of lath and canvas, which one of the numerous attendants carries in and places on the stage. Or, if a vehicle is being represented, a super will walk on with a sign-board, on which is painted: "This is a carriage". Similarly, on entering a house, the actor goes through the movements natural to crossing a threshold, such as stepping over the sill, stooping to avoid striking his head against the lintel and so forth.
One of the things which most astonishes a foreigner in Japan is a fire. So soon as a fire breaks out in a house, all the furniture and everything of any value it contains is thrown out by the occupants, for, as houses are made of wood and paper, they are very quickly consumed. On the engines arriving on the scene, instead of starting at once to play the hose on the flames, the chief of the Fire Brigade and his colleagues hold a sort of council of war and deliberate as to the best way to extinguish the fire. It is really comical, for by the time they have made up their minds how to set about it, probably a dozen houses have been burned down. On leaving Japan we sailed for Fiji, on the way to Honolulu, where we were to take the steamer for San Francisco.
In Fiji the natives paid for admission to my entertainment in vegetables, poultry, pigs and so forth. If a pig were handed in at the pay-box, two persons were passed in to the cheapest part of the house. In exchange for a goat I gave a four-shilling seat. While for a sack of potatoes three of the best seats were allowed. Some of the poorer brought a cabbage or two apiece for admission. The Fijians are a peculiar people; they must be about the most punctual race on earth. For the evening performance, like the Chinese, they invariably assembled outside the theatre at nine o'clock in the morning, bringing their meals with them. If a native of Fiji wants to catch a boat which leaves at ten o'clock at night, he arrives at the pier at seven in the morning. They firmly believed I was gifted with supernatural powers, and on one occasion a Fiji chief, after witnessing one of my illusions, jumped onto the stage and, kneeling at my feet, kissed my hand in the most devoted fashion; and when I was leaving Fiji dozens of the natives came down to the steamer and decorated my wife and myself with garlands of flowers.
On our arrival at Honolulu we found the theatre occupied by an amateur people, and had to wait over a week before it was at our disposal. I performed there for a fortnight and then sent my entire company with most of my luggage and paraphernalia direct to England. My wife and I sailed for San Francisco, as I wanted to visit my relatives, whom I had not seen for nine years, before returning to London.
Throughout the whole of my three years’ tour in the Antipodes and the East, my wife, Mlle. D’Alton, accompanied me, and the assistance she rendered me in my performance was simply invaluable. It would be difficult to praise too highly the pluck and endurance she displayed, often in the most trying circumstances.
It is no easy matter for a woman to travel where my wife went. Much of our travelling had to be done on the wobbling backs of camels, in rolling hoodahs on the spines of elephants, or in jolting palanquins. Women do not take readily to these sort of conveyances, but my wife seemed positively to enjoy them.
Itinerant showing in the Orient is a trying business for all concerned, and, besides the fatigue of travel, the journey from point to point along the highway never fails to excite the curiosity of the population, and from the red sea to the Indies, from Bombay to Singapore, the travellers are beset by swarms of dark-skinned natives, importunate beggars, crippled or afflicted with all kinds of loathsome diseases, thieves and what not. To be mobbed by such crowds, as we often were, was a singularly alarming experience for a woman but my wife never showed any trace of fear.
She was the first woman illusionist ever seen in India, and she had to overcome the prejudice which exists in the East against the publicity of her sex. But she succeeded beyond all our hopes, and aroused among the natives, who could scarcely believe their eyes when they saw her, in our aerial illusions, walking and turning somersaults in the air, seemingly without any support whatever, an admiration almost amounting to worship. They were firmly convinced that she was possessed of occult powers and called her the "Wonder Woman", and it was no uncommon thing to see them go down on their knees and bow their heads to the ground as she passed by.