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In Session: Marginal Japan: Rethinking 20th Century Japanese Literature and Culture
1: Magic, Modernity, and the Attraction of Shōkyokusai Tenkatsu (1886-1944)
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
University of Pittsburgh, United States
This paper considers the unique and specific contribution of travelling magic shows to the formation of mass culture in early 20th century Japan. The transnational performance history of ‘the goddess of magic’ Shōkyokusai Tenkatsu (1886-1944) speaks to the dynamic circulation of performers and skills within Japan and as far as America and Europe. Her electric presence onstage turned Tenkatsu into an idol and media sensation, and her multimedia programs introduced spectators to magic, music, and variety acts that were as innovative as they were modern. Finally, Tenkatsu’s important relationship to film (such as Taki no shiraito, 1933) and to literature (from Izumi Kyoka to Mishima Yukio) suggest some of the ways in which she has been commemorated in Japan. Tenkatsu’s visionary performances, thus, can be contextualized among the diverse and active contributions by women across Japan and Asia as innovators of cross-cultural practice, as negotiators of competing national norms, and as popularizers of modern attractions in the twentieth century.