Showing posts with label the Royal Togos. Show all posts
Showing posts with label the Royal Togos. Show all posts

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Togo - 'The only 6 cue manipulator in the world'

 Japanese jugglers were very popular in Australia during the late 19th Century, so it was not surprising  that Tivoli owner, Hugh McIntosh, decided to import a Japanese juggling act, the Togos during the First World War. The two jugglers,28-year-old Unotaro Ishikawa, (born 1888/89 in Yokohama) and 27-year-old Kameichi Yasuda, remained in Australia for several years. Eventually Unotaro married an Australian woman and became known as ‘Togo’ the juggler.

The pair arrived in Australia in 1916. However, they first had to navigate the White Australia Policy and gain an exemption from the notorious dictation test. This test was designed to prevent non whites from entering the country by subjecting them to a dictation test in any language. For example, a person who could speak and write fluent English may have been subjected to a dictation test in Gaelic, thus preventing their entry.  Fortunately, as performers, the Togos gained an exemption from the test because the Tivoli Theatre deposited a substantial bond which guaranteed their eventual departure.   

The pair gave their first show in Australia at the Melbourne Tivoli in November. The act amazed and astounded audiences. It was lavishly presented, with the jugglers dressed in Japanese costumes and backed by a purple and gold setting.  During the performance Unotaro juggled sticks, India rubber balls and a glass of water. He was a clever and skilled juggler and everything he did was ‘so neatly done that it looks easy and simple’. The highlight of his act was juggling six sticks. Uno was promoted as being the only person who could achieve this feat. The sticks were broom handles of around 18 inches (45 cm)  long, and he twirled them in the air deftly, and ‘with a cleverness and speed that stimulated every pulse’. Unotaro also ‘spun a Japanese top to the ceiling which released a mechanical device which erupted in Japanese and British flags in a setting of electric globes’, a unique, beautiful, and patriotic display during war time.

The highlight of the show was the ‘slide for life’, a wire walking act by Kameichi. A wire was strung between the stage and the roof of the theatre. Kameichi walked the wire to the top, then aided by a parasol, he slid down the wire back to the stage over the heads of the audience. It was a remarkable and dangerous feat, made more dangerous when he repeated it blindfolded, with a bag over his head. One reporter called it ‘one of the most thrilling acts in vaudeville’.

The act was an enormous success across the Tivoli circuit and the two men toured the east coast of Australia to much acclaim. After their contract with the Tivoli expired, they signed with the Fuller circuit, and continued to play in New Zealand and Australia.

By 1918 the pair were touring Australia as the Royal Togos and Kameichi was going by the name ‘George Togo’. In Rockhampton ‘attired in gorgeous oriental costumes they juggled with different articles in a most finished manner’ They had introduced top spinning to the act which was also very successful. The highlight continued to be the ‘slide for life’ which astonished and shocked spectators whenever it was performed.

Whilst travelling, Uno met 19-year-old Glory Numm.  In January 1919, the pair married in Sydney. Glory was the daughter of a prominent member of the Sydney Chinese community, Horace Numm, a professional interpreter. Her mother, Mary Sing, had died when Glory was a baby. Glory and Unotaro kept a house in the suburbs of Sydney in the early 1920s and Glory occasionally travelled with the show.

In late 1919, the act travelled to New Zealand as the Togos- Alsace company. In Greymouth, Uno, the smaller brother, was described as keeping ‘the audience spellbound by a series of juggling feats that defied the laws of gravity and carried one into the world of wizardry.’ Uno balanced a round piece of tin, a penny and an egg and kept the lot rolling merrily around the edges of a parasol. He also juggled four burning torches which created an uncanny illumination in the theatre. Naturally the climax of his performance was juggling 6 sticks.

George gave a diabolo exhibition, walked the wire, and slid for life. During the slide for life, the producer, Louis Alsace, asked ladies in the audience if they would like to join George on the wire. There were no volunteers. The show was described as a ‘high class performance’ and was very popular.

Shortly afterwards it seems that George left the show for the United States, because by 1921, Togo, was performing the slide for life at a Broadway theatre. Unotaro, however, with his Australian connections remained in the antipodes and continued as a solo act.

In late 1921 he performed on the Tivoli circuit and was described as ‘short, dark, dapper’ with a ‘Japanese smile’. His manipulation of various discs on an umbrella was seen as ‘almost incredible’ and the applause was long and loud.

Unotaro spoke and wrote English well and in 1922 was using personal letterhead which proclaimed ‘‘Togo’- The Equilibrist par excellence and the only 6 cue manipulator in the world.’

During the early 1920s, he travelled regularly between Australia and New Zealand. He headlined shows in provincial towns and big cities and introduced novelty into his act in the form of unique top spinning and juggling. He and Glory had two children during this time.

He was well liked by the Australian theatrical community. In 1923, an Australian newspaper related a humorous anecdote about him. Apparently on one of his journeys he was given a French grammar. His friends were astounded when he claimed, mere days later that he had mastered the language, saying ‘-Oh I know how to say ‘how much’ and ‘too much’ and that’s enough for me’.

Despite this, many of the reviews of his performances have a tone of paternalism, which indicated a racist view of the Japanese. In addition, every time he returned to Australia he had to register with the government and apply, with bond, for an exemption from the dictation test. This was a bureaucratic obstacle which was not imposed on his white peers.

Most reviews emphasised his small stature. It seems he was rather short, a New Zealand newspaper described him as ‘diminutive in stature, but a giant in ability’ when he worked for Fullers in 1924.

That year he applied for copyright on a top spinning/juggling act. In the application he described how he spun a top in the air and caught it on the top of a bat then juggled the top and two bats. He also included top spinning on a sword and a fan. He performed these tricks in his show.

In 1925 Uno, Glory and their two children travelled to England. It seems they remained there, at least until 1939. In 1927 Unotaro was reported as performing in variety in the provinces and in 1931, he was said to be with Maskelyne in London.

 In 1937 he was filmed by British Pathe and described as an Australian juggler, although there is no indication he ever became an Australian citizen. The video shows him juggling five sticks and performing two of the top spinning feats he patented in 1924. If the dating is accurate, he was 48 or 49 years old at the time of filming. In 1939 Unotaro Ishikawa, music hall artiste, was living with wife, Glory, in Islington in England.

Unotaro Ishikawa, aka Togo, had a long and prosperous life as a juggler and fortunately  his act has been memorialised on video. He was a unique artist who undoubtedly had to deal with racism throughout his life. However, he managed to outperform and maintain a successful career much longer than many of his contemporaries and was an outstanding representative of the juggling art.