How many Japanese acrobats in France?

One of the nagging problems of my research is assessing the numerical importance of the phenomenon I study. I have the impression that there were many Japanese acrobats and other circus artists active in France, but I do not have any figure to confirm my impression. By chance, I just found some information that might be relevant for this topic. In 1914, Japan declared war against Germany, which was quite unexpected. As a consequence, the German government gathered all Japanese residents in Germany and sent them to different camps, anticipating American policy after Pearl Harbor’s attack. According to Naraoka, as quoted by Matsunuma, most Japanese had time to flee from Germany, and only 126 people were kept prisoners. One fifth of them were circus artists.

It is difficult to assess how this figure compares with the usual proportion before 1914. One can imagine that circus artists did not have the means to quickly escape Germany and go to Japan, nor did they have good information channels through official circles to anticipate the official internment decision. On the other hand, one may consider that the itinerant life of circus artists prepared them to emergency situations and made it easy for them to leave any place in haste without being encumbered by luggage or other features of a sedentary life (bank accounts for instance).

All in all, the figure of 20% of Japanese residents in Germany being circus artists seems to be an interesting start for further consideration. Even if, in absolute terms, 20 to 30 individuals for the whole of Germany is not much, the high proportion made by these acrobats and jugglers and their public visibility are important features of Japanese presence in this country. I will have to compare circus histories in Germany and France to see if this proportion in Germany might correctly apply to France.

Naraoka’s book seems also interesting for the individual stories it reveals. For instance, Matsunuma mentions in her review the story of a Japanese boy sold by his parents to circus people when he was 5 years old, going to Europe with a Trans-Siberian train, his hard life and multiple injuries and his illiteracy.


Miho Matsunuma, « Naraoka Shōchi 奈良岡聰智 « Hachigatsu no hōsei » o kiita Nihonjin. Daiichiji sekai taisen to Uemura Hisakiyo « Doitsu yūheiki » 「八月の砲声」を聞いた日本人 ― 第一次世界大戦と植村尚清 「ドイツ幽閉記」(Les Japonais qui entendirent tonner « les canons d’août » : la Première Guerre mondiale et le journal de captivité d’Uemura Hisakiyo) », Ebisu 51, 2014. URL :

(French version for this entry:

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Alexis D'Hautcourt (2015, 18 octobre). How many Japanese acrobats in France? Acrobates japonais en France. Consulté le 16 juin 2024, à l’adresse

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