Newly published thesis explains recent popularity of Henry Black

There’s a new source of information about the resurgence of interest in Henry Black. The details are in a Masters thesis by Toshiki (Toshi) Asakura-Ward. In his abstract, Toshi explains that although Henry Black “achieved a degree of fame during his life, he was largely forgotten after his death in 1923”. Toshi’s thesis is that factors including an “intersection of personal contributions, academic and popular publishing, popular culture, and the politics of soft diplomacy” combined in the 1980s to restore Henry Black to prominence.

The thesis is scholarly but very readable. The roll call of people who contributed to the resurgence in popularity of Henry include the academics Miyoko Sasaki and Heinz Morioka, who “examined how Black was reported in Japan as well as how Black perceived Japan”, and the writer/journalist Teiji Kojima, who concluded that “there was no entertainer like Black since his time and was not likely be”. Kojima’s books popularised Henry Black among ordinary Japanese readers. Toshi also mentions that my book on Henry which was published by Monash University Publishing in 2013 became “the first English book published on Black, and also the first published outside Japan”.

After surveying Henry’s life and work, the thesis examines factors which contributed to the resurgence. Toshi argues that a major factor was increased “interest in rakugo and Meiji-era foreigners”. This culminated in a gathering of about 120 people on 19 September 1985 at Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery to commemorate the sixty-second anniversary of the passing of Black. Those at the ceremony included Mitsuo Sudo, the eldest son of Henry Black’s adopted son Ishii Seikichi. Also there were Australian Ambassador to Japan, Sir Neil Currie (1926-1999), and the storyteller San’yūtei Enraku V (1932- 2009) [Pictured]. Henry’s grave is now a significant attraction at the cemetery.

Toshi’s conclusion is: “While Black’s success in storytelling was brief in the 1890s, the public interest in his story since the 1980s is significant.”

The thesis is titled A BRIDGE TO THE NEAR NORTH: The 1980s resurrection of Henry Black (1858-1923). For access to Toshi’s thesis, click here.

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