Henry Timeline

Henry Black and Ian

Who was Henry Black?

Henry Black was born in North Adelaide, in the then-British colony of South Australia in 1858. At the age of seven, he moved to Japan, where his father had become editor of an English-language newspaper serving the growing foreign settlement of Yokohama. Henry Black lived out the rest of his life in Japan, becoming a professional storyteller (Rakugoka) enthralling audiences with his adaptations of popular European novels. His life spanned all of the Meiji era (1868-1912) during which successive civilian governments instituted a series of constitutional and economic reforms touching-off far-reaching social changes and an on-going debate over the benefits of those changes.


1853 and 1854 Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry of the United States Navy came to Japan as part of a US government attempt to pressure Japan into opening its ports to trade.
1858 Henry Black Born in Adelaide
1865 Black Family move to Japan
1868 Meiji Era Starts
1872 Japan’s first street gaslights turned on in Bashamichi, Yokohama. First railroad opens between Yokohama and Shimbashi in Tokyo.
July 1876 Henry makes his first documented stage appearance in a performance of magic at Yoshikawa Theatre, Asakusa, in Tokyo.
December 1878 Henry spoke about Joan of Arc and the exiled pretender to the Scottish throne, Charles Edward Stuart, to audiences at Tomitake Theatre in Bashamichi, Yokohama, after being coached in the narrative arts by Shōrin Hakuen.

Sign for today’s Bashamichi
Station in Yokohama.
June 1879 -January 1880 Henry, whose Japanese was by now excellent, joins his father to address meetings in Tokyo organised by societies affiliated with the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement.
April 1880 Police prevent Henry making speeches in the Odawara area on behalf of the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement. Henry retires to a hot spring in disgust.
11 June 1880 Henry’s father, John Reddie Black dies.
1886 Henry starts teaching English. Collaborates with a stenographer in the publication of an adaptive translation of Mary Braddon’s novel Flower and Weed as Kusaba no Tsuyu [Dew by the graveside].
1886 Publication of stenographic book version of Henry’s 1886 tale “Kusaba no tsuyu” [Dew by the Graveside] based on a novella by Mary Braddon.
September 1890 Henry affiliates with the San’yūha, a leading guild of storytellers. Embarks on a full-time career as a rakugoka specialising in stage and print adaptations of sensation fiction novels by British and French authors.
April 1893 Henry marries Aka Ishii to gain access to Japanese citizenship. A police report into his background finds that he is living with a male partner, Motokichi Takamatsu.
February 1904 – September 1905 Russo-Japanese War. Henry volunteers for military service, but is turned down on the grounds that he resembles a Russian.
21 August 1908 Henry attempts suicide while on a performance tour in Nishinomiya. Newspapers cite financial difficulties and waning popularity.
August 1910 Japan completes annexation of Korea.
30 July 1912 End of Meiji Era and start of Taisho Era.
1920s Henry is living in Meguro, Tokyo, with his adopted son, Seikichi, Seikichi’s wife, Rosa, and their children.
1/September/1923 Great Kanto Earthquake

Asakusa after the quake.
19/September/1923 Henry Black died in Japan.
1983 Ian McArthur encountered Henry Black in Monumenta Nipponica.
1992 Publication in Japanese of Ian’s book Kairakutei Burakku – wasurerareta nippon saiko no gaijin tarento 快楽亭ブラック 忘れられたニッポン最高の外人タレント (by Kodansha International – translation by Naito Makoto and Horiuchi Kumiko).


1993 Ian McArthur acted as Henry Black in the play, Between, in Kashiwa, Saitama Prefecture.

On stage during rehearsals.
2013 Publication in English of Henry Black – On Stage in Meiji Japan (by Ian McArthur, Monash University Publishing).

Click here to purchase a copy from the publisher.