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Japanese people whom Lewis Carroll saw


Lewis Carroll lived in an age when Europe, except for the Netherlands, first gained contact with Japan. As with the other European people of the era, Carroll had some interest in this new kingdom in the Far East. Yoshiyuki Momma mentioned the contact between Lewis Carroll and Japanese people and its culture in his 2000 article 1). In his article, Momma noted the following five points:

  1. When Lewis Carroll died, a Japanese tea pot and books of Japanese fairy tales were found in his collection.
  2. He went to see Japanese entertainment (not specified) with his colleagues on 22 June 1874.
  3. On 11 February 1879, Carroll arranged for Miss Willets to have her photograph taken in Japanese clothes.
  4. He went to see the Mikado in 1885 (the year when the Savoy Opera was first performed). After seeing the operetta up until 12 December 1896, Carroll mentioned Mikado ten times in his diaries.
  5. Carroll wrote to Mrs Hunt on 8 December 1881 that had been asked about Japan on 2 November (subject not specified) and that he had sent her some goods in reply to her enquiry.

In this article I would like to discuss the relationship between Lewis Carroll and Japan in regard to the following three points:

  1. When did Lewis Carroll first become interested in Japan?
  2. When did Lewis Carroll first see Japanese people?
  3. What kind of Japanese entertainment did Lewis Carroll go to see in 1874?

1. When did Lewis Carroll first become interested in Japan?

Articles about Japan had already been written in the journal, Punch by 1853, the year when the American Commander, Matthew C. Perry visited Japan. Illustrations of Japanese people (albeit the Japanese were drawn similar to black Africans rather than Asians) could also be seen in the old magazines and journals. However, it was not until 1862 that the English become truly interested in the new country in the East, Japan.

In 1862, the Shogun of Japan sent an emissary to Europe to ask to postpone the opening ports which Europe and America had forced Japan to open. After negotiation with Germany, the emissary moved through Paris and arrived in Britain on 30 April 1862, a day before the opening of the second Exhibition in London. The emissary attended the opening ceremony on 1 May and Illustrated London News on 3 May introduced the emissary with pictures. Also shown in the Exhibition was Alcock's collection of things Japanese and several pieces of that collection received prizes. This must have attracted British people to Japan and its culture and brought Japonism.

Lewis Carroll read Illustrated London News. So it is probable that he read the article on 3 May 1862. He, as well as other people, probably gained an interest in Japan and Japanese people through the article.

You may wonder if Lewis Carroll actually saw the Japanese emissary at the time. But it is not probable. The emissary was in Britain from 30 April to 12 June 1862. But we cannot find in Carroll's diaries of that time any description that he had been to London nor to the exhibition itself.

2. When did Lewis Carroll first see Japanese people?

At the latest, Lewis Carroll first saw Japanese in 1874. But, was it the first time for him to have seen the Japanese?

It is known that Lewis Carroll travelled to Russia with his friend, Henry Liddon. He had never been to abroad before or after that. And on his way he visited Paris. While he was in Paris the second Exhibition in Paris was held. In his diary on 9 to 12 September 1867 he mentioned the Exhibition. On 12 September he wrote:

....We wandered through the grounds outside, & passed a pavilion where Chinese music was going on, & paid half a franc to go in & listen to it nearer: & certainly the difference between being outside & inside was worth the half-franc ---- only the outside was the pleasantest of the two....

Along with a tea-serving-place and a theatre, the Chinese Pavilion exhibited people inflicted with gigantism and ateliosis (the Exhibition has a side of 'race exhibition'). It is possible that Carroll refrained from writing precisely of the Chinese exhibits and wrote simply, "the outside was the pleasantest of the two." It was next-door of the Chinese Pavilion where the Japanese Pavilion was situated. In the Exhibition in 1867 in Paris, the three powers of Japan participated----the Shogun, the Daimyo of Satsuma and the Daimyo of Saga. In the Japanese Pavilion geisha served liquor and tea in a house called the 'Japanese Farmhouse.' We cannot find into Carroll's diary that he went in the Japanese pavilion (considering the exhibits, he possibly would not have mentioned it even though he went into the pavilion). We cannot say whether he did or did not enter the Japanese pavilion but it is a near certainly at least that he could see the Japanese people around the pavilion or the Japanese people wandering about the Exhibition. It may be that in 1867 Carroll first saw Japanese people in the flesh.

3. What kind of Japanese entertainment did Lewis Carroll see in 1874?

Most of Japanese entertainments that travelled outside Japan in the mid to later 1800s were the karuwaza, or acrobats. It is likely that the entertainment that Lewis Carroll saw was performed by those acrobats. Given that Carroll did see acrobats, is it possible to name the company of the entertainers?

Yoshihiro Kurata lists in his book Kaigai Koen Koto-hajime (The Beginning of Japanese Performance Outside Japan; 1994, Tokyo Shoseki) the Japansese companies that travelled outside Japan between 1871 and 1874 as follows:

Kurata noted that he searched old registration of passports issued in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Kanagawa, Hyogo and Nagasaki, and he suggested that there were more companies that might have crossed the sea. But for the period, not many ports were opened to overseas ship. It is therefore suggested that the list shown above covers almost all of companies.

Though the destinations were written in the original register of their passports, the destinations were only for the registration, for it was not rare that some members went to cities other than that given as the destination on their passports and sometimes members left companies and chose to live in the cities where they visited. So it is possible that all companies listed above might have been the one that Lewis Carroll saw. However, among the possible candidates the company lead by AWATA Katsunoshin was the most probable. They had planned to perform two years in London. In June 1874 when Lewis Carroll saw the Japanese entertainers, this company had been on performance in London for one and a half year. It is most likely that Lewis Carroll saw this company performing, irrespective of whether the destinations on the passports were reliable. The AWATA company is known to have been to Australia. It is not known when they sailed to Australia; after they had finished their performance in London, or they never had been to Britain. The only evidence at the moment is that on 8 April 1875, YANAGAWA Choshichiro, a member of the company came back to Japan from Australia. But in my research, this company is still the prime candidate for the company seen by Carroll, under the assumption that the company performed in London for two years until late 1874. The list below shows the members of the company:

In 1885 when Lewis Carroll saw the Mikado, there was Japanese Village where the Japanese acrobats gathered (since January 1885.) But a fire consumed the village on 2 May (the village was re-built on 2 December 1885.) If the village existed in June, Lewis Carroll may have gone to the Japanese Village before or after having seen the Mikado.


1) Yoshiyuki Momma: MISCHMASCH (4) 7-19, 2000

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