My sister, Nancy, recently finished her thesis in history which focused on the uncommon experience of two Japanese acrobats and their life stories. Their names were Sei "Osai" Sakamoto and Fukuzo "Frank" Hashimoto and they eventually formed the performing duo of Hashi & Osai. Nancy also created a great webpage about it as part of a webpage design class that you can see here. I will try my best to summarize her work.
Osai was born in 1897 and as was common practice at the time, was excluded from being listed on a family register as thus did not have any formal family status. She was given up for adoption and was taken under the guardianship of an acrobatic trainer. In 1905 she was brought to America and the city of Chicago. It was in Chicago that she was trained. Along with her fellow performers the training included harsh beatings resulting in scars, a broken arm, and concussions. Less than a year after arriving, she began performing as part of the Otora Japanese Family. Soon after the troupe was reorganized into the Namba Troupe and began traveling around North America. She continued to perform in show business as a acrobat, contortionist, and performer.
Fukuzo was born in 1896 to a large commoner agrarian family in Japan. He was recruited to join the Fukumatsu Kitamura acrobatic troupe and came to America in 1906 leaving his family behind. The training was very strict and he recounted that beatings were given if routines were not performed correctly. Although he had no family, he developed strong and lasting relationships with his fellow performers. In 1907 he joined the Ringling Brothers Circus for three years. He gained the favor of the eldest brother, Al Ringling, and Fukuzo's contortion act was place in the center ring. After Ringling, Fukuzo went on to join Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show for three seasons. He helped train wild horses and worked as part of the Japanese cavalry performing as one of the Congress of Rough Riders. After the Wild West Show, he continued to perform in vaudeville.
In 1917, Fukuzo and Osai along with two others formed the Fuji Troupe and toured the country for three years. In 1919 they married and soon quickly formed the duo act named "Hashi and Osai". It was at this time that Fukuzo changed to the Americanized version of his name, Frank. Their performance encompassed several elements: high perch, water spinning, girl on pedestal, fast tumbling, spotted flip flops, hand balancing and a Risley act. Their act was always a two-person team and consisted of acrobatics and gymnastics, contortion, and balancing. In the many towns where they performed the reviews by critics of their exhibition was always held in high esteem.
One article read "Hashai & Osai, a Japanese boy and girl, offer one of the surprises in their oriental thrilling and sensational juggling act, said to be one of the best that has been on the American stage in years." Another read "the sensational act of the well-known Japanese team, Hashi & Osai, as one of the five outstanding acts of vaudeville in the Beacon's Theater's stage this week, outclasses any turn of this nature to come to Vancouver in months." "Dynamic feats of thrilling gymnastics that will keep you in breathless suspense. Extraordinary entertainment - with a complete change of acts in each of the two shows each evening."
They performed in popular venues such as the Chicago Stadium and Soldier Field in 1929, Palisades Park in New Jersey in 1930, the Shrine Circus in Los Angeles in 1932, the World's Grain Exhibition in Regina, Canada in 1933, the Al Ringling Theater in Baraboo, WI in 1936, and the Oriental Theatre in Chicago in 1939. They also hopscotched across the US and Canada including: Montreal, Boston, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Sioux Falls, Cincinnati, Dallas, Vancouver, Billings, Des Moines, Wichita, Omaha, Ottawa, Winnipeg, and St. Louis in addition to countless small towns. They were very successful enjoying a life of freedom and acceptance unusual for Japanese immigrants at the time. That changed on December 7, 1941.
part two to come next week...