Gintaro Mizuhara (1875-1952) was a Japanese juggler who lived in the UK most of his life. He had a long and successful career performing all over the world. Since a wonderful account of Gintaro’s life written by Peter Bruning has already appeared in the Summer 2008 Juggle Magazine, I don’t wish to repeat what he has written. Instead, I want to provide three accounts of Gintaro’s tricks and their origins. The first is taken from the December 1914 Strand Magazine and is written by Gintaro himself. The second is also by Gintaro and is from the May 1906 edition of Magic. The third is written by Ellis Stanyon and is from the January 1907 edition of Magic. These accounts are extremely valuable in understanding the tricks and history of traditional Japanese juggling.
Japanese Juggling Tricks And How They Were Invented
By M. Gintaro (December 1914 Strand Magazine)
When people talk to me about Japanese jugglers I generaly have to answer this question: “How is it that all you Japanese jugglers do the same things?”
Well, I do not agree that all our performances are exactly alike, but I will confess to a good deal of “sameness.” It is inevitable, because all the feats of real Japanese jugglers were originated in Japan by the Japanese, and no juggler of my country would care to perform any other feats.
Some of our most effective feats are very old, and a kind of tradition attaches to each of them. Take, for instance, the familiar balancing feat performed with blocks of wood (Fig. 1). I build up a pile of these blocks ten or eleven feet high, and place a glass of water on the top. Then I push the bottom block very gently on one side with my fan, but before the whole pile can fall I slip my fan under the bottom block and balance the pile on my fan. Then I throw up the pile of blocks and catch the glass without spilling a drop of the water. (Click here to see Gintaro perform this trick.)
This is only one of very many feats performed with these ordinary blocks of wood. I am able to perform with these blocks for two hours; as a rule, the feats I present to English audiences last for five minutes.
These feats are based on those devised by a Japanese prisoner in the 17th century. In those days the Japanese wore their hair long, and, to protect it during the hours of sleep, very high pillows were used. Even the occupants of the jails had to be provided with pillows; plain wooden blocks, similar to those used today by Japanese jugglers, served the purpose. The particular prisoner to whom jugglers will always be grateful probably suffered from insomnia; at any rate, he amused himself by throwing up the blocks in his cell and catching them. Then he devised various simple little balancing feats with the blocks, and the exercise he obtained in this way improved his physique. His appearance became too good. The authorities could not understand how a man living on a little food could contrive to put on flesh. The juggling prisoner was watched, and, being caught in the act, was taken to the governor of the prison. The prisoner was commanded to perform, Tradition does not say what were the actual feats he presented, but they impressed the governor, who had the man taken to the civil authorities of the town. In the end the prisoner was released, because he was appointed Court Entertainer to the governor of the State.
I believe this story to be quite true, for juggling is certainly one of the finest forms of exercise any man can take – until he becomes proficient. All the time he is learning a feat he drops things on the floor, and I understand that the beneficial exercise is obtained by stooping down to pick up things.
Feats with an umbrella – of the Japanese kind – are very common. The juggler throws up a ball, catches it on the top of an open umbrella, and, by twisting the handle rapidly, causes the ball to run round the edge of the umbrella. A similar feat is performed with curtain rings and with coins; the smaller and lighter the coin, the more difficult the feat.
All these feats were originated by a street performer in Japan. One day, while passing under the walls of a castle, a small audience collected on the top of the wall and playfully dropped some tangerines onto the comedian of the company of strolling jugglers. (No such company is complete without a comedian.) The next day the comedian was treated in the same manner, and so he put up a paper umbrella to shield himself. The shower of tangerines broke through the umbrella. Then the leading juggler of the company saw his opportunity. He took the umbrella, twisted it quickly, and, by making it revolve, caused the tangerines to fly off it. While he was doing this he was helped by a lucky accident. One of the tangerines rolled round the umbrella once before dropping on the ground. The juggler picked up the tangerine and caught it once more on his revolving umbrella, and thus the feat I have described was invented. The hardest feat of all with the umbrella is done with a Japanese coin which is lighter than an English farthing.
The oldest juggling feats in the world are those known by the title “Ball and Stick” (Fig. 3). Some performers will use two balls and all of them will use two sticks, but “ball and stick” is the English name for this group of tricks.
The stick is a drumstick, for the feat was originated by a drummer who played outside a Japanese temple. Thinking to engage the attention of passersby (for the drummers are in a sense officials of the temple), this drummer made a number of flourishes with his stick, similar to those used to this day by drummers in the British Army. Then the drummer learned how to throw up his stick and catch it again in a variety of ways. Afterwards he did the same thing with two sticks. One day he saw some children playing with a ball several simple games very much like those played by English children to this day. The drummer conceived the idea of doing something with a ball and his two sticks, and so the foundation for a long series of juggling feats was laid.
In Japan the first lesson in juggling is always given with one of these drumsticks. A boy is taught to throw up the stick so that it turns over and over in the air, and to catch it again by the right end. The feat looks absurdly easy, but in reality it is very difficult. This feat affords an excellent training for the eye and hand. A practice lesson, by the way. occupies two hours, and it is usually given at sunrise. During the day the pupil has to attend school. where one of his duties is to learn a musical instrument. All Japanese jugglers, being servants of the temple, have to be musicians.
One of my favourite feats is that of swinging round two bowls of water attached to the ends of a long cord, without spilling a drop of the water (Fig. 5). It is difficult.
Here is an easier one which anyone can try. It is really a feat of Japanese swordsmanship which anyone can practise without a sword. Make two bands of tissue paper, about a yard long and an inch wide. Get a friend to hold two razors, one in each hand. Open the razors and hang the bands of paper on the blades. Now take a stick and hang it on the bands of paper. This must be done very carefully, or the papers will be cut. Then pick up. a broomstick and with a mighty blow come down on the centre of the stick. If you are successful you will break the stick without breaking the bands of paper (Fig. 6).
The blow must be given quickly, and immediately before the blow is given the broomstick should be brought up very rapidly so that the stick resting on the papers is lifted slightly by the current of air caused by the upward movement of the broomstick.
A simpler and easier experiment is that of causing an egg to spin on a tray by merely turning the tray with a circular motion. The egg should be a blown one. Place it on the tray near the hand. Then cause the egg to move round the tray by slanting the tray in different directions. When the egg is well on the move, keep the tray level and turn it round and round with a wide sweep of the arm. The motion will cause the egg to spin quickly on its side, and if the movement is kept up the egg will eventually spin so fast on its side that it will raise itself and spin on its end. The tray must then be held still and level.
Here is a feat which requires a little practice (Figs. 8 and 9). Put some water into four glasses and lay a tea tray over them. On the tray, immediately over the glasses, stand four little cardboard tubes. (These can easily be made by bending post cards into tubes and fastening them with stamp-paper.) On the tubes place four eggs. It will be advisable for the beginner to use hard-boiled eggs; small apples will do equally well. Now open the hand, and with the outstretched palm give the tray a sharp blow in such a way that the cardboard tubes are knocked away and the eggs fall into the glasses of water.
The blow must not be “followed up”; the hand should remain stationary when the tray has been knocked away. It must be a hard blow, and it is as well to have someone to catch the tray.
For the performance of the next simple feat, knowledge of a secret is necessary. Remove the egg from one of the glasses used in the previous feat. Take a strip of paper about an inch wide and six inches long and hold it with one end on the edge of the glass. Now lay a penny – very carefully – over the end of the strip of paper, so that the penny is balanced on the edge of the glass over the paper. The feat consists in removing the paper, using only one hand, without disturbing the balance of the penny. The feat is quite simple if two hands are used, because with one hand you can hold the free end of the paper while with the other you give a sharp blow on the centre of the paper and so draw it away from the glass. But only one hand is to be used. To do this, take a knife or ruler and bring it down very quickly on the paper; the feat cannot be done with certainty in any other way.
For the accomplishment of our next feat, the amateur must have what is known as a “straight eye.” Place the crown of a bowler hat on the top of a bottle, with the brim parallel to the neck of the bottle and the crown resting on the bottle top. On the top side of the crown, immediately over the mouth of the bottle, place a cork, and on the cork lay a three penny piece. Pull the hat away very quickly, and, if the building up has been done properly, the cork will fall to the ground and the coin into the bottle.
A feat requiring a very steady hand can be performed with a glass half-full of water. The feat consists in balancing the glass on its edge on the table. The slightest movement of the floor of the room renders the feat impossible, but it can be done after a very little practice by anyone with a steady hand – or rather, two steady hands.
The following is a more showy feat. Place a small tray over a tumbler half-full of water. On the tray, immediately over the glass, place one of the cardboard tubes used in a previous trick, and on the tube a hard-boiled egg. One the egg balance a cork. It may be necessary to scoop out the bottom of the cork to make it stand on the egg. On the top of the cork place three pennies. Now knock away the tray, and with the same hand, catch the three pennies. The egg should fall into the glass.
An easier one now. Take the cap from a fountain pen, turn it upside down, and put a visiting card on the top. Put a penny on the card, and on the penny a small nut. Now flick away the card with the thumb, so that the penny, with the nut on it, is balanced on the cap. Then flick away the penny so that the nut remains there.
Our final feat shall be one I frequently do in public. I borrow a penny from the audience and place it on the bottom of an inverted soda-water glass. Holding the glass with both hands, I blow under the penny and cause it to spin on the glass.The learner should note that my hands are held on either side of the glass with the forefingers pointed upwards. Thus, I am able to get the glass quite level. The feat is impossible if the glass is not level. To begin with, I blow under the coin; when it has begun to spin I blow on one side of it. It is not necessary to blow hard to make the coin spin, and when the coin is spinning, properly its movement on the glass is noiseless. The glass should be slightly concave.
Japanese Juggling Tricks by M. Gintaro
May 1906 Stanyon’s Magic Magazine
A Japanese Combination Juggling Act
January 1907 Stanyon’s Magic Magazine
As you can see, Gintaro was a fountain of knowledge concerning a wide range of Japanese juggling tricks and their origins. I advise you to read the Juggle Magazine article about his life and career.