Reception of Sada Yacco and Hanako’s Acting in Europe at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Centered on the Critiques of Gordon Craig

  • Yang Gao National University of Singapore
Keywords: Sada Yacco, Hanako, Edward Gordon Craig, Kawakami Otojirō, Japonisme, intercultural theatre, cross-cultural performance


The turn of the 20th century was a particular historical period that witnessed vibrant and dynamic theatrical communication between Japan and Europe. During this time, two Japanese actresses, Sada Yacco and Hanako, performed on the European stage and received tremendous attention and sensational success. In this article, I investigate how 1900s Europe, both the general public and theatre community, received Sada Yacco and Hanako’s acting. In particular, I rely on critiques by British modernist theatre practitioner Gordon Craig, as an exemplar response to Sada Yacco and Hanako’s performances. Gordon Craig had long been fascinated with, and inspired by, traditional Japanese theatre, such as Nō and Bunraku, realizing its potential value for revitalizing European theatre. As an actor, stage director and scenic designer, unlike most of the public, he always tried to approach Sada Yacco and Hanako’s acting from the point of view of a theatre professional. Nevertheless, the popular fine arts perspective of Japanese culture in Europe at the time, cultivated by Japonisme, also profoundly shaped Craig’s critiques. In a sense, Gordon Craig’s views could be regarded as a miniature representation of the whole complexity in the European response to Sada Yacco and Hanako’acting.

Author Biography

Yang Gao, National University of Singapore

Yang Gao is a PhD candidate at the Department of Japanese Studies, National University of Singapore. He holds two Master’s degrees in Theatre Studies from Communication University of China in Beijing and Waseda University in Tokyo. His current research is on comparative studies of Japanese and Western theatre with a focus on underlying mechanisms and various characteristics of intercultural theatrical communication between Japan and the West in terms of directing, acting/actor training, stage design, and theatre structure. His other research interests include acting/directing theories, contemporary Chinese stage directors and classical Japanese theatre.

How to Cite
Gao, Y. (2018). Reception of Sada Yacco and Hanako’s Acting in Europe at the Turn of the Twentieth Century. Japan Studies Association Journal, 15(1), 145-162. Retrieved from
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