2017 marks the anniversary of a lot of things. But maybe one of the more unexpected is that it’s the 70th anniversary since burlesque dancing came to Japan. That’s right – in January of 1947 the first ever strip show was held in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district . And there’s a fascinating history, as well as vintage advertisements and documentation, that’s being showcased this month to remember the original tease.
According to cultural critic and media communications professor Noboru Saijou, Japan’s first strip show wasn’t at all what we might imagine it to be. At the time, women weren’t even allowed to work so there was a lot of uncertainty around what they could and couldn’t do. So the first strip show, held at Shinjuku’s Teitoza theater, was called a gakubuchi show (a “picture frame” show) and women would strike poses of famous nudes in art history like “The Birth of Venus” and “Perseus and Andromeda.”
Because the strip shows were held in-between other comedy and literary performances they became associated with literary figures in Japan like author and playwright Kafu Nagai and comic fiction playwright Hisashi Inoue. The theaters gave birth to a generation of Japanese actors and comedians like Beat Takeshi and Kiyoshi Atsumi whose careers began in the strip show theater.
The strip show theater went on to become a cultural phenomenon in Japan. One of the most well-known examples of comedians incorporating strip show culture into their act was Kato Cha’s skit (embedded above) in which he Boo Takagi are the wind and son, competing to see who can get the woman to remove her clothes. No matter how hot the sun would shine, no matter how strong the wind would blow, the woman wouldn’t strip her clothing. But then Kato has the idea to play smooth jazz music that was associated with strip shows and sure enough the woman begins to remove her clothing.
A 70th anniversary commemorative event is taking place on March 18, 2017 at the Asakusa Toyokan in Tokyo. You can read about it more here and get tickets.