Arai Saburo

Japanese showman and businessman

Arai Saburo was one of a new breed of young Japanese businessmen who had worked widely in the United States and were bringing back fresh and expansive ideas. He had visited San Francisco in 1884, and he designed the traditional Japanese house and garden set at the 1893 Chicago World Fair, and in 1896 travelled to West Orange where he purchased two Edison Vitascopes and a stock of films for 3,000 Yen ($1,500). Daniel Grimm Krouse travelled with him as operator. Arai first exhibited in Osaka at the Shinmachi theatre on 22 February 1897, one week after Inabata Katsutaro had opened in the same city with the Lumière Cinématographe, and there was instant strong competition between the two rival machines. Moving on to Tokyo, the arrival of the Vitascope was heralded by musicians on barges proceeding down the Sanjiken canal while leaflets were handed out to all. Arai opened on 6 March 1897 at the Kinkikan theatre, two days before Yokota Einosuke arrived with the Cinématographe. Both shows vied fiercely with one another but both were hugely popular, Arai's not least because of the appeal of Komada Koyo, the first of the star lecturers, or benshi, who were to become such a prominent feature of the early Japanese cinema. Arai, unlike the populist Yokota, wanted his films to be seen by high society, eventually succeeding in exhibiting at the prestigious Kabuki theatre, where the Crown Prince of Japan came to see the show. Arai subsequently went to work for an insurance company, before returning to the United States, where he designed a Japanese village for the St Louis Exposition in 1904. In 1906 he moved to Texas in 1906, where he became a rice farmer. He moved on to run a major nursery and landscaping business in Texas for forty years.

Luke McKernan (revised January 2004 and June 2007)