Intercultural experiences of progressive actors, directors, and playwrights in Europe early in the twentieth century were fundamental stimuli to their careers, as well as to the “modernization” or “improvement” of Japanese theatre. Kawakami Otojirō (1864–1911) and his wife Sadayakko (1871–1946), Shimamura Hōgetsu (1871–1918), Ichikawa Sadanji II (1880–1940), Osanai Kaoru (1881–1928), Hijikata Yoshi (1898–1959), and Kishida Kunio (1890–1954) actively sought to reinvent Japanese theatre by energetically incorporating elements from Western theatre.
In 1893, Kawakami visited France, becoming the first Japanese theatre artist to go on a fact-finding trip to Europe. Among his acquisitions was a script of Dumas fils’ La dame aux camélias, whose leading role would be performed by Sadayakko at Osaka's Teikoku-za (Imperial Theatre) in 1911. When the Kawakami troupe toured the USA and Europe from 1899 to 1902, they saw Henry Irving and Ellen Terry in The Merchant of Venice in Boston, and Olga Nethersole in her scandalous production of Sapho in New York. Their visit to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts inspired Kawakami to establish an acting school in Japan. In 1900 Loïe Fuller (1862–1928), modern dance pioneer and lighting innovator, invited Kawakami's troupe to perform at her theatre at the Paris World Exposition, and later on tour in Europe. After returning to Japan, where they made various efforts to modernize and westernize Japanese theatre, they returned to Paris in 1907 for additional theatre research, learning not only about performance techniques but also about theatre management. This experience led to the establishment in 1908 of the Teikoku Joyū Yōseijo (Imperial Training School for Actresses).
Shimamura, a young lecturer at Waseda University, was sent to Europe by his mentor, Tsubouchi Shōyō, from 1902 to 1905. Among the 150 productions he attended in London and Berlin, he saw Terry in Ibsen's Vikings of Helgeland, Irving in Sardou's Dante, and Herbert Beerbohm Tree in Tolstoy's Resurrection. Shimamura's experiences contributed to his later introduction of naturalism to Japan's budding modern theatre movement.
The progressive kabuki actor Ichikawa Sadanji II (1880–1940), hoping to find ways to reinvigorate kabuki, recently eclipsed by shimpa activities, visited Europe in 1906–7 with critic and playwright Matsui Shōyō, seeking to learn from Western acting, training, elocution, stage management, and stage technology.