Sunday, May 31, 2009
These dolls are thought to be part of a 'Misemono' side show. Misemono literally means "shows" or "exhibits" and were an inalienable part of the Japanese urban landscape during the edo period. Many of the shows were briefly put on and were characterized by their crudeness. The term misemono dates from the Edo period, although plausible forerunners of the performances appear already in the late medieval period. Among the likely antecedents of Edo period shows were benefit performances undertaken to raise funds for shines or temples. The shows were unhampered by attempts to conform to a traditional artists type and thus provide a valuable index to evolving popular taste.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, sideshow carnivals known as misemono were a popular form of entertainment for the sophisticated residents of Edo (present-day Tokyo). The sideshows featured a myriad of educational and entertaining attractions designed to evoke a sense of wonder and satisfy a deep curiosity for the mysteries of life. One popular attraction was the pregnant doll. Although it is commonly believed that these dolls were created primarily to teach midwives how to deliver babies, evidence suggests they were also used for entertainment purposes. Records from 1864 describe a popular show in Tokyo’s Asakusa entertainment district that educated audiences about the human body. The show featured a pregnant doll whose abdomen could be opened to reveal fetal models depicting the various stages of prenatal development.