Pregnancy Dolls From 18th Century Japan
In the 18th and 19th century, 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.
For example, 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 foetal models depicting the various stages of prenatal development.
Similarly, records of Japan’s first national industrial exhibition in 1877 indicate a Yamagata prefecture hospital doctor named Motoyoshi Hasegawa showed off an elaborate set of foetus models illustrating seven different stages of growth, from embryo to birth.
Although it is unclear whether the foetus model set pictured in the final image above is the same one Hasegawa showed in 1877, records suggest his model was a hit at the exhibition.
These models are currently housed in the Edo-Tokyo museum.