19th Century Pregnant Dolls from Edo Period Japan

19th-century obstetric training doll – Wada Museum

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.

Vintage wooden pregnant mannequin, Japan — “Light-skinned” pregnant doll – Edo-Tokyo Museum

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.


Edo-era obstetric doll, Japan — “Dark-skinned” pregnant doll – Edo-Tokyo Museum

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 fetal models depicting the various stages of prenatal development.

Old wooden baby dolls, Japan — Baby doll – Edo-Tokyo Museum

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 fetus models illustrating seven different stages of growth, from embryo to birth.

Japanese pregnancy manikin, Japan — Fetus model set (circa 1877) – Toyota Collection

Although it is unclear whether the fetus model set pictured here is the same one Hasegawa showed in 1877, records suggest his model was a hit at the exhibition.

[Re-printed from: PinkTentacle.com – May 2009]
[Source: Geijutsu Shincho magazine – July 2001]
[Special thanks: Tamara Nico – May, 2009]

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