Edo-period obstetric training doll, 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.

[Source: Geijutsu Shincho magazine, July 2001]