Yamashatei Utagawa Kunitsuru, ‘First-class spinning tops’, c. 1843–1845

Dancing butterflies,water fountains, and spinning tops: Magic and acrobatic tricks in misemono-e

John Fiorillo

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During the Edo period (1615–1868), sideshows and exhibits, misemono 見世物, were a familiar sight in the streets of Edo. Entertainers scattered about the city included acrobats, conjurers, jugglers, top-spinners, dancers, chanters, singers, storytellers, puppeteers, amateur actors, mimics, samisen players, flautists, percussionists, quickdraw sword unsheathers, snake-handlers, and circus-style freaks. There were, as well, menageries of exotic animals, life-size doll displays, and optical peep shows.

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