Enter the horse

So I'm reading Dōji kō 童子考 ("Thoughts on children") by Gunji Masakatsu 郡司正勝, and in a discussion of little-person entertainers known as shuju 侏儒 I come across this:

Shinzei kogaku zu ["Shinzei's illustrated guide to venerable entertainments"] is said to date to the late Heian period, and although there is some room for doubt over whether the pictures came directly from China or whether they represent dances and entertainments transmitted to Japan, there are a number that appear to be shuju dances. For example, the "Enter-a-horse's-belly dance" and the "Enter-a-pot dance" involve entering a horse from its behind and coming out of its mouth, or popping in and out of a pot while waving long sleeves; these are clearly shuju dances.

Whatever the literary equivalent of the movie-trailer record-scratch sound is, I heard it in my head about halfway through this paragraph. Excuse me? The "Enter-a-horse's-belly dance"? This looks like a job for research on the internet.

So, first, I found a copy of Shinzei's scroll online. Is the horse thing there? Yes, it is. (The pot dancers are there, too, but whatever, dude.)

Now, obviously this did not really happen. The Heian period was not a Police Academy movie. The Tang dynasty was not a cartoon from Oz magazine. Nevertheless, here we have this picture. What are we to make of it? Fortunately, Kawai Masaru 河合勝 and Saitō Nobuhiro 斎藤修啓 have already done the heavy lifting for us here, with a poker-faced monograph entitled A Study of Horse-Swallowing Illusion ("Donbajutsu") of Japanese Classic Magic (日本古典奇術「呑馬術」について).

The trick, they say, was simply to hang a black curtain behind the horse, and allow the performer to disappear behind it and reappear at the other side. This, they note, is known as "the black art" in modern magic, and they hypothesize that horse-swallowing was effected the same way. Thus, they argue, the pictures of people swallowing horses in brightly-lit rooms, before audiences spread too widely to the side, do not reflect actual performance conditions.

I sort of prefer to believe that horse-swallowing is possible. But I do not feel the same way about the enter-a-horse's-belly dance.

Popularity factor: 5


Whatever, man. I'm sure that the Heian equivalent of emergency room doctors could tell you that horse-butt interaction is real.

Also, I heard from Sei Shonagon that Murasaki Shikibu once had to be rushed to the hospital to get her stomach pumped from swallowing too much court poetry and Prince Shotoku once put a live tanooki up his sutra pipe.


Ah, this seems like an appropriate time for one of my favorite inappropriate jokes. I first heard this joke decades ago from an obscure Irish comedian on a BBC shortwave broadcast. It was originally set in the context of the animals awarding points based on Snooker, but I can't remember the details and I don't know Snooker so I have simplified it.

A snake was trying to convince an elephant that he was King of the Jungle. The elephant thought this was ridiculous, he is the largest animal in the jungle and nobody challenged his superiority. The snake insisted he was the king because he was small and clever and could go places no other animal could go. So they decided to have a competition. They would do tricks and award points for the outcome, the winner would be crowned King of the Jungle.

So the snake starts first. He takes his tail in his mouth like a hoop and rolls along the ground. The elephant says, "That was amazing, I'll award you 10 points. But check this out." And then the elephant lifts his entire body in the air, he's upright in the air standing on the tip of his extended trunk. The snake is impressed, he says, "wow, that was more impressive than my stunt, I'll give you 50 points. But you won't beat my next stunt. I'm going to slide right into your asshole, through your body, and come out the end of your trunk." The elephant says, "well if you can slither right through my body and exit through my trunk, you are the undisputed winner." So the snake starts by sliding into the elephant's orifice, he gets about halfway through the elephant's body. Then suddenly the elephant whips his head under his body, sticks his nose into his asshole, and yells, "I am King of the Jungle!"


Oops, should have checked before posting. In lieu of "sticks his nose" substitute "sticks the tip of his trunk."

Dammit I always blow the punchline of jokes.


My reaction to this post was pretty much "What the.. I don't even..??"

Actually, that was also pretty much my reaction to Charles' joke too.


Derek, I am disappointed. Despite my mangling of the punchline, are you not capable of seeing the international universality of the recto-nasal inversion? And the reference to the self-reflexive archetype of Oroubouros?

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