Wooden Dumbbells 木製亜鈴

Today dumbbells are usually made of iron or of plastic and filled with water. In the Meiji period, however, wooden ones such as those in this photograph were in common use. They had been introduced from the West as equipment for physical education. New systems, including education, were being adopted throughout government and society, after the Meiji Restoration; knowledge was eagerly introduced from Europe and America. The result, in the view of the Ministry of Education, was an overemphasis in the school curriculum on absorbing knowledge; to correct that problem, the ministry proclaimed the necessity of balancing the curriculum with physical education as well. But what sort of physical activity should be adopted? Tanaka Fujimaro, who had made a tour of inspection in the United States in 1876, and Dr. George Adams Leland, who was invited by the ministry to instruct in gymnastics, were assigned to provide guidance at the Physical Education Teaching Center in 1878. They proposed two gymnastics programs, a heavy and a light course; the light course was implemented first. In contrast to the heavy course, which involved track-and-field athletics, the light course consisted of exercises using simple equipment, with the purpose of building bodies suitable for healthy lifestyles. These wooden dumbbells were used in the light course. The dumbbell exercises using these wooden implements involved holding one in each hand and stretching the arms to the front and sides and rotating them. For Meiji schools, which were cramped and lacked the playgrounds now standard in today’s schools, such exercises worked well.
Collection of
Edo-Tokyo Museum
Wooden Dumbbells
Collection ID
Lifestyle and Folk Custom
Creation Date
21.0cm x 5.8cm
Edo-Tokyo Museum Digital Archives

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