The Japanese Bottomless Basket

I’ve long been a fan of the big juggling props of the Gentleman Juggler era, such as the Kara Box, the Salerno Ring, and the Picture Frame Trick.

If you’re not familiar with those three tricks, click here, here, and here to see video of them. We often consider those tricks to be old, as they were created in the late 1800s. However, the subject of today’s article is much older, created in the 1600s (to the best of our knowledge). It is the Bottomless Basket, or as it is known in Japanese, Hanakagomari. It is one of the rarest props and routines of Edo Daikagura, the traditional form of Japanese juggling that dates from the 17th century. Like the Kara Box and Salerno Ring, the Bottomless Basket is a large prop that has a short pole on the bottom and a bigger top part that balls are thrown into and through. I would not be surprised if Kara and Salerno saw Japanese jugglers using the prop and were inspired to create their famous inventions.

Daikagura Master Maruichi Senoh using a modern Bottomless Basket

Senmaru with his Bottomless Basket

Unlike the Kara Box and Salerno Ring, the Bottomless Basket is held in one hand instead of balanced on the forehead. With the other hand, the performer juggles with two balls, tossing them into and through the roughly two foot-long, horizontal, open-ended basket or into one of the cups or bowls located above the basket. The balls can be switched in location in a wide variety of ways. Sometimes a small bowl is used in place of one of the balls. The following video starts with a performance of the Bottomless Basket by well-known Daikagura performer Senmaru.

As you can see, it is a very versatile prop with many possibilities and variations. The version of the Bottomless Basket that he uses in the video is the standard modern one, as you can see in the following photos.

Hiro Kurose and Erik Aberg

Now we come to a performance of the Bottomless Basket by Senoh Maruichi, the 13th in a long line of daikagura entertainers and leader of the eponymous Edo-Daikagura Maruichi Senoh Troupe.

Senoh Maruichi

The Bottomless Basket prop is made by a highly skilled craftsman and can cost thousands of dollars. They have not always looked exactly like they do now. The juggler Youna, whom you can read about by clicking here, used one version that was much more simple than the modern ones, but also used one with additional cups, as you can see in the following photos.

Youna with a simple Bottomless Basket

Youna with a very complex Bottomless Basket

Famous Japanese juggler Gintaro (1875 – 1953) used a fairly modern looking Bottomless Basket, as you can see below.

Gintaro

There are several older images of the Bottomless Basket that I’ve been able to find. The first shows Katsnoshin Awata, the court juggler of the Emperor of Japan, who came to the West in 1870 and became a star. You can see part of a fairly simple Bottomless Basket behind him in the following illustration.

Awata

The following photo from shows a very modern-looking Bottomless Basket.

1876

Arashi Rikaku in 1859

The following illustrations from 1850 shows a fairly simple version.

Oddly enough, the Bottomless Basket was sold in the earliest known juggling prop catalog; the Catalogue Of Fine Juggler Goods Manufactured By Prof. Otto Maurer, which was published in New York City, NY (USA) in the late 1880s. The prop, referred to as the Japanese Ball Basket, can be seen below.

I hope to make my own version of the Bottomless Basket sometime soon. If I do, I will make a video and add it to this article.

David Cain is a professional juggler, juggling historian, and the owner of the world's only juggling museum, the Museum of Juggling History. He is a Guinness world record holder and 15 time IJA gold medalist. In addition to his juggling pursuits, David is a successful composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and singer as well as the author of twenty-four books. He and his children live in Middletown, OH (USA).

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