This top is a play on words, showing a monkey (saru 猿) figure dancing the sanbasō (三番叟) dance. Dating from the Heian Period (794-1185 CE), sanbasō is a celebratory ceremonial dance originally performed in Noh theatre in the sarugaku (literally, “monkey fun” 猿楽) style of medieval Japanese performance. The sanbasō dance was originally staged together with performances by the okina (old man) character in Noh, whose dances were often auspicious shows staged to open a set or open the new year.
Hiroi Michiaki: And this is a New Year’s monkey (saru)… umm… what was it called? There’s a dance done at New Year’s. It’s called sarugaku 猿楽. I don’t know why it’s called sarugaku, but if you spin this, it looks like it’s dancing. It spins around slowly. It’s an auspicious sort of top.