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Early Japanese Sculpture

During the Jomon period (ca. 10,500-300 B.C.E.), in addition to earthenware utensils and ritual vessels, people produced large numbers of miniature clay figures. They ranged from round, voluptuous females to stick figures with heart-shaped heads to stocky, bug-eyed figurines with pointed nipples. More than 90% of the excavated statues were found in large clusters, with their limbs and heads seemingly deliberately broken; scholars believe, therefore, that the figurines held important symbolic meanings and were used in mystic-religious ceremonies, during which they were intentionally damaged and then dispersed throughout the villages.

The large tombs for elites that characterized the Kofun period (C.E. 258-646) were furnished with sumptuous burial goods, such as gold crowns and jewelry, bronze mirrors, glass objects, jade, and pottery. Perhaps the most striking tomb adornments, however, were the haniwa, sculptures placed outside the tombs. Simple clay cylinders eventually gave way to more complex and even fanciful sculptures, including various human figures, animals, houses, and boats. Their exact meanings are unknown, but scholars believe that they acted as tomb guardians or provided some symbolic connection between life and afterlife.

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Female Figure

Figure of a Man
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