Ancient Japanese Art

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Initial Jōmon vase
Middle Jōmon vase
Middle Jōmon vessel
Dogū Jōmon Venus
Middle Jōmon Jar

Late Jōmon Clay Statue
Final Jōmon, Kamegaoka Style Jar with spirals
Late Jōmon Goggle-Eyed Dogū
Dogū figurine, Ebisuda Ōsaki, Miyagi prefecture
Yayoi ceramic vase

The Japanese foundation myth is that Emperor Jimmu founded the nation on 11 February 660 BCE. The Emperor was said to be a descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu, via her grandson Ninigi, who was his great-grandfather. Jimmu was also claimed as a descendant of the storm god Susanoo. It was through military conquest that he established a power base. Though Jimmu, the nine first emperors, and the Imperial family’s founding is considered by most authorities as mythical.

One of the earliest Japanese populations was during the Jōmon periods. These were hunter-gatherers who slowly settled the countryside. Their pottery was decorated by pressing cords onto the wet clay, and Jōmon literally means cord-marked. Their culture produced pottery vessels and figurines, they produced lacquerware and jewellery made from antlers, bones, shell and stone. Their artefacts have been compared with Valdivia culture in Ecuador.

There are usually four periods applied to this Initial Jōmon (13,750- 5,000 BCE) Middle Jōmon (3,520-2,470 BCE). Late Jōmon (2,470-1,250 BCE) and Final Jōmon (1,250-500 BCE).

Artefacts from Initial Jōmon are mostly stone tools. The Middle Jōmon was when agriculturlisation began. The Middle Jōmon was charcterised by its ornate pottery dogū figurines and vessels, its lacquerware and jewellery made from antlers, bones, shell and stone. During this period Magatama stone beads moved from being a common jewellery item, to being something buried with you. The Final Jōmon saw populations decline and the establishment of Koreaan-type settlements in the West, these immigrants brough bronze and iron working with them, new pottery styles (similar to Mumun) and wet rice farming. This led to a new farming culture, the Yayoi from 300 BCE- 300 CE.

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Dogū are decribed as part earth and part spirit, somewhere between animal and human. Over 18,000 of them have been discovered. They have been conjectured as Venus figurines, and some have questioned if they are aliens, particularly the goggle-eyed dogū appear to be wearing a space-suit and helmet.



Image source: Wikimedia commons
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Initial or Incipient Jōmon period pottery dates to 14th – 8th millennium BCE. The notion of pottery is said to have been imported from mainland Asia. Examples from the period have been found at Fukui Cave, Kamikuroiwa and Odai Yamamoto I. This early pottery is characterised by the cord-markings. This example is at the Tokyo National Museum.
Middle Jōmon vase
3,000 – 2,000 BCE

Image source: Wikimedia commons
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Image source: ancient-origins.net
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Middle Jomon Vessel, 3,000 – 2,000 BCE
Dogū Jōmon Venus 3000-2000 BCE

See also Variegated Venuses

Image source: Wikimedia commons
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Image source: Wikimedia commons
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Middle Jomon Jar 2,000 BCE
Late Jomon Clay Statue – 1,500-1,000 BCE
Image source: Wikimedia commons
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Image source: Wikimedia commons
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Final Jomon, Kamegaoka Style Jar with spirals – 1,250-500 BCE


Late Jomon Goggle-Eyed Dogū – 1,000-400 BCE

Image source: ancient-origins.net
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Image source: Wikimedia commons
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Dogū figurine, Ebisuda Ōsaki, Miyagi prefecture – 1000-400 BCE
Yayoi ceramic vase – 300 BCE – 300 CE
Image source: Wikimedia commons

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