The first people we know of who lived in Japan were the Jomon people, with records beginning around 10,000 BC. They are well known for their innovative pottery styles. Their first ceramics were decorated with cords and abstract designs. Later, the designs on the outside of their ceramics became more realistic and intricate, indicating that they had settled into an agrarian lifestyle and had more time to create artworks.
The Jomon are also known for their Dogu figurines. Dogu means “earthen figure”. The Dogu were small and depicted both humans and animals. It is thought that they could have been made in the likenesses of real people. Among the Dogu, there are also an abundance of female figurines who show exaggerated features of pregnancy, leading scholars to believe that these Dogu could have represented a fertility goddess.
After the Jomon period, ending 300 BC, a group of people known as the Yayoi lived in Japan. They created Bronze artwork and practical bronze tools with intricate designs. The Yayoi culture quickly evolved into what is known as the Kofun period. The Kofun are most well-known for the artwork that they created to decorate and mark their tombs. Most notably, they created haniwa, which were large clay sculptures placed around the outside of the tombs. The haniwa often represented the rank that the deceased held in the Kofun society. From these statues, historians can tell they had a strict hierarchy and were militaristic.
It was around 600 AD that sharing of ideas began to take place between Japan and continental Asia. The Chinese had developed new methods for casting Bronze and new painting techniques, which the Japanese incorporated into their own artwork. The transmission of new ideas primarily happened through Buddhism. The religion came from continental Asia to Japan. The most common type of art at this time was large and small statues of Buddha, with obvious influence from Greek styles, but with Japanese traits and style added. Among the less religious influences of Asia on Japan, it is also around this time that they started to make artistic engravings on bronze.
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If you’re interested in Japanese art or the history of art in general, stay tuned in. We’re going to continue exploring historical Japanese art on Friday! In the meantime, feel free to check out some of our other art history blogs!
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