Japanese Design: Ancient Times
Horned axes were once looked on as products of the late Jomon culture in the north, but with increased excavations of Yayoi sites in the southern T6hoku region, their context and distribution are now clear. Their basalt is of volcanic origin, which prehistoric people collected near mounts Zao and Bandai in the Nasu Volcanic Belt. Slight damage to the blade indicates that it saw only moderate practical use. As a fine piece, it probably served out its above-ground life as a ceremonial object, an item of prestige and power. [E.K.]" coords="448,448">
About This Gallery
Archaeological excavations of Jomon (c. 10,000-400 B.C.E.) and Yayoi (400 B.C.E.-300 C.E.) settlements have yielded evidence that a distinct Japanese sense of design, independent of mainland migratory influences, was long established on the Japanese archipelago. The adoption of rice agricultural technology in c. 350 B.C.E created the need for iron-edged spades and hoes, and also saw the production of such utilitarian objects as wooden containers, loom parts, pestles, combs, and ceramic vessels for grain storage. Jars for burial were also common, along with such ceremonial bronzes as daggers and bells. With the development of agrarian culture, the populace was rendered into commoner and elite classes with powerful chiefs emerging, able to command large communities of farmers and artisans. The large mounded tombs built for these leaders mark the beginning of the Kofun period (258-646 C.E.), when the Japanese state was formed.
The culture of Japan's deep past has fascinated important twentieth-century artists and writers from Yanagita Kunio (1875-1962), founder of Japanese folklore studies, to the painter and essayist, Okamoto Taro (1911-1995). In Okamoto's 1963 essay, "What is Tradition?" he reclaims possession of a native Japanese "primitivism" seen in the form and decoration of recently excavated pots. The stone tools of powerful, abstract form, bold ceramic burial vessels, and fantastic funerary bracelets selected here under the rubric of Ancient Times share the aesthetic of ritual magic and purity that was celebrated and codified by these and other modern Japanese intellectuals.