In the Kofun period, (250 to 552 CE), Japanese elite were buried in large, often keyhole shaped, tombs. These tombs were decorated with haniwa, hollow clay figures whose origins or purposes are unknown, though one legend maintains that the figures are models of actual people (usually servants) and animals that would be buried along with the deceased, perhaps for aid in the afterlife.

Haniwa vary in size, shape, detail, and placement in or around the tombs. Originally designed as solid and jar-shaped, later centuries saw hollow forms of houses, weapons, animals, and humans. The neatly cut eye and mouth holes of the human and animal haniwa are defining characteristics. Made from reddish clay rich in iron and fired unglazed at low temperatures, haniwa’s placement above ground left them vulnerable to the elements and were easily broken.

That haniwa had to be made quickly, as there was not much time between one’s death and burial, could explain their simple design.

In the Kofun period, (250 to 552 CE), Japanese elite were buried in large, often keyhole shaped, tombs. These tombs were decorated with haniwa, hollow clay figures whose origins or purposes are unknown, though one legend maintains that the figures are models of actual people (usually servants) and animals that would be buried along with the deceased, perhaps for aid in the afterlife.

Haniwa vary in size, shape, detail, and placement in or around the tombs. Originally designed as solid and jar-shaped, later centuries saw hollow forms of houses, weapons, animals, and humans. The neatly cut eye and mouth holes of the human and animal haniwa are defining characteristics. Made from reddish clay rich in iron and fired unglazed at low temperatures, haniwa’s placement above ground left them vulnerable to the elements and were easily broken.

That haniwa had to be made quickly, as there was not much time between one’s death and burial, could explain their simple design.

© 2006, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. All Rights Reserved.

This head, representing a woman or child, has a primitive nature and a striking, visual appeal.

This head represents that of a woman or child and its primitive nature has a striking visual appeal. These types of tomb figurines might be related to those found inside Chinese tombs.

Unknown
Gift of Mrs. R.W. Finlayson
5th/6th Century
JAPAN
AGGV 1985.056.001
© 2006, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. All Rights Reserved.


This haniwa was made during the Tumulus Period (4th/5th century) and was excavated in the Gumma Prefecture of Japan.

This haniwa bust of a warrior was made in the 4th/5th century during the Tumulus Period and was excavated in the Gumma Prefecture of Japan – northwest of Tokyo.

Unknown
Gift of Betty Isserstedt
4th/5th Century
JAPAN
AGGV T2005.048.001
2006, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. All Rights Reserved.


This Noge-Ōtsuka Kofun tumulus in Tokyo Japan dates back to the 5th century and displays several jar-shaped haniwa.

This is the Noge-Ōtsuka Kofun tumulus in the Setagaya-ku region of Tokyo Japan. It dates back to the 5th century and displays several jar-shaped haniwa.

Photo taken by User:PHG (Wikimedia Commons)
Wikimedia Commons
5th Century
Tokyo, JAPAN
© GNU Free Documentation License


Inside the Ishibutai Kofun located in Asuka, a village in the Nara Prefecture of Japan (south of Tokyo).

Inside the Ishibutai Kofun located in Asuka, a village in the Nara Prefecture of Japan (south of Tokyo).

Unknown
Wikimedia Commons

JAPAN
© Public Domain


Learning Objectives

The following learning objectives have been created with considerable and specific reference to the Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLOs) for various grades and subjects as outlined by the Ministry of Education for the province of British Columbia. The portions that directly reflect curricula language have been italicized. All applicable texts, websites, and other learning resources are listed in the bibliography under References.

• Students will explore the religious and social characteristics of the people of the Kofun period, and thus learn about the similarities and differences within and across cultures over time.
• Students will appreciate the production and supply of haniwa for the tombs of Japanese elite.
• Students will understand how haniwa were used in rites honouring the dead and analyze elements and characteristics that contribute to the identity of civilizations.


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