Masterworks of Japan's Stone Age art
The history of Japanese art stretches far back into the mists of antiquity possibly some 6,000 years. To most ol these six millenia from the time when the earliest inhabitants settled in the Japanese islands, between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago, to the dawn of Buddhism, which was introduced in 552 A.D. the Japanese have given the name Joko Jidai (The Ancient Age).
There is no historical record of this period since there was no system of writing, but archaeological studies have reconstructed for us an image of the early Japanese people and their way of life in the Stone Age.
These men were hunters and fishermen. They gathered wild fruits and shellfish and used stone tools and implements. Their era is known as the Period of Jomon (rope-pattern) Type Pottery Culture as their civilization is represented by crude earthenware with surface decorations of impressed patterns like those produced by pressing the clay with rice-straw rope or matting. The people lived in primitive houses which were no more than pits dug in the ground (hence known as pit-houses) with hearths in the centre and tent-like roofs. Excavations from the remains of their dwelling places have produced not only pottery but flint arrowheads, hatchets and dogu (clay images).
These clay figurines or human figures of the Stone Age are the oldest existing works of sculptural art in Japan and together with the later Haniwa figures form the two characteristic kinds of sculpture of Japan's pre-Buddhistic period.
Just as the human fat first presents a grotesque shape, so is the embryo of sculpture always bizarre, and the clay figurines of early Stone Age Japan, with their squat bodies and flattened heads, are no exception to this rule. Most of them are about fifteen or twenty centimetres in height, though there are some as small as five and others as large as thirty centimetres high. They have been found in the centre and north of Japan.