The first reconstruction nationwide of two seven-storied ceramic miniature pagodas. A religious site established in a small hamlet.


Two seven-storied ceramic miniature pagodas
The shapes and techniques of molding and finishing are nearly identical; they were made by the same group of artisans at roughly the same time (in the first half of the Heian period). No fragments of ceramic miniatures of temple main (image) halls were recovered. The two pagodas were evidently placed side by side.


Ceramic bowl
(Iron alms bowl shaped, Gahachi)

Photos courtesy of the Chibaken-Kyoikushinkozaidan, Chiba Pref.

Magome Site, Inzai City, Chiba Prefecture

Magome is located in northern Chiba Prefecture, atop a tableland on the left bank of the Tone river. It is principally the remains of a Jōmon village, but small settlements were also maintained there from the Nara to the Heian periods. From an investigation of approximately 3 hectares, seven pit-dwellings and six embedded-pillar buildings were discovered. As special items among the pottery and other recovered utensils were few, it is considered the site of an ordinary hamlet. In the middle of this community, from a locus with nothing more than simple buildings, miniature pagodas were unearthed.

Religious sites even for small hamlets

Ceramic miniature pagodas are ancient pottery imitations of five-storied (and other sized) pagodas at temples. Approximately 460 examples have been discovered nationwide. It was formerly held that they were used as grave markers, but the view that such items were erected to provide each and every community a temple-like religious site is currently gaining interest. At Magome, pottery in the same shape as a priest's begging bowl was recovered alongside the pagodas, indicating that during the Heian period, Buddhist religious activities were conducted even in small hamlets like this.

Pagodas not only five-storied

Roof and wall portions of miniature pagodas were made separately, to be stacked up over a central wooden pillar. As disassembly was possible, in many cases only a few sherds are found, and examples of the overall shape being discerned are rare. Given these limitations of the materials themselves, all examples to date have been reconstructed as five-storied pagodas. But at Magome over 500 sherds were recovered from a four by eight meter area. Fitting these together in meticulous fashion, a consideration of the most rational way of assembling them made it clear that two seven-storied pagodas could be reconstructed, the first such examples nationwide.

Formerly seven-storied pagodas are said to have been erected at Nara's Tōdaiji temple and at state-supported monasteries built in each ancient province. The image of the stupa as a five-storied pagoda may not suit the ancient period. (Tanaka Yutaka)