Haniwa from Imperial Mausolea

The following pictures are of haniwa, ceramic funerary objects, of the Kofun period (ca. mid-third to the beginning of the seventh centuries CE) discovered at tombs designated as imperial mausolea in Japan. These were displayed at the traveling exhibition“ Excavations in the Japanese Archipelago, 2013,” through cooperation between the Agency for Cultural Affairs and the Imperial Household Agency, both divisions of the national government of Japan. Such a public exhibition of these particular haniwa is significant for many reasons. Although scholarly archaeological excavations are regularly conducted at other burial mounds of the Kofun period, the Imperial Household Agency does not allow them at designated imperial mausolea because each is regarded as the tomb of a particular imperial ancestor, and rituals to the ancestral spirit are periodically conducted there. In this sense, imperial mausolea are similar to family graves. At the same time, the Imperial Household Agency is fully aware of the scholarly importance of these tombs as archaeological sites, and has always published the results of its ownarchaeological excavations conducted prior to repairs, as for example when the base of the mounds become eroded from the action of water in surrounding moats. Because 2013 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of its own Mausolea and Tombs Research Section, the Agency has taken this opportunity to display publicly some of the haniwa in its possession in the “Excavations in the Japanese Archipelago, 2013” exhibit. It is the Agency's hope that not only scholars but also the general public may gain better understanding about the imperial mausolea through viewing these items.

(This introduction was written exclusively for “ Noteworthy Archaeological Sites, 2013” by Sasaki Ken'ichi.)

Vase-shaped haniwa (from the Hashihaka mound)
Height: 45 cm; rim diameter: 33.7 cm.

Nearly indistinguishable from a Haji ware vase in external appearance, a hole was opened in the bottom, and as its function as a container was thus voided it is known to have been made as haniwa. One of the earliest examples of haniwa, the distribution of this type is also limited. At Hashihaka it is thought to have been placed directly on the surface at the top of the rectangular portion of the mound.

Shield-shaped haniwa (from the Hibasuhimeryōmound) 
Height of surviving portion: 116.5 cm.

This is a haniwa made by attaching the face of a shield, modeled after an item made of leather or wood, onto a cylindrical portion. While the upper part of the shield face has been lost, the original height is believed to have been 150 cm or more. Haniwa found at the same location, including this item, all have cylindrical portions of 50 to 60 cm diameter, which can be called ratherlarge in comparison with ordinary cylindrical haniwa.

Finned cylindrical haniwa (from the Tsukiyama mound)
Height: 110.0 cm; greatest width including fins: 51.5 cm.

This type of item, having fin-shaped projections attached left and right to a regular cylindrical haniwa, is mainly seen from the Early to Middle Kofun periods, but the example shown here is a precious specimen for which the entire shape can be known. Finned cylindrical haniwa were lined up in the same manner as ordinary cylindrical items in rows along the tops of mounds, except that they appear to have been arranged so that the fins would touch or overlap. When thus lined up, the fins screened the tomb from the external realm. Compared with ordinary cylindrical items, we thus perceive a strong intent to shield off the mound from the outside world.

Sunshade-shaped haniwa  (from the Ōjinryō mound)
Height of surviving portion: 59.1 cm; surviving width: 69.8 cm.

This was made by copying the form of a sunshade held above an aristocrat, set atop a cylindrical stand. Originally a decoration would have been inserted into the smaller cylinder at the top, but this has become lost. The sunshade's surface is depicted with a band of clay and incised lines.

Quiver-shaped haniwa  (from Historic Site HakayamaTomb)
Height of surviving portion: 97.1 cm; surviving width: 55.4 cm.

This was made by copying the form of a quiver for holding arrows, set on top of pedestal fashioned from clay boards. This example is missing parts of the decorative portions attached to its left and right sides and to the top, but the general outline can be confirmed, and the arrows are realistically depicted. The arrows are drawn with incised lines up to the tang, or base, of the arrowhead, but the upper portion is executed in low relief, giving the arrowheads a three-dimensional appearance.


Representational haniwa in human form (girl's head)  (from the Nintokuryō mound)
Height of surviving portion: 19.4 cm; width: 14.2 cm; depth: 20.1 cm.

This consists only of the head. From the hair style, similar to the traditional shimada mage, it is judged to be a girl, and believed to represent the form of a miko (shrine maiden). It is from the earliest stage of representational human haniwa, and is an important example showing the start of a new ritual use of haniwa.

Cylindrical haniwa  (from the Gobyōyama mound)
Item at center, height: 76.0 cm; width 38.0 cm.

From the Middle Kofun period on, as methods of kiln construction were brought from the Korean peninsula and the technology for firing haniwa at high temperatures was introduced, spots resembling black soot were no longer visible on the surface of these ceramics. No such soot-like marks are seen on these haniwa, which are thought to have been kiln-fired.

Horse-shaped haniwa (head and saddle portions)  (from the Nintokuryō mound)
Horse-shaped haniwa at right, surviving length: 31.0 cm.
Horse-shaped haniwa at left, surviving length: 35.0 cm.
Saddle portion, surviving length: 75.0 cm.

These are realistically depicted horse haniwa, with the head and saddle portions surviving. Expressions of the eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and mane can be seen on the head portions. The mane is cropped in the shape of the letter T in cross-section, and is thought to show a style for horses at that time.

Also, horse gear is faithfully shaped, with the noseband and cheekpieces of the bridle shown, connected by ring-shaped strap unions. As there is no bit, it appears the gear shown on the head portions is not for horse riding. For the saddle portion, however, the saddle and crupper are seen as depicted. Beneath the saddle is a pad for protecting the horse, with the seat represented above, while on the side are leather straps leading to the stirrups plus saddle flaps. Decorative pendants were hung from strap unions on the crupper. From this we can envisage the form of a horse decorated all over with splendid equestrian gear. In addition to being among the few examples from which we can know the outfitting of horses from an early stage, as items from the initial phase of horse haniwa these are important materials for studying new rituals using haniwa.

Enclosure and house-shaped haniwa (from the Gobyōyama mound)
Enclosure haniwa, height: 38.0 cm; width: 58.8 cm; depth: 92.0 cm.
House-shaped haniwa,height: 44.8 cm; width: 28.8 cm; depth: 36.8 cm.

Haniwa representing a house and fence were placed together as a set. The fence has round posts, and the extended portion is equipped with a movable gate. The roof of the house has forked finials (chigi) and wooden billets mounted on the ridge (katsuogi), characteristics which link it with contemporary Shinto architecture. The house probably represents a worship hall, with the enclosure inferred to express a secret sacred arena, preventing the rituals conducted within from being seen.

Haniwa in the shape of a cuirass with shoulder armor  (from the Mesahozuka mound)
Height of surviving portion: 23.0 cm.

This was recovered in 1975 from the top of the round portion of the mound. This item faithfully models the cuirass, made of triangular iron plates bound with leather, plus shoulder armor used at the time. Other representational haniwa ascertained at the Mesahozuka mound include “morning-glory” haniwa (cylindrical items topped with outward flaring mouths), items in the shape of protective flaps suspended from helmets and cuirasses, plus house-, shield-, and bird-shaped haniwa. There are many points in common with haniwa recovered from the Middle Kofun period Furuichi Tomb Group of Osaka, and these are valuable items for knowing this tomb's relationship with that area.