The large tombs that characterized the Kofun period (C.E. 258-646), tumuli, were constructed for the elite. These tombs were covered with earth, forming burial mounds often in the shape of keyholes, and surrounded by moats. The tombs were furnished with extravagant burial goods, such as gold crowns and jewelry, bronze mirrors, glass objects, jade, and pottery. Perhaps the most striking tomb adornments, however, were the haniwa, sculptures placed outside the tombs. Haniwa figures surrounded the mound and the entrance to the tomb, and were positioned facing outward. Simple clay cylinders eventually evolved to more complex and even fanciful sculptures, including various human figures, animals, houses, and boats. Their exact meanings are unknown, but scholars believe that they acted as tomb guardians or provided some symbolic connection between life and afterlife – functioning not only as attendants to the departed, guardians of his tomb, and emblems of his status, but also as national symbols for a unified country.
Haniwa vary from 1 to 5 feet (30 to 150 cm) in height, the average being approximately 3 feet (90 cm) high. After smoothing and modeling the shapes, decorative details might be incised or combed with geometric patterns and painted with pigments of white, red, and blue. The features of the hollowed out eyes, noses and mouths gave the objects a mysterious charm. Haniwa were mass-produced during the 6th century, but after the arrival of Buddhism and the introduction to the practice of cremation, there was a decline in the building of tumuli and, thus, in the production of haniwa.
The makers of haniwa had to travel to the tomb sites, and some may have rented local Sue kilns to do their work. They may also have built a kiln to produce haniwa for a single tomb, and then abandoned it. The work done upon the death of a noble had to be completed quickly. It is suggested that the simplicity of their design, which imbues the haniwa with a mysterious quietness as one stares into their hollow eyes, may have resulted to the necessary mass production of figurines which needed to be quickly created for the tomb.
There is a theory that the soul of the deceases would reside in the haniwa. There are haniwa that are equipped with weapons and armor, and these are also thought to be containers for souls. The armor and weapons would drive away evil spirits and protect the buried from calamity. Since the horse another animal shaped haniwa were normally neatly arranged into a line, it is believed that they were part of a sending-off ceremony.
Perhaps these haniwa were similar to the idea of what we talked about in class for the Ainu. If haniwa were in fact part of a sending-off ceremony, perhaps they were similar to the idea of the Ainu sending-back ceremony. Here, the haniwa were in some way involved with the deceased and their move into the world of the dead, where the sending-back ceremony for the Ainu was to return the bear kami to the mountains - a seemingly much easier way to have a soul taken to where it now, rightly belonged. Perhaps this was because of the elites wealthier status. They could afford such extravagances and paid their way to a safe travel to the other world, rather than performing something similar to the much-involved sending-back ceremony of the Ainu. Of course the Ainu ceremony was for a kami, so perhaps I am completely off beat… but it was just a thought.
~guest blogger, Laura Nearing