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Haniwa warrior in keiko armor

Haniwa warrior in keiko armor (Kofun period), c. 6th century, excavated in lizuka-machi, Ota City, Gunma, Japan, terracotta, 130.5 cm high (Tokyo National Museum) Speakers: Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris.

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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Harriet Buchanan
    Many of the haniwa have circular cut-outs in the sides. No doubt these made the objects easier to carry as handholds, but does anyone know if birds played a part in their spiritual beliefs? Those holes might have made ideal nests for birds to live in.
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Video transcript

(piano music) - [Dr. Zucker] We're in the Tokyo National Museum, looking at a Haniwa figure of a warrior. - [Dr. Harris] Haniwa are clay objects, sometimes cylinders, sometimes later in their development, figures and animals, that decorated the tops of tombs in Japan beginning in the third century through the sixth or seventh century. - [Dr. Zucker] These tombs could be enormous. The largest one is nearly five football fields long. - [Dr. Harris] And most of them were keyhole-shaped. The circular area at the top was mounded and that's where the burial chamber was. - [Dr. Zucker] These landforms were often surrounded by moats and were originally cleared except for Haniwa, which populated their tops. - [Dr. Harris] And populated is a really good word because on some of the largest of these tombs, obviously meant for the most powerful people of this time, there could be between 10 and 20 thousand Haniwa occupying the top of the tomb, sometimes arranged in a circle around the outside, sometimes a cluster of figures toward the center. - [Dr. Zucker] Often around the form of a house. All of this clay is low fire and unglazed and that gives it its characteristic reddish color. - [Dr. Harris] And by low fire, you mean it's fired at a low temperature, so we're not talking about a very complicated technology to harden this clay. - [Dr. Zucker] Well, if you have 10 to 20 thousand of these to make when somebody dies, you need to do it quickly. - [Dr. Harris] Although I imagine, just like in many other cultures, a rule often made arrangements for their funerary objects or their tomb even while they were alive, so many may not have been made at the last minute, but this is all clearly for rulers and elites. - [Dr. Zucker] It's also interesting to understand the evolution of Haniwa. The simplest and earliest forms are cylinders. They seem to have developed into the houses that we spoke of and that was followed then by animals. - [Dr. Harris] And then figures. And the figures and animals are of a remarkable variety, so there's a sense both of agriculture, of farming, of livestock or chickens and ducks and other kinds of fowl, and there are wild boar, and we also see horses and soldiers. We see musicians. - [Dr. Zucker] And women. - [Dr. Harris] In fact, there's one lovely female figure here touching her breast with one hand and offering a cup with another who is beautifully, luxuriously dressed with a necklace and a bracelet, and her garment is both painted and incised, and it's a good reminder that many of these were painted. - [Dr. Zucker] And many of them are elaborate. Let's look at one of the most elaborate, a larger warrior Haniwa. - [Dr. Harris] The word elaborate is really good for describing their clothing. The faces and bodies can be very simplified. - [Dr. Zucker] It suggests to me that the clothing represents their station in life, and that's what was important. It wasn't important who they were individually, but rather the part that they would play in the afterlife of the ruler. This particular figure looks like he's doing a very good job guarding the tomb. He's armed with a sword. He's armed with what is probably the remnants of a bow. He's got a quiver on his back, and he's completely covered in a Japanese style of armor known as keiko, plates of armor that hang. - [Dr. Harris] You can see the details of how the armor was made. - [Dr. Zucker] You can even see that he's wearing a wrist guard to protect his left arm from the string of a bow after he unleashes the arrow, because when the bow spring is loosed and snaps back, it can hit the arm and hurt. - [Dr. Harris] And what's wonderful here in this museum is that we have examples of the armor. - [Dr. Zucker] And you can even see how the armor is constructed. Plates are joined together with metal rivets, and those are represented by small little buttons of clay on this Haniwa. - [Dr. Harris] So we're talking about iron plates that have been either fastened together with rivets, or, in other cases, perhaps tied together with leather. - [Dr. Zucker] There's a tremendous amount of specificity. If you look at the scabbard that holds his sword, you can see that it's tied with a string that wraps around the back of his waist on either side, and you can even see the knot on his right hip. - [Dr. Harris] And speaking of ties, you can look down the backs of his legs and see how his armor was held together. - [Dr. Zucker] I love the way that the flaps that come down from the helmet to protect the sides of his face frame that face and create a shadow that creates a kind of dimensionality that is a little bit rare in Haniwa, which tend to be quite flat and cylindrical. - [Dr. Harris] In fact, the word haniwa means clay cylinder, and we know that the earliest Haniwa were simple cylinders, but even as they develop into human figures, so much of the form remains cylindrical. Often, the arms are simple cylinders, the legs are simple cylinders. - [Dr. Zucker] But they're so expressive nonetheless. - [Dr. Harris] What's fascinating, though, is this combination of realism and abstraction. We talked about the level of detail in the armor, but in other areas when we look at the bodies of Haniwa, the arms are too short, the legs are too short. They're not realistic at all. - [Dr. Zucker] The emphasis instead seems to be on a kind of expressiveness. - [Dr. Harris] And although these may not look frightening to us, they may have looked serious and formidable during the Kofun period, the old tomb period when these were made in Japan. (piano music)