The basic shape of this ancient earthenware jar is a slightly expanding cylinder rising from a flat base, constricted by a rope-band at the neck, and flaring outwards to the mouth. The surface is decorated with impressed or rouletted studded lines aligned diagonally overall. The sculptural elements of the décor are comprised of thick grooved bands in high relief that circle the upper body, coiling into scrolls at center front and back and morphing at the two sides into roughly symmetrical, strongly projecting elements, with each massive side protuberance with large circular perforations, the construct rising robustly and terminating well above the lip rim where a deep oval depression flanked by hollowed loops marks the uppermost reaches of the décor. The upper neck is embellished by swags formed by raised cords pendant on front and back. The ware is reddish buff in tone shading to grey toward the neck.
This example of pottery from Neolithic Japan is relatively small and compact in comparison to usual Middle Jōmon period jars. It possesses, however, all of the features that enabled this period to take a prominent place on the world stage of ceramic art. Rough, ready and dynamic, bold designs executed with skill and confidence, earthy colors and textures, bodies with sparkles of mica or crushed shell rising to the surfaces, and sculptural eruptions surprising us at every turn.
Jōmon, “cord marked,” describes a decorative technique and style of ceramics which dominated art in Japan over several millennia. It was a unifying feature and force despite the isolation of numerous sites across the entire archipelago and the distances between them and was important enough to give its name to the period and the culture. Regional variation in ceramic style that occurred under this umbrella has become increasingly well understood through excavated and chance finds over many decades. The Kantō plain has emerged as an extremely active and productive area and is always becoming better understood through the immense number of excavations in that area, which, however, does not ease our chore in identifying provenance. The styles were legion, the variations within a stylistic group immense, wide-ranging, and short-lived. The style of the present jar, however, suggests a Kantō plain provenance similar to excavated examples from Nagano to the northwest of Tokyo and Yamanashi to the west (figs. 1-2).
Fig. 1: Jōmon jar, Middle Jōmon period, 3500-2500 B.C., excavated in Nagano, after
J. Edward Kidder, Prehistoric Japanese Arts: Jomon Pottery, Tokyo, New York, San Francisco, 1976, fig. 123, p. 111.
Fig. 2: Jōmon jar, Middle Jōmon period, 3500-2500 B.C., excavated in Yamanashi, after
J. Edward Kidder, Prehistoric Japanese Arts: Jomon Pottery, Tokyo, New York, San Francisco, 1976, fig. 120, p. 110.