On Saturday, 21 November Naoko, the girls and I headed north to Takasaki City 高崎市 in Gunma Prefecture 群馬県. Gunma is known for its Modern Kokeshi 近代こけし tradition, but we actually went to visit an archaeological site and interpretive center -- Kamitsukeno-sato Museum of Archaeology かみつけの里博物館 -- based around two huge kofun 古墳, or burial tombs that were built 1,400 to 1,500 years ago before there was even a country called Japan. What, you might ask, would such a place have to do with kokeshis? As you will see in the pictures below, next to the kofun are a number of haniwa 埴輪, which are cylindrical, hollow, unglazed earthenware objects of various sorts that the people of that time made for unknown purposes, and that are typically found at kofun archaeological sites. There were a number of reproductions of haniwa of all sorts at the main Hachimanzuka Kofun 八幡塚古墳 that we visited, including horses, birds, soldiers, and even little houses. As a historian of Japan all of this was extremely interesting to me. As a kokeshi enthusiast however, something else caught my eye.
As you'll see in the close up photo below, there were also some very kokeshi-like haniwa interspersed among the others. I was familiar with a number of haniwa shapes before this trip, but this was a real surprise. The shape is of course a coincidence, and the haniwa "kokeshis" undoubtedly came about in the same manner that kokeshis did. That is, it's an extremely basic shape of just a head and body that still looks like a human form. If there is a connection, or even a theory of a connection between the kofun haniwa from Gunma and today's kokeshis, I haven't heard about it. In case you're wondering, many haniwa are actually found on the kofun and may have been used to hold the earth in place. As for their meaning, there are various theories but no one can say for sure.
Also of possible interest for kokeshi fans and historians is the shape of the Gunma kofuns, as can be seen in the Kamitsukeno-sato Museum of Archaeology's logo: A green kofun, red kofun, and blue kofun. There are actually many different kofun shapes, but the most striking is the so-called "keyhole" (zenpo koen fun 前方後円墳) shape which, in my opinion, also happens to look very much like a traditional kokeshi.
|Haniwa in the foreground, and the rebuilt Hachimanzuka Kofun in the background.|