The Beginnings of Japanese Art by Namio Egami
The richly creative prehistoric period in Japanese art, extending from the third millennium B.C. into the seventh century A.D., set the pattern for many of Japan’s most distinctive cultural and artistic traits, which have persisted down to the present. At the same time, the grace and vigor of Japan’s earliest art give it intrinsic aesthetic value.
The Jomon culture, centered in eastern and northern Japan, produced the earliest remaining art. The lively imagination and creativity revealed in its hand-modelled earthenware vessels and ritualistic figurines give them a sophistication and an appeal rare in primitive art. The subsequent Yayoi period, when artistic activity centered in western Japan, produced a more delicate and sedate wheel-made pottery as well as elaborately embossed metal bells, mirrors, and ceremonial weapons.
The final period of prehistoric Japanese art was characterised by huge tumuli and stone burial chambers – many with wall paintings and carvings – concentrated chiefly in the Kyoto-Nara region. Among the most distinctive achievements of this period are the charming haniwa burial  figures, ranging from boats and houses to horses and warriors in full battle regalia.
The Nanakado ‘Sundial’ in Towada, Akita Prefecture, Japan

Published by Weatherhill/Heibonsha and Vol. II in The Heibonsha Survey of Japanese Art series. Supplementary chapters by Teruya Esaka and Ken Amakasu. Translated from the Japanese by John Bester. 180 pages illustrated in colour and black and white. Features include one on the late Jomon Period Nanakado ‘Sundial’ (above) in Towada, Akita Prefecture, buried under volcanic ash for some 2,000 years before being excavated.

Weatherhill/Heibonsha. New York and Tokyo. First English edition 1973. ISBN 0-8348-1006-9.

See also our earlier feature Asuka, Japan: An introduction to its megalithic sites.