A Dogū (土偶) from the Ebisuda Tajiri site in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. 1000–400bce. Source Wikipedia

Writing in the Sainsbury Institute’s e-magazine, Nakamura Oki, guest curator of the Dogū, a Cosmos: Ancient Clay Figurines exhibition now being held at the Miho Museum in Japan, explains that the exhibition (ending 9 December 2012) extends over ten galleries and is the first large-scale show of Jōmon dogū ever held in the Kansai (Western) district of Japan.

Among the 320 objects on display are twenty one Important Cultural Properties and three National Treasures; the ‘Jōmon Venus’, the ‘Dogū with Palms Pressed Together’ and the ‘Hollow Dogū.’

A particular feature of this exhibition is that many of the Jōmon dogū are in good condition, so their extraordinary charm can be readily accessed and enjoyed. Visitors can also discover more about the crucial archaeological characteristics of these figurines, such as the significance of their poses, the meaning of their numerical content and changes in style over the period of their production.

During the Middle Jōmon period from 3500 to 2400 BC dogū were created in some distinctive postures. Dogū in the arms-outstretched pose have been found widely throughout eastern Japan, from the Chūbu to the Tōhoku district. The ‘Jōmon Venus’ and slab-formed dogū from the Ishigami site, an Important Cultural Property, share the pose of having both arms held horizontally out to the side .The presence of large numbers of dogū with arms hanging down in the Kantō region from the same period suggests that the arm pose was a cultural choice. It seems clear that the arm poses were not the result of technical limitation but were rather part of the symbolic meaning of the figurines.

Full article here.