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Japanese Dogu Figures

Updated on March 20, 2012

Ancient Japanese Dogu Figures

Dogu are prehistoric clay figures with human characteristics that were found in Japan. These Dogu figures span a time period from 1500 to 10,000 BC. They were created in the later Stone Age - in Japan's Jomon Period. What was their purpose? What do they represent? Are they effigies, fertility symbols, figurative dolls used by shamans, or are they images of ancient aliens in space suits? More than one person has written a book supporting the latter view, but the jury is still out.

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These mysterious Japanese Dogu statues are made out of terracotta clay and are some of the earliest examples of pottery ever found. Over 18,000 figures have been unearthed.

Most of them represent the female figure, and in that way they are similar to other ancient fertility figures. Some of them also represent men and some have been made in the likeness of animals. There are very plain Dogu figures, Dogu wearing snakes on top of their heads, Dogu with horns, cat-faced Dogu, and the Dogu with huge eyes from the Kamegaoka Culture in the final Jomon Period, from 1000 to 300 BC.

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License: CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Early Japanese Dogu Clay Figures

Dogu Created in Final Jomon Period

From 1000 to 300 BC

The small humanoid Dogu figurines with large eyes are the most interesting and controversial of the many Dogu styles found. They are adorned with mysterious and controversial markings. These figures are unique and unlike anything found before. Archaeologists continue to study them and question their significance.

Shakoki Dogu with Glasses!

Goggle-eyed clay figures

In 1889 Japanese archaeologist Tsuboi Shogoro noticed the similarity between the huge eyes of these Dogu and the snow googles worn by the Inuits. Because both have a slit in the center, the Japanese named the huge-eyed Dogu figures "Shakoki," which translated means "light-blocking device". Still, it's impossible to say whether the figures are wearing eye coverings or if it is their open eyes or closed eyes that are shown. No examples of snow goggles from this period have ever been found.

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The Meaning of the Shakoki-Dogu Markings

There are more questions than answers

The decorative rope-cord patterns and stippled markings on the "Shakoki" figures have been the subject of much controversy. Marks on the face, shoulders and chest suggest tattoos or incisions possibly made of bamboo. Robert A. Patterson has written a book and made several youtube videos about his theory that the Dogu Statues are encoded with alien technology and the markings are actually blueprints for aerospace technology. His claims have not been substantiated.

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What are your thoughts about the Dogu?

Off the top of your head, what do you think these figures are?

See results

Important Shakoki Dogu Sites - Northern Japan

Prehistoric Shakoki Dogu figures have been found at the following sites in Northern Japan:

1) Kamegaoka Site in Tsugaru, Aomori Prefecture

2) Teshiromori Site in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture

3) Ebisuda Site in Tajiri, Miyagi Prefecture

4) Izumisawa Kaizuka Site in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture

show route and directions
A markerAnother key site where Shakoki-dogu have been found is the Teshiromori Site in Morioka, Iwate Prefec -
Morioka, Iwate Prefecture
get directions

B markerThe Ebisuda Site in Tajiri, Miyagi Prefecture is another very important site of Dogu excavation. -
Tajiri, Miyagi Prefecture
get directions

C markerIzumisawa Kaizuka Site in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture is also a very important site.. -
Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture
get directions

D markerA great many important Dogu clay figures have been discovered at the Kamegaoka Site in Tsugaru, Aomo -
Tsugaru, Aomori Prefecture
get directions

Why were these Dogu Broken?

Many theories, no answers

These figures are rarely found whole. Usually their legs and arms are cut or broken off. The archaeologists believe this was done deliberately.

To some, Dogu are just broken clay dolls from antiquity. To others, Dogu are fertility goddesses. Others say these figures were used by shamans (medicine men). It is believed that the shamans would transfer pain and illness onto the statue and then smash it, thus clearing the illness. To still others, they are evidence of big eyed alien visitors wearing space suits. Some people believe these figures are wearing snow goggles to protect their eyes.

Unearthed: A Comparative Study

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Power of Dogu

Dogu Figures Influence Popular Culture

Dogu figures are beautiful and awe inspiring. They have been recovered from the Japanese Jomon Period settlements of Kyushu, north through Tohoku to Hokkaido. Many have been designated as National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties.

The Dogu have influenced many artists and have influenced popular culture. Dogu figures have been featured in manga comics and in the Playstation game "Doki Oki" where they appear as aliens. They have inspired the post-modern Japanese paintings of Taro Okamoto.

Huitzil's form in "Darkstalkers" is modeled after Dogu figurines, The Pokémon Baltoy and Claydol are based on the Shakoki Dogu. The list goes on and on. Although the actual purpose of these prehistoric figures remains a mystery, these Dogu figures continue to inspire us and take us on flights of the imagination.


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I'm an artist and art educator with a love of art history and archaeology. I share my life with a wonderful husband and two very special Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers.

Music: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind - Many types of Dogu clay figures are displayed...and more!

This video will appeal to those who enjoy the music of Steven Spielberg's 1977 film "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind." It's Dogu entertainment spiced with "E.T." For those who have no interest, just skip this one.

Share Your Thoughts on the Dogu - Or just say hello!

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    • Aquavel profile image

      Aquavel 5 years ago

      @JoshK47: Thanks so much Josh! Enjoyed your feedback and am most grateful for the Blessing!

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Absolutely fascinating! I learned a good bit here today - blessed by a SquidAngel!