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Yayoi Period

Updated on January 25, 2013

300 BC to 300 AD

The succeeding Yayoi culture developed a form of raised dwelling supported by piles and introduced a roof which was the forerunner of the pavilion type. The Yayoi Japanese erected a number of megalithic structures, most notably the huge stone circular grouping at Tohoku on the main island which may be a series of grave stones or a worship site. The most common megalithic tombs were dolmens and menhir, the latter enclosing a subterranean burial chamber in which the deceased was placed, enclosed in a ceramic burial jar.

Remarkable among Yayoi artifacts are the many dotaku (bronze bells) engraved with spiral and linear designs of naturalistic scenes of everyday life.

Funerary art dominates the ensuing Kofun (grave mound) period. The tumulus tombs of the period are usually circular or oblong and surrounded by a water-filled moat, for example, the 'emperor' tomb at Nintoku (fifth century AD). The interior walls were decorated with geometric and figurative engraved and painted designs.

During this period the terracotta haniwa figures , abundant between the third and Japanese Art and Architecture seventh centuries, first appeared as simple cylinders placed upon the grave mounds, later evolving into human representations of expressive vitality.

Shinto, the indigenous religion, found architectural expression in the deliberately impermanent shrines built towards the end of the prehistoric period. Of post and lintel construction, with gabled, thatched roofs, Shinto shrines like the sanctuaries of Ise and Izumo (originals late third century AD) were conceived as receptacles for the gods.

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