Bronze mirror (銅鏡)

Bronze mirror is made of bronze alloy.

Although it was made in various periods, as a historical and archaeological term, it often refers to the bronze mirror excavated from the remains in China, Korea and Japan.


It was originated in ancient China and was widely used in East Asia including Japan and Korea.

In ancient Egypt, there were the cases that bronze mirrors were used.

It functioned as a religious, rites and festivals tool and it had been widely used until modern times in which grass mirrors were introduced from the West and spread.

Tools such as bronze mirror have remained as bride's household articles for marriage ceremony of feudal lords and others in recent times in Japan.

It was made in the following procedure: casting in a mold, polishing it, having it plated with tin, and polishing it again.

To polish a mirror, sorrel and pomegranate were used in old days. Grime which caused tarnishes was removed by substances such as oxalic acid contained in the above-mentioned plants, and the mirror regained its gloss. Since around the Genroku period, amalgam was made by mercurifying powdered tin, where plum vinegar was added to, and to polish the mirror. Grime on the surface was removed by citric acid, wherein tin amalgam was attached to become tinned, and then a beautiful surface of the mirror was obtained.


In China, it was produced mainly from the Warring States Period (China) to Tong Dynasty. Many were round (rarely square) and some ten centimeters in diameter. There was a handle on the center of the reverse side of the polished mirror, around which various images and designs were given.

A lot of divine beasts mirrors having deities' images and animal designs can be found in the bronze mirrors made in ancient China, and other mirrors are classified into various types such as Hokakukikukyo Mirror (designs of ruler and compass), Kaiju Budo Kyo Mirror (designs of animals and grapes) and Naiko Kamonkyo Mirror (semicircle designs) according to their designs on the reverse. When it comes to its use, it is believed that it was not simply as a tool to catch sight of a thing like a mirror being used today but a tool for religious services and magic rites.

Mirror craftsman

A craftsman who makes mirrors is called kagamishi or mirror craftsman. The letter "craftsman" often appears on the inscription of mirror and means mirror craftsman. In the inscriptions of mirrors, it is often understood that "Keishi" refers to the mirror craftsman for a capital and "Shushi" for a state.


In Japan, a lot of bronze mirrors have been excavated from the remains of Yayoi through Tumulus periods. Mirrors excavated are classified into load ship mirrors which were imported from the continent and domestic Hoseikyo mirrors which were modeled after the former.

There are Hokakukikukyo Mirror, excavated from the Yayoi remains in northern part of Kyushu, Naiko Kamonkyo Mirror, and Sankakubuchi Shinjukyo Mirror (triangle-edged divine beasts mirror), excavated from keyhole-shaped mound centering around Yamato throughout the country.

Yayoi period

Bronze mirror is considered to be an unearthed article characteristic of Yayoi period along with bronze bell, and discussions on the mirror and bronze bell cultural region, and others according to the distribution have been under way.

In the mid-Yayoi period, mirrors of Former Han (dynasty of China) came to be buried together as accessories in an earthenware jar-coffin in northern part of Kyushu. While it was a highly appreciated treasure equipment, mirrors of the Later Han, which came to be buried together with others in the late Yayoi period, had the engraved prayer for perpetual youth and longevity, meaning those who had got the mirror were guaranteed for longevity and fertility. However, not everybody but only the powerful and priests were allowed to own it. In the coastal area of Genkai-nada Sea among other part of northern part of Kyushu, earthenware jar-coffins which were buried together with as many as twenty to thirty mirrors can be found in remains such as Sugu-Okamoto and Mikumo remains, which tells us how luxurious kings' graves were. The practice of burying bronze mirrors together in a grave was handed down in Tumulus period and spread throughout the country.

Tumulus period

Mirrors as burial goods were so-called Han mirrors or Han style mirrors in the early, mid and late period, and they later came to be Zui-Tang mirrors among the tombs of the Final Kofun period.

In the early Tumulus period, the following were excavated: 36 mirrors from Tsubaiotsukayama Tumulus, 34 from Shinyama Tumulus in Koryo-cho, Nara Prefecture, about 30 from Samida Takarazuka Tumulus, 23 from Yamato Tenjinyama Tumulus, 22 from Otabiyama Tumulus in Habokino City, Osaka Prefecture, 12 from Shikinzan Tumulus, 30 from Tsuruyama Tumulus in Bizen City, Okayama Prefecture, 13 from Bizen Kurumazuka, 11 from Higashinomiya Tumulus in Inuyama City, Aichi Prefecture, 13 (after being avoided grave robbing) from Sakurai Chausuyama Tumulus and the like. It is believed to be particular manners of people in ancient Japan that bronze mirrors were buried together with the dead in a coffin.

Because twelve out of thirteen Kinen mirrors, which were with the name of an era of China, were included in bronze mirrors produced in this period, these mirrors were used as references to estimate the era when the excavated tumulus or other burial goods were produced.

Kinen mirrors with the name of era Wei dynasty (Three States Period)
Two Hokakukiku Shishinkyo Mirrors in 235

Sankakubuchi Shinjukyo Mirror, Divine Beasts Mirror Kind and Gabuntai Shinjukyo Mirror (Imperial mausolea and tombs of Koganezuka Tumulus in Izumi City, Osaka Prefecture) each in 239.

Two Sankakubuchi Banryu Mirrors in 240 (4th Year of Jingchu [the name of an era had changed and it no longer exists but it is 240 in Western calendar system]).

Three Sankakubuchi Divine Beasts Mirrors in 240.

Kinen Mirrors having the name of San Guo (Three Kingdoms) era
One Kind of Divine Beasts Mirrors in 238

One Kind of Divine Beasts Mirrors in 245

Kinen Mirror having the name of West Jin Dynasty era
One Kind of Divine Beasts in 291-299

According to so-called Gishiwajinden (The History of the Wei Dynasty) in Sangokushi (Annals of the Three Kingdoms), when Princess Himiko of Yamataikoku Kingdom dispatched envoys to Gi in 239, she was given from Emperor a golden stamp "Shingi Wao" (the title of the king of Wa (Japan)) and a hundred of bronze mirrors. It is expected that bronze mirror will be the clue to determine the location of Yamataikoku Kingdom with this description. A great deal of Sankakubuchi Shinjukyo Mirrors (a round mirror with raised edge and relief engraving of animals and gods) excavated from either of Tsubaiotsukayama Tumulus in Kyoto Prefecture and Kurozuka Tumulus in Nara Prefecture are believed to be the one which determines the location of Yamataikoku Kingdom, and this has long been controversial but no conclusion has been reached.

After Asuka period

Maso kagami (bronze mirror) was written in a lot of poems of Manyoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves).

After the Heian period, "Japanese mirror" having Japanese designs such as crane, mandarin duck, chrysanthemum or paulownia on its reverse side was produced.

Bronze mirror as a religious object

In Japan, mirrors are the objects of Shinto religion. There are Yata no Kagami (the sacred mirror of Yata), one of the Three Sacred Treasures of the Imperial Family, and Higata and Hiboko mirrors as the objects appearing in Japanese Myths, and some are enshrined in a shrine as a deity.

After the Heian period, many "kyo-zos" (mirror images), which were made as the object for religious pray by engraving lines of Buddha on the mirror, were produced, and later they developed into Kakebotoke (hanging plaque Buddha) which were bronze plates with an image made by hannikubori engraving method.

In the Edo period, Christian mirrors and others were produced because of the ban on Christianity.

[Original Japanese]