Haniwa (a clay figure) (埴輪)

The Haniwa are unglazed pottery characteristic of the Kofun period (tumulus period) in Japan. They were set on top of the tumulus. Haniwa are distributed all over the tumulus in Japan.


Haniwa were made between the late third to the late sixth century, and they disappeared along with the large keyhole-shaped tomb mounds. Basically Haniwa's body is hollow. They were made by piling up strings with clay and building up them neatly. Sometimes they were made by combining the parts which had been burned separately. And various frames of the Haniwa had been made previously and clay was applied on it. Molds were not used. Some of main Haniwa were applied red dyes such as colcothar on its surface. No colors other than red were used in Kinai region (the five capital provinces surrounding the ancient capitals of Nara and Kyoto), however, various colors were applied on the Keisho Haniwa (clay figure in the shape of human or beast) in Kanto region.

The Haniwa were set on the hill or the funeral ritual site of the tumulus.

The Haniwa were broadly classified into two types, cylindrical Haniwa and Keisho Haniwa. And there were roughly four kinds of Keisho Haniwa; house-shaped Haniwa, Kizai Haniwa (clay figure in the shape of things such as sword or shield), animal-shaped Haniwa, and Haniwa figure of men.

Haniwa were important as historical materials because the clothing, hairstyles, arms, farming tools, and architectures during the Tumulus period can be recreated from them.


The origin of the Haniwa is thought to be Tokushu-Kidai (ceremonial vessel stand) and Tokushu Tsubo (ceremonial jar) (they are also called Tokushu-Kidaigata Doki and Tokushu Tsubo Gata Doki respectively) unearthed from Yayoi grave mound (Tatetsuki Tumulus for example), which was likely to be the grave of a chief of Kibi region in the latter part of the late Yayoi Period.

From the middle to the late of the third century, the Totsuki-style cylindrical Haniwa, which are the oldest cylindrical Haniwa, were unearthed from large keyhole-shaped tomb mound (Totsukizaka Ichigo-kofun Tumulus in Okayama City, Hashihaka tomb in Sakurai City, and Mt.Gongen Gojuichigo-kofun Tumulus in Mitsu-cho, Tatsuno City, Hyogo Prefecture). Those Haniwa were distributed from Bicchu (the western part of Okayama Prefecture) to Omi Province. This distribution may revise the opinion that the Haniwa originated only from Kibi.

By the way, it was known that Totsuki-style cylindrical Haniwa, which are the oldest Haniwa, and Sankakubuchi Shinjukyo Mirror (triangular-rimmed mirror) made in continent, which are thought to be the oldest burial goods of large keyhole-shaped tomb mound, were not found in the same tomb, that is, when the former were unearthed from a tomb, the latter were not found there, and vice versa. However, five Sankakubuchi Shinjukyo Mirrors were discovered from at the back of Ishiki (a room made of stone in the tomb, in which coffins were placed) of Mt.Gongen Gojuichigo-kofun Tumulus, Mitsu-cho, Tatsuno City, Hyogo Prefecture, and Totsuki-style cylindrical Haniwa was discovered from beside Ishiki. That is the only example so far.

The appearance of large keyhole-shaped tomb mound is thought to be representing the establishment of Yamato sovereignty (the ancient Japan sovereignty) and adopting Miyayama type of ceremonial vessel stand and ceremonial jar in large keyhole-shaped tomb mound showed that a chief of Kibi region deeply involved in the establishment of Yamato sovereignty. There is a theory that Kibi power moved to east.

According to the book of Emperor Suinin in "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan), NOMI no Sukune suggested the Emperor to take clay and form the shapes of men and horses instead of burying dead people who followed their lord to the grave in an imperial mausoleum of Princess Hibasu, which was defined as the origin of the Haniwa. However, that story is denied as the changing process mentioned above was known archaeologically.


In the early Tumulus period (from about the middle to the late part of the third century), cylindrical Haniwa appeared such as cylindrical form Haniwa, or jar form Haniwa, and later, bell-shaped Haniwa which had the form putting a jar on the stand. These cylindrical Haniwa had been changed not only placing on the ground but also burying their leg parts into the hole dug into the ground. They spread around the country as large keyhole-shaped tomb mounds did.

In the early of the fourth century, house-shaped Haniwa, which are different type from those Haniwa, Kizai Haniwa including lid-shaped Haniwa and peltate Haniwa and Keisho Haniwa such as chicken-shaped Haniwa appeared. About the early Keisho Haniwa, it is not clear what structure they had and where they were put. After that, the formularization of the sumptuous arrangement was established in the early stage of the late fourth century, which was displaying Kizai Haniwa such as lid-shaped Haniwa and peltate Haniwa around house-shaped Haniwa on the center of the mound top, and cylindrical Haniwa around them. The cylindrical Haniwa used there were with fins, which are attached on the both sides of body parts.

In the middle of Tumulus period (the middle of fifth century), Haniwa figure of men such as priestess, and animal-shaped Haniwa such as horse-shaped, and dog-shaped appeared. Around that time, the arrangement of Haniwa began to change. Kizai Haniwa and house-shaped Haniwa began to be arranged to shape a square in the surrounding of the tumulus. Or omitting the square shape was also occurred. And sheath-shaped Haniwa began to be decked with too many fins and the roofs of the house-shaped Haniwa became overproportionate.

In Kinai region, the Haniwa were disappeared as large keyhole-shaped tomb mounds declined in the late Tumulus period (around the middle of the sixth century), however, in Kanto region, where large keyhole-shaped tomb mounds were built vigorously, the Haniwa still continued to be made.


Originally, ceremonial vessel stand form earthenware and ceremonial jar form earthenware started in Kibi region were used in funeral rituals, while cylindrical Haniwa passed on tumulus are thought to have had a purpose to divide the sanctuary based on their arrangement of surrounding a hill tomb and important section.

About house-shaped Haniwa, there are two theories; one theory that they were Yorishiro (object representative of a divine spirit) where the souls of the deceased lived and the other theory that they were representations of the residences the deceased lived before death. They were usually displayed right above the burial facilities or on a hill tomb around it.

About Kizai Haniwa, lid-shaped Haniwa are thought to have represented high class lineage, because the lid was the symbol of that, and Haniwa shaped like weapons or arms such as shields and armors, are thought to have placed to prevent invasion of an evil spirit or calamity, because of their acrual purpose of defending or attacking.

The Haniwa figure of men and animal-shaped Haniwa were displayed as a line or a group of statues, therefore there are theories such as that they represented funeral rites and that they recreated the political rituals before death. It is thought such change of Haniwa might reflect the view of a religious service and that of life and death in Tumulus period.

Cylindrical Haniwa

The cylindrical Haniwa are developed from ceremonial vessel stand and ceremonial jar used in the burial rituals of a chief of Kibi region. Later, the bell-shaped Haniwa, which had the form putting a ceremonial jar on a ceremonial vessel stand appeared. These Haniwa were displayed in a line on each step of tumulus, on the mound top and the funeral ritual site of the tumulus, giving visual effect and awe. They played a greater role in dating because they were arranged from the appearance of large keyhole-shaped tomb mound to its end.

Keisho Haniwa (clay figure in the shape of human or beast)

It is believed that Keisho Haniwa have different origin from cylindrical Haniwa. They consist roughly of house-shaped Haniwa, Kizai Haniwa, animal-shaped Haniwa and Haniwa figure of men.

House-shaped Haniwa

They were placed on the center of the tumulus top. More than two of Kakei Haniwa were usually placed. Various house-shaped Haniwa with different structure and size were displayed all over or in a line.

Examples of the Haniwa

Dancing Haniwa (unearthed from Nohara Tumulus, in Kumagaya City, Saitama Prefecture) possessed by Tokyo National Museum

Sumo wrestler Haniwa (unearthed from Ibehatiman-yama Mountain Tumulus, in Wakayama City, Wakayama Prefecture, possessed by Doshisha University)

Warrior Haniwa

The style wearing sweat suit under a skirt is called haniwa look. Junior and senior high school girls often dress in such style in winter.

[Original Japanese]