Sketching the Jōmon Exhibition

In August 2018 I went to see an exhibition I’d been looking forward to for a while – the Jōmon Exhibition.

I liked the bright, poppy quality of the PR designs.

10,000 Years of Prehistoric Art – Jōmon is held at Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park, just a five minute walk from the Park Exit of Ueno Station. The exhibition runs until September 2nd 2018 and is a celebration of art and artifacts from the Jōmon period of Japanese history. The Jōmon period is roughly defined as between 14,000 – 300 BCE, and is known for its pottery. The alien-looking figures and flame-like pots produced in this period by the hunter-gathers of Japan exhibited a sophistication which was unmatched by any other ceramic arts at the time.

My sketch of the “Masked Goddess”

The exhibition included pots, jewelry and figures, all of which help to give us a picture of the kinds of lives that the people of Japan led during this period. The theme of this exhibition was “The Beauty of Jōmon,” and the items were truly stunning. Some had been very tastefully restored, and many seemed almost like contemporary art work that one might buy today. The special thing about this exhibition is that six Jōmon period National Treasures are collected in the same exhibition.

The “Jōmon Venus” as seen from behind

Although they were collected from all over Japan, the items were surprisingly uniform, and many featured distinctive “corded” designs made by pressing cord into wet clay.

My favorite thing about the exhibition were the numerous Dogū figures. These earthenware figures were made in the later Jōmon period. They have such bizarre and interesting shapes; they almost seemed like something from another world. Some of the pieces are so famous that I had seen them before in pictures, so it was really interesting to see them up close.

I visited on a Saturday, and it was rather crowded. To avoid the rush, I would recommend visiting on a week day if at all possible. Even though it was crowded, I was able to make some pencil sketches of the items, which helped me to really look at the pieces in front of me. If you decide to do some sketches, make sure to bring pencils, as pens are not allowed.

Our own Dogū figures!

A real highlight was the impulse purchase my partner and I made at the museum shop after the exhibition. We picked up two cookie cutters in the shape of the Dogū figures we had just seen, and used them to make our own very yummy biscuits the next day! We’re not great bakers by any stretch, but we had a lot of fun making them.

I think any recipe which produces firm biscuits that don’t expand much on cooking would work with these cutters. We had a very fun Jōmon themed weekend! Definitely check out the exhibition if you are in Tokyo.

When: July 3rd – September 2nd 2018

Where: Tokyo National Museum (Ueno Park)

Entry: 9:30 – 17:00, last entry 16:30, open until 21:00 on Fridays and Saturdays, and open until 18:00 on Sundays. Closed Mondays except August 13th.

Admission: A general ticket on the day is ¥1600. This is reduced to ¥1400 if you buy in advance.