Purportedly excavated in Kagawa Prefecture
Yayoi period/2nd-1st century BC
Tokyo National Museum
This dōtaku (ritual bell) is said to have been excavated in Sanuki Province (modern Kagawa Prefecture) during the Edo period (1615-1868). It consists of a flat semicircular handle attached to a main body of oval cross-section. The body widens towards the bottom and has narrow flanges extending from the handle down its two sides. The dôtaku is extensively decorated with tooth-, spiral- and herringbone-patterned bands in relief. The upper three-quarters of the main body is divided at the back and front into six panels framed within broad lattice-patterned bands, called "surplice design" (J. kesadasuki mon) because of its resemblance to a Buddhist monk's surplice.
Two similar dôtaku bells (Sakuragaoka nos. 4 and 5) have been found at the Sakuragaoka site in Kobe. Another similar dôtaku was reputed to have been owned by the literati artist Tani Bunchô (1763-1840). That dôtaku itself no longer survives, but its existence is known through rubbings and sketches. The almost identical nature of the decoration on these dôtaku suggests they were made at the same foundry: first the Sakuragaoka no. 5 dôtaku, next Sakuragaoka no. 4, then the dôtaku from the former Tani Bunchô collection, and finally this example. The thinness of their walls and the high quality of their finish attest to the high degree of skill involved in their manufacture.
The motifs within the framed panels are richly varied. On one side, there are, panel by panel starting at the top right: a dragonfly; a water lizard; a man hunting a deer with a bow and arrow; a figure holding an I-shaped instrument (perhaps a man with a spinning tool); a gable-roofed building, possibly a storehouse, with a raised floor; and two women pounding a mortar. The other side is decorated, again panel by panel from the top right, with: a praying mantis and a spider; a dragonfly; a turtle eating a fish; two herons with fish in their beaks; a man with a bow and arrow and dogs, hunting a wild boar; and a turtle and a lizard. The heads of the men are represented by circles, those of the women by triangles.
The detailed imagery of these designs offers unique insights into life during the Yayoi period (400 B.C.-A.D. 250). There are, however, differing opinions as to what some of the scenes represent. Similarly, there are various theories about the function of dôtaku and the reasons for their burial.