Gunma: Haniwa clay figures take us back to life in ancient times

Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

Haniwa hollow clay figures unearthed near the museum and some replicas are displayed at the Kamitsukenosato Museum in Takasaki. A figure of a king is seen at right.

By Yuki Miyashita / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer TAKASAKI — Gunma Prefecture promotes itself as the nation’s “Haniwa Prefecture,” with fifth-century haniwa hollow clay figures being displayed at a museum in the prefecture.

Haniwa-related events are frequently held in the prefecture, although they are not well known nationwide. In the last fiscal year, a vote to choose a popular haniwa, called “Gunma Hani-1 Grand Prix,” was held with well-attended related events.

To learn more about Gunma’s ancient history, I visited the Kamitsukenosato Museum, located inside Kamitsukeno Haniwanosato Koen Park in Takasaki city. Two restored large keyhole-shaped ancient tomb mounds are also in the park.

At the end of the fifth century, a king worked on the development of large-scale rice paddies and fields in the area. The museum exhibits haniwa figures and earthenware from that time, unearthed in an excavation conducted when development was carried out.

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  • Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

    The Yawatazuka Kofun ancient tombs are seen adjacent to the museum.

  • Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

    An exhibit that shows the process of building a tomb

  • Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Re-created footprints left in a paddy field

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

In the dimly lit permanent exhibition room, light shines on the displays and explanation panels. Various exhibits present people’s daily lives at that time, such as a house where a king is believed to have lived and a kofun (ancient mound tomb) being built.

It is quite interesting to see an exhibit of a rice paddy divided into small sections, designed to increase yields by utilizing water warmed by the sun.

There is also an exhibit that reproduces a farmer’s footprints left in a paddy field.

“The village was hit by the eruption of Mt. Haruna twice, and was ‘packed’ with volcanic ash. So it is well preserved as it was at that time,” said Yoshiko Hara, a museum staff.

It was possible to reproduce the arrangement of about 50 haniwa figures placed in the center in their original state, as they were buried in the mudflow generated by the eruption.

Visitors can see how oracles gave offerings to kings, and how people hunted wild boars with dogs, which helps us understand ancient culture.

The Yawatazuka Kofun ancient tombs, adjacent to the museum, are about eight meters high.

Standing on top of the kofun, one can enjoy a view of Shinkansen trains, residential areas and Mt. Haruna in the distance.

The area’s civilization has advanced in the past 1,500 years, while its natural surroundings have remained just as they were.

It is fun to imagine how people lived their lives in ancient times, but at the same time, I shudder at the thought of the size of the natural disasters that brought all this to an end in an instant.

Kamitsukenosato Museum: 1514 Idemachi, Takasaki, Gunma Pref.Speech

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