5. Dogu Figures

Each culture comes to terms with the idea of spirits in their own way. When we fear the weather, snow, tsunamis, earth quakes, we ask one or another way of asking why me or why us. Often it is a village elder that is the carrier of the myth and legends of the tribe. Often this person is a wise woman. As we move around the world of early villages we will see the early myths of the culture.

Many mothers across the world have used the statement “be good or the boggeyman will get you.” This is the first sculpture I have seen that might fit that purpose

One might think that this is a female figure because of the breasts. If so, she is certainly scary. It is interesting that we create scary things to fight scary things.

This is a harmonious period in the development of a culture. These figures were found at grave sites, often broken. The breaking of this figure might have been a way to say good by and to protect the spirit.

An interesting variation on a theme. Given that most of the pottery of the Jomon period had rope designs, this use of the rope of clay is interesting. The figure is bent back instead of being flat and could have been made by putting coils together or by drawing the lines on wet clay.


I would not want to see this face in the dark of night. The need to scare or terrify either sprits or people is deep within us all at one time or another. This face could have been used in ceremony, or when some one was very sick. I am only imagining and hope you will think about the use of this figure on your own.

This might be a time to think about the power and symbolism of the eyes. Some say they are the entry place to a person’s soul. Here we see the rope-like pattern being made in the soft coil of clay being added to the object. The mouth does not look happy.

There are a number of small statues called Dogu.                                                          As Joseph Campbell once wrote: “Take, for example, a pencil, ashtray, anything, and holding it before you in both hands (in this case looking at dogu), regard it for awhile. Forgetting its name and use, yet continuing to regard it, ask yourself seriously, What is it? Its dimension of wonder opens, for the mystery of the being of that thing is identical with the mystery of the being of the universe, and yourself.”

It is these figures that Joseph Campbell was talking about.

This is a more refined spirit statue and used for many things. Go to this blog site to read some of the discussion. Is this a spirit figure or just a sculpture?

This particular figure seems to be wearing the costume of a noble person as seen in films about ancient Japan. The set and stance are strong and well balanced. One of the unique things which we will see over and over is the design of the eye.

This figure was pit fired and it is that process of firing clay that causes the random dark and light coloring.

A group of Dogu sculptures with variations on the theme.

These statues have such a sound stance.

Why is the head tilted up?

As is usual in many early cultures, once a style has been adoped, only that design was used for a long time. You can see that in the paintings of Egypt.

What follows are a number of pictures of Dogu figures. Artists may use the same formula and change just a part of design.

This next figure is something else again.

One of the discussions about the Dogu figures brings Star Wars into the discussion. This is a thing of beauty. One can imagine many things about this woman. The sculpture has sharp outlines and gently curved chest which follows the curve of the hat. As with most of the other sculptures she has a grounded stance with wavy pants. The different textures add to her beauty. The face is only suggested which gives her a modern look and, oops, no arms. Arms are an interesting thing in western art. The lack of arms brings our minds back to the Greek sculptures whose arms have been broken off over time. In this case the lack of arms is purposeful.

This little guy is very different

A number of these heart shaped Dogu have been found. They have a certain presence created by the unusual use of the heart shape as a face.

There is a certain cuteness in this one. Many cultures made small statues that were carried at certain times as protection against something that is feared.

This figure was an incense holder. Religion or something else?

I don’t know quite what to make of this sculpture.

Any ideas?