The Dawn of Design
Patterns from the prehistoric period in Japan are the straightforward expressions of an uncomplicated human spirit, directly reflecting the experience of life in those early times. From the early designs of primitive men, drawn from encounters with their environment, developed all the patterns of later, more complex ages.
The native Japanese patterns classified as "prehistoric" fall within the province of archaeology as much as of art history. They appear on the handicrafts, tools, and ritual objects that antedate the advent of Buddhist culture from the Asian mainland in the mid-sixth century. Specifically, the term "prehistoric" applies to those designs which appeared during the several millenia of the Jõmon period (up to c. 200 B.C.), the Yayoi period. (C. 200 B.C.-A.D. 250), and the Kofun (Tumulus) period ( A.D. 250 to 552), encompassing the neolithic, bronze-iron age, and the protohistoric cultures of Japan. The designs dating from this dawning of Japanese culture formed the matrix for the imported Buddhist motifs of the Asuka ( 552-645) and Nara ( 645-794) periods. Among these earliest patterns are not a few which continued, through numberless transformations of shape and composition, to preserve their decorative and spiritual vitality for the people of succeeding ages. Even today, their extreme simplicity evokes a direct and immediate response.
The fantastic shapes and patterns of the ceramic vessels and ritual figurines of the Jõmon period are nothing short of astonishing. The powerful designs on