Important Cultural PropertyHaniwa terracotta in the shape of a deer

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  • Kamitakeshi Tenjinyama Tumulus, Isesaki City, Gunma Prefecture
  • 1 statue
  • Clay
  • Length: 48.5 cm, width: 29.5 cm, height: 52.7 cm
  • Kofun period, 6th century
  • Kyushu National Museum
  • J645

In a pose recalling Beauty looking back, a famous bijin-ga painting by ukiyo-e artist Hishikawa Moronobu, this adorable deer figurine turns its head, facing backwards. It was reportedly discovered in the Kamitakeshi Tenjinyama Tumulus, a 127-meter-long keyhole-shaped burial mound that once stood in Isesaki, a city in Gunma Prefecture.

Originally thought to represent a dog turning its head, this clay figurine was labeled as such when it was designated an Important Cultural Property. However, its legs are too long for a dog, and it lacks defining features commonly found on dog-shaped haniwa, such as fangs, a lolling tongue, and a collar with a bell. Moreover, it has comparatively large ears and the slightly shaved heels that are often found on the haniwa of hoofed animals like horses. While haniwa dogs have raised tails, this tail is drooping. Combining these elements, it resembles a deer more than a dog, leading researchers at Kyushu National Museum to redefine it as a deer. Although this figurine has survived almost intact, the crown of its head was partially damaged. If the deer were male, there would have been antlers in this damaged part. Since there is no way to ascertain if it ever had antlers, its damaged crown has been reconstructed without them.

This figurine reportedly came from Kamitakeshi Tenjinyama Tumulus, where researchers have uncovered other well-known haniwa, a dog and a wild boar, both of which are in the Tokyo National Museum collection. Together with the deer, they may have once stood atop the burial mound. Along with human figurines, likely representing hunters, they might have re-enacted a hunting scene. Other haniwa have also been found at this site, including a rooster-shaped one that is an Important Cultural Property owned by the Gunma Prefectural Museum of History. Some of the numerous human haniwa discovered at this tumulus have likewise been designated Important Cultural Properties.