Aoyayokogi  (Japon): Ancient painting found connects East Asia cultures

Eriko Nami / Hayashi Yanagawa

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TottoriInfrared rays reveal the head of a woman on an ancient panel painting. (Provided by the Tottori Prefectural Archaeological Center)

An ink painting that may have been tossed out as garbage between the late seventh century and early eighth century has become a valuable piece for tracing ancient cultural exchanges in East Asia.

The painting of a group of women was found in pieces in the Aoyayokogi ruins in Tottori, where relics of an ancient road have been confirmed, the Tottori Prefectural Archaeological Center said on Dec. 15.


The panel painting, photographed through infrared ray, top, and the restored image of the painting (Panel painting photographed by the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties; Panel painting and restored image provided by the Tottori Prefectural Archaeological Center)

It is the second discovery of a painting of a group of women drawn from the Asuka Period (late sixth century to early eighth century) to the Nara Period (early to late eighth century).

Tattori3The first discovery, a richly colored wall painting, was found in the Takamatsuzuka Tomb in Asuka village, Nara Prefecture. The tomb is believed to have been created between the late seventh century and the early eighth century.

The one found in Tottori consists of black “sumi” ink on a wooden panel. Five fragments of the panel were put together, revealing six people, all apparently women, according to the center.

If all pieces of the panel can be restored, the painting would be 70.5 centimeters long, 15.5 cm wide and 6 millimeters thick. A small hole appears on the upper part of the panel.

Traces of carbonization on the back of the panel indicate that it was burnt in a fire, broken into pieces and thrown away, the center said.

Akio Donohashi, professor emeritus of art history at Kobe University, noted the similarities between the panel painting and the wall painting of the Takamatsuzuka Tomb.

He also said the panel painting was similar to wall paintings drawn in the ancient kingdom of Goguryeo, which ruled the area from northeastern China to the northern part of the Korean Peninsula, as well as artwork from China’s Tang Dynasty (early seventh century to early 10th century).

I think the panel painting shows a procession related to a funereal ritual,” Donohashi said. “The painting is based on the traditional outline seen in those of Goguryeo. But, like the wall painting of the Takamatsuzuka Tomb, the panel painting also adopts trends of the Tang Dynasty.

Because of that, the value of the panel painting is high when we think about the spread of various cultures.”

Although the entire bodies of the six figures are not shown in the painting, the center said it is safe to assume they are all female.

One drawing, about 7.5 cm high, shows the upper body and head of a woman, but her eyes, nose and mouth are too faded to discern.

Another drawing, about 5 cm high, shows the upper part of a woman who is apparently holding a “hossu,” a Buddhist tool.

The lower part of another woman in the painting shows her wearing a type of skirt called “mo.” The drawing is about 8 cm high.

The painting’s fragments were discovered in the remains of what is believed to have been the Sanindo national road constructed from the late seventh century to the early eighth century.

Judging from earthenware and other materials found at the site, the center concluded that the panel painting was drawn in the same period as when the road was built.