Mirror Imaginary crocodile-like creature design
This Chinese-style bronze mirror was made in Japan. Mirrors were believed to ward off evil, so they were used in rituals and were also interred in kofun tumuli alongside the deceased. The size of the mirrors represented power and authority. It is not known where this mirror was found. With a diameter of 38.4 centimeters, though, this is a very sizeable example, so it was probably interred in the large tumulus of a powerful figure.
On display here is the rear side of the mirror's reflective surface. Four objects resembling coiled caterpillars surround the central knob where string was threaded. These are fictional dragon-like Chinese beasts known as tuolong. The head sections of these tuolong also feature half-length portraits of Chinese deities. This is an extremely complex design, with the tuolong also holding rod-like objects in their mouths, for example.
In fact, tuolong and deities were originally depicted separately on ancient Chinese mirrors. This inner section is also surrounded by a band containing eight small squares. These squares are divided into four sections. In ancient Chinese mirrors, these sections would have featured the Chinese characters for 'heaven, 'king,' 'sun' or 'moon,' for example. However, in this mirror these sections are instead filled with circular motifs. All this reveals how the Chinese philosophies and worldviews that inspired the original designs failed to take root in Japan. Furthermore, hardly any contemporaneous Japanese people would have been able to read Chinese characters. As such, it seems there was some confusion when the motifs were copied across. This is still a highly-accomplished mirror, though. The clear depiction of complex motifs on such a large mirror speaks volumes about the high level of craftsmanship that existed in Japan at that time.