In the spring of 1820, a farmer found a marble statue of a woman on the Aegean island of Milos. Her upper body was twisted slightly to the right and her gaze was directed to the left. Her arms were missing, but she had a straight nose that was exquisitely beautiful.
The Venus de Milo, as the statue came to be known, became the property of the Louvre because of the resourcefulness of the French ambassador and others.
The statue has since been loaned out only once, when it came to Japan in 1964. It was The Asahi Shimbun that negotiated with the French government and arranged exhibitions in Tokyo and Kyoto. The Venus de Milo was the sole item on display on both occasions, but it attracted as many as 1.72 million visitors.
Japan has its own images of native goddesses that it can be proud of. One is the Jomon Venus, a "dogu" or ancient clay figurine unearthed 20 years ago in Yamagata Prefecture. It was recently designated a national treasure, becoming the fourth artifact of its kind to earn the designation. On April 28, the Jomon Venus went on display at the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno.
This masterpiece was crafted 4,500 years ago in the mid-Jomon Period (14,000 BC-300 BC), but it actually suggests elements of contemporary sculpture. The Commission for Cultural Affairs, which recommended it for the national treasure designation, described it as "an embodiment of perfection reached by ancient clay figurine artists."
It is owned by Yamagata Prefecture, and Governor Mieko Yoshimura expressed her delight with the gift from our Jomon ancestors. “Dogu clay figurines represent a prayer for fertility and rebirth," she said. "The designation of our figurine as a national treasure could lead to the rebirth of the Tohoku region."
The Jomon Venus is twice as old as the Venus de Milo, and has been to many more places. It has already toured France, China, Germany and Britain, impressing people with the richness of the Jomon culture. With that sort of track record as a cultural envoy, this Venus certainly deserves its national treasure status.
Looking at its unglazed shape, one cannot but be struck by the essence of its bold beauty. One imagines the smell of the earth from which it was fashioned, and the sounds of the festivities that must have surrounded it.
Standing in front of the figurine, my five senses were slowly transported into a primordial world. I want again to thank the earth that protected this specimen of Jomon craftsmanship from time’s depredations.
--The Asahi Shimbun, April 28
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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