Jomon Pottery
(Click image for full view)      
Women's Japanese Prehistoric Jōmon Pottery
(also at this site, see The Feminine Tao)
"It is thought that Jomon pottery was made by women, as was the practice in most early societies, especially before the use of the potter's wheel." ~ ART HISTORY, edited by Marilyn Stockstad.
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from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website:
"All Jomon pots were made by hand, without the aid of a wheel, the potter building up the vessel from the bottom with coil upon coil of soft clay. As in all other Neolithic cultures, women produced these early potteries. The clay was mixed with a variety of adhesive materials, including mica, lead, fibers, and crushed shells. After the vessel was formed, tools were employed to smooth both the outer and interior surfaces. When completely dry, it was fired in an outdoor bonfire at a temperature of no more than about 900° C." (...more at MMA)

Citations from ART HISTORY, edited by Marilyn Stokstad (Abrams, 1996)
(see image credits & links below)
The Jomon (縄文) Period
(Japan, c. 12,000-300 BCE) is named for the cord-marked patterns found on much of the pottery produced during this time.

"Jomon people were able to develop an unusually sophisticated hunting-gathering culture in part because they were protected from large-scale invasions by their island setting and also because of their abundant food supply... Its people lived in small communities, in the early Jomon period there were seldom more than ten or twelve dwellings together. All in all, the Jomon people seem to have enjoyed a peaceful life, giving them the opportunity to develop their artistry for even such practical endeavors as ceramics.

"Jomon ceramics may have begun in imitation of reed baskets, as many early examples suggest. Other early Jomon pots have pointed bottoms. Judging from the burn marks along the sides, they must have been planted firmly into soft earth or sand, then used for cooking...still other early vessels were crafted with straight sides and flat bottoms, a shape that was useful for storage as well as cooking and eventually became the norm. Often vessels were decorated with patterns made by pressing cord onto the damp clay (jomon means "cord markings"). Jomon usually crafted their vessels by building them up with coils of clay, then firing them in bonfires at relatively low temperatures. It is thought that Jomon pottery was made by women, as was the practice in most early societies, especially before the use of the potter's wheel.

[Molding Earth & Freeing the Heart]

"During the middle Jomon period (2500-1500 BCE), pottery reached a high degree of creativity. By this time communities were somewhat larger, and each community may have wanted its ceramic vessels to have a unique design. The basic form remained the straight-sided cooking or storage jar, but the rim now took on spectacular, flamboyant shapes... Middle Jomon potters made full use of the tactile quality of clay, bending and twisting it as well as incising and applying designs. They favored asymmetrical shapes, although certain elements in the geometric patterns are repeated. Some designs may have had specific meanings, but the lavishly creative vessels also display a playful artistic spirit. Rather than working toward practical goals (such as better firing techniques or more useful shapes), the Jomon potters seem to have been simply enjoying to the full their imaginative vision."
"Dogu" (土偶 = "clay idol/figurines"): on the left from Kowaze, wearing a bodice, possibly in a posture of giving birth, but itself looking childlike: the ears are pierced and would have included earrings, Late Jomon (1000-300 BCE). Illustrated right, the famous (and pregnant) "Jomon Venus," with detail, also with pierced ears protruding through the cap.

"The people of the middle and late Jomon period also used clay to fashion small human figures. These figures were never fully realistic but rather were distorted into fascinating shapes. Called 'dogu,' they tend to have large faces, small arms and hands, and compact bodies. Some of the later dogu seem to be wearing round goggles over their eyes. Others have heart-shaped faces. One of the finest, from Kurokoma, has a face remarkably like a cat's..." [see image at Jomon Ceramics Photo Tour].

"The small size of this bottle and its relatively simple, compact profile exemplify Late Jomon ceramic-making trends, which reveal a declining interest in sculptural embellishment and elaborate decoration in favor of greater integration of ornamentation and form..." More at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In terms of Japanese spirituality, it is taught in Taoism and Buddhism that oneness of polarities is exemplified by lines such as these on this vessel above, where a single line can be seen as the edge of a form or the edge of empty space simultaneously. Thus "form is emptiness and emptiness is form." The same is true of the sculptural openings in the clay of the pot below, both as empty spaces, and at the same time as circular forms in themselves.

Jomon Flamboyant Edge Pottery

"The swirling, dynamic appearance of the rim of this deep bowl is one of the most recognizable characteristics of wares made during Japan's oldest known civilization, the Jomon. And forming a dramatic contrast to the flamboyant ornamentation along the top is the relatively simple cord-marked lower portion of the vessel."
(MMA, ca. 1500 BCE)  

Illustrations by order of appearance: 1 (enlarge), 3, 4. Elaborately edged earthenware pots from prehistoric Japan, middle Jomon period (2500-1500 BCE) and hand shaped probably by women potters for ceremonial purposes: and # 8, late Jomon bottle illustrated above: see Jomon Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

6. Middle Jomon jar (ca. 3000-2000 B.C) from World Ceramics: Key Ideas, Minneapolis Institute of Art

2 (ca. 2,000 BCE, enlarge), 3, 7, 8, 9 Illustrations of a Jomon pot (#3) and of "dogu" female figurines, including the "Jomon Venus" or in Japanese, "Jômon no Venus." Pot #2 and "Cord Marks" from Wikipedia.
Jomon Rim
(Jomon Rim, Storage jar, Middle Jomon period (ca. 2500–1500 BCE, MMA)
Metropolitan Museum timeline of Jomon pottery development
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Photo of an enactment of a prehistoric Jomon woman hand-shaping a vessel
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Gendered Vessels Women and Ceramics (Book Preview)
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from the British Museum: THE POWER OF DOGU / see Google Books
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Summary: Foundations of Japanese Civilization
edited and maintained by
Early Women Masters East and West,
a nonprofit, educational website
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for contemporary women's geometric designs see:
Antiuque Geometric Quilt Designs