A Large Pierced Japanese Arrowhead, c. 1650

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Item ref: 4186

  • Japan
  • Steel
  • 57 x 5.5 cm


Private collection, France

This votive arrowhead, or yanone, is decorated in openwork with the incantation Nam myōhō renge kyō 南無妙法蓮華 経†of Nichiren 日蓮†Buddhism. Its maker Minamoto Yoshinobu saku 源吉信作†- Umetada 梅忠†school, Kyôto was active during the third quarter of the 17th century, and was particularly known for the quality of his horimono ( 彫刻 

Ceremonial arrowheads in this period of Japanese history were part of a traditional practice known as 'Yaoya,' in which gifts were exchanged between feudal lords, samurai, and other elites. The arrowheads were often exquisitely crafted and adorned, serving as tokens of honor and allegiance.

During the Edo period (1603 - 1868), Japan experienced a period of relative peace and stability under the Tokugawa shogunate. With warfare less frequent, focus shifted from military prowess to the cultivation of artistic and cultural pursuits. Ceremonial practices like Yaoya emerged as a way to maintain social order, display loyalty, and reinforce the society's hierarchical structure.

The exchange of Yaoya arrowheads played a role in fostering political alliances, demonstrating loyalty, and solidifying relationships between feudal lords (daimyo), vassals, and samurai. The act of presenting and receiving these ceremonial gifts carried deep cultural and social significance, helping to maintain a sense of order and unity.

As the Edo period progressed, Yaoya practices continued to evolve, reflecting changes in society and politics. However, by the late Edo period, Japan began to experience internal and external pressures that eventually led to the collapse of the shogunate and the restoration of imperial rule during the Meiji period (1868-1912). With these changes, the significance of ceremonial arrowheads and similar practices gradually diminished, marking the end of a distinct era in Japanese history.

Ceremonial arrowheads from the 17th century serve as valuable historical artifacts, providing insight into the social, cultural, and political dynamics of feudal Japan today; they offer a glimpse into the elaborate rituals, symbolism, and artistic craftsmanship of the time, showcasing the intersection of practicality and aesthetics.