Haniwa are small, hollow terracotta statues that were placed on aristocratic graves during the Kofun period of Japan, which translates as “old tomb.” These unique figures were rather simple at the beginning of their creation, but over time they became increasingly complex taking the forms of people, animals, and other objects. These fascinating funerary objects serve a greater purpose than just ordinary tomb decorations. The haniwa tie into the Confucianist tradition of being made to be used and to protect the spirits of the dead. Influenced by Confucian tradition, in which “filial piety” is recognized as a high level of virtue that includes showing respect towards the living and deceased, haniwa were used to protect individuals in the afterlife by housing their souls. The tradition of placing haniwa on top of graves became discontinued when Buddhist influence was introduced to Japan. This key point is crucial because Buddhists believe in reincarnation, which therefore does not require protection for deceased souls.
Rawls, Ashlyn; Aliberti, Clarissa; and Baisden, Rylee, "Haniwa: Constructing a Sacred Place for the Afterlife" (2012). Pepperdine University, All Undergraduate Student Research. Paper 73.