Bugaku mask of Ryō-ō, the 'Dragon King'

From Japan
17th century AD

Lacquered and gilt wood mask with hair

Bugaku is a courtly ritual dance which has survived in Japan since the Heian period (794-1185). In the Edo period it was particularly popular with the samurai and the intellectual middle classes.

This is the mask for Ryō-ō, the Dragon King, a character who appears in a Chinese story from the Northern Qi dynasty (550-77). He was so handsome that he had to wear a fearful mask into battle so that his enemies would be terrified and his allies would not be distracted. The mask has a bristling moustache and beard and four enormous black teeth. A moveable chin piece hangs from cords, giving added life to the fierce expression of the mask. The whole is topped by a grotesque horned beast with clawed fore-feet.

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More information


L. Smith, V. Harris and T. Clark, Japanese art: masterpieces in (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)

L. Smith and V. Harris, Japanese decorative arts from (London, The British Museum Press, 1982)


Height: 33.500 cm (excluding chin piece)

Museum number

Asia JA 1978.4-21.2.a


R. S. Jenyns Collection


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