Japanese bronze mirror

Japan, 12th century AD

Japanese bronze mirror

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Mirrors in Asia are usually flat metal disks, polished on one side to allow reflection, and ornamented on the other side.

Early Japanese mirrors used a number of designs based on Chinese originals. However, from the Nara period (AD 710–94), Japanese mirror-makers began to substitute native Japanese motifs: for example, plants of good omen such as cherry-blossom and pine replaced auspicious Chinese flowers, and we find cranes instead of phoenixes.

In this example, the birds are separated by twigs of pine needles and an outer circle contains more fronds of pine needles. The central boss of the mirror is pierced with a hole to take a cord loop for holding it or suspending it.

Cranes mate for life, so they are often used as emblems of marital fidelity. They also appear at New Year to signify long life. Here the cranes fly together in perfect symmetry, while the pine boughs, also symbols of New Year, are scattered more informally across the design.

This mirror was one of a group of 18 donated to the Museum in 1927. The patina suggests that this particular one may be ‘Haguro mirror’, from a group of 600 mirrors recovered from a sacred pond in front of the shrine on Hagurosan mountain in Yamagata prefecture.

It is thought the mirrors were brought by pilgrims from the imperial capital Kyoto and other areas, and offered to the divine spirit in the pond.



The Japanese islands have been inhabited for more than 30,000 years.

Japan world culture

Heian period

Japanese bronze mirror


bronze mirror

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Object details

Late Heian period

Width: 11 cm


Asia JA 1927.10-14.2

Rooms 92-94: Japan


    Gift of H. Yamakawa


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

    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    F.G. Bock, ‘The Rites of Renewal at Ise’, Monumenta Nipponica, 29 (1974), 55–68

    F.G. Bock, ‘The Great Feast of the Enthronement’, Monumenta Nipponica, 45 (1990), 27–38

    N. Fikumori, ‘Sei Shonagon’s Makura no soshi: a Re-visionary History’, Journal of the Association of Teachers of Japanese, 31 (1997), 1–44

    R.L. Hobson, ‘A Series of Japanese Mirrors’, British Museum Quarterly, 2 (1927), 64–5

    D.C. Holtom, The Japanese Enthronement Ceremonies (Tokyo, 1920)

    H.C. McCullough, Okigami: the Great Mirror (Princeton, 1980)

    I. Morris, World of the Shining Prince (original version London, 1979; reprint, 1994)

    M. Takeshi, ‘The Origin and Growth of the Worship of Amaterasu’, Asian Folklore Studies, 37 (1978), 1–11

    M. Takeshi, ‘The Myth of the Descent of the Heavenly Grandson’, Asian Folklore Studies, 42 (1983), 159–179

    Shikibu Murasaki, et al., Diaries of Court Ladies of Old Japan (New York, 2003)