Overview of Heian period and Jocho style

Overview of Heian period and Jocho style

The Japan sculpture began from clay figure. Japanese sculpture was influenced by various cultures like the silk rod culture during the 5th century. It was also influenced by the Chinese culture through the Chinese sculpture. Also, the western world influenced the Japan sculpture starting from the Meiji period. A large number of the Japanese sculptures was obtained from Buddhism idol worship.  The sculptures used a wide range of materials like bronze and wood.  The Heian period is the final division of the Japanese history, and it spans 794 to 1185.  The Heian period is a significant period in the Japanese history as it is the era when Buddhism, Taoism and Chinese influence became common in the country.  Sculptors produced Buddhist images using different kinds of materials during Tang Dynasty art. However, sculptors considered wood essential in producing Buddhist image during the Heian period because of the country’s environment and sensibility.  The Heian period depicts a consistent era of wood sculptures during the Japanese sculpture history.  The jocho style became common during the Heian period.

Jocho style

Before, the development of jocho style, sculptors used single wood block construction method.  The Jocho developed the jocho style. He perfected the single wood technique into a new technique of developing wooden sculptures. Jocho popularized the Chinese method of developing sculptures from several small pieces of sculpted wood.  The sculptor conveyed his message effectively though the jocho style limited amount of surface details the sculptor could carve into every piece.  The jocho style led to development of refined and ethereal looking sculptures. In addition, the jocho style allowed several people to work on the sculpture at once and hence making the production process faster. Jocho developed a wide range of jocho sculptures, and he did the finishing as other people worked on the sculptures.  The jocho method led to systemized proportion of body parts and simple surface details.

This ensured sculptors created consistent parts.  Art historians have associated the systemized proportions with Jocho’s intelligence. Jocho based the sculpture measurements on a unit proportional to the length between the sculpted figure chin and hairline.  The length between every knee is proportional to the length from the bottom of the legs to the hair.  The spaced and level knee forms the base of the triangular design and conveys a feeling of stability and space.  In addition, the effect is further emphasized by the contrast of various elements in the design such as the figures’ Halos.  The sculptures developed by jocho show compassion, stylishness and kindness. The detailed and clear-cut carving of the facial features shows kindness. There are various sculptures developed using the jocho style. The sculptures include Yakushi Nyorai located at Jongou Temple, Yakushi Nyorai found in Shin Yakushiji Temple in Nara among others (Mason 2005).

How jocho style differs from other styles

Sculptors used different wood carving methods to produce sculptures before the development of the jocho style.  The techniques include single wood technique, assembled wood technique and hollowing and split and joint techniques. The techniques had limitations, and this led to production of low quality sculptures. In single woodblock method, sculptors used a single piece of wood to produce the sculpture.  They produced the whole stature or the head and torso by carving from one piece of wood.  The single woodblock method was the most preferred method of carving up to the 11th century.  However, the technique had limitations.  The single woodblock construction method led to production of poor quality sculptures.  The sculptures produced were heavy. In addition, the large wood led to big cracks that spread through the sculpture as it dried affecting its quality. The sculptors used hollowing the interior of the sculpture to prevent the cracking and weight problem. However, this was not effective as the size of the sculptor was limited.  As a result, the assembled wood method and split and joint method were developed to overcome the limitations of the single woodblock method (Murthy 1989).

Sculptors used the assembled wood method (Yosegi Zukuri) during the 7th century, but the technique proved ineffective.  The technique could not overcome the weaknesses of the single wood block method, and this resulted to poor quality work. This compelled jocho to perfect the technique.  The assembled wood method ensures did not carve sculptures from one piece of wood. Instead, sculptures assembled different pieces of wood to form a sculpture as exemplified by the Amida image found in the phoenix hall.  The head and torso of the image is carved from blocks of wood 40cm thick.  The sculptors used two blocks of wood in front and two behind. Also, they used two horizontal blocks for the knees and different timber for the arms. Additionally, the sculptors hollowed the inside of the image leaving a thin layer of wood.  In assembled wood method, the sculptors remove the neck and join it to the torso layer.  The sculptors of the phoenix image also removed the neck and rejoined it to the torso for two blocks behind (McCullough & Shively 1999).

The assembled wood method is different from the single wood block method.  The assembled wood method allows sculptors to create large sculpture by joining various pieces.  The Single woodblock method prevents the creation of large sculptures as sculptors carve the statues from one wood source.  Also, the assembled wood method improves the production of sculptures as sculptors can work on different pieces at once.  The assembled wood method encourages division of labor, unlike the single wood block method. This is because the sculptures can be carved separately using different pieces before assembling. The assembled wood method produces a lot of sculptures with standard measurements.  The establishment of the assembled wood method led to increase in production of Buddhist images from Michinaga time. It also increased the size of Buddhist statues from this period.

Another technique developed by jocho is split and join method.  Jocho perfected  split and join technique while perfecting the assembled wood method.  Split and join method is different from assembled wood block as the torso and the head are developed from a single block.  The sculptors split the block along the grain at an appropriate method to facilitate hollowing of the inside. The pieces are joined after splitting the block.  Sculptors can remove the head from the torso and rejoin it later.  The split and join method is effective in developing smaller statues.  Jocho developed the split and join technique to reduce the weight of sculptures. Sculptors can reduce the weight of the statue and retain the original single woodblock technique. Bosatsu on clouds is a perfect example of the split and join method and assembled wood method. Therefore, jocho style is different from the original single wood block method as it ensures sculptors produce quality and long lasting sculptures (Noma 2003).

Jocho style influence

Jocho sculptor is still considered one of the famous sculptors of Buddhist images in Japan. He is known for creating the Amida sculpture and its design. Jocho developed the jocho style that has had a profound impact on the Buddhist sculpture for many years. Jocho influenced the Japanese sculpture with his jocho style.  The Japanese sculptures were made of wood, clay and bronze before the development of jocho style.  Sculptors used single woodblock method, assembled wood method and other methods to develop statues. However, the methods proved ineffective as they produced poor quality statues.  Jocho influenced the method used to carve sculptures. He perfected a wide range of carving methods like the assembled wood block and split and joins methods.

Jocho transformed carving of sculptors in the country as many sculptors adapted his styles.  The sculptors abandoned the single woodblock method that had flaws and started using the assembled wood method and split and join method.  This enabled sculptors to produce proportional statues by using standard measurements.  The jocho style is still used today in Japan to produce sculptures. Japanese statues produced using the jocho style is durable, light and unique.  Jocho art works like the Amida have influenced Japanese sculpture. Amida is Jocho’s most popular art work and popular statue in the country. Jocho developed the statue using multiple block construction method during a time when the single block method was common.  The artwork shows the new elements of jocho style and proportion and most sculptors have emulated it. Sculptors of Buddhist images depend on Jocho’s proportions, and methods to develop Buddhist images.  Jocho also develop a mass production system that enables sculptors to produce a large number of statues without compromising the quality(Biswas 2010).

Jocho style implication

Jocho style has implications on Japanese sculpture especially Buddhist art.  Jocho style affects the production of Buddhist images as sculptors used jocho methods and his concept of proportion. Jocho style has transformed Japanese sculpture mostly Buddhist images for the past decades and it will continue to transform it.  Jocho style has implications on the quality, weight and size of Buddhist images created. Sculptors can develop light, and large Buddhist images using jocho style as it prevents cracking and reduces the weight. Also, it ensures the Buddhist images produced are of high quality. It also has implication on the country’s environment as it encourages protection of the environment. Before the development of the jocho style, sculptors produced statues from one big piece of wood, and this led to waste of raw material and also affected the environment as they had to use a lot of wood. However, the jocho style allows sculptors to use small pieces of wood and thus protects the environment (Magil 2012).


In conclusion, the Heian period is significant in the history of Japanese art due to the influence of jocho style. The jocho style transformed the production of Buddhist images by changing the styles sculptors used. Jocho perfected some of the methods used before to improve the quality of Buddhist images. He developed the assembled wood method and split and join methods to replace the single wood methods.  Jocho Buddhist images are known for their unique style, quality and creation of light images. Jocho style has continued to influence Japan sculpture mostly Buddhist images and will continue to impact Buddhist art. Sculptors emulate the Buddhist art done before by Jocho. Others have adopted the methods developed by jocho as they produce quality work.


Magil, F.N. Dictionary of World Biography. 2012. Routledge
Biswas, S. Indian Influence on the Art of Japan. 2010. Northern Book Center
Noma, S. The Arts of Japan: Ancient and Medieval. 2003. Kodansha international

McCullough, W.H., & Shively, D.H.The Cambridge History of Japan. 1999. Cambridge university press

Murthy, K.K. Buddhism in Japan. 1989. Sundeep parkashan

Mason, P. History of Japanese Art. 2005. Pearson Prentice Hall.

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