The info below is from an article by the British Museum (why they are authorities on Japanese Masks, I don't know)
Japanese masks and their uses
The Japanese interest in masks probably dates from the Jōmon period (about 10,000-300 BC). (see my blog about Jomon pottery here). Mask-like objects made from shells with holes cut for eyes and nose, as well as crude pottery masks may have been used for religious ritual. In the later Kofun period (about 300 - mid-6th century) many haniwa (clay tomb guardians) had delicately modelled faces. (see my blog about a Haniwa house here and the historic houses here.)
|Haniwa figure(Kofun period)|
The arrival of Buddhism in Japan in the sixth century brought many semi-religious and secular activities using masks. These soon mingled with native Shintō rites and popular traditions. Gigaku masked dance drama probably originated in the Korean kingdom of Kudara. Early performances were wild and bawdy, showing foreign influences from countries along the Silk Route as well as Indian Hinduism and Buddhism. Unlike most Japanese masks, the Gigaku masks fitted around the whole head and face. They were made either of painted wood or kanshitsu, a combination of hemp cloth and lacquer. They often had hair attached. Gigaku died out by the Edo period (1600-1868)
Here's the remainder of the article. It's pretty short actually.
|18th Century Korean mask|
I recently looked through a book on Japanese masks, with great photos of actual masks, including a dragon. (When I next go to the Folk Art Center I'll look for the title in their crafts library.)
Oh my, I thought. We do dragons differently now, and so do the Chinese in their various replicas everywhere from puppetry for parades (with several people walking under them) to images on place mats, not to mention on pottery.
So that led me to begin to build a clay mask of a dragon. Yep, it's about halfway fabricated, first building up the form, now carving details. It is not for wearing in the theater but for hanging on the wall.