Reproduction of a ceramic okimono from Japan, Edo period. Skulls were a very popular motif during this time period. More on that next post. Snakes represent eternal life, because they shed their skin and thus renew themselves. Skulls not only represent death, the inevitable, but change. The late Edo/early Meiji period was a time of great upheaval.
The skull looks quite a bit off, that’s not because I don’t know what a human skull looks like (I very much do, I’ve owned one for almost 13 years now), but because anatomical understanding was limited in Japan during this time. The first dissection took place in a prison in the late 1700s, and cutting up a human body was not only seen as desecration, but a stain/pollution on the spirit of the one doing the dissection. Western or Dutch learning, and thus medicine, was also forbidden for many years. Thus the crudeness of the skull. Much like Dürer’s strange looking rhinoceros drawn from here-say , it was probably created off of a copy of a copy of a Dutch manuscript, with the details lost somewhere in translation.