replica of Jomon-era clothes
Aileen Kawagoe wrote in Heritage of Japan: Clothing made of fibres or animal skins are organic and perishable, and so they are not commonly preserved in Jomon sites. Nevertheless, over the years, various fibres have been excavated from a number of sites. Archaeologists do know that the Jomon people wore clothes made from long narrow strips of mulberry bark. Supple strips of the bark were removed from young mulberry trees, pounded with a stone and woven into long sack-like vests. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, ]

“For a long time, people thought of the Jomon people as primitive stone age people who were mostly naked or who wore only animal skins and fur and clothes made out of smashed tree bark fibres. After the 1960s however, more and more fragments of textiles as well as Jomon potsherds pressed with textile patterns turned up. These finds made scientists realize the Jomon people were producing textiles from plant fibres. Archaeologists now know that the oldest fabric product found in Japan is a rope made of hemp, dating back 21,000 years ago, predating the Jomon Period by 10,000 years, excavated from the Torihama Shell Mound in Mikata-cho, Fukui prefecture. From the same site, a woven artefact made of ramie (Boehmeria tricuspis), a vegetable fibre, was also discovered.

“From examining fibre remains found in Jomon sites (Early Jomon Torihama and Sannai Maruyama; Late Jomon Heijo site in Ehime prefecture; and Final Jomon Sanno-gakoi site in Miyagi prefecture) archaeologists know the Jomon people made clothes out of fibres from two species of false nettles (Boehmeria nivea and Boehmeria tricuspis) as well as cut-leaved elm (Ulmus laciniata). Bone needles have also been found. The Jomon people wove fabrics made of plain warp, twisted warp and other variations probably using warp-weighted looms. This prehistoric technique of making fabric has survived till today in a technique used to produce angin fabric that also traditionally uses fibres from false nettles in Niigata prefecture.

“Clothing was also made from the fibres of the hemp plant, from around 7,000 years ago. Remains of hemp fibres have been found in sites in Kyushu island. The hemp plant produces the strongest natural fibre known. Hemp fabric is three times stronger than cotton fabric of equal weight, and is warmer and more absorbent. The fibres are obtained after the plants are torn out of the ground, then boiled, after which a process called retting in the field, in which the pectin that glues the fibre to the woody core of the hemp stem together rots away. The process takes 12 to 18 days. The stems need to be turned over one or two times so that the rotting takes place evenly on all sides. The fibres then separate easily from the mass stems into finer fibres that can be used for weaving into fabric or baskets. Ropes, nets, and shoes are also made from hemp. The Jomon people also wore deer skin jackets or tunics and waistcloths with thread-twisted braid trimmings. The line-carved female figurine from Iwakage site appears to be wearing waistbraids and waistcloth.

“Jomon clay figurines often give us good clues as to the fashions of the time. Many Jomon clay figurines appear to be wearing waistclothes, jackets and elaborate masks. The figurines also sport a lot of curvilinear designs on the clothing that look kind of similar to the kind of clothing designs that Ainu people wear today despite the difference in time of several thousand of years. Remains from burial pits at the Kakinoshima B site in Hokkaido and elsewhere, show that the Jomon people sometimes clothed their dead with fabric made from twisted warp that was lacquered over in red, their magical colour.”

The earliest loom parts — wooden components of a backstrap loom and clay spindle whorls— were discovered at a Late Jomon site (Yuusu phase) in Fukuoka City, north Kyushu. Dating to the 4th-3rd centuries B.C., they are a century earlier than the known Yayoi examples. It is thought highly likely the tools were introduced with rice agriculture. [Source: Asahi Shimbun, November 30, 1993, Society for East Asian Archaeology (SEAA)]

Early Japanese History Websites: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website,; Essay on Early Japan ; Japanese Archeology ; Ancient Japan Links on Archeolink ;Essay on Rice and History ; Metropolitan Museum of Art Department of Asian Art; Wikipedia article on the Jomon Wikipedia ; Historical Parks Sannai Maruyama Jomon Site in Northern Honshu ; Yoshinogari Historical Park ;Good Photos of Jomon, Yayoi and Kofun Sites at Japan-Photo Archive ; Wikipedia article on the Ainu Wikipedia ; Good Japanese History Websites: ; Wikipedia article on History of Japan Wikipedia ; Samurai Archives ; National Museum of Japanese History ; English Translations of Important Historical Documents

Jomon People Jewelry

Irie-Takasago Shell Midden boar tusk ornaments

Kawagoe wrote: “A very rare bracelet made of clay earth from the Late Jomon period was discovered from the Masukata site, Shounan-town. About 9.2 centimeters in diameter, the bracelet was lacquered over by vermilion paint and made in imitation of the more commonly found shellfish bracelets. Many types of shells were fashioned into shell bracelets. At the Kamitakatsu shell-midden site in Tsuchirua city, Ibaragi Prefecture, 22 species of shells were purposefully gathered to be made into bracelets, among these were the Anadara satowi nipponensis(marusarubo), Glycymeris albolineata(benkeigai) and Meretrix lamarckii shells(chosenhamaguri) (all gathered by diving from out in the open sea). [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website,]

“Other kinds of ornaments include beads and pendants, hair pins and combs made of many kinds of materials such as stone, clay earthenware, shell, antler, horn, animal teeth. Among the more interesting finds have been deer antler pendants worn at the waist, boar ivory pendants, and amber ornaments.

“The earliest item known which was made of jade dates back to the Early Jomon. Jade beads were prestige goods mainly produced in special production centres within a 40 kilometre radius of jade sources in Itoigawa, Niigata prefecture along Kotaki river. Jade sources in Japan include Itoigawa, Niigata prefecture, Mt Osa in Okayama prefecture and the Sibukawa district in Central Japan, with most of the jade items coming from Itoigawa. The raw material was processed at various production sites located in Itoigawa’s vicinity. Jade is mostly associated with larger settlements during the Middle Jomon, when they were most common; Jade pendants in the shape of a comma were particularly prized possessions.

“Archaeologists have found jade magatama pendants, marutama (spherical ones) and kodama (small beads) in burial sites between 4,000 B.C. to 1,600 B.C. The amount of jade found diminishes in the Late Jomon before rising again during the Final Jomon, with production centers located this time throughout Eastern Japan. What was traded during the Middle Jomon were finished beads and various other items, while what was traded during the Final Jomon was mostly raw material.”

Jomon People Earrings

Clay ear ornament

Kawagoe wrote: In the Early Jomon period, a kind of earring that did not require earlobes to be pierced was worn. This type of earring found only on the Kanto plain, consisted of a flat, circular stone with a slit to insert the lobe in. Most popular in the Final Jomon period were spool- or pulley-shaped earrings that had to be inserted in the lobe were the most popular variety. These earrings were commonly be found in the Chubu, Kanto and northern Tohoku regions. Archaeologists have to figure out which ornaments are earrings, for example, they can guess the earrings were meant to be worn as such when the artefacts are recovered from either side of a skull. Clay figurines wearing similar jewellery also provide clues. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, ]

“By examining cases where earrings were found together with adequately preserved skeletal remains, scientists have been able to tell that earrings were mainly worn by females, while other ornaments being more frequently associated to males. Most of the earrings were made of pottery earthenware, but other materials like stone were sometimes used. Many were lacquered or painted with red being the preferred colour. Red was usually the colour used for ritual practices so it is likely that women wore earrings not just to look pretty but during ceremonies and special occasions. The earrings were usually decorated ornately and frequently carved with intricate elaborate patterns.

“Earthenware was probably the preferred material because it is lighter than stone so that in the case of the larger earrings (diameter up to 10-12 cm) it would have been much easier to stretch the pierced lobe to the desired width as the size of the jewellery gradually increased over the years. It seems that earlobes were first pierced at around age ten, then the gradual process of stretching would begin.”

Jomon Tattoos and Body Painting

Jomon people are thought to have worn tattoos or painted their bodies. Kawagoe wrote: Many “clay figurines suggest that the Jomon people were likely to have practised tattooing. They may have tattooed their bodies and/or their faces. This custom was reported in early Chinese accounts of Japan, and was still practised at the beginning of the 20th century among the Ainu people, who, according to DNA researchers, are the descendants of the Jomon people. In the beginning, the Jomon people probably regarded tattooing as a means of decorating themselves, as a symbol of status or as a ritual practice. But as time went on…by the Kofun period, tattooing was used to mark criminals as a form of punishment. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, ]

Around the end of the Jomon period, there was evidence from Chinese record “Gishiwajinden” of a people in the land of Wa (as they called Japan) during the 3rd century B.C. who tattooed their faces and painted their bodies, with pink or scarlet paint. The reason given for the tattoos was that the Jomon people dived often for fish and the markings were thought to protect them from large fish. The text reads as follows: “The men of Wa tattoo their faces and paint their bodies with designs. They are fond of diving for fish and shells. Long ago they decorated their bodies in order to protect themselves from large fish. Later these designs became ornamental. Body painting differs among the various tribes. The position and size of the designs vary according to the rank of individuals…. They smear their bodies with pink and scarlet just as we Chinese use powder.” [Source: Tsunoda and Goodrich, cited by Dalby, 1993: 22] [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, ]

Jomon Tooth Extraction

Skull of Jomon woman

Tooth extraction was practiced by Jomon people and was determined by the way teeth were removed from skulls found by archeologists. Kawagoe wrote: “A series of certain healthy teeth were removed or filed at different stages of a person’s life. For example, starting with the removal of upper canines at initiation or puberty, which was followed at the time of marriage by the removal of lower incisors and/or canines, and later on, upper first molars may have been extracted upon the death of parents, while lower premolars are removed when spouses die. Usually the incisor, canine or premolar teeth were removed in a common repetitive pattern, such that the missing teeth would be easily seen during exchanges with people within a particular group. This may have been done to distinguish members of status, or to distinguish the original members of the community from those who marry into it. The Jomon people had this in common with some other Southeast Asian and African tribes who also practiced tooth extraction to mark passages into adulthood. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, ]

Kusaka et al (2012) wrote: Ritual tooth ablation is removal of specific teeth for ceremonial purposes or rites of passage. Analyses of these activities in this period have determined there are a number of types of ablation as suggested by Harunari (1979): 1) individuals with two maxillary incisors removed, representing the coming of age tooth ablation; 2) individuals with additional four mandibular incisors removed, whose burial offerings suggest high prestige; 3) individuals who lacked all canines and who were immigrants married to type 2 individuals; 4) individuals with all canines and four mandibular incisors removed; 5) individuals with all canines and two mandibular central incisors removed, which characterize people married more than once. Since migration into a group meant a specific type of tooth ablation it should be possible to use this as an indicator of increased immigration. [Source: anthropology blogpost “Bones, Teeth and Climate Change in Japan” ]

According to M. Takenaka et al. In “Tooth removal during ritual tooth ablation in the Jomon period”, ritual tooth ablation was practised from the Jomon through the protohistoric Kofun periods, but was most actively practised between the Late to Final Jomon periods. The study also confirmed that ritual ablation was performed on teeth for visible effects, as incisors, canines, premolars were chosen (all visible teeth). The same dental study also determined that the practice of tooth ablation was rather painful as it used not extractive methods (e.g. by means of a cord or forceps to remove the tooth), but the traumatic method (by strong force in a single blow) to remove teeth which sometimes resulted in incomplete removal of teeth leaving residual broken roots in about 10.2 percent of cases examined (5 out of 49 samples). [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, ]

Tooth ablation in different periods in ancient Japan according to Kyoko Funahashi: 1) In the Final Jomon period, the extraction of upper and lower canines and lower incisors were carried out when the recipients were between 13 and 20 years of age, and the percentages were 80-90 percent. 2) In the early Yayoi period, the extraction of upper and lower canines and lower incisors was carried out, at percentages of between 80-90 percent. 3) From the end of the Early Yayoi period, the extraction of upper and lower incisors, canines and premolars were carried out when the recipients were at adult and mature ages, and the percentage was low. [Source: “Ritual tooth ablation and social organization from the Final Jomon to the Yayoi in Northern Kyushu, Japan” by Kyoko Funahashi, Kyushu University. This study investigates the meaning of tooth ablation and its socio-cultural background in the period between the Final Jomon and the Yayoi in Northern Kyushu by examining a) the percentage of those who received tooth ablation among individual age/sex groups, b) attrition, and c) the pre-auricular groove of the ilium. For More on this topic see the Heritage of Japan website, ]

Why Did the Jomon Practice Tooth Ablation

Anthropologists from the University of Nevada who studied Jomon tooth ablation samples detected five types of systems of tooth ablation, mostly based on kinship. They noted that ablation types vary between males and females, as well as between the young and the old, suggesting various levels of identity within the community. The scientists then reasoned that the tooth ablation was practised because the altered appearance would be crucial for the Jomon person’s identity as well as indicating his or her status within the Jomon community. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, ]

In “Biocultural Perspective on Jomon Dental Ablation: Visage, Identity, and Social Status”, Amanda R Harvey and her colleagues wrote: “The body is a physical symbol of membership in a social community, conveying social information in a permanent manner. It is shaped by and contributes to social rapport (Meskell, 1998). Changes in social environment can affect patterns of body modification, in this case dental ablation (Torres-Rouff, 2009). As the mouth is a primary social organ, teeth are one of the most visible parts of the body that are culturally treated through some form of cultural modification (filing, chipping, insets, ablation, etc.) to construct identity in relation to broader social and political networks (White et al., 2009). [Source:“A Biocultural Perspective on Jomon Dental Ablation: Visage, Identity, and Social Status” by Amanda R Harvey and G. Richard Scott from the Anthropology Department at the University of Nevada , Reno, and Evan Pellegrini1 and Christy G. Turner from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, April 12, 2014 ^|^]

“Personal identity is a dynamic, multi-component concept that includes self-defined expressions of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, kinship, politics, religion, and age (Buikstra and Scott, 2009). The self-referential nature of the various parts of identity is limited by archaeological possibilities (Barth, 1969); hence,the body is needed to create a better understanding of how earlier peoples’ self identified social status within a community. Identity research is not a construction of who people were or where they came from, but represents an attempt to define who they thought they were (Knudson and Stojanowski, 2009:5). It relates to the larger social phenomena that characterize an individual’s existence in society. Identity is a form of habitus (Bourdieu 1977), indoctrinated into an individual’s sense of self by their culture. ^|^

“For the Jomon, life milestones were commemorated by the extraction of different tooth classes. The removal of particular teeth immediately marked your place in society. The various examples (Figs. 1, 2,3, 4, 5, & 6) display individuals at different places/ranks within society. With a flash of a smile, one would know the individual’s family, if they were an adult or not, if they were married, if they had experienced the death of a loved one,or if they had children. There was no need to ask as your body openly displayed your identity.All the common types of ablation noted by other scholars (Harunari. 1979; Kusaka et al., 2008; Kusaka et al., 2009; Temple et al., 2011) were observed in this sample. Previously unnoted forms of ablation involved the extraction of the upper premolars (Type 4I4C2P in Figs. 6 & 6A) and upper and lowerpremolars Type 4C4P in Figs. 5 & 5A) for an unknown rite of passage. ^|^

Jomon Tooth Ablation, Immigrants and Climate Change

A study by Kusaka et al (2012) sought to compare tooth ablation customs with attitudes among immigrants to Japan and climate chnage. The study aimed to test two hypotheses: first, that there was an increase in immigrants to Japan from the middle to late Jomon period (5000-4000 BP to 4000-2300 BP), and second that ritual tooth ablation is a feature that can be used to distinguish immigrants from locals. Analysis of climate in this region has revealed a warming period from 7000-4000 BP, followed by a cooling period from 4000 to 1500 BP. During the warming era there was an increase in large settlements based on archaeology and a focus on marine and faunal resources based on isotope analysis. However, in the cooling period these large settlements were disbanded, and an increase in caries prevalence shows a changing focus on plant resources. It is this period of increased immigration that they wish to examine through ritual tooth ablation patterns and strontium isotope analysis. [Source: anthropology blogpost “Bones, Teeth and Climate Change in Japan“, Heritage of Japan website, ]

Strontium isotope analysis revealed that only one individual from the Ota site was an outlier and all individuals from the Tsukumo site were within the same distribution. This means of the entire sample only one individual was identified as a potential immigrant based on isotopic analysis. Based on these results, the authors argue that either people weren’t moving as much as previously thought or they were moving to areas with similar strontium isotope signatures. If populations from the coast remained in these areas or moved only along the coast it would be difficult to determine migration from their strontium ratios. Comparing types of ritual tooth ablation with strontium isotope levels shows that there is no clear correlation between the ritual and migration. The site contained a number of individuals with type 4I tooth ablation, which was proposed by Harunari (1979) to be a sign of an immigrant, however these had the same strontium ratios as the types of ablation thought to be associated with locals.

Based on their analysis, Kusaka et al (2012) argue that there isn’t a correlation between ritual tooth ablation and immigration, and that movement of people in this region during the Jomon period needs to be re-assessed. Previous studies have argued the migration increased throughout Japan, but Kusaka et al (2012) posit that it may be restricted to movement in specific regions and not in the region they studied.”

Isedotai site celebration tools

Jomon Music and Musical Instruments

Jomon people may have held festivals and conducted shamanic rituals with dancing and singing. Kawagoe wrote: “The sounds of the percussion instrument — the clay drum are thought to have dominated the music and ceremonial scene of the Jomon people. It is thought that the drum power was associated with the gods and that drum beating was used to signal the start of the village hunt or the approach of a storm. The rumbling sounds of the drum persists till today in the taiko drum which remains a very important traditional instrument of the Japanese culture.” [Source: Jomon-jin no Douki (Vol. 4 Jomon-jin no kurashii) Rekishitaiken, Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, ]

Besides the drum, the Jomon people also had many kinds of whistles made from deer antler, stone or clay, as well as wooden primitive fiddle-like or koto-like instruments that could be strummed. A whistle made of deer antler, from the Saka Shellmound, Nagano prefecture, produces a sound that mimicks the cry of a doe (female deer).

“A range of sounds can be produced using the clay bird-whistle from the Satohama Shellmound, Miyagi prefecture, depending on the combination of holes covered. When the two clay plates identical are affixed by pegs, the blowing upon the whistle produces the sound that mimicks the cry of the Common Pheasant. It is thought that the whistle was used to help in attracting and hunting down the bird.

A Jomon musical instrument excavated from Matsubaranaiko site, Shiga prefecture resembles a tonkori (Ainu traditional instrument) and is said to produce koto-like sounds. Strings are strung through the 4 holes at the tip. A Jomon clay whistle excavated from Yuzawa site, Iwate prefecture resembles an ocarina and produces tonal sounds by covering the holes on the side. Jade stone whistle have been found at Minami-sakai Shellmound, Miyagi prefecture.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons; National Museum of Science, Tokyo kahaku.go; Jomon Archaeological Sites in Hokkaido and Northern Tohoku; Jomon clay figures, Tokyo National Museum; Jomon Man, MIT Education

Text Sources: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, ; Charles T. Keally, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology (retired), Sophia University, Tokyo, ++; Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University ~; Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan; Library of Congress; Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO); New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; Daily Yomiuri; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated September 2016

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