JOMON PERIOD (10,500–300 B.C.)

JOMON PERIOD (10,500–300 B.C.)

Dogu, a Jomon clay figure
The period of Japanese history between 10,500 and 400 B.C. is referred to as the Jomon Period. The people who lived at this time are regarded as Japan’s first major culture. They were among the first people to make fired pottery. Jomon is the name of the cord markings on the pottery found in this period. Some Jomon were seafarers who built boats out of sewn planks of wood, practiced deep-water fishing and perhaps island hopped all the way to North America.

Humans first arrived in Japan by around 40,000 years ago, possibly following the great herds across land bridges connecting the islands of Japan with the Asian continent. Kevin Short wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, “The switch from nomadic big-game hunting to a more settled hunting and gathering lifestyle came early, with the advent of the Jomon Period about 12,000 years ago. On the other hand, intensive agriculture, on the scale required to support an urban civilization, was late in arriving. The technology for wet rice agriculture did not reach Japan until after 3,000 years ago.” [Source: Kevin Short, Daily Yomiuri, October 25, 2012]

Jomon culture first arose in Japan at least 12,000 years ago and perhaps as early as 16,000 years ago, when the islands of Japan were still connected to the Asian mainland. Jomon people showed up at the end of the last ice age and appeared to have lived in isolation and had little contact with the people on the Asian mainland. Many scholars believe that the Jomon people were Ainu, a people who practiced a religion centered around blood-sacrifice and bear rituals and who survive today in small numbers in northern Japan. [See the People-Minorities section for more information about the Ainu].

Places where prehistoric people live are often indicated by the presence of middens, heaps of discarded shells. Many have been found in the Tokyo area. The oldest Jomon Period remains were found in Chino in Nagano Prefecture. One of the largest Jomon sites is in Kasori, now part of Chiba city, near Tokyo. It boasts a large shell midden and was discovered by an American Edward Moss. It is now a preserved site with a constructed village open to tourists. There are several tunnels with glass walls that cut right into the shell midden.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art” The Jomon period, which encompasses a great expanse of time, constitutes Japan’s Neolithic period. Its name is derived from the "cord markings" that characterize the ceramics made during this time. Jomon people were semi-sedentary, living mostly in pit dwellings arranged around central open spaces, and obtained their food by gathering, fishing, and hunting. While the many excavations of Jomon sites have added to our knowledge of specific artifacts, they have not helped to resolve certain fundamental questions concerning the people of the protoliterate era, such as their ethnic classification and the origin of their language. The increased production of female figurines and phallic images of stone, as well as the practice of burying the deceased in shell mounds, suggest a rise in ritual practices. [Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art Department of Asian Art. "Jomon Culture (ca. 10,500–ca. 300 B.C.)", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, October 2002, \^/]

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

Books Useful references in English on the Jomon Period: 1) Akazawa, Takeru. (1980). Fishing Adaptation of Prehistoric Hunter-gatherers at the Nittano Site, Japan. Journal of Archaeological Science, 7:325-344. 2) Akazawa, Takeru, and C. Melvin Aikens, eds. (1986). Prehistoric Hunter-gatherers in Japan — New Research Methods. Bulletin no. 27. Tokyo: The University Museum, The University of Tokyo. 3) Habu, Junko. (2004). Ancient Jomon of Japan. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. 4) Keally, Charles T., Yasuhiro Taniguchi and Yaroslav V. Kuzmin. (2003). Understanding the Beginnings of Pottery Technology in Japan and Neighboring East Asia. The Review of Archaeology, 24(2): 3-14. 5) Keally, Charles T., Yasuhiro Taniguchi, Yaroslav V. Kuzmin and Igor Y. Shewkomud. (2004). Chronology of the Beginning of Pottery Manufacture in East Asia. Radiocarbon, 46: 345-351. 6) Kidder, J. Edward, Jr. (1968). Prehistoric Japanese Arts: Jomon Pottery. Tokyo & New York: Kodansha International. 7) Kikuchi, Makoto. (1997). Shimosa Daichi Tokyo Wangan Chiiki ni okeru Jomon Jidai no Iseki Ritchi (Location of the Jomon Sites of the Shimosa Upland along Tokyo Bay). Busshitsu Bunka (Material Culture), no. 62, pp. 34-48. (Busshitsu Bunka, Hakubutsukangaku Kenkyu-shitsu-nai, Rikkyo University, Nishi Ikebukuro 3-chome, Toshima-ku, Tokyo 171-0021, Japan). 8) Kobayashi, Tatsuo. (2004). Jomon Reflections: Forager Life and Culture in the Prehistoric Japanese Archipelago. Ed. Simon Kaner and Oki Nakamura. Oxford, England: Oxbow Books. 9) Koyama, Shuzo. (1978). Jomon Subsistence and Population. Senri Ethnological Studies, vol. 2, pp. 1-65. (National Museum of Ethnology, Senri Expo Park, Suita, Osaka, Japan). 10) Koyama, Shuzo, and David Hurst Thomas, eds. (1981). The Affluent Foragers: Pacific Coasts East and West. Senri Ethnological Studies, vol. 9. (National Museum of Ethnology, Senri Expo Park, Suita, Osaka, Japan). 11) “Prehistoric Japan: New perspectives on insular East Asia” by Keiji Imamura. You can help this site a little by ordering your Amazon books through this link:

What is the Jomon Culture

rope pottery dated to 5000 BC

Jomon means "cord-marked" a reference to the rope-like marking on pottery from the period. The name "cord-marked" was first applied by the American scholar Edward S. Morse who discovered shards of pottery in 1877 and subsequently translated it into Japanese as jomon. The pottery style characteristic of the first phases of Jomon culture was decorated by impressing cords into the surface of wet clay.This pottery, dated to around 16,000 years ago (14,000 B.C.), is perhaps the oldest in the world (pottery nearly as old has been found in southern China, the Russian Far East, and Korea). The period was rich in tools and jewelry made from bone, stone, shell, and antler; pottery figurines and vessels; and lacquered wood. The Jomon culture is often compared to pre-Columbian cultures of Pacific Northwest North America because in both regions cultural complexity developed within a primarily hunting-gathering context (with limited use of horticulture). [Source: Wikipedia]

Charles T. Keally wrote: “The Jomon Culture is said to be one of the most affluent forager cultures to ever exist. As a general statement that is certainly true, but the Jomon culture was too highly varied through time and space to be amenable to many general statements...The "Jomon Culture" is generally distinguished from its Palaeolithic predecessor by the first appearance of pottery in the sites. But in fact the transition from the Palaeolithic culture to the Jomon culture is very gradual and the "boundary" very fuzzy. [Source: Charles T. Keally, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology (retired), Sophia University, Tokyo, ++]

“It is clear in the literature that Japanese archaeologists assume that the Jomon culture was co-extensive with the present national boundaries of Japan, exclusive of southern Okinawa, that everything within Japan during these ten millenniums was Jomon but nothing in Korea or Russian Primorye belonged to this culture. The Jomon culture, however, was far too varied to include everything in the Japanese islands under the same cultural name while excluding the contemporary cultures in Korea and Primorye. If we exclude the cultures in Korea and Primorye, then we should also exclude some of the regional Jomon cultures in the Japanese islands. It is highly unlikely that a prehistoric forager culture would be co-extensive with the national boundaries of a modern state, and Japan’s present national boundaries are far from what were its national boundaries just 150 years ago. We are probably stuck with the Jomon-equal-Japan concept of that culture’s geographical distribution, but this concept does not accurately reflect reality. ++

See JOMON PERIOD PEOPLE (10,500–300 B.C.)

Transition from Palaeolithic to Jomon

Keally wrote: “ The change from the "Palaeolithic" culture to the "Jomon" culture is a gradual transition. There is no hint of a clear break, or disconformity, between the two cultures in either the cultural materials or the dates. This transition occurs over a period of several cultural phases and 8,000 to 14,000 years, depending on how narrowly or broadly one looks at the "transition" (Kudo 2005; Keally, Taniguchi & Kuzmin 2003). [Source: Charles T. Keally, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology (retired), Sophia University, Tokyo, ++]

“The last clearly "Palaeolithic" cultural phases are distinguished by (1) knife-shaped stone tools and (2) stone points (or projectile points). These two phases date about 23,000 to 19,000 years ago. The narrowly defined "transition" occurs across three cultural phases, distinguished by (1) microblades and microcores, (2) the Mikoshiba-Chojakubo group of stone tools with small amounts of plain pottery, and (3) linear-relief pottery. The Mikoshiba-Chojakubo group of stone tools includes large ax- or adz-like tools and large foliate projectile points. Arrowheads are present but rare. The Linear-relief Pottery phase stone tools include axes, and querns and grinders. Arrowheads are common in these sites. Microblades and microcores are distinctive of many Linear-relief Pottery sites in western Japan; stemmed projectile points are distinctive of Linear-relief Pottery sites in eastern Japan. But pottery is scarce in all sites of these phases. These three cultural phases date about 18,000 to 13,000 years ago. ++

“The first "Jomon" cultural phase is distinguished by punctate-marked pottery, nail-impressed pottery and cord-marked pottery. The details of the pottery sequence are not clear, and pottery is generally still scarce in the sites. Stone tools include arrowheads, and querns and grinders, but much is still not clear about the tool assemblages of this phase. This first "Jomon" phase dates about 13,500 to 11,500 years ago. But the truly "typical" Jomon culture begins from about 11,500 years ago, with what is called the Yoriitomon Pottery phase in the Kanto Region, and with the radical increase in the quantities of pottery found in the sites and the first appearance of shellmounds.”++

Early Jomon Period Phases

Because the Jomon period lasted so long and is so culturally diverse, historians and archaeologists often divide it into the following phases: 1) Incipient Jomon (ca. 10,500–8000 B.C.) marks the transition between Paleolithic and Neolithic ways of life. Archaeological findings indicate that people lived in simple surface dwellings and fed themselves through hunting and gathering. They produced deep pottery cooking containers with pointed bottoms and rudimentary cord markings—among the oldest examples of pottery known in the world. The earliest pieces of Jomon pottery were small rounded pots were plain or had bean, linear or fingernail applique decorations. Later cord-marked decorations appeared, from which the name “Jomon” (meaning “chord-marked”) is derived. [Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art Department of Asian Art. "Jomon Culture (ca. 10,500–ca. 300 B.C.)", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, October 2002, \^/; Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website,]

2) Initial Jomon (ca. 8000–5000 B.C.): By this period, the gradual climatic warming that had begun around 10,000 B.C. sufficiently raised sea levels, so that the southern islands of Shikoku and Kyushu were separated from the main island of Honshu. The rise in temperature also increased the food supply, which was derived from the sea as well as by hunting animals and gathering plants, fruits, and seeds. Evidence of this diet is found in shell mounds, or ancient refuse heaps. Food and other necessities of life were acquired and processed with the use of stone tools such as grinding rocks, knives, and axes. Artifacts from this period include intricately patterned cord-marked pottery with cone-shaped or pointy bases. Carved sticks (oshigatamon design) and shells (kaigara chinsenmon) were also used to create designs on pottery. Pots were used to boil foods. Flat bottomed pots were common.\^/

3) “Early Jomon (ca. 5000–2500 B.C.): The contents of huge shell mounds show that a high percentage of people’s daily diet continued to come from the oceans. Similarities between pottery produced in Kyushu and contemporary Korea suggest that regular commerce existed between the Japanese islands and Korean peninsula. The inhabitants of the Japanese islands lived in square-shaped pithouses that were clustered in small villages. A variety of handicrafts, including cord-marked earthenware cooking and storage vessels, woven baskets, bone needles, and stone tools, were produced for daily use. New vessel shapes, such as deep vessels, narrow necked jars, and shallow bowls are produced. Pottery with twill patterns (ayasugimon) and feather patterns (ujo-jomon) appear. The warming climate of this period resulted in people living a more settled or sedentary lifestyle in extended family groups in larger villages consisting of large pit houses that had floors about a foot below ground level. Many animal and human figurines were made from pottery and fashioned earth — Japan’s first sculptural art. It is assumed that settled life gave these people more time to create such crafts. \^/

Later Jomon Period Phases

4) “The Middle Jomon (ca. 2500–1500 B.C.) marked the high point of the Jomon culture in terms of increased population and production of handicrafts. The warming climate peaked in temperature during this era, causing a movement of communities into the mountain regions. Refuse heaps indicate that the people were sedentary for longer periods and lived in larger communities; they fished, hunted animals such as deer, bear, rabbit, and duck, and gathered nuts, berries, mushrooms, and parsley. Early attempts at plant cultivation may date to this period. The increased production of female figurines and phallic images of stone, as well as the practice of burying the deceased in shell mounds, suggest a rise in ritual practices. [Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art Department of Asian Art. "Jomon Culture (ca. 10,500–ca. 300 B.C.)", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, October 2002, \^/]

In the Middle Jomon phase pottery was often elaborately and flamboyantly patterned pottery with whorls, applique or molded features and often had raised rims. Jomon in the Kanto plain moved into the surrounding mountainside. The Jomon began to live in very large villages with communal features. They developed very simple forms of agriculture or proto-agriculture, tending to nut groves, cultivating some vines, bean and root crops, herbs and hemp plants in their backyards. They became semi-settled people developing skilled craftsmanship and increasingly sophisticated artwork with flamboyant decorations. Their human figurines have abstract and perplexing meanings or associations with magic or ritual which scientists find hard to fathom. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, ]

5) “Late Jomon (ca. 1500–1000 B.C.): As the climate began to cool, the population migrated out of the mountains and settled closer to the coast, especially along Honshu’s eastern shores. Greater reliance on seafood inspired innovations in fishing technology, such as the development of the toggle harpoon and deep-sea fishing techniques. This process brought communities into closer contact, as indicated by greater similarity among artifacts. Circular ceremonial sites comprised of assembled stones, in some cases numbering in the thousands, and larger numbers of figurines show a continued increase in the importance and enactment of rituals. \^/

6) “Final Jomon (ca. 1000–300 B.C.): As the climate cooled and food became less abundant, the population declined dramatically. Because people were assembled in smaller groups, regional differences became more pronounced. As part of the transition to the Yayoi culture, it is believed that domesticated rice, grown in dry beds or swamps, was introduced into Japan at this time. \^/

In the Late and Final Jomon phases,Aileen Kawagoe wrote in Heritage of Japan: “ Pottery styles are varied. Decorative styles return to using cord-marking and incising lines. Simpler but more elegant style using erased cord-marking (surikeshi jomon) is developed at this time. Temperatures cooled noticeable so the Jomon migrated from the mountains back down to the Kanto plain. They developed more sophisticated ritual practices and an identifiable religion. A large number of figurines, mostly heavy female figurines suggesting mother goddess or fertility goddess (prayer for better harvests) were produced. Many ritual tools, such as stone rods, stone phalli, and figurines, are produced in larger numbers during the Late and Final Jomon periods. And stone circles were constructed outside the main villages. “

Dating and Determining the Jomon Period Phases

Jomon skull

The six periods vary somewhat depending on their location in five or six regions. Keally wrote: “The periods are further divided into a half dozen or more pottery phases (one scheme for Kanto has 30 pottery phases for Middle Jomon). And in some periods, especially Middle Jomon, some of the regions are divided into two or more sub-regions. The final scheme has over 200 regional-temporal phases. This extreme complexity reflects both the abundance of archaeological material and the considerable environmental change through time and space -- for its size, Japan is probably the most environmentally varied country in the world. The dates for the main Jomon periods can be generalized grossly as the following table shows (based on uncalibrated radiocarbon ages); the right column shows an example of the pottery types for Middle Jomon only, in one region of the country. [Source: Charles T. Keally, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology (retired), Sophia University, Tokyo, ++]

Chronologies of the Jomon Period (Name, Chronology, Pottery Phases): 1) Incipient Jomon, 11,000-7500 B.C., Goryogadai I-II; 2) Earliest Jomon: 7500-4000 B.C., Katsuzaka I-II; 3) Early Jomon 4000-3000 B.C., Katsuzaka III; 4) Middle Jomon, 3000-2000 B.C., Kasori E Ia-In; 5) Late Jomon: 2000-1000 B.C., Kasori E II; 6) Latest Jomon 1000-500 B.C., Kasori E III-IV. All dates are based on uncalibrated radiocarbon age measurements. ++

“There are two different definitions of incipient Jomon. Many archaeologists follow the definition set out by the father of Jomon pottery typology, Yamanouchi Sugao, and put the Yoriitomon series of pottery types at the end of Incipient Jomon. But other archaeologists, like myself, put the Yoriitomon series at the beginning of Earliest Jomon, because these pottery types are the first to be found in significant quantities and in all sites. ++

Calibrated radiocarbon dates are available for Incipient and Middle Jomon, and for the end of the Jomon Period. The Plain Pottery in the oldest sites dates about 16,000-15,000 cal BP; the following Linear-relief Pottery about 15,000-13,300 cal BP; and the Punctated, Nail-impressed, Impressed-cord, and Rolled-cord pottery types about 13,300-11,200 cal BP. Middle Jomon in the Kanto District dates about 5400-4400 cal BP. And the end of the Jomon Period falls in the 10th century B.C. ++

For more detailed information on Jomon dating see: 1) Jomon Dates by Regions (2006); 2) Jomon and Yayoi Dates in Aomori Prefecture (2000); 3) Middle Jomon Dates in Kanto (1999). And for discussion of some of the problems in Jomon dating see: 1) "Fakery" at the Beginning, the Ending and the Middle of the Jomon Period (2004) (PDF file of Japanese translation); 2) Bad Science and the Distortion of History: Radiocarbon Dating in Japanese Archaeology (last revised: May 14, 2004); 3) The First Radiocarbon Dates for Japan (last revised: April 14, 2004).

Jomon Period Technology

The Jomon people were originally dismissed as primitive hunter gathers. They made pottery, yes, but without a potters wheel; and they had no agriculture, domesticated animals or metal-working — all of which had existed in China at least by 1300 B.C. One of the main reasons for the lack of development of Jomon people was the fact that Japan was separated by water from more advanced cultures in China and elsewhere in Asia.

Recent findings indicate that the Jomon people were much more advanced that previously thought. The discovery of six enormous holes with the remains of one-meter-thick wooden pillars inside at a Jomon site indicates that the Jomon people built large, sophisticated structures. Possessing the technology and the social organization to move and raise large pillars has traditionally been regarded as beyond the means of hunter-gatherer societies. There are cases of dugout canoes dating back to the Jomon (ca 10,000 B.C.-ca 300 B.C.) and Yayoi (ca 300 B.C.-ca 300 A.D.) periods being discovered in Japan.

A closer look at the Jomon people has also reveled they had separate cemeteries for children and adults and dabbled with agriculture, planting millet, other grains and chestnuts. Paw prints found around 3,000-year-old Jomon dwelling found near Otsu in Shiga prefecture indicate the Jomon people kept dogs. There is also evidence of slash and burn agriculture dated to 6,000 years ago and hut dwellings with thatched roofs dated to 10,000 years ago.

Scientists now think that some technologies and culture’such as buckwheat farming, lacquerware-making — thought to have been introduced to Japan from Korea and China may have actually traveled the other way: from Japan to the Asian mainland.

In Ehime Prefecture a pile of stones in the Inland Sea once thought to be a natural formation is now believed by some to have been made by an ancient people when it was discovered that rays of sunlight pierce a hole between the rocks during the spring and autumn equinoxes.

World’s First Pottery, See JOMON PERIOD POTTERY

Jomon Population and Environment

Keally wrote: “The Jomon population was quite high for a forager culture, especially in Middle Jomon in central Japan — Kanto and Chubu — when it reached a peak that might have been as dense 300 people per 100 square kilometers in that region, measured across the 1,000 years of that period. But the population dropped rapidly there after that. The population in western Japan remained quite low (about 10 people per 100 square kilometers, per 1,000 years) throughout the Jomon period, and grew very little. On the other hand, in northern Japan the population grew slowly but steadily for most of the period but only reached a level of about 70-100 people per 100 square kilometers measured across the 1,000 years in Middle Jomon, and stayed close to that level through the rest of the Jomon period. [Source: Charles T. Keally, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology (retired), Sophia University, Tokyo, ++]

“The Jomon environment was roughly like that of today, with a temperate forest of mixed broadleaf desiduous trees in the north and a subtropical forest of broadleaf evergreen trees in the west from the Kanto Plain around Tokyo to Kyushu. The cold temperate forest in the far north included large numbers of conifers. Oaks were abundant everywhere, and walnuts and chestnuts were often common. During the Early Jomon period, the sea transgressed over much of the coastal lowlands, extending far up the Ara River north of Tokyo, almost to the present city of Kumagaya. The resulting tidal flats were rich in molluscs. The Pacific Ocean waters off the coast of northeastern Japan were extremely rich in fish. Salmon spawned in the rivers in much of northern Japan. And sea mammals inhabited the waters in much of the north, especially in Hokkaido.” ++

Kawagoe wrote: The Siberian mountain lion, the last of the great cats, was present at the beginning of the Jomon period, but disappeared along the way as the climate grew warmer. Deer and wild boar thrived better in the deciduous forested areas of the north. During the Middle Jomon era, the warming climate caused animal wildlife to avoid the hot and humid coastal areas and to migrate to cooler places in the mountains, so that people quickly followed making their homes there too. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, ]

“Like modern-day Japan, the Jomon world saw many natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, typhoons and floods. The Jomon period witnessed the eruptions of Hakone volcanoes, Aira Caldera underwater volcanoes in Kyushu as well as Mt Sanbe (three times). The activity of Mt Aso in north Kyushu during the Middle Jomon era was so violent that no one could live in the area.”

Earwax Offers Insights Into the Origins of Jomon and Yayoi Populations

The are two main ear wax types found in Japan: wet an dry. Students at Nagasaki High School were able to isolate the gene that determines ear wax type and with that knowledge collected samples ear wax from all over Japan and put together an ear wax map and found that dry ear wax is more common in western Japan. Studies have found that people living in Japan in the Jomon period (10,000 B.C. to 300 B.C.) carried the gene for wet ear wax while the gene for dry earwax was introduced into Japan by people that came from the Asian continent in the Yayoi period (300 B.C. to A.D. 300). [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 19, 2007 ^-^]

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Based on the theory that a specific gene determines human earwax type, the student team studied frequencies of the gene for dry earwax, which is said to be common in Japan. The map is the fruit of collaboration between students of 42 of the 101 so-called super science high schools (SSH) around the nation–institutions...Students at Nagasaki Nishi High School extracted DNA from the nail samples, isolating the gene that determines earwax types, in cooperation with Nagasaki University. Using data from the samples, the student team found that the gene responsible for dry earwax is more common in western Japan. That tallies with an earlier study by Norio Niikawa, a professor at the Health Science University of Hokkaido, who found that people living in Japan during the Jomon period (ca 10,000 B.C.-ca 300 B.C.) carried the gene for wet earwax, while the gene for dry earwax was introduced into Japan by people who came from the Asian continent during the Yayoi period (ca 300 B.C.-ca A.D. 300) or later. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, ^-^]

“Referencing a table on ethnic groups and the rate on earwax type, the students knew that the percentage of wet earwax occurence in the different ethnic populations was as follows: A) Black people: 100 percent; B) European: 100 percent; C) Micronesian: 60 percent; D) Chinese Taipei: 40 percent; E) Japanese: 16 percent; F) Mongol: 12 percent; G) Korean: 85 percent; H) Chinese: 4 percent; I) Tungusic: Hardly any. They also knew that ear wax type was determined by a specific gene and that about 85 percent of Japanese are genetically predisposed to have dry type ear wax. The students then collected fingernail clippings from 771 students living in 32 provinces, extracted the DNA from each sample, and isolated the gene that determines ear wax type. ^-^

“When they charted their results on a map, an odd pattern emerged showing that the gene responsible for dry earwax is more prevalent in western Japan. Experts conclude that the aboriginal population of Japan (called “Jomon” people) carried the gene for wet ear wax and that the Yayoi people who migrated to Japan from Asia about 2,000 years ago carried the gene for dry earwax gene for dry earwax. The distribution map of current earwax types in Japan created by the students reinforces the existing theory that Japan was invaded from the west from the Asian mainland and those invaders gradually spread to the rest of the country, moving east and north while displacing and/or absorbing the aboriginal population.” ^-^

Higashimyo Jomon Site

Higashimyo, an 8000-year-old Jomon site in Saga Prefecture, is significant in that it contains a group of large-scale shell middens from the Earliest Jomon Period. The oldest woven baskets in the country are found in large numbers. Wooden implements and tools of bone and antler give evidence of pioneering craftsmanship. [The people that lived there kept dogs and at deer and wild boar along with a variety of seafood. Source: Adapted from Hakkutsu sareta Nihon retto 2007 (“Excavations in the Japanese Archipelago, 2007), Bunkacho [Agency for Cultural Affairs], ed., Asahi Shimbun, 2007, / *]

Higashimyo is located approximately four kilometers north of the central portion of the city of Saga. From investigations to date, it is known to be comprised of a residential district atop a slight rise less than three meters in elevation, plus shell middens accompanied by acorn storage pits made in the valley bottom at an elevation of 0 meter or less. At the time, the sea level was rising throughout the Japanese archipelago due to climatic warming, apparently reaching a peak at approximately six thousand years ago. The site was submerged in its entirely at that point, and rapidly covered with a layer of clay. For this reason animal and plant remains have survived in good condition, and the Higashimyo site is an extremely valuable source of information for obtaining a clear image, centering on dietary habits, of the daily life and culture of the period. *\

Of the six shell middens that have been discovered approximately 5 meters below the present ground surface, Nos. 1 and 2 have been excavated. The shell strata survive at thicknesses of up to 1.4 meters. Within the shell strata and in the surrounding vicinity, over 130 acorn storage pits and other pits possibly used as such have been identified. From more than half of these the oldest woven baskets in the country have been recovered, but as all of these items are damaged, it is thought that baskets used in the transport or storage of acorns were left, when broken, in the storage pits. They provide valuable information for considerations of how storage pits were used. The majority of the baskets are plaited using strips of split wood, but there is a rich variety of basket weaving including items of mesh with hexagonal eyes, and twined items made with vines. In addition, there are dishes provided with handles and vase-shaped wooden containers, wooden combs, and bone and antler artifacts beginning with bodily ornaments made of antler and bearing geometric designs, providing evidence that a high level of craftsmanship goes back to the Earliest phase of the Jomon period. *\

More than 400 woven baskets have been recovered, among which plaited items are found most often. A variety of other types of weaving have been discovered as well at the Higashimyo site, from which it is known that many of the types of weaving verified at Jomon sites nationwide were already present from the Earliest Jomon period. Within a round hole more than 1 meters in diameter, a damaged plaited basket survives in a crushed state. A stick of wood which may have been a marker was found thrust into the pit. It appears that acorns were stored raw and steeped in water. *\

Deposits of shell layers and black humus can be discerned in low-lying areas. The shape of the submerged former topography has been revealed through excavation. Shell middens were found at the Higashimyo site at six locations following the submerged former topography. Excavation was conducted at middens Nos. 1 and 2 in the central portion, while the existence of the others was verified. They are all from the same period (7,000 years ago), making this the largest group of shell middens nationwide for the Earliest Jomon period. *\

Shells are mainly of four species – brackish-water clams (Corbicula japonica), razor clams, cockles, and oysters – which were possibly gathered selectively as other species are hardly ever detected. At first glance corbicula and cockles are more conspicuous. Razor clams stand out less because their thin shells are mostly broken, but they are present in unexpectedly high numbers. *\

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

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; Time, Newsweek, 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 January 2017

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