Visit the sources of Japan’s creativity – IV Jomon



In harmony with nature

The prehistoric Jomon culture could be found the length and breadth of the Japanese archipelago from some time after the end of the last Ice Age (a bout 15,000 years ago) to the start of the Yayoi culture (about 2,500 years ago). Jomon takes its name from types of pottery bearing cord markings. Its origins and continued existence ran parallel with the period during which rice cultivation became established in Japan. Most human settlements elsewhere in the world began with agriculture but the Jomon culture established itself in a pre-agricultural hunter- gatherer society. What sets it apart from other ancient cultures was its remarkable achievement of fostering a settled human condition in harmony with nature over a period lasting more than 10,000 years.

The people of the Jomon period were distant ancestors of the modern Japanese, and their reverence for nature and their development of the animistic spiritual values which are particularly associated with the Jomon period ̶ their gratitude and respect for all living things ̶ have been passed down in an unbroken line to modern Japan and can be seen in the many creative layers of contemporary Japanese society.

Even after the island of Honshu made the transition to the Yayoi culture, in Hokkaido, a region endowed with a magnificent abundance of natural resources, none of the Epi-Jomon, Satsumon, Okhotsk or Ainus cultures adopted agriculture. Instead, they continued as hunter-gatherer societies, weaving their own history through a symbiosis with nature. Their spirituality and idiosyncratic culture remains a strong part of modern Japanese society. This section introduces the spirit and the expertise of the Jomon period and focuses on its pervasive impact on creative skills in Japan.

Providing articles and materials

Articles and materials provided by:Hokkaido Government Department of Environment and Lifestyle, Culture and Sports Bureau, Cultural Promotion Division, Jomon World Heritage Promotion Office

Cooperation:Hakodate Jomon Culture Centre


自然と共生し 1万年続いた日本の先史文化

縄文文化は、最終氷期末( 15,000年前) から水稲耕作を伴う弥生文化の開始(2,500年前)まで、日本列島全体に展開した先史文化です。縄文とは、当時の人々が使っていた土器に縄目紋様が付けられていることに由来します。世界的に見ると定住は農耕により始まりますが、縄文文化は、狩猟・採集・漁労を基盤にするなど、自然と共生しながら一万年も安定した定住生活を実現した点に大きな特徴があります。




Historic sites Ofuna ruins(Hakodate)   l   史跡大船遺跡(函館市)

北海道環境生活部 文化局 文化振興課 縄文世界遺産推進室




The Jomon spirit

– Life cycles and regeneration –

The people of the Jomon period lived in harmony with nature for the greater part of 10,000 years They believed that humans are part of the natural order, that t here is life in all things, that life moves in cycles and is constantly regenerating. Their clay figures and shell mounds reflect this set of beliefs.

縄文の心 -循環と再生の精神-


Clay figurines

Clay figurines were produced throughout the span of the Jomon period. Although initially they consisted of female figures depicted only with breasts, by the middle period the figurines were adapted and came to represent pregnant women stemming, it is believed, because of the importance and significance of fertility in early Japanese society, in which the aspiration for birth and new life was paramount.

However, in the latter half of the Jomon period masculine elements such as beards and flattened chests were added, the two genders were encompassed in the same figurine. Furthermore, a number of intentionally destroyed clay figurines have been excavated. This destruction, a symbol of death, is believed to represent the first stage in the regeneration life.



National treasure. Clay figurine, late Jomon period. Excavated from the Chobonaino historic ruins in the city of Hakodate.

Height 41.5 cm x width 20.1 cm.

国宝「土偶」 函館市箸保内野遺跡 出土

縄文時代 後期 高さ41.5× 20.1cm



The posture and geometric patterns of clay figurines

On examining the sculpture it can be seen that the clay figurine is standing upright, facing slightly towards the upper right, with the waist twisted a little toward the right, the right foot to the front, and the right shoulder pulled back. This is consistent with the natural physical characteristics of human movement which are evident when walking. Clay figurines displaying such a sequence of movements are commonly known as “posed clay figurines.”

The entire clay figurine is decorated with a geometric pattern motif made up of circles and arrows. These patterns, such as the representation of breasts by the technique were made using a thin clay cord with short impression. The geometric patterns are said to represent the hidden myths of Jomon society. If they could speak who knows what stories this clay figurines could tell?



Posture and Geometric Pattern   l   ポーズと幾何学文様

Shell middens and earthen mounds

Shell middens (kaizuka) were the rubbish heaps where people discarded the shells and bones of fish and animals after their flesh had been eaten. However, because human graves have also been found carefully buried in Jomon shell mounds, it is likely that far from being simply a rubbish dump, shell middens were also a sacred place in which to inter the souls of animals, including those of human beings. In addition, some earthen mounds (morido) have been discovered filled with the remains of discarded implements such as pottery and stone tools, among which human graves have been found. The people of the Jomon period believed that souls dwelled not only in humans and other living organisms, such as animals and plants, but that souls also dwelled in inanimate objects, such as pottery artefacts and stone tools.



Shell midden   l   貝塚

Sea snail,Periwinkle,Clam   l   クボガイ・タマキビガイ・アサリ

Tuna, flounder   l   マグロ・ヒラメ

Japanese sea lion   l   ニッポンアシカ

Jomon skills and expertise

– The origins of Japanese crafts –

By the beginning of the Jomon period, the basis of modern Japanese craft techniques such as lacquerware, jade processing and the braiding of plant fibres for basket weaving were already established. These techniques have been steadily refined over the 10,000 years or more that have since elapsed.

縄文の技術 -日本工芸の原点-


The world’s oldest lacquerware items(9,000 years ago)   l   世界最古の漆製品(9,000 年前)

Red Lacquered spouted vessel (3,300 years ago)   l   漆塗り注口土器(3,300 年前)


Lacquerware is a traditional craft distinctive of Japan. Used somewhat like paint, lacquer is created by mixing red or black pigment with sap collected by scraping l acquertress, a process which requires the combination of a light touch and a lot of effort. The oldest lacquerware products still in existence ̶ ornaments for clothing created with thread made from plant fibres painted with red lacquer ̶ date from about 9,000 years ago (the early Jomon period). Lacquering skills that led to the techniques in use today gradually evolved over time. Examples may be found in dishes made of lacquer painted on wood and trays made of lacquer painted on baskets. One distinctive feature of Jomon-period lacquerware was the painting of red lacquer over the top of black lacquer, a technique that is still used in contemporary lacquerware.



Red Lacquered pottery pices / Mako B site (3,500 years ago)   l   赤漆塗り土器片/ 磨光B 遺跡(3,500 年前)


Jade is a stone which has been loved and treasured in Japan for a very long time. Japan’s jade production is limited to the Himekawa area of Itoigawa in Niigata Prefecture and there is evidence that ornamental jade was being mined from this site during the Jomon peri od. Jade is a very hard mineral, but the people of the Jomon period would patiently drill holes in pieces of jade using sand and similar materials as abrasive agents in order to work the jade into decorative pendants.

The base rock of jade is white, although some parts sparkle green with omphacite. A comparison in beauty can be drawn between the lustrous green of jade emerging from within its white base rock and the fresh green of spring emerging from under the white winter snows.





The Jomon people were strongly drawn to the beautiful, mysterious green hue of this mineral in which they found an affinity with their native spirit. Mainly used for ornaments, jade was fashioned into various shapes and forms by the clever techniques in use during the Jomon period.




Bitumen intended to be calculated on the oil deposit area, is the mineral resources that are available from the world ‘s oldest. As a reinforcement of the building is in Mesopotamia, it had also been used to, such as mummy making in Egypt . In Japan, it is described that was presented to Emperor Tenchi from Japan secretary to” Moyuru Tsuchi (Burning soil) ” as Koshi country ( Current of Niigata prefecture, etc ) in 668 A.D, was called ” Kusawa water ” in the Edo era. The Jomon period, by utilizing the agglutination of, such as the joining of the broken of repair and bow and arrow of earthenware shaft of an arrow and Sekizoku (arrowhead ), had been used mainly as an adhesive. In particular, from the nature that do not dissolve in water, the reinforcement of the hook and the thread of the knot, such as the junction of stone harpoon head and shaft , and conspicuous use in fishing gear. These bitumen has, such as those of Akita production an d Niigata. Perhaps the rare high-tech material of the time.




Bitumen residue which has the identation of an Abalone shellBitumen might have been poured into shells in order to preserve them. Above: a present – day abalone)   l   アワビの貝殻の圧痕があるアスファルト塊(貝殻に入れて保管していた状況が分かる。上は現在のアワビ)

Bitumen adhering to the stone   l   石器に付着したアスファルト

Bitumen excavated situation ( Hakodate Mako B ruins )   l   アスファルト出土状況(函館市磨光B 遺跡)

Jomon values

– Towards World Heritage listing –

The core values of the Jomon era ̶ living in harmony with natur e and respecting all forms of life ̶ are important not only for understanding the deeper laye rs of contemporary Japanese culture but also for providing meaningful universal values to embrace when considering the future of mankind. Jomon culture carries with it a strong reminder of the powerful human urge to cherish nature and life and to accept a wide range of values. For this reason, the four prefectures of Hokkaido, Aomori, Akita, and Iwate have joined together with the objective of achieving the UNESCO registration of “Jomon” as a World Cultural Heritage.

縄文の価値 -世界遺産をめざして-




Efforts aimed at World Heritage listing: the Jomon ruins of norhtern Tohoku and Hokkaido

Jomon culture extended throughout the entire Japanese archipelago, but not uniformly; it was divided into some six regional cultural areas. Among these, the 17 ruins for which World Cultural Heritage listing is sought are located in the so uthern part of Hokkaido and in the northern Tohoku region, locations which face each other across the Tsugaru Strait, the 18 kilometre stretch of sea that separates the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido. This strait did not hinder cultural exchange during the Jomon period because a common cultural area was established and maintained for over 10,000 years. However, this particular cultural area has been selected in light of the fact that it contains outstanding ruins which between them date from the very beginning right through to the end of the Jomon period.



Jomon period regional cultural sphere The area within the dashed red line is the Hokkaido/Northern Tohoku area | 縄文時代の地域文化圏(破線赤が北海道・北東北のエリア)


Historic evidence supporting the World Heritage claim: the Jomon ruins of northern Tohoku & Hokkaido


Historic Ofune Site   l   史跡 大船遺跡

Historic Kakinoshima Site   l   史跡 垣ノ島遺跡

Historic site Kiusu Earthwork Burial Circles   l   史跡 キウス周堤墓群

Historic site Kitakogane Shell Midden   l   史跡 北黄金貝塚

Historic site Irie-Takasago Shell Midden(Irie)   l   史跡 入江・高砂貝塚(入江貝塚)

Historic site Irie-Takasago Shell Midden(Takasago)   l   史跡 入江・高砂貝塚(高砂貝塚)

Special historic Sannai-Maruyama Site   l   特別史跡 三内丸山遺跡

Historic Komakino Site   l   史跡 小牧野遺跡

Historic Omori-Katsuyama Site   l   史跡 大森勝山遺跡

Historic Korekawa Site   l   史跡 是川石器時代遺跡

Historic site Tagoyano Shell Midden   l   史跡 田小屋野貝塚

Historic Kamegaoka Site   l   史跡 亀ヶ岡石器時代遺跡

Historic Odai-Yamamoto Site   l   史跡 大平山元遺跡

Historic site Futatsumori Shell Midden   l   史跡 二ツ森貝塚

Historic Goshono Site   l   史跡 御所野遺跡

Special historic site Oyu Stone Circles   l   特別史跡 大湯環状列石

Historic Isedotai Site   l   史跡 伊勢堂岱遺跡


Associated Sites Historic Washinoki Site   l   関連資産 史跡 鷲ノ木遺跡

Associated Sites Historic site Choshichiyachi Shell Midden    l    関連資産 史跡 長七谷地貝塚