Friday, February 7, 2014

Prehistoric Japan: Jomon Culture

Japan is an archipelago in the eastern part of Asia. It is widely known as the Land of Rising Sun. The people of Japan believed that they and their islands were made by the gods, Izanagi and Izanami. In archaeological perspective, Japanese civilization began with prehistoric small cultures, such as the Jomon Culture.

The Jomon culture was a seed of civilization in Japan. It was a Neolithic culture that thrived during circa 4500 – circa 250 BCE. They developed artistic craftsmanship with simple designed potteries and figurines. They progressed with their ritual and rites. They lived a nomadic live to survive. They had a society which was fair and equal and had a sense of unity. It was a culture that started the establishment of the modern Japanese civilization.

The Jomon culture was renowned for its beautiful potteries. The potteries of the Jomon was its identity because the word Jomon itself was related to potteries. The word Jomon in the Japanese language meant cord-pattern which was the usual design of its potteries. It was made by hand and no potter's wheel was used. Its designs started simple and then became more ornamental as time went by. Luckily, some potteries survived to this day and served as a reminder of this ancient and once flourishing culture.

Besides potteries, the Jomon culture also had small and unique figurines that could grabbed anyone's attention. These figurines called dogu were made of clay and depicted characteristics of both man and animal. Its grotesque design made some to theorize that the dogus were really depicting spacesuits and, even, extraterrestrial beings. Other Jomon dogus depicted women with exaggerated features, such as large thighs. The strange designs of the figurine made people to wonder and think what is it use and became distinguished to this culture.

Evidence also showed that the Jomon people had ceremonies dedicated to nature and fertility. They practiced rituals and sorcery along with their weird female dogus. Their main religion was animism. They believe that everything in nature had spirits living within. From rocks to trees, spirits occupied them. So much so that natural sites became centers of worship for many of their people.

For their way of life, they lived a nomadic lifestyle. They survived by hunting, fishing, and food gathering. Some living in the coastline feed on seafood was mostly shellfish as the usual remains that could be seen by the archaeologist today. They crafted tools and weapons with stones for hunting and fishing. They gathered nuts and root crops for additional food source. With no agriculture, they had to move from one place to another if the resources dwindled or exhausted.

The houses of the Jomon people were like those of their contemporaries in other countries. Their homes were semi-subterranean where the floor is 2 ft. deep on the soil. The shapes of the houses were also either round or rectangular and covered by thatched roofs. The center of the house was reserved for heating and cooking purposes.

The society of the Jomon people was an egalitarian and collective community. Group of Jomon people live together in small settlements. They might all had equal share of the labor. There were no evidences of social stratification because the tombs were all similar, coffinless and the bodies were placed like fetuses in a hole in the ground.

The Jomon culture was then replaced by the Yayoi culture during the 3rd or 2nd century BCE but it served as a stepping stone for the development of Japan. 
Downs, Ray. Japan Yesterday and Today. New York: Praeger, 1970. 

Meyer, Milton. Japan: A Concise History. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Pub., 1993.

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