Jomon and Yayoi Culture

Wednesday August 21, 2019

•  ancient Japan •  Asian studies •  history •  Japan • 

I am taking a course on Japanese history for funsies so expect to see a fair bit of Japanese history popping up here over the next few months…

The Jomon and Yayoi cultures predated modern Japanese culture on the Japanese islands. It is important to understand these are not proto-Japanese cultures, though some of the early elements of them continue today. The Jomon culture is primarily handed to us today via architectural finds, especially those clay pottery and figures. This is such a key element, Jomon itself means “patterns of plaited cord.” An example of a Jomon figure is above, called a dogū and shows a typically-Jomon aesthetic of goggle-eyes.

The end of the Jomon period transitions away from hunting and gathering and other Neolithic traits. This period, starting around 1000 BCE, starts agriculture on the Japanese islands and the formalization of traditional Shinto rites and religion. At the end of the transition period, the Yayoi culture arises and defines the population of Japan from about 300 BCE to 250 CE. This period, notably, is before Buddhism’s arrival in Japan.

Yayoi culture was defined by the development of formal agriculture. The most interesting aspect, though, is the first appearance of a reference to Japan in the Chinese historical record. In the Chinese historical record, the Japanese are described as living in a feudal state with small-scale mercantilism and shamanistic Shinto rituals.

Image via Davide Ferro / Wikimedia Commons.