The Jomon Period of Japan: A Fascinating Prehistoric Era

The Jomon period in Japan is one of the most fascinating and mysterious eras of Japanese history. The word “Jomon” itself means “cord-marked” in Japanese, and it refers to the unique pottery style that is associated with this period. The Jomon period is thought to have lasted from around 14,000 BCE to 300 BCE, making it one of the longest prehistoric periods in Japanese history. In this blog post, we will delve deeper into the Jomon period, its history, culture, and significance.

The Jomon Period: Historical Overview

The Jomon period is named after the unique pottery style that was used during this era. The pottery is characterized by distinctive cord-like impressions that were made by pressing a cord or rope into the wet clay before firing. These pots were often used for cooking, storage, and burial purposes. The Jomon period is divided into six different phases, each marked by specific changes in pottery styles and other cultural practices.

The earliest Jomon pottery dates back to around 14,000 BCE and is characterized by small, simple vessels with flat bottoms and rounded sides. Over time, the pottery became more sophisticated, with larger vessels, more complex shapes, and intricate designs. The middle Jomon period (around 4000-2500 BCE) saw the emergence of more advanced pottery techniques, such as the use of molds and the application of decorative patterns.

During the late Jomon period (around 2500-300 BCE), the production of pottery declined, and new styles emerged, such as the Yayoi pottery style, which was characterized by the use of rice paddies and iron tools.

The Jomon period | Credit: AgeFotostock

Jomon Culture: Lifestyle and Beliefs

The Jomon period was characterized by a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, with people relying on fishing, hunting, and gathering for their subsistence. The Jomon people were also skilled at making tools, including stone knives, arrowheads, and fishing hooks. They also made jewelry from shells, bones, and animal teeth.

Hira-ide Historic Site Park reconstructed Jomon period (3000 BC) houses | Credit: Wikipedia Commons

The Jomon people had a deep connection to nature and believed in animism, which is the belief that all things, including plants, animals, and inanimate objects, have a spirit or soul. They also believed in the existence of deities, which were often associated with natural phenomena, such as mountains, rivers, and forests.

Reconstruction of the Sannai-Maruyama Site in the Aomori Prefecture. The site shares cultural similarities with settlements of Northeast Asia and the Korean Peninsula, as well as with later Japanese culture, pointing to continuity between ancient and modern Japanese culture.

Art and Rituals of the Jomon Period

The Jomon people were known for their artistic skills, and they produced a wide variety of sculptures, figurines, and other artifacts. These included clay figurines of animals and humans, as well as stone statues of deities and ancestors.

Deep Vessel, Middle Jōmon Period | Photo by Steven Zucker, Smarthistory
Jomon period artifact | Photo by Bryan

The Jomon people also practiced a variety of rituals and ceremonies, many of which involved the use of pottery. For example, they buried their dead with pottery vessels, which were believed to have spiritual significance. They also created elaborate earthenware vessels, which were used in fertility and harvest ceremonies.

Significance of the Jomon Period

The Jomon period has significant cultural and historical importance for Japan. The Jomon people were the ancestors of the modern Japanese people, and their culture laid the foundation for many of the traditions and beliefs that are still present in Japan today.

The Jomon period also marks a significant shift in human history, as it represents the transition from a nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a settled, agricultural society. This transition laid the foundation for the development of more complex social structures, including the emergence of villages, towns, and eventually cities.

Finally, the Jomon period is significant because of its artistic and technological achievements. The Jomon people were skilled artists, and their pottery and other artifacts are considered some of the finest examples of prehistoric art in the world. They were also skilled at making tools and weapons, which were essential for their survival and the development of their culture.

Jomon pottery, in particular, is an important aspect of Japanese art history, and it has influenced Japanese aesthetics for thousands of years. The simplicity, elegance, and natural beauty of Jomon pottery have inspired generations of Japanese artists and craftsmen.

Visiting Jomon Sites in Japan

If you’re interested in learning more about the Jomon period, there are several sites in Japan where you can see Jomon artifacts and learn about their culture. The Jomon Archaeological Sites in Hokkaido and Northern Tohoku are a UNESCO World Heritage site that includes a number of Jomon archaeological sites, including the Sannai-Maruyama site in Aomori, which is one of the largest and most well-preserved Jomon sites in Japan.

The Jomon Museum in Niigata is another great place to learn about Jomon culture and see examples of Jomon pottery and artifacts. The museum has a collection of over 5,000 Jomon artifacts, including pottery, figurines, and tools, as well as exhibits on Jomon daily life, religion, and art.


The Jomon period is a fascinating era in Japanese history, marked by significant cultural and technological achievements. The Jomon people’s unique pottery style and artistic skills have influenced Japanese aesthetics for thousands of years, and their beliefs and practices laid the foundation for many of the traditions and beliefs that are still present in Japan today. Visiting Jomon sites in Japan is a great way to learn more about this fascinating period and gain a deeper appreciation for the rich cultural heritage of Japan.

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