The Teaching of “Jōmon:” Our Ancient Japanese DNA Inherited

New York, N.Y. The other day I went to Tokyo and attended an interesting gathering. There, we explored the idea that Jōmon period culture forms the foundation of ‘Japaneseness.’ Further, that we can understand our present period through this understanding, finding hints for solving the problems of Japan today. Kato Haruichi, who has started his own foundeation called Jomon-do, presented. And I attednedn

FinalJomonJarKamegaokaFinal Jōmon jar, Kamegaoka style. Photo: Wikipedia.

Mr. Kato originally worked in a trading company where he visited about 60 countries around the world. By experiencing the culture of various countries, it seems that his feelings about Japanese and Japan feeling were deepened. I also have begun to feel deeply about Japan by traveling around the world. In fact, I studied much about Japan as a motive and I really understand the feeling. I believe you learned in school that the Jōmon period began before the Yayoi period, but can you truly understand how old it is? We assume this culture began about 13,000 to 15,000 years ago and about 12,000 B.C. from now (though there are various theories).

Chaos_Monster_and_Sun_GodChaos Monster and Sun God from Ancient Mesopotamian religion.
Photo: Wikipedia.

It is often stated that the Mesopotamia civilization is the oldest civilization in the world, but this is said to have only started around 3500 B.C. The Jōmon culture is well over 10,000 years ago, far before Mesopotamian civilization.

Somehow, I thought the Mesopotamian culture was created first and that ancient Japanese culture was influenced from it. But according to Mr. Kato, Jōmon culture is the opposite. It was a long time ago and the continent and Japan were still land at that time. It seems  this culture was spread over the land. There was a period called the Bronze Age in ancient Greece which is also one of the very old civilizations that are important in history. But this period also started around 3200 B.C. to 3000 B.C. Yet Jōmon culture is more than 10,000 years older. That is amazing.

Dynamic and Passionate Jōmon Pottery

You may not know much about Jōmon pottery other than what you learned from textbooks illustrating this era, such as tiles with simple patterns on the wall and very decorative earthenware. These are the features of this era that are often excavated. Please do an online search and see by all means. It seems there was no technology to make the pottery thin at the time and it is boneless because it is thick, but the shape itself is interesting. There are many excavated items with a sense of movement. There are also many instances in which a beautiful pattern is formed by giving unevenness to the edge of the bowl or the outside.

1920px-Bowl_Jōmon_periodExcavated at Shimoda-cho, Kohoku-ku, Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa.
Jōmon period 4000-3000 B.C. Photo: Wikipedia.

Japanese Ancient DNA Inherited from Jōmon Period

The famous artist, Taro Okamoto, was shocked when he first saw Jōmon pottery. He was fascinated by this pottery and contributed a paper called “Dialogue with Four Dimensions-Jōmonist Theory” to a magazine. Certainly, there are many passionate patterns with flames that are in common with Mr. Okamoto’s work. The Jōmon people were hunting people and their size and strength seem to be as they are in a flexible, free and powerful design. It was a culture of compassionate peace with each other, with no weapons made to fight against another human. If you think people came up with such wonderful designs so far ago in the same land of Japan where we live today, making such pottery 10,000 years before Mesopotamia, it is not something to be proud of. It is simply that we have inherited our ancient Japanese DNA from the Jōmon period.

Originally published as Vol. 68 in Weekly Biz, April 20, 2019; translated by Jim Luce.

See: Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura Column in Japan’s Weekly Biz



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About Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura

View all posts by Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko was born into a distinguished old family in Kyoto, Japan, and graduated from Toho conservatory of Music in Tokyo. In 1961 she came to U.S. as a pianist sponsored by the Boston Symphony. She studied at Boston University, New York University, and received her Ph.D. in Oriental Medicine from New York State University and the International Academy of Education in Tokyo. From 1968 to 1992, she promoted cultural exchanges from East to West and vice versa, and became a world famous impresario, producing 2,000 events each year all over the world encompassing over 140 countries. In this connection, in 1972, she went to Dharamsala to find the lost Tibetan Folk Opera, and met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with whom she remains a lifelong friend. In 1973 and 1991 she arranged and funded personally the tours of the Folk Opera of Tibet to the West. She has received many medals and honors from different countries. Her tireless life long work in Philanthropic field is vast and well known ranging from Save the Beacon Theater, Save the Boat People, Help the Homeless, natural disasters of earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as relief to AIDS and HIV positive children in Africa. She has been a dedicated Board Member to both the J. Luce Foundation and Orphans International for years. Her work focuses on the Tibetan people; Tibetan children remain especially strong in her heart. She raised fund for the new academic building for Manjushree Orphanage in Tawang, India and supported many aspects of the school. See HuffPo pieces entitled Japanese Holistic Healer in NYC to Build School for Tibetan Orphans in India, A Japanese Dinner with Raul Castro’s Daughter, and NYC Gala in Support of Tibetan Orphans Set for January.

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