The Importance of the Jomon Culture

Ainu Culture

'Kamuy-nomi' - Prayer to gods of animals and plants prior to commencement of road construction started (Biratori Town)

'Iomante' - Ceremony to send off hand-reared bears' spirits to the world of gods (Picture taken in the 1930s)

The culture of Hokkaido's indigenous inhabitants, the Ainu, had replaced that of the Jomon by about the 14th century. Recent research has uncovered strong evidence that the economy of Ainu came to be based on a combination of fishing, hunting, and the cultivating of grains, with the Ainu commanding small boats called 'Itaomachipu' to engage in dynamic trade with Honshu, the Kuril Islands and, via Sakhalin, continental Asia.

Having said that, the Ainu culture was also a spiritual one that saw Ainu giving thanks to gods for the natural blessings they bestowed. Ceremonies were held in which the Ainu prayed for the souls of the living animals that were their basic food source, praying for those souls' journey to the world of gods. In particular, 'Iomante', a spirit-sending performed for spirits of the Brown Bears or Blakiston's Fish Owls that had been hand-reared , was very important and great ritual of the Ainu. Though possibly passed down from Northern peoples, it is also thought likely that the Ainu culture's great regard for the spiritual value of life originated and continued from Jomon culture. In short, it is probably fair to say that the spirituality of the Jomon is that which was most strongly retained by the Ainu.

Significance of the Jomon Culture for Today

Ground in Hokkaido

In autumn, salmon head upstream in Hokkaido rivers and the trees in the forest bear fruit, providing the abundant gifts of nature that bless the great expanse of Hokkaido. In winter, deep snow and a biting cold cloak the land, but eventually spring arrives and the land once again brims with life.

The Jomon, and later too the Ainu, lived in harmony with this cycle of nature. Their efforts have preserved the natural environment over the passage of time.

In our modern world, life has departed from self-sufficiency and sustainability and in Hokkaido we face the same problems shared by mankind today. Our hope is that more people around the world will learn of the distinctiveness and ways of the Jomon people.

Sharing the Jomon Legacy with the World

In the Jomon era, Hokkaido and Aomori, Akita and Iwate ,on either side of the Tsugaru Straits, shared a cultural sphere. In 2007, Hokkaido and these three Tohoku prefectures collaborated to propose the region's Jomon heritage as a site for World Heritage designation.

In terms of its value to the wider world the Jomon people had a culture that thrived without producing large manmade structures, technology and knowledge. Instead, the Jomon possessed a spirituality and wisdom that allowed them to live humble lives in harmonious coexistence with nature.

We are continuing our efforts to disseminate information about the Jomon's great worth and far-reaching value. As well as working towards the designation of Jomon archaeological sites as World Heritage sites, we are working to ensure that this remarkable culture and history will be preserved for future generations.

Restored large shanty pillar construction and large dugout dwelling (Aomori City's Sannai-Maruyama Site)