The Jomon and Yayoi Eras in Japan

Pages: 5 (1418 words) Published: April 14, 2014

Compare and contrast the key aspects of the Jomon and Yayoi eras

Early Japanese history is divided into three main periods; Jomon, Yayoi and Kofun. This essay will compare and contrast the two earliest, the Jomon and the Yayoi, with a view to describing the key differences between the periods as well as the traits and similarities that connect them.

The Jomon period started in 11,000 BC and lasted over 10,000 years until 300 BC. It is such a long period of time that most historians break it down into six parts; Incipient, earliest, early, middle, late and latest (Collcutt, Jansen & Kumakura, 1988, p.32). The name Jomon literally means “rope pattern”. This is to do with the way the Jomon made their now world famous pottery. The Jomon were classic hunter-gatherers, who had limited technology – metallurgy was not introduced until the Yayoi period. Throughout this great expanse of time, the Jomon changed their way of life, in terms of methods for food, diet, technology, and infrastructure. Next came the Yayoi period, which was from 300 BC to 300 AD. The characteristics of the Yayoi period came about through a mix of late Jomon traits and influences from the new settlers from the mainland and the Korean peninsula. The name Yayoi comes from the Yayoi quarter of the Bunkyo ward in Tokyo where the first archaeological discoveries for it were made (Japan Reference, 2013. Para. 1). This period was characterized by the widespread use of wet-field rice cultivation and improved technology, which in turn brought about greater social stratification and population growth.

The first aspect of Jomon and Yayoi eras that I will compare is the diet and nutrition of their peoples. The Jomon diet was originally typical of a hunter-gatherer culture. It involved hunting what was catchable with stone weaponry and foraging the woods for nuts and other small foods such as fruits and edible plants. Some examples include, gourds, beans, shiso, egoma, hemp, mulberry, colza, burdock, and peach (Pearson, 1992, p. 68). Due to sudden climate change around 10,000 BC ocean waters rose, covering previously available land and making catching big game relatively easier (Totman, 2000, p.23). This rise in sea levels also provided plenty of rich fishing grounds, which the Jomon exploited with nets, hooks and harpoons (Totman, 2000, p.24). The Yayoi era is famous for the start of extensive rice cultivation. The techniques for wet-field rice cultivation were brought to Japan (starting in Kyushu) by migrants from the Korean peninsula. These techniques were so advanced that as long as the land was arable rice cultivation was possible. In low-lying areas near water sources, drainage systems were utilized to remove excess water and later in the period complex irrigation systems were designed to transport water to elevated paddies on shelves on mountain slopes – similar to the method used also today in Japan, where flat land is hard to come by. This allowed Yayoi communities a better chance of avoiding the ‘spring hunger’, i.e. the depletion of food reserves accumulated during the previous year. The Jomon had managed to gain a certain level of sedentary lifestyle using dry and wet storage pits (Habu. 2004, p. 64) for acorns and other nuts. However, this was only a small portion of their food source. The Yayoi were able to store more rice for much longer, allowing for more time for activities outside of food gathering. This shows that the differences in eating habits and nutrition between the people of the Jomon and Yayoi were mainly due to the introduction of new farming techniques.

Another important aspect is the social and cultural development that occurred in each era. Due to the Jomon being hunter-gatherers, the mainly lived in small groups, some even leading a nomadic lifestyle. This meant there was little development of any political order or exchange between communities. However, archeological...

References: Collcutt, M., Jansen, M. & Kumakura, I. (1988) Cultural Atlas of Japan. New York, NY. Facts on File, Inc.
Habu, J. (2004) Ancient Jomon of Japan. Cambridge, UK. University of Cambridge.
Japan Reference, 2013, Yayoi era. Retrieved October 10, 2013 from JAPAN REFERENCE.
Pearson, R. (1992) Ancient Japan. New York, NY. George Brazillier.
Schirokauer, C. (1993) A Brief History of Japanese Civilization. New York, NY. Harcourt Brace College Publishers.
Totman, C. (2000) A History of Japan. Malden, MA. Blackwell Publishers Inc.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013. Jomon Culture. Retrieved October 10, 2013 from The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013. Yayoi Culture. Retrieved October 10, 2013 from The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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