No. 124: Jul-Aug 1999
At Aomori on Mutsu Bay, in northern Japan, archeologists have filled more than 40,000 boxes with artifacts left by the Jomon people. The Jomon culture extended over much of Japan in the period from 10,000 BC to 300 BC. Although the Jomon people are usually considered to have been hunter-gatherers, the Aomori site is demonstrating that they were much more sophisticated. They dabbled in agriculture (chestnuts, millet), traded for jade with southern Japan (400 miles away), and obtained obsidian from Hokkaido to the north across the Tsugaru Strait. The most startling find at Aomori was a group of six enormous holes in the ground containing the remains of massive wooden pillars 1 yard in diameter. Apparently, some huge structure once existed at this site. The Jomon, it now appears, were more advanced socially and technologically then previously believed.
The finds at Aomori have been stunning to not only the archeologists but also the Japanese people in general, for the latter take great pride in their Jomon heritage.
Complicating this picture is the fact that analysis of Jomon skeletons suggest that the Jomon did not closely resemble most modern Japanese.
"Instead, they had features that made them look more like Caucasians and they seem to have resembled the Ainu, an ethnic group that still lives in tiny numbers in northern Japan. In the museum here in Aomori, Japanese tourists wandered by exhibits about the Jomon and gazed affectionately at pictures of what their Jomon ancestors are believed to have looked like -- even though the only one in the room who looked much like the pictures was an American."
The Japanese population, in fact, is not as homogeneous as advertised. The natives of northern Japan tend to have rounder eyes, more body hair, and wider faces; that is, more of the Jomon characteristics. In the south, the Japanese have more Korean and Chinese characteristics.
(Kristof, Nicholas D.; "Out of the Mist Looms, Maybe, the First Japanese," New York Times International, April 2, 1999. Cr. M. Colpitts.)
Comment. From this starting point at Aomori, our tour moves north past Hokkaido, where remnants of the mysterious Ainu still hang on, to the Kuril Islands.