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Jomon – The codes, land and the spirituality


The Jomon period, as well as the various cultures which emerged from that historical background, serve as one of the most important inspirations for this season's collection. Maiko Kurogouchi learned that her hometown was the center of that culture, thousands of years ago, during the Middle Jomon period. Why did the distinct culture of the Middle Jomon period spread from Nagano? And just what was the Jomon period like? We unravel this story with an essay by Michiho Ishino, a researcher of the Jomon period and Suwa belief.

Ruins from the Jomon period continue to be discovered to this day. However, the characteristic form represented by the Idojiri ruins, which incorporates an abundance of magical and decorative patterns, is not commonplace. During the Middle Jomon period, spanning around 1,000 years, there was a cultural region centered at the southwestern foot of Mt. Yatsugatake, extending east to the Inaya Valley, south through the Kofu Basin, all the way to the Tama Hills and the Sagami region. The Yakemachi style pottery from the eastern foot of Yatsugatake, and the arabesque-patterned pottery centered on the Matsumoto Basin, also influence each other. Let us consider for a moment, the background behind the emergence of this peculiar form.

Why does Jomon iconography resonate with us? It is not a language. Nor is it art. However, it is clear that there is a code, almost like a language - and it undoubtedly appeals to the aesthetic sense.
Where there is a code, there is certainly a message to be conveyed. Jomon earthenware, engraved with intricate three-dimensional patterns, shows traces of cooking. It was a practical object, never meant for viewing appreciation.

It is said that to establish "civilization", there must be production of food through agriculture, as well as a surplus of the food produced.
The idea is “the accumulation of wealth, and possession”. This is a roundabout way of saying that the "concept of ownership" is the beginning of civilization, as well as the beginning of economy. Unfortunately, it is also the most fundamental motivation for organized strife, which is to say, war. In particular, the “invention of the concept of land ownership” may have been the origin of business in human society.

It is generally said that the Jomon culture was not a civilization. And that is the background to the debate over the theory of Jomon agriculture. Gathering nuts and storing them. Attempting to increase certain plants around their homes, in order to gather nuts.

Is that not agriculture?
No, it is “planned cultivation”!

Thus a bizarre word was born, perhaps in order not to waver from the axis of “Jomon having never been a civilization”. It is a matter of ideology. However, it can be said with certainty that there was no “concept of land ownership” in the daily lives of the Jomon people, who migrated repeatedly as a matter of course. (Although there surely would have been at least a sense of "territoriality")

Jomon society also had tools. What we find now are mainly stone tools and earthenware, but of course there were also wooden tools, and numerous lacquered wooden products have been found as well. This high culture is a far cry from the common perception of “primitive times”. The most important of the tools was obsidian, the best edged tool until the arrival of ironware. The obsidian around Wadatoge in particular is known for its clear blue-black color, and was once the greatest "brand" in Japan. Of course, it was not seen as a brand just because of beauty. They are blades of superior quality.

Occasionally, ruins are found with an accumulation of high quality obsidian ingots. In the modern person’s perception, this seems to equate to the “accumulation of wealth”. In fact, clay figurines of unmatched splendor are often found in the vicinity. In them, we smell “wealth”. The high-quality obsidian itself begins to feel like currency. However, there is no “economy” in the era before civilization. Obsidian from Wadatoge has been found in the Kinki region to the west, and in Hokkaido to the north. How did it “circulate” in an age without civilization or economy? Not in the physical sense, of course.

None of us can deny a civilization that has advanced this far. If we want to start over, we would have to wind the clock back to the beginning of the Yayoi period. But that is impossible. Certainly, many people are beginning to feel that the current civilization has reached an impasse, though, nothing is born through the denial of civilization. However, perhaps there is something to be learned from pre-civilization societies.

A message from before civilization.
Pre-civilizational values.

This will never be something that can be reduced to words like “barbaric” or “uncivilized”.

In order to receive a message from the distant past, we must try to understand how people from the distant past felt and thought. Thinking back, how many of our senses have we lost in keeping pace with the progress of civilization? We could even go as far as saying that, for every useful tool we have acquired, we have lost one of our senses in exchange.

For example, the sense that people had in the era without clocks, of looking up at the sky to keep track of time. That is not a skill that goes by any manual. It would surely have functioned even on cloudy days. How did they meet up without cell phones, watches, or maps? We have acquired shoes, and become able to walk safely to our meeting places. And on flat pavement, that is. Whether barefoot, in zori (Japanese straw sandals), or in sandals made from a single piece of leather, they would have received a variety of information from their feet, knees, and ankles, just by walking on the ground. On the subject of walking, the sense of direction is perhaps one of the most detached for the modern person. And a sense of distance. Beyond good or bad, our senses are completely different. If it “takes 5 hours by car”, we feel that it’s a little far (leaving aside individual differences). Until the beginning of the modern age, however, "three days on foot" was not considered a long journey. And in any era, people were indeed often traveling long distances on foot. Naturally, their sense of acceptance towards time would have been completely different.

Every single one of these people would be practically like a psychic in today's society. To what extent can we imagine the “perception” of such people?

Nagano Prefecture is a mountainous area. While mountains that can be crossed by passes are fine, the Northern and Southern Alps are complete barriers that divide the region. The Chikuma river, Saigawa water system, and Tenryu river. Three vast valleys, caused by three great rivers. And a single, small, lake basin. This is the main environment that forms Nagano Prefecture. Each region is separated by mountainous terrain, and connected by countless mountain passes. Momentum, strategic regions for transportation, and terminal locations are established naturally. And even in the midst of mountainous terrain, people live. It is only inconvenient through the perception of modern people, since mountains are rich in resources and less prone to flooding (there was also the knowledge to avoid places where landslides could occur). They lived a life of plenty, traveling to and from town on a daily basis.

If there is any unique quality to the land of Nagano Prefecture, it may have been generated by this balance between discontinuity and continuity.
The Jomon people, watching Fuji's plumes of smoke from the foot of Mt. Yatsugatake, must have traveled for a variety of reasons. Farther for a greater purpose. For lesser purposes, not even crossing the mountain pass. And so, deviations in culture diffusion arise.

Like the foot of Mt. Yatsugatake in the Middle Jomon period.
Like Zenkoji Temple.
Like Suwa-taisha Shrine.

What comes through the pass settles into a melting pot, a base, from which those influences cross the pass once again.

Civilization is the creation of a social structure by human hands. It is built upon science and reason.
And thought and faith are attempts by humans, to grasp how the world works.

While moving, staying, thinking, and communicating. These people who created mysterious patterns for a thousand years - how did they perceive the world? How did they feel about the animals and plants they coexisted with? What did they feel towards the mountains, the rivers, the sea, the sky, the sun, the moon, and the stars? Without a doubt, it is impossible to decipher completely the "language-like" code of the Jomon people. But even so, seeing the dynamic patterns. Staring at the intersecting codes. What, and how far, can we imagine?

Photography: Masaru Tatsuki/ Words: Michiho Ishino/ Edit: Runa Anzai (kontakt)