Ancient Japanese Culture

A Fascinating Peek Into the Facets of Ancient Japanese Culture

The ancient culture of Japan is referred to as early as the 1st century AD. The Chinese historical texts and archaeological evidence, indicate the presence of people on the islands of Japan in the paleolithic period. It is the product of a rich ecosystem and an archipelago, that supported human development.
Although there is no precise date to point out when humans first made the Japanese archipelago their home, the land has thrown up some amazing Paleolithic tools. The core tools and flake tools unearthed is evidence enough of a great migration from different parts of the Asian continent. The earliest era studied dates back between 30,000 to 10,000 years BC. The resultant civilization is an amalgamation of activities surrounding hunting and gathering, and pit dwellings and caves. The best way to study it, is to segregate it into the Pre-Ceramic and Ceramic eras. There are four distinct cultures that emerge from this study ― Jomon, Yayoi, Tumulus, and Yamato.


The term Jomon refers to a type of pottery found during the time. Jomon or cord marks were the basic patterns observed on the clay. This pottery displays features, that are common to Neolithic cultures around the world. The use of chipped and polished tools, pottery making, and the initiation of agriculture and cattle rearing were the main features of this era. People also patronized the development of weaving and architecture. The Kyushu pottery from the southernmost of the Japanese islands, is the result of a continental influence. Since Kyushu pottery remains predate, Jomon culture is believed to be Mesolithic. The development of pottery generated a highly developed lifestyle among the people of that era. They displayed great diversity and complexity in the art. The products of this age highlighted a lot of elaborate decoration and an ascending order of development. The people thrived on hunting, fishing, and gathering edible roots that still form a major part of Japanese food. Clothes were made of organic materials and ornamentation was a necessity. The custom of extracting or filing certain teeth was a part of a rite announcing adulthood. It was responsible for the regional differences, many of which can be seen even today and are evident in their language.


It was present in Kyushu even as the Jomon culture was witnessing development. It spread from Kyushu to the northern districts of Honshu, which is also the largest island in Japan. The name Yayoi comes from a district in Tokyo. The name suggests the first evidence of the era being unearthed at Yayoi. The pottery during this era was fired and turned on wheels to impart durability and to elaborate its shape. The advanced technique helped create pottery for practical use. The other signs of evidence of the Yayoi culture include a number of metal objects and the cultivation of rice. The influx of Chinese culture into Korea and thereafter into Japan through invasion is amply proven by iron and bronze implements that indicate traces of Han culture. The Japanese in this era made axes, sickles, hoes, and swords. They also took to the cultivation of rice along the Yangtze River delta in southern China. Their techniques of maintaining paddy fields were advanced, involving a lot of time, capital, and manual labor. These people wove cloth on primitive looms and used vegetable fibers for the desired dye and print. The migration from China and North Korea as well as South Korea to Japan was most observed in the character of the people. The addition and mixture of sanguineous elements and difference in Jomon and Yayoi skeletal remains are more nutritional than human genetics.

Tumulus or Tomb

Tumulus or Tomb Culture thrived during a 'blank period', that resulted due to frequent exchanges with other countries. This phase was probably due to the imminent collapse of Yamatai and the initiation of the Yamato kingdom. The unification of the nation could be commemorated as an achievement of the fighting between Wo and Koguryo in the mid-4th century. The resultant military success led to a long period of preparation and the coining of Nihon Shoki or the Chronicles of Japan. The people of this era and especially the survivors of the aftermath, generated a culture unique to circumstance and naturally the one that resulted in the term 'Tumulus'. The large burial mound or kofun was a common archaeological feature during the time. Tombs were large and either circular or keystone-shaped. The people built enormous tumuli with a number of modifications for grave goods.


The Yamato kings or kimi focused their rule around Mount Miwa, their object of worship. The secular and sacred functions unified the sacred connection with Mount Miwa. During this time, agricultural techniques were quite advanced. The people used iron tools for cultivation, leveling, and flooding paddy fields. The legends extolled in the Kojiki and Nihon shoki, record Yamato expansion throughout the archipelago. The religious focus at this time was the Isonokami Shrine at Tenri. Most of the treasured items found at the Isonokami Shrine were in fact the weapons! The seven-pronged sword or shichishito is a part of National Treasure. Weaving, smithy, and ideographic script are evidence of this great era. It reached its peak in the early 5th century. The rulers were driven towards a military approach and were rather secular in comparison with the earlier priestly kings. They controlled the increased agricultural output and monopolized military technology. People involved exclusively in farming were mostly a part of lineal groups, who worshiped the ancestral deity Kami. The power of the Yamato court spread with increased production of weapons, armor, and construction of irrigation systems.

Ancient Japanese culture witnessed climatic changes and influx of foreign influence. This has churned out the present amalgamation of an abundant fauna seen in Japanese gardens and unique human population. The Little Giant of the Orient has long impacted major innovations and lifestyles around the world.