The History of Japan in English 1-1 “The Beginning of Culture”【英語で読む高校日本史】

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Miocene 中新世
Neogene 新第三紀
Quaternary 第4紀
Pleistocene 更新世
Holocene 完新世
Stegodon ステゴドン(トウヨウゾウがこれの一種)
hominids ヒト科の動物
ape-humans 猿人
proto-humans 原人
paleo-humans 旧人
neo-humans 新人
Paleolithic 旧石器の
Irish elk オオツノジカ
elk ヘラジカ
deciduous 落葉性の
subarctic 亜寒帯性の
coniferous 針葉樹の
earthenware 土器
yam ヤマイモ
gourd ヒョウタン
millet アワ
Japanese millet ヒエ
obsidian 黒曜石
jade ヒスイ
jadeite 硬玉

Japanese archipelago and Japanese

Humans first appeared on earth about 7 million years ago, during the late Miocene of the Neogene period in geological terms. Humans developed near the end of the Neogene through the Quaternary, which can be divided into the Pleistocene and Holocene epochs after about 10,000 years ago. The Pleistocene, also known as the Ice Age, alternated between cold glacial periods and relatively warm interglacial periods, and during the glacial periods, sea level dropped significantly compared to today.

It is assumed that at least twice during this period, the Japanese archipelago was connected to the northeastern Asian continent by land, and that Stegodon, Naumann elephants, and other animals arrived. It is possible that humans followed these large animals to the Japanese archipelago, but no solid evidence of this has yet been found. After the last glacial period, sea level rose during the Holocene epoch, and about 10,000 years ago, the Japanese archipelago, which is almost the same size as today, was established.

It is known from the study of fossil hominids that humans emerged in the order of ape-humans, proto-humans, paleo-humans, and new humans, but the Pleistocene fossil human remains discovered in the Japanese archipelago to date, including the Hamakita people of Shizuoka Prefecture and the Minatogawa people and Yamashita-cho-dojin of Okinawa Prefecture, all belong to the newcomer stage. Of these, the Minatogawa Jin are considered to be of southern descent, and some have suggested that the Late Paleolithic and later Jomon people of the Japanese archipelago were of South Asian descent. However, the Late Paleolithic and Early Jomon cultures of the archipelago also have strong northern elements, and we must wait for further research on the lineage of the Paleolithic and Jomon people of Japan.

It is believed that the prototype of the Japanese people was the Jomon people, descendants of people who lived on the Asian continent from ancient times, and that the present-day Japanese people were formed through repeated intermixing with people who originally lived in northern Asia and came to Japan after the Yayoi period. It is also believed that the Ainu people living in Hokkaido and the people of Okinawa and other Nansei Islands have inherited the characteristics of the Jomon even more strongly than the current Japanese.

Life of Paleolithic Man

The Stone Age, when humans did not yet know metal tools, is primarily a Pleistocene period. The Paleolithic period, when people basically used only hammered stone tools that were simply chipped, gave way in the Holocene period to the Neolithic period, when polished stone tools appeared. It was once thought that there were no Paleolithic sites in the Japanese archipelago, but in 1949, a survey of the Iwajuku site in Gunma Prefecture confirmed the presence of chipped stone tools from the Kanto Loam layer, which was deposited during the Pleistocene period. Since then, stone tools have been discovered in Pleistocene strata throughout the Japanese archipelago, revealing the existence of Paleolithic culture.

People in this period lived a life of hunting and gathering vegetable food. For hunting, they used stone spears with knife-shaped stone tools, lancets, and other stone tools attached to the end of a stick to catch large animals such as the Naumann Elephant, Irish elk, and elk. People were constantly moving within a certain area, such as the basin of a small river, in search of prey and vegetative food. For this reason, housing was also simple tented huts, and sometimes the caves were used temporarily.

The group of people living together was apparently small, around 10 people. Several of these small groups may have gathered together to form tribal groups that obtained and distributed raw materials for stone tools from remote areas.

Smaller stone tools, called fine stone tools, also appeared at the end of the Paleolithic period. This fine stone tool culture developed significantly from northeastern China to Siberia, and extended from the north to the Japanese archipelago.

Establishment of Jomon Culture

During the Holocene epoch, about 10,000 years ago, the Earth’s climate became warmer, and the natural environment became similar to that of today. Deciduous broad-leaved forests such as beech and oak have replaced subarctic coniferous forests in eastern Japan, and broad-leaved forests such as shii have spread in western Japan. Large animals became extinct, and fast-moving animals such as deer and wild boars got more common.

In response to these changes in the natural environment, people’s lifestyles changed drastically, and the Jomon culture was established. This culture spanned a period from about 13,000 years ago until about 2,500 years ago, when the Yayoi Period began with rice agriculture (Jomon Period). The Jomon culture is characterized by the use of bow and arrow as hunting tools for the increasing number of small and medium-sized animals, earthenware for boiling mainly vegetable food, and the appearance of polished stone tools.

Earthenware from this period is called Jomon earthenware because many of them have a pattern called Jomon, which is made by rolling a rope (twisted thread) to flatten the surface of the vessel. Based on these changes in Jomon pottery, the Jomon period can be divided into six periods: Pioneer, Early, Early Middle, Middle, Late, and Late Jomon. Of these, the pioneer earthenware is among the oldest in the world today. Old earthenware similar to this is being discovered on the Asian continent and elsewhere, and it is certain that the people who lived in the Japanese archipelago also created a new culture at an early stage in response to the changes in the natural environment from the Pleistocene to the Holocene.

Life and Beliefs of the Jomon People

The Jomon people adapted to their new environment, which had changed dramatically. In particular, as the climate warmed, the importance of plant foods increased, and from the early period onward, people not only gathered nuts such as chestnut, walnut, horse chestnut, acorn, and yam, but also managed and propagated chestnut forests, protected and propagated yam, and cultivated beans, egoma, and gourd. It has been pointed out that rice, wheat, millet, and Japanese millet may have been cultivated in some parts of the region, but they had not reached the stage of full-scale farming. A stone axe (stone hoe) for digging in the soil, a stone plate for grinding nuts, and a rubbing stone were also excavated.

Hunting was done with bows and arrows, and pitfalls were often used. The main targets of hunting were deer and wild boar. As a result of the sea-level rise, the Japanese archipelago became an island nation with many inlets, which encouraged the development of fishing. This can be seen from the numerous Jomon-era shell middens that still remain in various locations. Stone and clay weights were found along with bone and antler implements such as fishhooks, harpoons, and yasu, and fishing methods using nets were also popular. Dugout canoes have been found in many places, and the fact that Jomon-era remains can be found on Izu Oshima and even on Hachijojima Island in the south indicates that the Jomon had ocean-going navigational skills.

The diversification of methods of acquiring food made people’s lives more stable and sedentary. They dug into the ground and built a pit dwelling with roofs over them. It seems to have been the home of a small family that lived under the same roof, with a furnace in the center of the dwelling and shared cooking facilities. Villages were built on a plateau near a body of water that was sunny and convenient for obtaining drinking water. In addition to dwellings, some of them are accompanied by storage pits for food storage, cemeteries, or large pit dwellings that are thought to be group dwellings, as is the case at the Sannai-Maruyama Ruins in Aomori Prefecture. Based on these facts, it is believed that the basic unit of society in the Jomon period was a group of about 20 to 30 people consisting of households with about 4 to 6 pit dwellings.

These groups married neighboring groups and exchanged various information with each other. The distribution of raw materials for stone tools such as obsidian and jade (jadeite) indicates that trade was conducted with groups from quite distant areas. People worked together as a group to protect their livelihoods. Men hunted and made stone tools, and women picked nuts and made earthenware. Although there were leaders in the group, there was no hierarchy of status or difference between rich and poor.

The Jomon people apparently believed that spirits existed in all natural objects and phenomena. This is called animism, and they tried to avert the plague through witchcraft and prayed for a bountiful harvest. Artifacts that indicate these magical practices include clay figurines in the shape of women and stone sticks that may represent male genitalia. The custom of tooth extraction, which became popular around the middle of the Jomon period, is thought to have been a rite of passage and was performed at the time of coming-of-age ceremonies, suggesting the strict control of the group. Many of the dead are buried in a crouching position, probably because of the fear that the spirits of the dead would bring misfortune to the living.


※reference: 改訂版 詳説日本史 (山川出版社)

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