The Jōmon period is the time in Japanese history from about 10,000 BCE to 300 BCE. On the basis of archaeological finds, it has been postulated that hominid activity in Japan may date as early as 200,000 BCE, when the islands were connected to the Asian mainland. Although some scholars doubt this early date for habitation, most agree that by around 40,000 BCE glaciation had reconnected the islands with the mainland. Based on archaeological evidence, they also agree that by between 35,000 BCE and 30,000 BCE Homo sapiens had migrated to the islands from eastern and southeastern Asia and had well-established patterns of hunting and gathering and stone toolmaking. Stone tools, inhabitation sites, and human fossils from this period have been found throughout all the islands of Japan.
The term "Jōmon" is a translation into Japanese of the English term "cord-marked." This refers to the markings made on clay vessels and figures using sticks with cords wrapped around them.
Incipient and Initial Jomon (10000 - 4000 BCE)
More stable living patterns gave rise by around 10,000 BCE to a Mesolithic or, as some scholars argue, Neolithic culture. Possibly distant ancestors of the Ainu aboriginal people of modern Japan, members of the heterogeneous Jōmon culture (c. 10,000-300 BCE) left the clearest archaeological record.
According to archeological evidence, the Jōmon people created the earliest pottery in the world, dated to the 11th millennium BCE, as well as the earliest ground stone tools (Imamura). The Jōmon people were making clay figures and vessels decorated with patterns made by impressing the wet clay with braided or unbraided cord and sticks with a growing sophistication.
The manufacture of pottery typically implies some form of sedentary life, since pottery is highly breakable and therefore is useless to hunter-gatherers who are constantly on the move. Therefore the Jōmon probably were some of the earliest sedentary or at least semi-sedentary people in the world. They used chipped stone tools, ground stone tools, traps, and bows and were probably semi-sedentary hunters-gatherers, and skillful coastal and deep-water fishermen. They practised a rudimentary form of agriculture and lived in caves and later in groups of either temporary shallow pit dwellings or above-ground houses, leaving rich kitchen middens for modern anthropological study. Because of this, the earliest forms of farming are sometimes attributed to Japan (Ingpen & Wilkinson) in 10,000 BCE, two thousand years before their appearance in the Middle East.
Early to Final Jomon (4000 - 400 BCE)
The Early and Middle Jomon periods saw an explosion in population, as indicated by the number of excavations from this period. These two periods correspond to the prehistoric thermal optimum (between 4000 and 2000 BCE), when temperatures reached several degrees Celsius higher than the present, and the seas were higher by 5 to 6 meters. Beautiful artistic realizations, such as highly decorated flamed vessels remain from that time. After 1500 BCE, the climate cooled, and populations seem to have contracted dramatically. Comparatively few archeological sites can be found after 1500 BCE.
By the late Jōmon period, a dramatic shift had taken place according to archaeological studies. Incipient cultivation had evolved into sophisticated rice-paddy farming and government control. Many other elements of Japanese culture also may date from this period and reflect a mingled migration from the northern Asian continent and the southern Pacific areas. Among these elements are Shintō mythology, marriage customs, architectural styles, and technological developments, such as lacquerware, textiles, metalworking, and glass making.
The literature of Shintō (Way of the Gods) employs much mythology to describe the supposed historical origins of Japan. According to the creation story found in the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters, dating from CE 712) and the Nihongi or Nihon-shoki (Chronicle of Japan, from CE 720), the Japanese islands were created by the gods, two of whom--the male Izanagi and the female Izanami--descended from heaven to carry out the task. They also brought into being other kami (deities or supernatural forces), such as those influencing the sea, rivers, wind, woods, and mountains. Two of these deities, the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu Omikami, and her brother, the Storm God, Susanowo, warred against each other, with Amaterasu emerging victorious.