Introduction to Japan's historic ages
When is Jomon era?
orig: 97/11/28
rev1: 98/06/26 Spelling corrections
rev2: 98/08/14 Links added
rev3: 98/09/17 Correct Neo-lithic to Paleo-lithic and Link to Kofun pictures added
Somewhere, I thought I'd have to describe names of Ages with which Japan's history is told, for example, when Jomon era starts and ends.

Needless to say, there is no single theory that is supported by "everybody." Definitions may be different from researcher to researcher. Their thoughts may change as new findings pop up.

Yet, I dare to present here my own layman's summary so that readers would have some understanding when they read my other pages. Caveats would include, but not limited to, that there are different theories, theories may change by new findings, things may be different from place to place...

Pal(a)eo-lithic Age: (Correction:98/09/17)

With this first title, some scholars may turn back as they have believed there is none such in Japan. But, findings from Iwajuku, Gunma prefecture, by a layman researcher, T. Aizawa, in 1946 clearly witness that there was once a time that can be called Pal(a)eo-lithic age. It is considered that the remainings are from some 30,000 years ago. So, at least from 30,000 years ago to 10,000 years ago, the period can be considered Pal(a)eo-lithic, or if one likes another label better, non-clay age. (Thanks to volcanos' eruption, a number of volcano ash layers can be observed in remains. As one layer is determined to belong to a certain eruption, an object below the layer should be older than the eruption. Thus, volcano ash layers play a powerful role as an archaeological clock. [added 98/09/17])

Clay Age: (This is parallel to Neo-lithic age. [added:98/09/17])

I have not learnt archeology, much less in English. Therefore, the wording of this age name may not be adequate. (Word "earthware" is ofen found.[added 98/09/17]) Nevertheless, this is an age represented by such clay products as potteries or dolls. A carbon 14 test has shown that oldest potteries were found to be 10,000 years old. The world oldest clay products; to which Japanese scholars exercise traditional conservatism by saying "unbelievable." They don't have to boast, but they should not keep scientific results, either.

The Clay Age is vividly dividable into two parts, Jomon and Yayoi Ages.

Jomon Age:

This period is considered to be between 10,000 years ago and about BC 3C for Kyushu island. The age is "shifted" (shifted ??? difficult to choose a word here) to Yayoi period which continues for several hundred years until Kofun age.

The word Jomon means "rope marking". "Jo" represents a rope. "Mon" means a marking. Yes, potteries with rope markings were found from relatively deeper soil, than Yayoi products. Remains from this age show steel products.

    Sample of Jomon clay products can be seen in URLs listed in Link information at Page 8a accessible from here.
Yayoi Age:

Features of Yayoi clay products.... very difficult for me to summarize... archeologists, however, have determined they are different from Jomon potteries, even though some Yayoi products have rope markings. Anyway, important is that the Yayoi era appears to signify an intrusion of people from Korean peninsula to Kyushu at around BC 3C.

Judging from that Jomon diminishes (sooner or later, by geographical steps), bearers of the Yayoi culture would have overridden the Jomon people. Interesting is to note that the older Jomon culture continued in the northern island, Hokkaido, which is called "continued Jomon culture." (Remember Hokkaido is where Ainu exclusively occupied until sometime in the 16 or 17th century when "Japanese" started to migrate.)

Kofun Age:

Kofun means an old tomb that is hilly. Shapes of Kofun have been recognized as, (single) round, (single) square, square front round rear, two squares, two squares with one round inbetween and two rounds. Recently, the starting time of this age is in relatively hot discussion. "Historically", the age has been believed to start at around the end of AD 3C or early AD 4C. Older dates are now being proposed for the starting time. Ending time appears to be less controversial and is put at AD 7C.

    For those who wish to see pictures of Kofun, there are quite a few homepages hit if you seek for ones with keyword, "kofun". I got 225 sites at Some are written in English. An English one that I just visited was
Important consequence of determining the start time is concerning whereabouts of Himiko. An old Chinese hisotry book says Himiko, Japan's queen, dispatched an ambassador to Chinese capital and was given 100 mirrors and other gifts, in years AD 238 and 240, respectively. Some time later, she died and a big tomb was created. Whether her tomb belongs to one of Kofuns or in Yayoi fashion, is a big question. Historic Age:

From very late AD 6C, historic age is said to start. AD 592 is considered firm as the year of Emperor Sushun's death. As well, AD 593 is considered firm as the starting year for Empress Suiko.

 To sum up the above summary;

Age From To
Paleo-lithic 50,000 years ago? 10,000 years ago
Jomon 10,000 years ago BC 3C
Yayoi BC 3C AD 3C/4C
Kofun AD 3C/4C AD 7C
History AD 6C now

Now, with above rough, "very rough" image in mind, it is impressive to associate the AD57 event reported by another Chinese history book. That is, an ambassador of Japan's King of Na visited the Chinese capital and was given a golden seal. And that the seal was excavated in a small island in the northern Kyushu in 1784. Anyway, the dispatch was during the Yayoi age.

If one takes what Japan's history book, Nihon Shoki, tells as true, our first Emperor, Jinmu, started his government in BC660 which is in the late Jomon age !!! Can you believe that? Perhaps, no one believes this. Yet, existence of someone in ancient time (as viewed from the time when the book was written, i.e., AD720), his movement from Kyushu to present day Nara and/or his conquest of some part of present day Japan, may have been remembered and story inherited.

In connection with my other pages, I am pursuing traces of Jomon language as the language taken over by Yayoi language since BC 3C. Traces may be inherited by present day Ainu and may be recorded in history books in personal and place names.

Thank you for reading.

I intend to continue this kind of writing, as audiences hopefully grow. Your kind comments from the mail-form will highly encourage the writer. Thank you.
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