Worship and Life

Since antiquity, people in what is now Japan worked stone into utensils and made bows and arrows to hunt prey. They also used earthenware to cook and store food, marking the beginning of Japan’s Neolithic Age known as the Jōmon Culture (ca. 15000-400 BCE), which spanned more than 10,000 years. In their struggle to survive in Nature, people in the Jōmon period came to believe that all things possessed a spirit. For example, dogū clay figurines of this time that survive today were perhaps used in worship as a medium for seeking a bountiful harvest and prosperity in the future.

By the late Jōmon period, corresponding to about the fifth century BCE, newcomers familiar with rice cultivation and skilled at making metal objects arrived in Japan via the Korean peninsula and settled in what is now northern Kyushu, bringing with them a new culture. In response to a new agricultural life, simple Yayoi earthenware appeared about 2,300 years ago as part of what became known as the Yayoi period (ca. 4th c. BCE-mid-3rd c. CE).

With advances in civilization, people in Japan gradually began to congregate into larger communities, leading to the emergence of leaders who could communicate with the spirits and lead the masses. Starting from around the middle of the third century, the construction of large kofun (tumuli, or graves) became common, symbolizing maturity in the social and political spheres. Excavations at these kofun have yielded large quantities of decorative and sacrificial objects, such as haniwa terracotta figurines, bronze mirrors, and jewelry. Not only demonstrating the wealth and power of the elite buried within, they also reveal evidence of exchange between people in Japan and the outside world.