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StoryStory

Experience Jomon Japan in the Countryside
〜Living History in Tokamachi, Niigata Prefectur〜

 

As part of the Japan Cultural Expo, "Living History" events will be held all over the country. They give people the chance to experience life as it was in ancient times, through Important Cultural Properties and historical landmarks. One such event will be held in Tokamachi, Niigata Prefecture, a city known for a collection of flame-style pottery that is a designated National Treasure. The event is one of many initiatives by Tokamachi to draw global attention to the natural beauty and fascinating culture of the Japanese countryside. To find out more about what visitors can experience, we asked the people in charge.

阿部敬Abe Satoshi

Chief, Division of Cultural Properties, Department of Culture and Sports, Tokamachi City Board of Education Manager, Introduction to Jomon Culture and Cuisine, Living History Project

髙橋剛Takahashi Tsuyoshi

Unit Chief, Art Triennial Planning Unit, Tourism Promotion Division,
Industrial Tourism Department, Tokamachi City Government Manager, Echigo-Tsumari Snow Fireworks / Gift for Frozen Village

The Lifestyle of the Jomon People:
The More You Know, the More Fascinating It Becomes

The "Introduction to Jomon Culture and Cuisine" Living History program beginning in June 2020 sounds like a lot of fun. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

Abe:

To put it simply, it's a tour program where people can experience life as it was in the Jomon period. In the Jomon period, which lasted all the way from 14,000BCE to 350BCE, people lived according to the cycles of nature, without agricultural cultivation. Power struggles or conflicts were unheard of. Globally, that kind of culture is extremely rare, and it's fair to say that Jomon culture became the root of the values held by Japanese people today.

To get a sense of the Jomon people's lives and values, tour participants spend a day in their clothing. We've recreated extravagant festival outfits, which haven't been widely seen before. I think people will be surprised! Participants will also go foraging in the woods, and learn how to use a bow and arrow. You can experience what a Jomon hunter felt when their arrow found its mark. Next is a visit to the newly opened Tokamachi City Museum, with talks by museum curators. There will be a dedicated time slot for participants so that they can enjoy the exhibits at their own pace.

Lastly is dinner at the Jomon Restaurant. It's set up at the Sasayama Site, where the collection of flame-style pottery that is now a National Treasure was excavated. Based on data about Jomon ingredients, period-appropriate techniques are expertly applied. The food is delicious. We demonstrate hotpot cooking using flame-style vessels inside a pit-house, creating an exceptional atmosphere. At the very end of the day, everyone goes back to their hotel to relax.

So people can eat food cooked in earthenware vessels. That must nurture an affinity for the flame-style pottery.

Abe:

We know that earthenware was used for cooking because of the scorch marks created when the contents bubbled over. Through analysis, we know that people in this area ate a lot of salmon. Mountain vegetables and nuts were also part of their diet. The Jomon people lived off of the blessings of nature. They all lived in the same environment under the same circumstances; we found no evidence of conflict. If food was scarce, it didn't occur to people to take it from others by force.

Flame-style pottery offers insights into the characteristics of both the region and the time period. It was made between 5,300 and 4,800 years ago, and the shapes and patterns are unique to this area. The region around Tokamachi is one of the snowiest places in the world, with snowfall reaching depths of 2-4 meters each winter. Flame-style pottery was produced around the time that the annual snowfall reached this level. The snow isolated the region from its surroundings, creating a tight-knit community with a unique culture. Flame-style pottery reflects that development. They are part of a find of 928 objects, including earthenware vessels. Among those, the vessel known as No. 1 is particularly beautiful. I hope people will take a really close look at it. The Jomon period is endlessly fascinating. Through the tour, I want to talk about it with as many people as possible, so I hope you will join me. I'll see you there!

Enduring Countryside Beauty
and Human Warmth

Living History isn't the only way Tokamachi is promoting the appeal of the countryside. I believe that you have other initiatives are running throughout the year

TAKAHASHI:

Yes. As Mr. Abe mentioned, this area experiences tremendous snowfall. The snow disrupts everyday life but also brings lots of blessings. The scenery of each season is spectacular, as the white landscape gives way to new green leaves, which eventually decorate the mountains with vivid autumn colors. The abundant mineral content of the melting snow helps to produce delicious rice and sake, and the mountain vegetables that surge to life when the snow finally melts taste exceptional. The wisdom and culinary culture born from the local people’s spirit of cooperation endures to this day.We combine the beauty of the countryside with the appeal of art in the form of the Echigo-Tsumari Art Field. This triennial event is one of the biggest art festivals in the world. We also host tours and events outside the festival period, once per season. In the Echigo-Tsumari area, spring is known for mountain vegetables and rice planting. In summer we enjoy festivals and water fun. Fall is the time for the harvest and food. In winter, we have fun in the snow and enjoy the magical views. By adding an element of art direction to each of these characteristics, we can create exciting and meaningful experiences.

Most of the tour guides are from families that have lived here for generations. As you walk through the countryside, you'll see terraced rice fields and rivers, and daikon radishes drying under the eaves of houses. You can really feel that every town and village has its own atmosphere, and everything is connected to the lifestyle of the past. In some places, people will welcome you with freshly picked vegetables or a home-cooked meal. There's a wonderful relationship between visitors and residents.

People especially enjoy the winter Echigo-Tsumari Snow Fireworks/Gift for Frozen Village event, which is also a part of the Japan Cultural Expo program. The vast expanses of snow play a starring role as fireworks are launched over a carpet of 30,000 lights, transforming the scenery into a world of fantasy. We will be holding this event in 2021, so that's something else to look forward to.

Just the thought of it is exciting! It would be great if this event, along with the Introduction to Jomon Culture and Cuisine Living History program, draws a lot of visitors from all over the world.

TAKAHASHI:

Absolutely. The bonds forged in this community through the shared experience of tackling the deep snow are as strong today as they were in the Jomon period. I'd like visitors to get to know the people here, and the local way of living—it's a lifestyle rooted in the natural world. I hope they enjoy the various aspects of Japanese culture that we are so proud of, and feel the warm, welcoming nature of the Japanese people.

Text:
Reiko Kado
Photo:
Shigeki Watanabe,Osamu Nakamura,TOKAMACHI CITY MUSEUM
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