Last weekend I went to Seizan Park to look at some old houses from the Jomon era. Not that I’m particularly interested in the Jomon people and their houses, but Seizan Park is nearby and the weather was nice and it sounded like a great alternative to housework.
And I must say that I quite enjoyed the outing. So when a friend asked me how come I wasn’t home when she was trying to call me, I told her I was looking at old Jomon houses.
“Oh, the gas station barons?” she exclaimed.
It took me several seconds to process this sentence and realize what she was talking about.
“No, not Jomo. Jo-mon,” was the best answer I could come up with.
When I started to explain about the Jomon people, I could tell I lost her at “sticks wrapped with cords”.
What? Am I losing you too? OK, let’s start again, this time sometime around 14 000 BCE. And if you are going to say “no shite, that’s a loooong time ago,” you’re absolutely right.
But that’s when the Jomon period (縄文時代) started in the Japanese history, give or take a few centuries. It ended around 400 BCE, which is still an awful long time ago.
And where do the sticks with cords fit in all this? “Jomon” means “cord pattern”, and that describes the decorations those ancient people were fond of making on their pottery. And for that they used sticks wrapped with cords. And it just so happens that those people, who were so into sticks and cords, managed to make dishes, which are now amongst the first known pottery in the world. You can see some examples at the Tokyo National Museum.
Anyway, it’s not Jomon pottery I wanted to tell you about, but Jomon houses. And it just so happens that one of the largest archaeological finds when it comes to Jomon dwellings is in Utsunomiya. In 1986 some dudes building a road stumbled upon a site of 27 ancient Jomon structures.
The city lovingly restored them and created an archaeological park and museum (free of charge), and even put English translations (and you can even understand them without any problems!) on most of the information boards.
The houses themselves are quite impressive.
It’s not some huts we’re talking about here, but massive structures of almost 8 meters in height. And that’s for a medium size dwelling. Not too shabby for a bunch of Neolithic semi-nomads, wouldn’t you say?
The houses had only one entry – through an opening in the upper part of the structure, so basically, you had to climb up there on a Neolithic ladder.
In Seizan there are also remains of 15 really big buildings. And by really big, I mean structures that were 23 meters long, 10 meters wide and 9 meters tall. Those Jomon people sure didn’t mess around. When they were building something, they meant business.
There are also wooden pillars arranged in circles (a la Stonehenge but out of wood) and other assorted Jomon thingies to look at. I’ll have to go there again when I have more time and investigate the site in greater detail.
If you happen to be in Utsunomiya and want to visit Seizan Park, how do you get there? Sadly, there’s only one way – by car. Ask for a map at the tourist information desk, and if you feel like you are getting lost somewhere in the middle of a rice field, don’t worry, you’re driving in the right direction and you’ll reach Seizan in a few minutes.