2021. 11

On Being a Fan – A conversation between  Jun Miura  &  Akihide Mochizuki : It’s time to talk about the Jomon period

Special conversation: from right,  Jun Miura(illustrator)and Akihide Mochizuki(Chief Editor of Jomonzine)


Text: Akira Murayama Photos: Emiko Fukuda Translation: James Watt


The Edo-Tokyo Museum is holding an exhibition titled, Jomon 2021: Jomon people who lived in Tokyo, from October 9 to December 5, 2021. The special exhibition focuses on people’s lives during the Jomon period, an era that lasted more than 10,000 years, and in particular on Jomon period Tokyo, and it is the first such large-scale exhibition to do so in 35 years.

We are seeing more attention on Jomon period Japan, for example in July 2021, when UNESCO inscribed the Jomon Prehistoric Sites in Northern Japan on its World Heritage List. Jun Miura has visited some unique cultural sites around Japan meeting “Yuru-kyara” local mascots and taking part in strange festivals, and for this dialogue we have brought him together with Akihide Mochizuki, Chief Editor of the free  magazine Jomonzine and official Jomon Ambassador for southern Hokkaido. During the conversation the two men experienced the exhibition from their own individual points of view, and discussed the powerful appeal of the Jomon period, a time about which many mysteries still remain.

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Mochizuki Nice to meet you. My name is Akihide Mochizuki, and I am Chief Editor of the free magazine called Jomonzine.


Miura Nice to meet you. I am Jun Miura.


── Mr. Mochizuki has also published a book called Jomon-jin ni Sodan Da, posing as a person from the Jomon period to give people advice.


Miura Wow. I guess if you are a Jomon person, then you already know everything to be seen in the exhibition.


Mochizuki Yes. At least, as far as I know.


Were dogu the souvenirs of the Jomon period?




Miura Oh! This is the dogu (clay figurine) on the Jomon 2021 poster! It’s called “Venus of Tama New Town”. There is white under the eyes – were they originally painted white?


Mochizuki The side of the face on our right is the original that was found in the ground, while the left side is the restored part. The area under the eyes was painted white.


Miura Is this where (rock musician) Kenji Ohtsuki got the idea for his own makeup? By the way, is it known as the Venus since it depicts a woman?


Venus of Tama New Town: Dogu (clay figurine), Excavated from Tama New Town Site No. 471.  Collection of the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education



Mochizuki We’re not really sure about the figurine’s sex, but it seems like people in the modern day are quick to call things “Venus.” This figurine doesn’t really look like a person; it is deformed and exhibits a strong sense of neutrality. While half of the face on this one has been restored, many other dogu have been found with different parts of their bodies missing.


Miura This is just a thought, but it seems to me that dogu like this might have been the souvenirs of the Jomon period. It even looks like a souvenir-style design. What do you think?


Mochizuki Well, not many of these have been dug up, so I don’t think there would have been enough to open a shop. That being said, around a thousand dogu have been found from the Shakado site in Yamanashi Prefecture. Their faces are different, but they essentially have the same design.


Miura See! That would have been the souvenir factory! You know, Jomon people seem to have had pretty decent lives. Wouldn’t that mean they’d also have the concept of souvenirs?


Mochizuki Well, it is possible that they carried stones with them when traveling to distant destinations. Jade would have been very valuable, but obsidian arrowheads from Nagano have even been found in Hokkaido.


Jade and amber items excavated in the Tokyo area. Jade was considered valuable by the Jomon people as well. The only place it could be found in Japan is the Itoigawa area of Niigata Prefecture, and from it would travel to Nagano, then on to Yamanashi before coming to Tokyo. It is thought that it would have been transported by a route known as  “Jade Road”.


Well-made pottery and poorly-made pottery



Miura This exhibit describes well-made and poorly-made pottery, but I’m wondering who makes the distinction between the two? This one here is distorted, so since it captures the wabi-sabi, I would think it’s pretty well-made.


Deep bowl (poorly-made), Excavated from Tama New Town Site No. 245. Collection of the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education.


Mochizuki There are various ways to determine if something is well-made or poorly-made, and it’s not just based on technique. That being said, this vessel on the right (see photo above) is pretty poorly-made from a technical perspective as well. The two vessels on the left (see photo below) are essentially the same size and have the same pattern. That is pretty rare. Other than Vessel with flame-like ornamentation, most pottery wasn’t made to look like other pottery.


Deep bowl (well-made), Excavated from Tama New Town Site No. 245. Collection of the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education.


Miura Does that mean that these were made by the same person?


Mochizuki It’s possible, yes. A lot of the items the Jomon people made were abstract. Perhaps it was considered taboo to create anything that resembled something real or concrete. But I think there were people who just wanted to create things, and they managed to sneak some concrete ideas into their abstract works. The earliest dogu didn’t have faces or limbs. Perhaps, over time, it started to become more and more okay to portray faces, and bit by bit, their range of expression expanded.


Miura That change would have taken thousands of years. People must have been very patient back then. You can see something similar in the world of Buddhist statue, where there are various rules on how the Buddhist figures can be depicted. That being said, with statues of the Four Heavenly Kings standing upon demons, artists were essentially free to depict the demons in any way they wanted. That’s why only the demons have any sense of dynamism in any statues made after around the end of the Heian period. I think it’s probably because they were free to make their own decisions as artists.



Spouted vessel and small deep bowl, Excavated from Terakaito Site, Ome. Important Cultural Property. Collection of the Ome City Provincial History Museum.



Mochizuki We also find beautifully-designed items like this vessel here, which looks exactly like modern earthenware kettles. We don’t know what it would have been used to hold, however.


Miura That’s really interesting. It’s a nice design. If it was Nambu cast iron, it would be a great souvenir to buy for someone, wouldn’t it?


Did Machida City have “Yuru-kyara”  mascot designer?



Mochizuki This exhibit has 100 different dogu (clay figurine) unearthed from areas around Tokyo.


Miura Wow. Even Tokyo has a lot of good artifacts. This leg here, was it originally part of a bigger dogu? And it only has four toes. Does that mean it’s not meant to be part of a person? Maybe an animal?


Mochizuki Fingers and toes are a bit of a mystery with dogu. Many of those found only have three fingers. And this foot has six toes. That might have been because of the possible taboo I talked about before, about not creating real-looking people.


Miura It’s harder to make five fingers as well, so maybe they reduced the number because of that. Maybe the Jomon people understood that kind of caricature.


Center: Hollow dogu (known as “Makku”), Excavated from Tabata-higashi Site, Machida. Machida City Designated Tangible Cultural Property. Collection of the Machida City Board of Education.


Mochizuki This dogu here was found in Machida City, and it’s known as “Makku.”


Miura This is totally a promotional local mascot “Yuru-kyara“!  There must have been a popular mascot designer in Machida back then.



Mochizuki Maybe. But the weird thing is that another dogu found in Hokkaido has almost the same design.


Miura That’s proof! Maybe this popular souvenir from Machida was taken all the way to Hokkaido!


Mochizuki The opposite is also possible. Also, you can often see the influence of other neighboring areas in dogu and pottery, which gives them a sort of local feel. This exhibition is full of items that have a Kanto area style.


Jomon Venus: Dogu (clay figurine), National Treasure.  Collection of Chino City, entrusted to the Chino City Togariishi Museum of Jomon Archaeology (On exhibit from Oct. 19,2021 – Nov. 14,2021).


Miura The Jomon Venus is a designated National Treasure, and it’s in a different display than the 100 Tokyo dogu.


Mochizuki That’s right. It was excavated in Nagano Prefecture, not Tokyo, that’s why it’s exhibited separately. (Another dogu called “Masked Goddess” will replace the “Jomon Venus” and is planned to go on exhibit from Nov. 16,2021.)


Miura You know, the distorted designs really makes it worth designation as a National Treasure. I actually bought a piggy bank in Nagano that was shaped like this.


Mochizuki That would totally help you save money. The Venus is beautiful and really seems complete. This isn’t the kind of design you could succeed at your first try.


Miura It’s really strange, isn’t it? The face is heart-shaped, and it seems to have some sort of headwear on. If you showed this to the people at Mu (a magazine dedicated to UFOs and other mysteries), they would instantly say it depicts an alien.


A dugout canoe used on the Tokyo coast


Dugout canoe excavated from Nakazato Site in Kita-ku. Length: 5.8 m.  Tokyo Designated Tangible Cultural Property.



Miura What’s this big thing here? Was this entire thing buried in the soil?


Mochizuki  It was. This is a dugout canoe, which is made by hollowing out logs of wood.


Miura  It came out of the ground like this? Wow. How many people could ride in it? It looks like it could be used to hold a few giant AA batteries.


Mochizuki It couldn’t hold many people, probably four or five people at the most. It would have been much easier to transport things by water.



1/20 scale reproduction of a Jomon village. Modelled on a concentrically developed village (Tama New Town Site No. 107)  in  middle Jomon period.


Miura This diorama has a person in a boat. Actually, the diorama is pretty big. Would Jomon people have worn the same sorts of clothing that the figures in the diorama are wearing?


Mochizuki That’s something we don’t know. What we do know is that they made cloth, and they knew how to sew. Also, we get hints of the sort of fashion they might have worn from dogu and earrings and other ornamentation that have been found in digs.


Earring, Important Cultural Property. Excavated from Shimofuda Site, Chofu-shi. Collection of the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum.



Miura I see. So, in this exhibit we see a number of earring. It almost feels like a jewelry store in Ginza.




Mochizuki  I feel this stone rod is something you should really have a look at. It’s really big and phallic, but it’s also strange because of how it was smashed to pieces.


Miura Were the Jomon people already engaged in phallus worship?


Mochizuki Many phallic items have been unearthed. This is one of the biggest, but stone normally can’t be shattered like this. It was repeatedly heated and then doused in water to break it apart. That’s why you see the discoloration. But more importantly is why someone wanted to smash it to pieces like this. It’s kind of frightening.


Foreground: Stone rod, Machida City Designated Tangible Cultural Property. Excavated from Tadao Site, Machida-City. Collection of the Machida City Board of Education.


Miura So, this has been restored using plaster, but the plaster parts are the areas that couldn’t be found, right? How can they put it back together like this without knowing where everything goes?


Mochizuki Well, they are connected together so we kind of know what it would have looked like, but every time it goes on exhibit it has more parts, so some of it is definitely up to our modern judgement.


Miura It’s like a big jigsaw puzzle. You should call a puzzle company and get them to make the missing parts. 


Jomon sites surprisingly found right next door




Miura I’ve been interested in the Jomon period for a long time, but it was never more than an interest. I even went to Kizukuri in Aomori Prefecture, to see the façade on the station building made to look like a Shakoki dogu(Dogu with goggle-shaped eyes). I learned that the dogu the station was modelled on was at Tokyo National Museum. But why would I want to see it there in Tokyo? I want to see it where it was first excavated.


Mochizuki  I understand that.


Miura I saw a sign in Kizukuri for a place called Shakochan Onsen – I guess that’s their name for the Dogu with goggle-shaped eyes at Tokyo National Museum, right?


Mochizuki  The dogu station building in Kizukuri was built for 100 million yen using money from the government’s hometown creation fund. Unexpectedly, everyone loves it, so I think it was an effective use of the money. This exhibition is focused on the Jomon people who lived in what is now Tokyo, and there were many people here at that time, and many artifacts have been excavated. But what makes this exhibition special is the number of items gathered in one place. Surprisingly, the people of Tokyo were well within the Jomon culture.


Miura Yeah, I’ve seen Shimo-ochiai and the names of other places I know in the exhibits. It really brings it close to home.


Mochizuki If you look at the map of Buried Cultural Properties, you can find that there are Jomon sites under convenience stores and other places. When you learn that these sites are right next door to the places we live and work, they suddenly feel very close; consequently, you may begin to look at the Jomon period in a different light. Tokyo looked different during the Jomon period, and much of eastern Tokyo was underwater. It would have looked like the submerged Tokyo seen in the animated movie Weathering With You. That was Tokyo during the Jomon period.


Miura You’re kind of known as the “Jomon person.” Do you think life is easier today or back in the Jomon period?


Mochizuki The Jomon period might have been better in some ways, but in the end, I don’t think there’s much of a difference. I’m sure there were some days that people would just say, “Nope, I don’t feel like going hunting today.”


Miura Yeah. Some days we don’t want to go to work, and some days we don’t want to fire clay pottery.


Mochizuki  I think their difficulties wouldn’t have felt much different to them than ours do to us. They had many restrictions placed on the pottery they made, so in a way, people in the modern day have more freedom. At the same time, they didn’t have to pay taxes, so maybe it was emotionally easier for them. In terms of livelihood, we can’t really go against the vastness of the forests and other parts of nature, so modern people are probably more comfortable because we can go to a convenience store and buy anything we want, then make dinner easily.


Miura And we have smartphones.


Mochizuki Have you ever thought about how much smartphones have a very similar texture to obsidian? I think when Steve Jobs made the smartphone he had stone tools in mind. I think it’s really interesting that the most modern of tools look quite a lot like the most ancient of tools.


Miura You often see characters in science fiction films manipulating data that’s floating in the air, but I think people always feel more comfortable handling something tangible.


Mochizuki I agree. We want something we can touch.


Miura Yes, we want something we can touch. Everyone on the train has a smartphone, and it’s kind of like that’s their stone tool. People will be excavating many smartphones in hundreds of years. Maybe those sites will be called “smartphone mounds.”


Mochizuki  I think Jomon culture was cyclical, both in terms of objects and life, so as a “Jomon person,” I really hope people will recycle their smartphones.


  • Jun Miura
    Born in 1958. Began working as a manga artist in 1980. Has worked as an illustrator, novelist, essayist, and musician, and has a great love of Buddhist sculpture. Known for launching the “my boom” and promotional mascot (Yuru-kyara) movements. Has published various books including Nai-shigoto no tsukuri-kata, Bunshun Bunko. His new work with Nameko Shinsan Nu-do is slated for release in mid-December 2021 by Shinchosha. An exhibition of his work titled Miura Jun: My Relics will be held at Asahi Beer Oyamazaki Villa Museum of Art from December 18 in celebration of the museum’s 25th anniversary.
    Visit his official site at http://miurajun.net/



    Akihide Mochizuki
    Born in 1972. President of Nilson Design Studio. Has published a free magazine focused on the Jomon period call Jomonzine since 2015. Author of Jomon-jin ni Sodan Da (KADOKAWA), Minomushi Horo (Kokushokankokai) and more. Has served as official Jomon Ambassador for southern Hokkaido since 2019, and played a role in getting UNESCO to inscribe the Jomon Prehistoric Sites in Northern Japan on its World Heritage List.

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