Jomon Prehistoric Sites: Japan's Newest UNESCO World Heritage Site | CoolJapan

Japan is home to many renowned UNESCO cultural and natural heritage sites like the iconic Mount Fuji, Hiroshima Peace Memorial and the magnificent Himeji Castle in Hyogo just to name a few. In 2021, the Jomon Prehistoric Sites became the latest addition to this illustrious list and Japan’s 20th UNESCO World Heritage Cultural site.

What are the Jomon Prehistoric Sites?

The Jomon Prehistoric Sites consist of 17 different spots that contain important relics and history linked to Japan’s Jomon period that was in existence from 13,000 to 300 BC. While Jomon-related sites can be found all across Japan, these particular sites in the Northern region in Aomori, Akita and Iwate prefectures are significant as some of the more well-preserved Jomon sites.

Unearthed burial goods from Kakinoshima site in Hokkaido

Unearthed burial goods from Kakinoshima site in Hokkaido (Photo from: JOMON ARCHIVES, CC BY 4.0)

The Jomon Prehistoric Sites range from settlements to burial grounds, and many artefacts like earthenware, tools and even organic remains have been unearthed, allowing us a rare glimpse into the earliest known major culture in Japan and how they lived. Named for the distinct cord-pressed patterns (known as Jomon) found in their pottery, the Jomon were mostly hunter-gatherers and transitioned from a nomadic lifestyle to small communities that lead a more sedentary way of life.

Here are some highlights of the Jomon Prehistoric Sites worth checking out on your next trip to northern Japan.

Aomori: Sannai-Maruyama Archaeological Site

Located in Aomori City, Sannai-Maruyama Archaeological Site is home to the largest Jomon settlement uncovered to date at 42 hectares. The land has been preserved quite well and several of the Jomon structures like pit dwellings, long houses with rounded roofs and a three-storey tower have been recreated on site. Many Jomon relics like earthenware and stoneware have been excavated and are displayed at the site’s museum for visitors interested in getting a closer look at the artefacts.

Aomori: Sannai-Maruyama Archaeological Site

Sannai-Maruyama Archaeological Site. (Photo from: 663highland , CC BY 2.5)

Hakodate: Ofune and Kakinoshima Sites

Located in Minamikayabe north of Hakodate City, the Ofune and Kakinoshima sites are Jomon settlements located side by side along the coastline. Ofune has relics and reconstructions of Jomon houses and pit dwellings, while Kakinoshima is famous for a distinct U-shaped mound just under 200m long that was thought to be used for burial rituals. More excavated relics like lacquerware and pottery can be found in the Hakodate Jomon Cultural Centre on site, which also features a national treasure, a hollow clay figure also known as the Chuku Dogu.

Hakodate: Ofune and Kakinoshima Sites

Ofune site (Photo from: Indiana Jo, CC BY SA 4.0)

Akita: Oyu Stone Circles

On the left bank of the Oyu River in Kazuno City are two large circular rings over 40m in diameter and lined with river stones. Known as the Oyu Stone Circles, these rings in the grass are aligned with the movement of the sun and solstices, and relics excavated in and around the circles have been found to be used in Jomon rituals and celebrations. More information and exhibits can be found in the on-site Oyu Stone Circle Museum. Stone circles can be observed in a number of the Jomon Prehistoric Sites, including the Isedotai Site closer to Kitaakita City, also found in Akita prefecture.

Akita: Oyu Stone Circles

Oyu Stone Circle (Photo from: JOMON ARCHIVES, CC BY 4.0)

If you are looking to tick off another of Japan’s UNESCO Heritage Sites off your list, make sure to also check out Kagoshima and Okinawa, as several islands in the Okinawan Archipelago were also added to the list in 2021.