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Japan Heritage

1. Shooting-Star Central Highlands

At the northern foot of Mt. Yatsugatake on the border of Nagano and Yamanashi Prefectures lie Honshu's largest obsidian mining sites. Obsidian is an igneous rock classified as volcanic glass. It has been used as a material for making stone tools across the Japanese islands since ancient times. Sites from which obsidian has been excavated have been found in the Central Highlands, an area located in the center of Japan. These sites were discovered in areas whose names contained the character "hoshi" meaning star, such as Hoshikuso Pass, Hoshigato, and Hoshigadai. Legend has it that these names were given because the locals believed that the pieces of twinkling obsidian found in the ground at their feet were fragments of stars that had fallen to Earth.

Photograph of obsidian buried in the highlands

<What Is Obsidian?>

Obsidian is a natural glass produced from volcanoes. It is believed that there are more than 100 obsidian mining sites in the Japanese islands, extending from Hokkaido in the north to Kyushu in the south. Among these, much of the obsidian from sites in Nagano Prefecture is of high quality, features sharp fracture intersections, and is easy to work and shape. For this reason, Nagano obsidian was the preferred material for making arrowheads, knives, and other stone tools and was widely used by the people of that period.


2. From Obsidian Mines to the Whole Country

Visitors to obsidian mining sites today are still able to observe traces of the obsidian mined by the Jomon people thousands of years ago. Looking at the mining sites, you can almost feel the effort and passion that the Jomon people put into sourcing even better stone materials for their tools.
The obsidian produced from these mines was transported between the villages at the foot of the mountain. The road that connected the villages used for transporting obsidian is known as Obsidian Road.
At the time, there were several large villages dotted around the foot of Mt. Yatsugatake where large quantities of obsidian were collected. Jomon people traveled to these villages from far away in pursuit of good-quality Nagano obsidian. These villages became places where Jomon people could meet and mingle, creating a network for East-West cultural exchanges.

Photograph of Obsidian Forest

A forest of obsidian

<What Is the Jomon Period?>

The Jomon period is an age of Japanese prehistory spanning a period of time from about 16,000 to 3,000 years ago. Before the Jomon period was the Paleolithic, a period of cooler temperatures known as the last glacial age. Climate change brought about a change in the natural environment, and so the Jomon period was characterized by a warmer climate.

Obsidian Museum of Archaeology

Obsidian Museum of Archaeology

3. Jomon People and Us

There are many Jomon sites in the Central Highlands, which was a prosperous area blessed with obsidian and food from the mountains.
These sites are lined with rows of ancient pit dwellings and the villagers routinely offered prayers using dogu (clay figurines). The animal or zoomorphic and human-face motifs on the dogu and other types of pottery convey the mythical world view of the Jomon people and make us feel like we are seeing into their souls.
The Central Highlands remains unspoiled today, and people live in harmony with the bountiful nature there. Following the road along which the Jomon people carried obsidian and visiting the sites of the Jomon villages in the foothills, you can almost feel the breath of the Jomon people who lived in this magnificent landscape.

Photograph of Togariishi Site

Togariishi Site

<Obsidian Road>

Over a period of several tens of thousands of years from the Paleolithic to the Yayoi period, when the means of transport that we know today did not exist, Nagano obsidian—obsidian only produced in Nagano Prefecture—was distributed in large quantities across a wide area. This speaks to the popularity of obsidian as Japan's oldest "brand."

Photograph of Wada Pass

Wada Pass

<A Relay Point for People and Culture>

The wetlands served as essential watering holes for animals. For this reason, they were seen by the Jomon people as ideal hunting grounds. The wetlands where people would gather therefore became a center for cultural exchanges.

Photograph of Kurumayama Wetland

Kurumayama Wetlands

4. Jomon art

A variety of artistic and unique pottery and dogu clay figurines were created during the Jomon period. The original patterns and designs depicted on the pottery and other articles unearthed at Jomon sites in the Central Highlands seem to be imbued with the Jomon people's feelings of love and veneration for a mythical world

National Treasure

National Treasure"DOGU"(Jomon no Venus) Clay Figurine Venus of Jomon