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Jomon Fieldwork

Nao Tsuda

Between 13,000-2,500 years ago, before there was history - there were Jomon people flourishing throughout Japan. This series literally picks up a new piece of Jomon history in each episode - and via the photographs and writing of Tsuda Nao layout this past before our eyes and thoughts. This episode explores Noshiro, Akita.


Jomon Fieldwork, The Beginning

Ever since I shopped at a secondhand bookstore in Osaka and bought a field guide to archaeological sites in Japan, more and more frequently, I have found myself extending my travels beyond the original destination and visiting Jomon archaeological sites. Everyone, I suppose, has his own way of looking at and reading a map. Mine had always been to take a flat map, make my own elevations, lift the improvised relief map to eye level, and admire the vertical landforms. That changed, however, and I was finding myself more drawn to the time lying beneath the ground. My initial question was simple: Why do people bury the dead? At one point, I had materials on archaeology spread all over my desk, but that did not seem to provide an answer. Then I had a flash of intuition. The soil is a receptacle of water traveling through the water cycle. The earth shuts out light and affords perfect darkness. I began following my theory and covering archaeological sites on foot. This was the beginning of my Jomon fieldwork. It was about two years ago.

Visiting the sites where my ancestors settled, capturing the landscape on camera, and reaching into the damp soil—what a joy! I found it stimulating to feel the warmth in the earth transcending time amounting to thousands of years. This winter, I was walking along a mountain path in Akita with my friend serving as a guide. He said that Jomon people formerly lived in the area and suggested that I try digging the slope nearby for relics. Sure enough, in the space of a minute, he turned to me smiling. A small piece of pottery rested on his palm, dating from the Late Jomon period. The fields around here are a good place to look after the rain, he said, and even better after the snow melts, when the soil turns fluffy and the pottery rises naturally to the surface. I stood on the field covered with snow and promised my friend that I would return in the spring.

When spring rolled around and the sun felt warm on my face, I went back to Noshiro City, Akita. With permission from the landowner, I entered the fields. My feet sank slightly with every step. The soil felt as soft as if it were freshly plowed. Vegetables were sprouting—cabbage, napa cabbage, negi leek, bell pepper, and sweet potato. I knelt low enough to place my cheek on the ground and saw fine pieces of pottery sticking up on their own, just as my friend said in the winter.

A warmth spread through my body instantly, and I stood to look out over the expanse of fields. I spotted an old woman and struck up a conversation. Farmers used to find pottery all the time, she said happily. In the end, she invited us to see her collection of relics at home. She had several arrowheads and even a stone ax displayed by the phone stand. We stayed much too long, said good-bye, and then bumped into an old man from the neighborhood. He grinned and showed us a round pottery vessel large enough to fill both hands. The piece was excellent, nearly flawless. Over and over, I traced the outline with my fingertips, feeling the smooth lines and picturing the size of the creator’s hands. My friend and I exchanged looks that said, “This is the real deal.”

An archaeological site in the Yoneshiro River basin has produced pottery with cloud pattern. The sculptural beauty characteristic of the Kamegaoka culture, which flourished in the Final Jomon period, provides solid proof that the Jomon people once lived in this area of Akita.

<From PAPERSKY no.37 (2012)>

Jomon Fieldwork | Nao Tsuda × Lucas B.B. Interview
A conversation between ‘Jomon Fieldwork’ Photographer and writer Nao Tsuda and Papersky’s Editor-in-chief Lucas B.B. The two discuss the ways Jomon culture continues to play an important role in modern day Japan. The video was filmed at Papersky’s office in Shibuya in conjunction with Tsuda’s exhibition “Eyes of the Lake and Mother Mountain Plate” held at the Yatsugatake Museum in Nagano.

Nao Tsuda | Photographer
Through his world travels he has been pointing his lens both into the ancient past and towards the future to translate the story of people and their natural world.