The color red and Jomon people

Exhibit of ancient ornaments shows fashion’s long history

By KAZUAKI OWAKI (June 05, 2013, Asahi Shimbun)

"Fashion of Jomon people" is open at the Tokyo Metropolitan Archaeological Center in Tama, western Tokyo. (Kazuaki Owaki)

Why do people wear accessories? That seemingly simple question is at the heart of a new year-long exhibit featuring ornaments and decorations from the Jomon period (c. 10500 B.C.-300 B.C.).

“Fashion of Jomon people: decoration, design, and colors” at the Tokyo Metropolitan Archaeological Center in Tama, western Tokyo, uses a wealth of artifacts to trace the history of ancient people’s fashion sense.

Though the “why” of such ornaments is still open for debate, numerous excavations clearly show that people in the Jomon period were surprisingly fashionable. Red lacquered combs and ornaments made during that period have been excavated from sites dating back more than 9,000 years, and according to one expert, most of the so-called modern accessories seen today, such as earrings, hair accessories and brooches, were already in regular use.

At the center of the exhibition stand models of a parent and child attired in Jomon fashion. The girl wears a shellfish necklace and bracelets, while the mother, dressed in knit fabric, sports a red lacquered bow on her left hand, earthenware earrings and a necklace combining curved and tube-shaped beads.

“Tama New Town,” the country’s first large-scale suburban development, project begun in the 1960s and consisting of four cities in western Tokyo, is known for its many archeological sites from the Jomon period. Numerous artifacts excavated from site No. 72 in Hachioji, which was found to be a large-scale settlement, included large jade beads and grinding stones with traces of cinnabar pigments.

Many ornaments made of shellfish, such as hairpins, bracelets and waist accessories, were excavated from Saihiro-kaizuka shell mounds of the middle Jomon period in Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture.

The fashion sense of the Jomon people extended from stylish personal accessories to housewares, as can be seen from projectile points, polished ground stones and stone spoons excavated from Tama New Town site No. 194 in Machida, dating to the late Jomon period. Evidence of knitting techniques can be seen on clay pots with wickerwork patterns excavated from site No. 471 of the middle Jomon period in Inagi.

The exhibit also includes hands-on experiment corners for families to enjoy. Visitors can use magnet ornaments to decorate a picture of a Jomon person drawn on a board and copying various patterns of Jomon pots by rubbing a pencil over a sheet of paper placed over one of four plates.

The exhibit runs through March 9, 2014.

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