The indigenous people of northern Japan call themselves “Ainu,” meaning “people” or “humans” in their language. Recent DNA evidence suggests that the Ainu are the direct descendants of the ancient Jomon people who inhabited Japan as early as 12,000 years ago. Astonishingly, the Jomon culture existed in Japan for some 10,000 years, and today many artistic traditions of the Ainu seem to have evolved from the ancestral Jomon. As such, this artistic continuum represents one of the oldest ongoing cultural traditions in the world spanning at least ten millennia.
Jomon culture, like that of the Ainu, was based on a hunting-and-gathering economy. Exploiting natural resources from riverine, terrestrial, and marine ecosystems, the Jomon achieved status through active and continual engagement with their surrounding environments. Archaeological evidence in the form of ceramic sculpture supports this view, but it also suggests that particular animals (bears, whales, owls) were highly revered and possibly…
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