Jomon cuisine: What went into the Jomon pots?

Archaeologists have tried to recreate the Jomon cooking scene and some of the dishes and foods, after examining the remains of the kitchen dumps or middens in excavated sites.

shell-midden.jpg  Jomon shell midden from Kawasaki City

Jomon people who lived on the coasts liked hearty seafood stews, made up of various fish, clams and other shellfish catches of the day. The ingredients would have varied with the seasons. The food was cooked in large conical or rounded pots with tapered or pointy bottoms that sat well in the soil and ash of the bonfire or hearth.

chestnutstew2.jpg Chestnut stew picture by Heritageofjapan

 Reconstructed scene of Jomon pot of stew by the Kawasaki City Museum 

Wooden frames in which burnt cobble stones, burnt shell fragments and charcoal have been found in shell midden sites. Scientists think these indicate the Jomon people were in the habit of steaming oysters (Crassostrea gigas) and oriental clams (Meretrix lusoria).

One of the main dishes of the Jomon meal is thought to be a humble dish of acorn flour dumplings boiled in a herb and root vegetable soup flavored with rock salt or other ingredients boiled with wheat, millet or other available cereals.

Acorngroundflour.jpg Acorn flour picture by Heritageofjapan Ground acorn flour 

(Kawasaki City Museum)  

All were boiled in ceramic vessels that had been handmade and low-fired in bonfires or pits.

From food remains found in the ceramic pots, it was possible for archaeologists to know that the Jomon chef spent a long time finely chopping his or her herb or root vegetable ingredients on a flat stone, then throwing them all into the large Jomon pot and letting them boil extremely slowly over the fire.  

Another food popular with the Jomon was the chestnut or other kinds of cookie made from nut-dough. One particular discovery, at the Ondashi site, Yamagata prefecture, was of a cookie or biscuit-like food with beautiful patterns applied on the surface. The cookie was made of chestnut, walnut flour, meat and blood of wild boar, deer, and wild bird eggs.

The Jomon had already mastered techniques of leaching tannin (which makes the nuts bitter and inedible) from certain kinds of nuts, and preserving them in wet pits. Later, they processed the nuts using mortars and pestles to make dough which would then be made into breads (like Idojiri bread or koppepan), cookies or patty like dishes.

Chestnut cookies Chestnut cookies

Egoma oil may have been used to coat or flavor the cookies. Shiso beefsteak herb (Perilla frutescens) was used to season and garnish raw fish dishes. 

Many of the pit houses were equipped with a firepit with a smoke tunnel that may have been used to smoke meat.

smokingpit.jpg Smoking pit picture by Heritageofjapan Smoking pit can be seen beside the entrance to pit house

 (Tokoro Archaeological site) 

Archaeologists also believe that the many shell middens are evidence that the Jomon people must have dried or smoked a lot of fish and shellfish (and perhaps whale and sea-mammal meat in certain coastal areas), some for storage or for trading.

By early Jomon times, some of the Jomon tribes had learnt how to ferment and brew fruit wine from elderberries, mulberries and wild grapes. A black wooden pitcher from a site in the Kitakanbara Kurokawa village in Niigata prefecture which was unearthed. It was found to have contained a lot of elderberry. The pitcher was lacquered with sculpted patterns. Scholars believe the pitcher was likely used for some kind of religious ceremony.

Obviously, the Jomon diet varied from place to place. The Jomon era spanned 10,000 years and the Japanese archipelago stretches out over thousands of kilometres. Over that much time and space, you’d expect the food and diet to vary considerably from tribe to tribe, region to region.

Find out what else the Jomon ate.

See also:

Scientists reveal world’s oldest pottery used to cook fish in Japan

Apr 11, 2013 Japan Daily Press Ida Torres

Scientists reveal world’s oldest pottery used to cook fish in Japan

Archaeologists from the University of York have found out that the chards of the ceramic pots discovered at different digs around Japan reveal more about the cooking habits and lifestyle of the people in the Jomon period. These pots that date back as far as 15,000 years to the last ice age were used for more than just decorations. They were probably the earliest incarnations of what everyone calls now nabemono, or hot pot.

Researchers discovered traces of freshwater fish and marine organisms such as shellfish on the more than 100 pots they were analyzing. The pots are some of the oldest clay vessels discovered, but no one knew before this what they were used for. Their analysis shows that these clay pots were used to cook warm dishes of salmon and shellfish during the chilly last years of the Ice Age. Dr Oliver Craig, an archaeologist and director of the BioArCh research centre at York University, led the research and published their findings in the journal Nature. He said that the pots may have been used as more than just a revolutionary cooking vessel, but may have been also used for special, celebratory feasts, given the elaborate designs on the pots. The fact also that they were heavy and bulky suggests that the people in the Jomon age were probably settling down in communities.

This discovery also sheds a new light into the Stone Age men, who are typically described as hunters and gatherers. But the 30 milligrams of burnt remains from the vessels show that they cooked and stewed their food and ate them in groups. According to Simon Kaner, head of the Center for Archaeology and Heritage at the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures, eating has always been a study into a community’s social behavior.  See

3 responses to “Jomon cuisine: What went into the Jomon pots?

  1. Great Site. Do you know anything about what the people that lived in the more mountainous areas ate?

  2. Most of Japanese topography is essentially mountainous in nature. Junko Habu in “The Jomon of Japan” writes that although there are general characteristics of Jomon subsistence activities, there are regional and temporal differences. “Since different regions were characterized by different natural environments, not all the resources shown in the calendar were available in all the regions of the Japanese archipelago”. While factoring in the differential resource availability, she concludes that “the Jomon people in general appear to have been close to the collector end of the forager-collector spectrum … the evidence ..also support the idea that, in many cases, the people of the Jomon period were not “generalists” but “specialists” relying heavily on a limited number of resource items such as acorns, chestnuts, fish and marine mammals.” So even while they might have campsites in the mountains, as collectors they “send a specially organized task group to exploit resources located away from their residential base”. Habu writes “in an environment where the distribution of important resources is spatially and/or temporally uneven, hunter-gatherers will develop logistical mobility in order to exploit simultaneously the various resources located far away from their residential bases (collectors).” She also suggests that in reality, the Jomon subsistence strategy focused on a more limited number of food resources – despite the wide abundance of food resources in the Japanese archipelago that would be afforded to a forager. For specifics on the Jomon diet, click on the other pages of this website: The Jomon diet / Did the Jomon people do any farming? /
    Soybean find suggests 5,000 year cultivation / TAKE THIS HUNTER-GATHERER QUIZ: WOULD YOU HAVE SURVIVED DURING JOMON DAYS? / The Jomon Seasonal Calendar

  3. soo thoo cheah jee

    can you reupload the hunter gatherer quiz?

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