(To see more examples of flame pottery pieces, click here.)
But apart from flame pottery, Jomon potters made many kinds of pottery in diverse shapes and styles over the 10,000 years of the Jomon era. The different types of vessels are divided by some experts into four main categories: deep bowls and jars, shallow bowls, vessels with narrow mouth and vessels with spout.
Left to right: Deep jar; shallow bowls; narrow-necked vessel; spouted vessel
Scholars have carefully noted these differences in styles and classed them into six phases with their characteristics:
Incipient Jomon period from 10,000-7,000 BC
Small deep pointed or round-bottomed pots with very thin walls decorated with beans or with fingernail shaped patterns made by using the split ends of a bamboo stick.
Incipient Jomon Pot (10,000-8,000 BC), Tokyo National Museum
Pots and other vessels with thick walls, intricate or flamboyant decorations and patterns, particularly patterns that look like leaping flames.
The vessels were sometimes moulded with human faces, snakes and other animal motifs.
Left: Tokyo Maibun Archaeological Center; Right: Tokyo National Museum
Lamp-shaped pottery first appear during this period.
Late Jomon period from 2,000-1,000 BC
Jomon potters did not use a potter’s wheel but made their pottery by kneading and coiling ropes of clay, then smoothing them together by hand to get a continuous surface. The pottery were sometimes tempered or strengthened with crushed shells, fibres, lead, mica or fool’s gold(phlogopite found only in mountains north of Tokyo and in old streambeds of Kanto regions). Fool’s gold resulted in more heat-resistant clay that baked well and contracted less while drying. The pottery was then low-fired at temperatures below 900 degrees Celcius. To learn how to make a coiled pot, take this online tutorial.
Decorations were then added by incising (scratching) with sticks or shells or by rolling cords or ropes over the surface of the pots.
What were the different Jomon pottery used for?
The most common pots were deep bowls or jars that turned up everywhere and throughout the Jomon era. Some had wide necks. Since most of the deep pots excavated had sooty or scorched bottoms, we know they were used for cooking or storage and others, but more rarely, for rituals including burials of the dead.
Shallow bowls appeared from Early Jomon times, but were used mostly as grave goods. More shallow bowls were made in the later periods and were used for a special ceremonies.
For various ceremonies, lamp-shaped pottery and incense-burner shaped ones were also invented.
A few of the early pots had a unique shape with a square mouth and flat bottom though the majority were round.
Many of the early deep pots had pointed bottomed pots useful for sitting well in the sand or soil of bonfires, but flat bottomed ones were more common after the Early Jomon period.
In the later periods, pots of more shapes and sizes appeared including ceremonial vessels with spouts and vessels with narrow mouths, often with long necks.
Some scholars think spouted vessels may have been used to contain and pour wine offerings. In the last part of the Jomon era, pottery designs and patterns became finer and plainer and they learnt to make burnished dark pottery as well.
From Early Jomon days, some Jomon people learnt how to make lacquer using sap from the Rhus verniciflora tree which was sometimes used to coat the insides or outsides of some of the pottery either for decoration or to make the pots waterproof. Lacquering was a very difficult and time consuming process, such pottery was most likely used for ceremonial purposes only. The red coloring of lacquered ware comes from the use of bengara or oxidised iron.
In other discoveries at a site in Kagoshima prefecture, bengara or oxidised iron was used to color Jomon earthenware red. Red is a magical color to the Jomon people.
(Images: Photographed by permission of the respective museums)