The hunter-gatherers of the period Jomon (13,680-410 BC) were not agricultural farmers. They were semi-nomadic or mostly semi-sedentary people, they lived in one (or more) of three main eco-systems: the inland mountain forests and around the freshwater lakes; or they migrated seasonally between the forest and river estuaries; or between the Pacific beaches and rocky bluffs and the wooded highlands around the coast.
Imagine you are now one of these prehistoric hunter-gatherers.
It is still winter, your hamlet’s food stores are running out, you have to leave your mountain home to forage for food.
Would you be hunting down the following animals?
- Wild boar. Yes or no?
2. Black bear. Yes or no?
3. Japanese hare Yes or No?
As spring approaches, will you gather the following plant for food?
4. Butterbur (fukiフキ ) Yes or No?
5. Water hemlock Yes or No?
6. Japanese parsley Yes or No?
7. Shuttlecock fern or Fiddlehead fern Yes or No?
In the summer, plant foods are scarcer, most fish are caught during the summer. Making seasonal camp at the nearest estuary or seashore site, would you go catch the following?
8. Asari / Japanese littleneck clams Yes or No?
9. Japanese Lionfish Yes or No?
10. Pacific salmon Yes or No?
11. Pufferfish or fugu Yes or no?
12. Arctic bonito Yes or No?
Late summer to autumn
Would you be gathering these?
13. Japanese mulberry Yes or No?
14. Monkshood. Yes or No?
15. Japanese red elder Yes or No?
16. Ubamegashi acorns Yes or No?
17. Sawtooth oak acorns Yes or No?
18. Japanese honeysuckle berries. Yes or No?
19. Coriaria Japonica berries. Yes or No?
20. Japanese chestnuts. Yes or No?
21. Yamabudo. Yes or no?
22. Morel mushrooms Yes or No?
23. Amanita mushroom Yes or No?
24. Akebi quinata Yes or No?
HOW DID YOU SCORE?
Look below for the answers:
- No (bears are hibernating in winter)
- No You want to avoid this highly poisonous plant contains a toxin named cicutoxin which causes central nervous system stimulatory effects including seizures following ingestion. May be confused with the other edible plant Japanese parsley.
- Yes. Spring growths of the seri セリ in Japanese, are relished as a vegetable and one of the nana-no-kusa seven ingredients that go into traditional porridge.
- Yes. Clam-gathering still a traditional rite of spring called shiohigari (shio means “tide”, higari means “hunting”) in spring today.
- (Probably) No. The Japanese Lionfish is edible but watch out for the venomous spines, and unique tentacles. they prey on small fish and mollusks. and can be found turbid inshore areas and in harbors, particularly around the seaward edge of reefs and coral, in lagoons, and on rocky surfaces to 50 m deep. Their venom is rarely fatal to healthy adults, but some species have enough venom to produce extreme discomfort for a period of several days. Fatalities are, however, common in very young children, the elderly, and the Pterois venom is a danger to allergic victims as they may experience anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition that requires immediate emergency medical treatment.
- No (but maybe yes). Fugu poison is 1200 times stronger than cyanide. And yet, fugu bones have been found in Jomon shellmidden, suggesting that some of the Jomon fishermen may have already developed the skill of eating pufferfish (source: Fugu history)
- No!! Avoid the monkshood plant as food at all costs! Monkshood flowers during the late summer. late summer. All parts of the plant are extremely poisonous. Wear gloves when working with this plant. Avoid skin or oral contact with plant juices, and be particularly careful to cover up any open cuts or skin abrasions prior to entering garden areas. However, the roots are collected in the autumn to be made into poison extracts. Jomon and Ainu hunters dipped their arrow tips in the alkaloids and then used them for the lethal hunting larger animals such as deer and whale. Source: Cambridge History of Japan, p. 74; Aconite
- Yes. The fruit has been known to cause stomach upsets in some people, but no records of this have been found for S. sieboldiana; any toxins that may be in the fruit would be destroyed upon cooking and would have a low toxicity. The Jomon are thought to have made wine out of the berries (due to the detected presence of fruit flies from the fruit remains).
- Yes. used to produce wines in Korea and Japan. These are at first bitter, but softened with the addition of sugar.
- Morel mushrooms
- No!! Amanita virosa is highly toxic, smaller ones resemble and may be mistaken for Portobello mushrooms.
- Yes. Turns purple and can be cooked and eaten like a vegetable see Japanese fruit akebi (Chocolate Vine)
Foraging for edible plants in Japan
Zvelebil, Marek Hunters in Transition: Mesolithic Societies of Temperate Eurasia and Their Transition to Farming
Habu, Junko Ancient Jomon of Japan
Keally, T. Charles Jomon Culture
What did Jomon people in fact eat?
Japanese Jomon Hunter-Gatherers‘ Subsistence and Society: Chronological shifts in subsistence strategies on the basis of local characteristics of north Tohoku area
Matsumoto, N., and Makoto, H. Coexistence and Cultural Transmission in East Asia