Take this hunter-gatherer quiz: Will you survive the wilds in prehistoric Japan?

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.

A recreation of a Jōmon hunt with dogs. Niigata Prefectural Museum of History

A recreation of a Jōmon hunt with dogs. Niigata Prefectural Museum of History

Would you be hunting down the following animals?

Wild boar

Wild boar (Sus scrofa leucomystax) inoshishi 猪 or yamakujira”/ “mountain whale”

  1. Wild boar. Yes or no?
A sleeping Japanese black bear. Ursus thibetanus japonicus.

Japanese black bear ツキノワグマ(Selenarctos thibetanus japonicus / Ursus thibetanus japonicus

2. Black bear. Yes or no?

The Japanese hare or Nihon nousagi (Lepus brachyurus) Photo: Rowan Hooper, Japan Times

The Japanese hare or Nihon nousagi (Lepus brachyurus) Photo: Rowan Hooper, Japan Times

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?

Water hemlock or ドクゼリ(Cicuta virosa)

Water hemlock or ドクゼリ(Cicuta virosa)

5. Water hemlock Yes or No?


Japanese parsley or セリ / seri (Oenanthe javanica)

6. Japanese parsley      Yes or No?

Brackenfern kogomi By Kropsoq - photo taken by Kropsoq, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=132750

Fiddlehead fern or kogomi (Matteuccia struthiopteris) By Kropsoq – photo taken by Kropsoq, CC BY-SA 3.0

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?

Asari clams

Japanese littleneck or asari (Ruditapes philippinarum)

8. Asari / Japanese littleneck clams   Yes or No?

Japanese Lionfish, Luna Lion Fish or Pterois lunulata

Japanese Lionfish, Luna Lion Fish or  あさり(Pterois lunulata)

9. Japanese Lionfish  Yes or No?

Pacific Salmon

Pacific Salmon or Oncorhynchus (source: Wikimedia Commons)

10. Pacific salmon   Yes or No?

Blowfish or Fugu

Pufferfish or Fugu フグ (Lagocephalus or Sphoeroides) Source: Fugu, Wikipedia

11. Pufferfish or fugu Yes or no?

Arctic bonito or Skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis) Source

Arctic bonito or Skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis) Source

12. Arctic bonito   Yes or No?

Late summer to autumn

Would you be gathering these?


Mulberries クワ(桑) (Morus Bomcycis)

13. Japanese mulberry    Yes or No?

Wolfsbane or torikabi (Aconitum japonicum)

Monkshood or torikabuto ヤマトリカブト (Aconitum japonicum)

14. Monkshood.   Yes or No?

Japanese elderberries or niwatoko

Japanese red elderberries or niwatoko ニワトコ (Sambucus sieboldiana)

15. Japanese red elder   Yes or No?


Acorns ubamegashi ウバメガシ (Quercus phillyraeoides)

16. Ubamegashi acorns   Yes or No?

Sawtooth oak クヌギkunugi acorns. Quercus acutissima

Sawtooth oak クヌギkunugi acorns. Quercus acutissima

17. Sawtooth oak acorns   Yes or No?

Japanese honeysuckle スイカズラ (lonicera japonica)

Japanese honeysuckle スイカズラ (lonicera japonica)

18. Japanese honeysuckle berries. Yes or No?

doku utsugi (coriaria Japonica)

doku utsugi  ドクウツギ(Coriaria Japonica)

19. Coriaria Japonica berries. Yes or No?

Japanese Chestnuts クリ(栗, Castanea crenata)

Japanese Chestnuts クリ(栗, Castanea crenata)

20.  Japanese chestnuts.  Yes or No?

Crimson glory vine, and ヤマブドウ yama-budo (Vitis coignetiae)

Crimson glory vine, and ヤマブドウ yama-budo (Vitis coignetiae)

21. Yamabudo. Yes or no?

Morel fungi

Morels アミガサタケ(Morchella esculenta (L.) Pers. var. esculenta)

22. Morel mushrooms  Yes or No?

Amanita virosa

Amanita or Destroying Angel テングタケ tengutake (Amanita virosa)

23. Amanita mushroom   Yes or No?


Akebi. アケビ(木通/あけびAkebi quinata

24. Akebi quinata  Yes or No?




Look below for the answers:

  1. Yes
  2. No (bears are hibernating in winter)
  3. Yes
  4. Yes
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Yes
  8. Yes. Clam-gathering still a traditional rite of spring called shiohigari (shio means “tide”, higari means “hunting”) in spring today.
  9. (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.
  10. Yes
  11. 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)
  12. Yes
  13. Yes
  14. 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. 74Aconite
  15. 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).
  16. Yes
  17. Yes
  18. Yes
  19. No
  20. Yes
  21. Yes. used to produce wines in Korea and Japan. These are at first bitter, but softened with the addition of sugar.
  22. Morel mushrooms
  23. No!! Amanita virosa is highly toxic, smaller ones resemble and may be mistaken for Portobello mushrooms.
  24. Yes. Turns purple and can be cooked and eaten like a vegetable see Japanese fruit akebi (Chocolate Vine)

Further reading:

Foraging for edible plants in Japan

Jomon subsistence

A tale of morels

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

Hunter-gatherer archaeobotany

Matsumoto, N., and Makoto, H. Coexistence and Cultural Transmission in East Asia