Resource in Japanese archaeological studies

The general panic that comes with trying to finish up my first Master’s thesis draft means that this week we won’t have a feature article, but instead I’ll introduce another really great resource for studying Japan: The Japanese Archaeological Association.

As a historian, linguist, literary specialist, etc., at first you may not think that archaeological discoveries have a direct impact on your work. But archaeology impacts every way we have to study Japan and reveals new information about the contextual past every day. Although the JAA website is mostly bare bones at the moment, I have a feeling they’ll keep building on it and it’ll become a great resource. Already there are two main features worth noting:

Academic Summaries: Trends in Japanese Archaeological Research

In this section, the Japanese Archaeological Association has begun publishing English translations of selections from its annual review of Japanese archaeological research, contained in its yearly bulletin, Archaeologia Japonica. Right now only two overviews of research trends are available, 2007 and 2008, but they’re downloadable as PDF files and contain an abundance of information about what certain organizations, universities, and areas have been doing in the field.

Each article is divided into time periods (Paleolithic, Jōmon, Yayoi, Kofun, Ancient, Medieval, Early modern and later), so it’s easy to navigate to whatever time period is your specialty. Also, all of the articles have citations for what they discuss, so if you want to check out the original source material, that’s an option and quite helpful if you want to look at some of these discoveries for your own research.

Special Feature: Noteworthy Archaeological Sites (Issue 2010)

Here the JAA publishes online selected translations from Hakkutsu sareta Nihon rettō [Excavations in the Japanese Archipelago], an annual anthology of introductions to prominent excavations compiled by the Agency for Cultural Affairs. What’s great about these features is that the details of specific archaeological sites, along with pictures and maps, are posted here with explanations. Again, divisions are made by time period. Indulging myself with the medieval, the 2010 article features information on Matsuda, a medieval harbor. From the site:

A wave of discoveries at a Medieval harbor

In a northern part of the city of Masuda, sandwiched between the mouths of two rivers flowing into the Japan Sea, harbor and settlement sites from the latter half of the eleventh through the sixteenth centuries have been discovered one after another in recent years. At the time, the mouths of the Masuda and Takatsu rivers are thought to have formed a shallow lagoon connecting with the sea, and a harbor is seen to have been located along its shores for ships sailing along the Japan Sea coast, as well as those conducting trade with the Korean peninsula or Chinese mainland.

The Okite site, a distribution base preceding the Masuda clan

At the Okite site, a settlement which prospered from the latter half of the eleventh to the latter half of the twelfth centuries, the remains of approximately 140 embedded-pillar structures, plus wells, graves and so forth have been discovered. Roads with gutters, and multiple residences separated by fences, were laid out in planned fashion.

While no harbor facilities have been discovered, this is presumed to have been a town maintained by merchants and artisans as a base for the circulation and distribution of goods utilizing water transport, before the Masuda clan took full control of the area.

Images on the site show Korean stoneware found at the location, as well as things like cobblestone pathways that were likely a part of boat landings. Pretty incredible stuff! Pick your poison among these great features and see what the archaeological field has been discovering in the past ten years.

There’s been some shuffling of the website due to the recent earthquake and tsunami, so the location may not be static. The button for previous issues is a bit hard to find, but for your reference, if you’re interested in the previous annual issues on noteworthy archaeological sites, they can currently be found here:

Issue 2009:

Issue 2008:

Issue 2007:

Issue 2006:

Issue 2005:

Issue 2004:

Also, though the site as I’ve advertised it here is in English, there’s also the option to view the original Japanese version, where even more information is available. The JAA site is a great way to keep up with discoveries in the field and I highly recommend checking out some of the amazing things catalogued there.

About Paula

Paula lives in the vortex of academic life. She studies medieval Japanese history.
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