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Japan’s latest World Cultural Heritage Site

Jomon prehistoric archaeological sites in northern Japan

Expected to be added this July as Japan's 20th UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, the "Jomon Archaeological Sites in Hokkaido and Northern Tohoku" are a collection of sites in northern Japan related to the Jomon Period. This prehistoric period of Japanese history began around the end of the last ice age about 15,000 years ago and lasted until the year 300 before the rice culture imported from the mainland fully took roots on the Japanese archipelago.

The people of the Jomon Period were mainly gatherers, fishers and hunters, but also established considerably sized settlements. The period is named after the patterns found on the contemporary pottery, made by impressing a cord onto the vessel.

The proposed World Heritage listing consists of 17 different sites spread across southern Hokkaido and the prefectures of Aomori, Akita and Iwate in the northern Tohoku Region. They include the sites of former settlements, often with reconstructed dwellings and other structures, stone circles, cemetery sites, shell middens and other dumping grounds. Many of the sites have an adjacent museum that exhibits locally excavated findings, such as pottery, figurines, arrowheads, jewelry and lacquerware.

The 17 sites vary from attractive parks with excellent museums to less developed excavation sites that are difficult to appreciate by non-archaeologists. Below we list the sites that we believe to be of most interest to ordinary tourists:

Sannai Maruyama Site

See the Sannai Maruyama page for admission and access details
The Sannai Maruyama Site is with little doubt the best place in Japan to learn about the Jomon Period. It is the former site of a major Jomon settlement and features a number of reconstructed pit dwellings, long houses and a large tower in addition to a well done museum. Located a 20 minute bus ride from Aomori Station, it is also among the most easily accessible.

Goshono Site

10 minute bus ride from Ichinohe Station
Open: 9:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:30)
Closed: Mondays (or next day if holiday), days after national holidays
Admission: 300 yen
The Goshono Site features an attractive, spacious park with multiple reconstructed dwellings around a central graveyard. The adjacent museum is also well done.

Korekawa Site

15 minute taxi ride from Hachinohe Station
Open: 9:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:30)
Closed: Mondays (or next day if holiday), days after national holidays
Admission: 250 yen
The highlight of this site, just south of central Hachinohe City, is the Korekawa Jomon Kan, an attractive museum that exhibits the locally excavated objects in a very tasteful way. Among them is a handsome figurine that has been designated as a national treasure.

Ofune and Kakinoshima Sites

One hour by car from central Hakodate
Open: 9:00 to 17:00 (until 16:30 from November to March)
Closed: Mondays (or next day if national holiday), last Friday of each month
Admission: 300 yen
The Ofune site 25 kilometers northeast of central Hakodate exhibits a small number of reconstructed buildings and excavation pits. The highlight, however, is the nearby Hakodate Jomon Culture Center, an attractive museum about the Jomon Period and local excavations. Among the exhibits is an elegant figurine that has been designated as a national treasure. Access by rental car is recommended, possibly in combination with a visit to Onuma Park.

Oyu Stone Circles

35 minute bus ride from Kazuno Hanawa Station
Open: 9:00 to 18:00 (until 16:00 from November to March)
Closed: Mondays from Nov to Mar (or next day if national holiday)
Admission: 320 yen
Stone circles can be found at multiple of the 17 sites. Among them, the Oyu Stone Circles are probably the ones that are most easily appreciable by tourists. Around the stones forming circles, a few buildings have been reconstructed, and there is an informative museum nearby. A car hour west are the stone circles of the Isedotai Site which - together with their museum - are also of interest to Jomon fans. However, both sites are rather remote and difficult to access without a car.

Kitakogane Site

30 minute walk from Kogane Station
Open: 9:00 to 17:00
Closed: December to March
Admission: Free
Located near the coast, halfway between Lake Toya and Noboribetsu, not far from Muroran, this site allows tourists to see a shell midden in attractive surroundings. They are basically the former dumping grounds of the Jomon people where they discarded shells, bones and other garbage. The site also features a couple of reconstructed buildings and a museum that recreates some excavated graves with buried human bones.