Japan: Aomori (Sannai-Maruyama Ruins/ 三内丸山遺跡)

Many tourists who travel to Japan are in love with the country’s rich history and they often visit the countless castles and historic sites associated with Japan’s feudal period. But did you ever stop to consider what Japan was like 5,000 years ago, during what is known as the Jomon period? Fortunately, now you can get a glimpse of what life was like during that time period when you visit Aomori City, the capital of Aomori Prefecture. What I am referring to is the Sannai Maruyama Ruins, a vast archeological site spanning 350,000 square meters (86.5 acres).

The site was discovered in 1992 when Aomori Prefecture was surveying the land for a planned baseball stadium. There were earlier excavations led by teams from Keio University and the Board of Education of Aomori City, which began in 1953 and continued through 1967. There were additional excavations conducted by the Board of Education and Aomori City on the southern part of the site in 1976 and in 1987. It wasn’t until 1992, that a major breakthrough was made.

It was determined that the site was initially inhabited by a group of hunter-gatherers who utilized the land as a seasonal camp.  Around 3,900 BC – 2,900 BC, the site became a settled village. To date, the excavations have unearthed 500 residences, 30 buildings with post holes and 60 graves. In 2000, the Sannai Maruyama Ruins were registered as a National Special Historic Site.

One of Sannai Maruyama’s most famous structures is a large, pillared building built around 2,600 BC. This structure consisted of six large pillars that are believed to have held up platforms. Each one of these pillars measured around 1 meter in diameter and were placed exactly 4.2 m (14 ft) apart. Due to its large size, it is believed that this structure functioned as a monument or watchtower. Remains of other six-pillared buildings from different time periods have also been found throughout the site.

In the exhibition room you will find displays of various flat clay figures, earthenware, personal ornaments and small knitted baskets called Jomon Pochette. There are dioramas which recreate life during that period along with commentary from digital photo frames and videos.

If you are so inclined, try your hand at one of the interactive workshops offered.  You have the option of making items such as Jomon Pochettes and amber pendants utilizing the techniques employed by the Jomon people. The experience will be both educational and entertaining.

Sannai Maruyama is located about 3 hours and 20 minutes from Tokyo Station via the JR Tohoku Shinkansen Line. The attraction will enable you to have a broader understanding of Japan’s overall history and is a worthwhile stopover during your visit to Aomori City.

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