Thursday, August 30, 2007

Jomon vs. Yayoi

While I'm on the topic of Jomon and Yayoi cultures, this quick take on the debate is quite entertaining.

Neomarxisme: Jomon vs. Yayoi

At first, I thought the fashion was pseudo-punk rock, but on closer inspection, they are true to some of the designs I've seen represented by artifacts from the two eras in Japanese history.

If the Jomon truly were the first culture — possibly the Ainu — with such earthy symbols in their art, the model to the left definitely works all of it quite well.

Then, the model to the right, with the Yayoi influenced outfit certainly carries the supposed Northeast Asian (Koryo) influence. Whatever the case, this is another interesting way to read the debate.

The ensuing thread on Neomarxisme is intriguing, as well. I've read much about the aboriginal people of Taiwan. If Taiwan is, indeed, Hawaiki, there will be much more to read and pass along for those of us who can't get enough of all things Pacifica.

Flames afloat from India to Hawaii

I'm just sitting back down, turned the channel to PBS, and a photographer is enjoying his time in India. I envy him.

Tiny candle boats float down the River Ganges. Is this where the Japanese tradition of floating candles comes from? Possibly. Buddhism arrived in Japan from India via China. Wherever your faith is rooted, there is something ethereal about candles floating on water, drifting toward a larger place.

When it happens in Hawaii, as a remembrance of loved ones who have passed on, it transforms the environment. I would wonder, once again, how anything moves from India to a faraway place like Japan, except that the sight of the floating candles is so calming. A narcotic to the eyes, then to the mind and soul. And it's not just floating candles. Heck, curry comes from India. So do mynah birds (definitely) and mango (not sure).

I see what travels over mountains and oceans, and I am in awe every time. Migration is absolutely amazing.

Keally on Yayoi and Jomon cultures

Amusing. I always find it amusing when someone tells me about purity of a culture, of a nation, of a "race." For the record, I'll say that these are hogwash. Every culture has both original facets and borrowed facets. It's just a fact, and it's all around us. But the denial about loaned cultural aspects continues, and I don't really hold it against anyone who fancies his ancestral homeland as one of greatness. I just laugh about assertions of purity.

Take Japan. With all the historical evidence in place, we know that the Jamon culture preceded the Yayoi. There are artifacts throughout Japan with the exception of Hokkaido and Ryukyu (Okinawa). Rice is widely believed to have been imported from central China, not just as a product, but as a skill that revolutionized ancient Japan and fostered population explosion.

Migration of people from the Korean peninsula is also a given. I know there are people today who cringe at the fact that they have Korean and Chinese blood coursing through their veins, but that's just the fact. Live with it, I say, and be thankful that the skill it takes to grow rice was given freely to the original settlers of Japan.

Professor Charles T. Keally breaks it down well: Yayoi Culture

The originals, the Jomon, supposed shared more physical characteristics with Southeast Asians, while the Yayoi resembled Northeast Asians. I wonder why there was migration to Japan from China and Korea, and not so much from Southeast Asia. Was overpopulation more of a crisis issue in those regions?

Kyushu, like Ryukyu and Hokkaido, fascinate me in terms of travelers. Kyushu's location made it much more accessible to mainland peoples and faraway travelers by ship. Does this mean there was a multicultural society there to some degree? I don't know, but if the info is out there, any kind of proof, I hope to find it soon.

One thing that Keally doesn't delve into with this analysis is whether the Ainu are more closely related to the Jomon, the Yayoi or anyone else. Whether the Ainu were simply pushed by warfare or politics to the northern, cold region of Japan, and whether they are related to the Ryukyu people, I also want to know.

Here's a cool site (PDF) with a series of pics in lectures by Prof. John C. Huntington

Early Jomon artifacts
Late Jomon and Yayoi period artifacts, housing technology
Kofun period

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


I've always been fascinated with Islamic Spain of yesteryear, when people of different faiths and cultures prospered together.

I'd read quite a while back that Jews had lived in Spain and that their descendants intermarried into Spanish and even Portuguese families. The same could be true of the Muslims, or Moors, who lived in Al-Andalus for centuries. Jews and Muslims were in Spain for 1,500 years until explusion by Catholic rulers.

These aren't the kind of things you learn in high school, but wouldn't most students find this compelling? In Hawaii, we've been heavily influenced by Portuguese culture and people. But nobody teaches these things.

The series on PBS is worth a watch, no question.

Islam: Empire of Faith: Part 1
Islam: Empire of Faith: Part 2
Islam: Empire of Faith: Part 3

The images are so vivid and the history is so rich. I feel like traveling to Spain to see Al-Andalus and the other places where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together, then escaped to as civil war broke out. It amazes me, particularly how some Muslims migrated from Baghdad to North Africa and to Spain.

The Alcazar of Seville, Granada. Artistry and craftsmanship of Muslim hands.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Rosia Montana, Romania: Power to the People

A slight deviation from the norm here. Rosia Montana is a peaceful country village in Romania that is at risk of immense upheaval. Gold Corporation plans to mine the entire mountainside of the village, which is considered the oldest settlement in the country.

The skepticism of residents is understandable, as PBS' Wide Angle documentary revealed. There have been other gold mining disasters due to the use of cyanide. This site,, goes into some detail about the conflict.

The town was once ruled by Rome, hence the name of the country, and ancient caves were the work of the invaders. Or rather, the work was done under their thumb. Now, corporate greed has arrived from Australia and Canada.

Some things never seem to change.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Guns, Germs & Steel

One of the best series I've ever enjoyed, on any network, was Guns, Germs & Steel on PBS. Jared Diamond's book turned into a documentary regarding native cultures and their doomed futures as Western power and greed arrived.

Though migration of peoples was a necessity driven by overpopulation, war, poverty and other common elements throughout time, the existence of conflict and conquest just as pervasive. The winners occupy. Losers have to leave. True in pre-contact era. True today.

Diamond's ability to weave history and simplify the power of Western weaponry — guns, germs and steel — makes for a fascinating watch. I wish we had this to watch when I was back in school.

Guns, Germs & Steel at

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Ancient fashion in Japan

In the back of my mind, I've always wondered if the original inhabitants of Hokkaido and Okinawa shared any common threads.

Well, there's one site — Kyoko National Museum — that shows us that the two cultures from opposite ends of Japan didn't exactly use common threads at all. Literally. Different resources mean different types of fiber from plants are available. The clothing of early Okinawans — the Ryukyu Islanders — was and still is brightly colored thanks to a dyeing technique known as bingata.

It's pretty cool stuff that makes me feel in awe. My mom was a seamstress who often would sew aloha shirts for my brother and I from scratch. Well, sort of by scratch. She'd buy the material from a store and sew it together.

Anyway, the bingata designs were used for kimono.

Meanwhile, the Ainu in Hokkaido made cloth from elm fibers into shirts called attus. They look nothing like bingata and have more resemblance to designs from Western Europe, slightly Celtic, even. That would be something worth exploring since there are a few theories out there that claim the Ainu descend from caucasian blood, traveling across Northern Europe and North Asia before crossing the Korean peninsula to Japan. True?

Nobody can prove it, but it's definitely food for thought.

It's certain that the Ainu lived in Japan long before the latter, invading waves of migrants. But where did the Ryukyu people come from? Questions, questions and more questions.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Opening a chapter on Okinawa

I was slow to enjoy the internet. Even at work, back in 1993, we got real computers for the first time and were completely banned from the 'net.

Not having been on it, I didn't miss it. I finally got my own computer in 1996 or so and it's been a whole new world since. In the last several years, reading theories about migration has been one of my pastimes. And one of the places that fascinate me is East Asia.

Growing up with all kinds of kids, it always amazed me how different we are though we may have roots from one region of the world. Take Korea and China. Korea and Japan. Their relationships through the millenia are compelling in so many ways. The way the cultures and societies view each other is sometimes perplexing, as well. Ask a Japanese national about the fact that his or her descendants probably came from Northeast China and Korea, and they might rebuke you.

But what really trips me out is the history of Okinawa. I'll go into more detail about the islands later, but having grown up without knowing the difference between Japan and Okinawa was so unfortunate. Learning about the differences much later has been so rewarding.

More later.