MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan --
Despite Japan's long and rich history, most focus on the nation's participation in World War II or the renowned Samurai Era. However, this country was built on more than just sword-wielding warriors.
Because of my desire to learn more about Japan and its people, I decided to rally a few friends and take a road trip to a museum called the Sannai-Maruyama Site.
Sannai-Maruyama is a historical and archeological site in Aomori, Japan, which dates back to the Jomon Period. This site is located a little more than thirty minutes from the Aomori train station. Jomon, also known as Japan's Stone Age, is an era dating from 14,000 B.C. to 300 B.C. It was a period where agriculture was still in its formative years and distinguished by its cord-imprinted pottery.
Unlike other Japanese museums, the Sannai-Maruyama is made up of two parts; the museum and the excavation site. The site recovery began in 1992, where they uncovered one of the largest Early to Middle Jomon Period villages nearly 4,000 to 5,500 years ago.
Upon entering the museum, you'll find the information desk clerk, who speaks decent English, and informational packets. The museum provides a gift shop, restaurant, library, an area to make your own Jomon art work and guided tours scheduled every other hour.
If you are like my friends and I and don't want to wait for a guide, the museum can easily be navigated on your own. The only things you'll need are your coats, if you plan on visiting during the winter, an information packet and your camera. Although just about everything is free, including admission and parking, you might want to bring some extra yen for a souvenir at the gift shop or a quick bite to eat at the restaurant.
It's nearly impossible to get lost but the information packets are equipped with a map. If you lack a sense of direction, don't stress out, just keep walking and look for the signs with a red arrow and you're bound to find your destination.
The museum itself is similar to walking into another dimension. The dimly lit rock walls, high ceiling and slightly cooler air gives off the impression of scurrying through an underground tunnel dug out by archaeologists. In the tunnel, you'll find prehistoric pottery, uniquely-shaped sharp stone tools, ancient bone fish-hooks and needles, ritual-related artifacts and various clay, stone and bone jewelry on display. Each exhibit has a brief summary of the item and what it was used for, although there's not always an English translation at the bottom.
The Excavation Site
For all you history buffs and imaginative souls, this is when the magic finally happens. Strolling through the excavation site on the remains of a 5,000 year old road and passing houses that are half buried in the ground, it's as if you've somehow slipped through a portal and entered into an ancient time.
There are holes in the roof of the small homes, so the smoke from fires can exit the dwellings. In height, these archaic houses, which are made of sticks bark and sod, resemble a hobbit' s hole or a child's playhouse. The doorway is so low and skinny that even at 5'3", I have to shimmy my way in. These dwellings are nowhere near as spacious as a hobbit' s hole. If you visit the site during the winter, you'll shiver in understanding of what these people went through during bad weather.
The long house, which was reconstructed with materials the Jomon people would have had access to, is about 32 meters long and the largest house of the 11 dwellings. It is believed to have been a town hall where the village would gather for meetings, banquets and other large activities. The place can easily house 100 people. The incredibly high ceiling doesn't compare to the other structure. It's breath-taking height and awe-inspiring architecture makes you wonder why they didn't build all the dwellings the same way. Perhaps they were low on sticks?
Beside the long house, staring down at you stands an intimidating tower made of six large chestnut pillars. It's easily the tallest structure of the entire village. It looks like a watch tower to me, but researchers believe it to have been for storage or funeral rites.
All in all, the museum is an extraordinary trip into a primitive world of Japanese history. It's an amazing place for anyone interested in early Japanese history and the free attraction mean you won't be breaking the bank to enjoy it.
Still not sure if you want to visit this unique museum or just want more information on the Sannai-Maruyama historical site, go to their web page at http://sannaimaruyama.pref.aomori.jp/english/index.html.