"Did tattooing exist in the Jomon period of ancient Japan?"

We have attempted to give a practical answer to this question by using the real human bodies of modern people.

"JOMON TRIBE" is a collaborative art project between tattoo artist Taku Oshima and photographer Ryoichi Keroppy Maeda.

Taku Oshima is a professional tattoo artist who specializes in blackwork and tribal patterns, and has been traveling across the globe to research the remnants of tribal tattoo practices and then apply the findings of his research to modern tattoo designs.
Ryoichi Keroppy Maeda  is a photographer and journalist who has been reporting the cutting edge of underground culture worldwide since the mid-90s. He is well known for his remarkable works in the legendary magazine "Burst" and other publications. Now a day, he began holding exhibitions as an artist and curator in Japan and other countries.

Japan's Jomon period is from over 15,000 years ago to 2300 years ago (3rd century BC). We had many discussion about whether or not tattooing existed in this period.

For example, archaeologist, Jun Takayama wrote "Tattooing of Jomon People"(1969), in which he mentioned Jomon's figures' face and body decorations were tattoos. Also the description in "Gishi-wajin-den"(a Chinese book about ancient Japanese, Wajin, [Wa-people]. 3rd century) has been a big influence about this subject. It mentioned that ancient Japanese had tattoos. But we don't have exactly evidence like a tattooed mummies in this period. That reason why tattooing in Jomon period has been unknown subject for academic research a long time.

Viewing the human history though tattoo culture

In these days, we know a part of academic people started to research tattooing to understand the human history all over the world. We had a big tattoo exhibition "TATOUEURS, TATOUES (Tattooers, Tattooed)" at Musee de Quai Branly in Paris, France, for one year and a half from 2014 to 2015. I reported it and wrote an article in my new book "Crazy Trip"(Sansai Books). This exhibition had a great response. It exhibited tours in Toronto, Canada and will exhibit in America, too.

It is difficult for us to have like that tattoo exhibition in Japan because of social prejudice. But western people have accepted that tattooing has a long history and cultural values for common to all mankind.

In 1991, we found the oldest mummy called "Iceman" at Alps and he has tattoos. This news was really sensational worldwide. We know Iceman lived around 5300 years ago. After Iceman shock, many people became to believe tattooing has existed much older than we thought.
We are thinking if we had tattoo technique in Jomon period which had various kind of wonderful cord marks patterns, we would tattoo these patterns on our shins. This ideas made us many variation of Jomon tattoos in our project reviving Jomon tattoos. There are also special demand of tattoo fans worldwide who know Japanese traditional tattoos. They expect Japanese ancient tattoos reviving if Japanese has lost tattoo culture in Jomon period. It encouraged our project, too.

For 10,000 years furthre, reviving Jomon patterns of 10,000 years ago.

"Modern Primitives" (1989) is the book gathering underground repots of tattooing and piercing growing up in west coast in USA in 70's - 80's.
It mentioned these activities were reviving primitives in modern age. This concept was very attractive in 90's and caused worldwide exprosion of body modification. With Iceman shock I mentioned, this cultural movement spread the idea that body modification including tattoos has been a long time ago connected human primitive demand and should revive as "real living human activity" for computer age in the future. We have believed body modification will develop as the culture common all mankind.

Now in Japan, we try to do our project as the practice of "modern primitives" to update our bodies fitting for life of 21st century by tattooing Jomon patterns which has ancient powers. This is not just reviving ancient Jomon tattoos, also activity of developing new possibility for body art in the future. We are creating Jomon tattoos from ancient patterns about 10,000 years ago. We can get a new vision not just reviving a past, but also present our activity for 10,000 years further to use our real bodies.
Please look. We revive Jomon tattoos on our Jomon Tribe here.

Ryoichi "Keroppy" Maeda