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Here you go, what is Paleolithic? A pharmaceutical tonic, a motor element? In Germany there would probably be few hits in a street survey. In Japan, however, Stone Age studies are part of school lessons, weekly archaeological programs are broadcast on television, and the bestsellers of antiquity research are right at the fore in bookshops, translated into comic book form for the younger generation as manga. You would get the correct answer there quickly: Because in the Paleolithic, 45,000 years ago, the settlement of Japan began, stone blades and bone knives can be proven, at the end of this era even the first ceramics.

Outside the country’s borders, however, little is known that the progressive nation has been experiencing an archeology boom for years. The demand is not surprising. Because in times of globalization, when one’s own history is increasingly being lost, the return to the roots gains existential importance. Especially in Japan, where history is barely visible after the destruction of the war and rapid economic growth combined with ruthless building frenzy, the spectacular archaeological finds of the eighties and nineties have an identity-creating function. However, only in a few other countries can the past be so straightforwardly connected with the present: rice cultivation, eating rituals, fishing, lacquer objects, ceramics have been handed down over thousands of years.

From the first hunters and gatherers to today’s subway users, it’s only a stone’s throw away. The spectacular Japan exhibition in the Martin-Gropius-Bau dismisses the visitor with this astonishing video message. This journey through time goes a little too fast for local viewers. Tea ceremonies, temple buildings, and no-theaters are common in this country, not least after the major exhibitions and guest performances in recent years with which Japan introduced itself to its European trading partner. The range from the early days to the first emperors in the 8th century, however, has been a blank spot in Germany so far. There are hardly any publications that know this area. The “Dawn of the Dawn” exhibition, comprising 1500 objects, aims to remedy this. Not an easy undertaking, because arrowheads, ceramic shards, Seed pods are not necessarily exciting as exhibits. But Japanese archeology knows its business; the perfectly restored objects are actually able to tell a story, whether through their significance for the present.

Here you go, what is Paleolithic? A pharmaceutical tonic, a motor element? In Germany there would probably be few hits in a street survey. In Japan, however, Stone Age studies are part of school lessons, weekly archaeological programs are broadcast on television, and the bestsellers of antiquity research are right at the fore in bookshops, translated into comic book form for the younger generation as manga. You would get the correct answer there quickly: Because in the Paleolithic, 45,000 years ago, the settlement of Japan began, stone blades and bone knives can be proven, at the end of this era even the first ceramics.

Outside the country’s borders, however, little is known that the progressive nation has been experiencing an archeology boom for years. The demand is not surprising. Because in times of globalization, when one’s own history is increasingly being lost, the return to the roots gains existential importance. Especially in Japan, where history is barely visible after the destruction of the war and rapid economic growth combined with ruthless building frenzy, the spectacular archaeological finds of the eighties and nineties have an identity-creating function. However, only in a few other countries can the past be so straightforwardly connected with the present: rice cultivation, eating rituals, fishing, lacquer objects, ceramics have been handed down over thousands of years.

From the first hunters and gatherers to today’s subway users, it’s only a stone’s throw away. The spectacular Japan exhibition in the Martin-Gropius-Bau dismisses the visitor with this astonishing video message. This journey through time goes a little too fast for local viewers. Tea ceremonies, temple buildings, and no-theaters are common in this country, not least after the major exhibitions and guest performances in recent years with which Japan introduced itself to its European trading partner. The range from the early days to the first emperors in the 8th century, however, has been a blank spot in Germany so far. There are hardly any publications that know this area. The “Dawn of the Dawn” exhibition, comprising 1500 objects, aims to remedy this. Not an easy undertaking, because arrowheads, ceramic shards, Seed pods are not necessarily exciting as exhibits. But Japanese archeology knows its business; the perfectly restored objects are actually able to tell a story, whether through their significance for the present and know more about the thresher machine price.

With so much relevance to the present, it is hardly surprising that such an archeology show even contains political explosives. The Japanese are only made familiar with the latest research bit by bit, when it can hardly be ignored that rice cultivation was not invented in one’s own country, but is an import from China, or that the ancestors by no means formed a homogeneous group mixed with immigrants from the Korean peninsula, as can be proven by the example of two skulls. When the exhibition organized by the Mannheim Reiss-Engelhorn-Museums, the Berlin Festival and the Japanese Ministry of Culture is next on view in Tokyo, many legends will be cleared up in the country itself. This also includes the idea that the early rice farmers were a peaceful people. With the beginning of the Yayoi period in the 9th to 8th centuries BC, people came from the continent Chr. Not only the know-how for the cultivation of wet fields, but also looked at the social organization form, because with the highly complicated rice cultivation everyone had to tackle.

The next steps are predictable: groups emerge, clans separate from each other. As a show of force, bronze bells are piled on the borders of a growing area. From there it is not far to action to fight off competition for arable land and water sources. The exhibition shows the most beautiful of these ever more elaborately designed bells, which were no longer used for ringing, but only for demonstration purposes. At the end the guns clang; the Japanese archipelago is shaken by wars. The next epoch, the Kofun period – so named after the key shape of the gigantic burial mound – already belongs to the rulers, most recently to the emperors. Their grave goods are the most important sources today. These include the clay haniwas in the shape of people, animals, houses, with which the fences of the tombs were decorated. Through them one knows about the appearance of the early Japanese, their clothes, hairstyle, jewelry preferences. Back then, for example, people wore earrings. Only in the last twenty years did this fashion return as an import from the West. To the relief of Japanese people in love with the past, at least – historically correct.

 

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