Discover Japan’s ancient past in Karatsu

The Japan Times have published an article highlighting some of the (sometimes forgotten) ancient history scattered across Kyushu and specifically in urban Karatsu where you can visit the birthplace of rice farming in Japan:

Back in the late 1970s, the city planners of Karatsu, a fishing community on the northern coast of Kyushu, decided to build a new road. This provided a rare opportunity for local archaeologists. Seizing the chance to burrow with abandon in the densely developed region, they established a dig and began to search for pollen and seeds from ancient plants (among other buried treasures).

One day, they mixed a scoop of soil with water to separate out the pollen, and something unexpected floated to the top: a handful of tiny black discs. It turned out to be carbonized millennia-old rice that would soon lead them to the oldest paddy fields ever discovered in Japan.

“Reporters were calling around the clock,” recalls Ryuuta Tajima, who was a young researcher at what came to be known as the Nabatake Ruins, and who today directs the Matsurokan Museum built on the site in Saga Prefecture.

Rice — though it came from abroad and was never the staple food for all parts of the country — has long been a symbol of “authentic” Japanese culture and identity. Its origins are entwined with those of religion, government, war and many other facets of contemporary society; the public was captivated by the Nabatake dig not so much because it revealed interesting things about agriculture, but because it revealed their own roots back at the tail end of the Jomon Era, around 2,500 years ago.

It’s difficult to imagine that brief frenzy of celebrity on a visit to the Nabatake Ruins today. The modest museum and gardens sit off a busy byway just outside the center of Karatsu, but aside from school trips and the occasional archaeology buff, they hardly draw a crowd.

The excavation of the Nabatake Ruins confirmed that Japanese rice farming had already started in the Jomon period (14,000BC – 400BC), not the Yayoi period (400BC – AD250) as was previously thought. These rice farming ruins are believed to be the oldest in Japan.

You can also visit Matsurokan, an ancient history museum, that adjoins the Nabatake Ruins where you can see the  millennia-old carbonized rice, original stone harvesting tools, farming equipment and livestock bones on display in a special exhibition room.

Rice planting also occurs in June and is harvested in October in a reproduction of the Jomon period style.

Address: Nabatake Karatsu 3359-2, open 9:00~17:00, admission: adult 200 yen, child 100 yen, phone: 0955-73-3673. 15-minute walk from Karatsu station.

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