10.3 History of human-bear interaction in Iwate
10.3.1 Bears and humans in pre-history
Human-bear interaction can be traced back many hundreds of years in the Iwate region—indeed, into pre-history. Judging from archaeological artefacts found in Iwate, our only window into the lives of the people of prehistoric Japan, there was a multi-faceted relationship between humans and bears during the Jōmon (10,500–400 B.C.) and Yayoi Periods (400 B.C–A.D. 250), encompassing not only practical aspects such as its being the source of meat and hides, but also a magico-religious aspect. As discussed in Chapter Eight, Jōmon and Yayoi period artefacts relating to the bear, such as earthenware pots decorated with bear figures or designs, clay figures of bears and bear-tooth pendants, have been found throughout northern Tōhoku. In Iwate, bear related artefacts include teeth, bones, clay figurines and fragments of pots with bear motifs.
Turning firstly to the clay figurines, or dogū , a total of 199 clay figures of animals and plants have been found at 73 archaeological sites in Iwate. For the most part, these date from the Mid to Late Jōmon period, and are distributed mainly in the Kitakami River basin. The animal figurines include those resembling wild boar, bears, screech owls, sea otters, and beetles. Figurines of wild boarare the most numerous, and to date, more than ten have been found in Iwate.30 Figurines of bears are less numerous, and to date, four have been found, each at different sites. Two of these are hollow, free- standing effigies, while the others are smaller, solid effigies of bears in prone positions.
The two hollow figurines and are
remarkably similar in their shape, structure
and decoration, despite having been
excavated from sites nearly 100 kilometres apart: one figurine was excavated from a site in Ishidoriya in the Kitakami River Basin, while the other was found near Jōhoōji-chō in the Ōu Mountains in Northern Iwate. They are free-standing on four legs, both with indented lines representing a crescent-shaped mark on their chests, one about nine centimetres in length and the other about sixteen centimetres in length. In both cases, their ‘coats’ are decorated with patterns and texture using curved indented lines and dotted indentations. Both figurines are dated to the early Yayoi Period. The key difference between the two is that one figurine has a wide open mouth, while the other’s nose conceals its mouth when in a free- Figure 29: Bear artefact found at Uesugizawa-chō site in
Figure 30: Pot fragment found in Ichinohe-chō (Source: Tateyama Museum)
standing position (see Figure 29). The open-mouthed figurine is also able to ‘sit’ on its rump, with the aperture for its mouth pointing upward. This suggests that the figurine may have been used as a receptacle for liquid (possibly blood or some sort of alcohol) in a form of ritual, perhaps for supplication to the gods for a good hunt.
The third figurine of approximately five centimetres in length was excavated from a site near Takizawa-mura, located in the Kitakami river basin. It is not free-standing, and is solid.31 A fourth figurine, also solid clay, was excavated from a site near Kitakami City, again in the Kitakami river basin. Scholars have suggested that it represents a dead bear. It is in a prone position with no details on its face or body, except for a curved line under its ‘chin’, representing the crescent-moon shape.32 It is not clear what the purpose of these solid effigies may have been, except that they are likely to have been used in some kind of magico-religious ritual.
Bear teeth, both molars and canines, dating from the Early to Middle Jōmon period have been found at two sites in the southeast of Iwate. Of these, two canines had holes drilled through them indicating that they were used as pendants.33 Burnt bear
bones have also been found at the Uesugizawa- chō site (dated to Latest Jōmon/early Yayoi periods). Scholars propose that these bones, in combination with the clay figure found at the site (Figure 29), suggest a bear ‘sending ceremony’ of a similar nature to that found in Ainu culture, and surmise that cultural influence from Hokkaidō is evident in these artefacts.34 A fragment of a pot with handles sculpted in the shape of a bear was found at a mid-Yayoi site near Ichinohe-chō in the Ōu Mountains, about
20 kilometres east of the Uesugizawa-cho site (see Figure 30).35 Though very simple, the bear’s head, which protrudes out above the lip of the pot, is unmistakably bear-like: in fact, with its rounded ears and small round eyes sitting above a button-like nose, it is strongly reminiscent of a modern day teddy-bear.
Although it is impossible to ascertain with any certainty the mindset and attitude of the craftspeople who sculpted these figurines or carved these motifs, none of the artefacts described above gives any sense that the bear was a feared or despised creature. Even in the case of the open-mouthed figurine, the mouth appears as to have been fashioned in that way in order to provide an aperture, rather than to
make the bear appear frightening and aggressive, as in the case of modern taxidermy in which bears are commonly set with open mouths and raised paws as if to attack.
Though it no doubt continued in some form, evidence of human-bear interaction disappears from the archaeological/historical record in Iwate for hundreds of years before again emerging in the form of
matagi hunting culture from around the beginning of the Edo period (A.D. 1615–1868).