Facial tattoos of the Jomon, and what they may have been for

Below are a few sample closeup photos of tattooed faces of the Jomon mostly of clay figurines (called dogu) or of pottery relief:

Relief face in a clay pot from Yamanashi prefecture(Minami-Alps city) 3,000BC)

Dogu head from Saga prefecture, 3,300BC

Tattooed face of a dogu from Tokyo (Tama New Town), 3000BC

Dogu from Iwate prefecture, 1300BC

Dogu from Yamanashi prefecture, 3000BC

A sketch of a dogu from Kanaaraizawa site, Ibaragi prefecture

Bearded dogu from Goto site, Tochigi prefecture

tattooed dogu face from Gunma prefecture

Dogu from Yamanashi prefecture (minami-Alps city), 3000BC

Dogu with heavily tattooed eyes and lips from Akita prefecture, Final Jomon

National Treasure dogu figurine from Aomori prefecture, Final Jomon

Dogu from Akita prefecture, Final Jomon

Clay mask from Akita prefecture (Late Jomon Asao site)

Another clay mask showing ornate tattoo markings from Iwate prefecture (Shidanai site), Final Jomon


Dogu from Chiba Prefecture (Late Jomon period)

A rare figurine with ornate face markings and large headgear, from Ishikawa prefecture, Late Jomon period

Dogu from Ibaragi prefecture, Final Jomon

Dogu from Nagano prefecture, Middle Jomon period

“Mimizuku dogu” from Chiba prefecture, Final Jomon period

“Mimizuku dogu” from Saitama prefecture


Dogu from Kanagawa prefecture, Late Jomon period


Dogu from Kanagawa prefecture, Middle Jomon period


Dogu from the Ikawazu Shellmidden site in Aichi Prefecture (Late Jomon period)


Clay mask from the Sanganchi Shellmidden site in Fukushima prefecture (Final Jomon period)


Dogu from Miyagi prefecture (Late Jomon period)

从Niigat人偶a prefecture (Nagaoka city) 3000BC

The most common type of tattoo appears to a simple double line running in a curve or straight line from the eye across the cheek to the side of the face. Other figurines feature crow’s feet lines from the corner of each eye (pictured below).


Eyes and lips may also have completely been surrounded by scarification or needle punctures creating the famous goggle-eyed and thick-lipped look of many figurines.

A closeup of these clay dogu of body parts – lips give an idea of how highly tattooed lips may have been

Eyelids may have been tattooed as well.


The eyelids appear to have dotted lined tattoos, both upper and lower ones. Clay mask from Aomori prefecture (period unknown)

Why did the Jomon tattoo their faces?

Local fishing folk believe that tattoos are done for protection against predators like shark. This practice may have been handed down from Jomon times.

Some of the tattoos such as the double lines from eye across cheek appear to have been fairly stable features, lasting from around 3,300 BC through the final phase of the Jomon period in the Kanto region. They may have been rites of passage or cultural traits intended to have been cultural/tribe identifiers.

Ainu women were known (until fairly recent times) to have tattooed their lips.According to Ainu tradition, they attributed tattooing to a gift from the “Ancestral Mother” of the Ainu Okikurumi (Turesh) Machi, the younger sister of the creator god, Okikurumi. And (like with the Inuit people)the tattoos were a prerequisite for Ainu women to getting married (source:Lars Krutak). Other Ainus have attributeda healing or protective function to tattoos that are believed to repel evil spirits(source: Lars Krutak). As the Ainu have been established to be genetically partially of Jomon stock, we can postulate that the practice may have been part of the goddess culture of the Jomon people as well (othercultures like Inuit,Eskimo Imooyok(see photo below) andMaoris women also tattooed their lips. Facial tattoos are especially sacred for the Maoris, amoko on the faceis the ultimate statement of one’s identity as a Māori, and the head is believed to be the most sacred part of the body).

「tattoos orochi ulchi amur」の画像検索結果

Later periods also showed up more ornamental and varied types of tattoos, where perhaps they became fashion or artistic adornments as well.

Jomon tattoos were unlikely to have had warpaint uses, i.e. they were probably not intended to scare off their enemies. Internecine warfare was unknown until the arrival of the Yayoi immigrants

Sources and References

縄文の力 THE POWER OF JOMON (別冊太陽 日本のこころ Author: 小林 達雄 ISBN9784582922127

土偶・コスモス(Published by MIHO MUSEUM) ISBN9784904702376

列島の考古学 縄文時代 (by 能登) ISBN9784309714424

縄文人の道具 古代史復元 (3) Author: 達雄, 小林) ISBN4061864238

縄文のわざと道具 縄文時代1 (日本のあけぼの)Author: 小林 達雄 ISBN4620603023

Tattoo History: The Tattooed Ainu Women of Japanby Minerva

Tattooing among Japan’s Ainu peopleby Lars Krutak

Ta moko: The significance of Maori tattoos

Between the Lines:
Tracing the controversial history and recent revival of Inuit facial tattoos
Sep 20, Ashleigh Gaul

‘This is so powerful:’ Kitikmeot women revive traditional Inuit tattoosCBC News,May 3, 2016

2 responses to “Facial tattoos of the Jomon, and what they may have been for

  1. Facial tattoos(and scarifications) of women: Ainu, Inuit, Jomon, Maori
    My interpretation:

    IMO Ainu women did not originally have face tattoos but adopted the custom from coastal cultures like Jomon, whose women dove for seafoods (like today’s Japanese Ama divers & Korean Cheju island “dragon lady” divers, where shark attack was a daily threat.)

    Note: The divers traditionally used a wood spatula (like Tasmanian women divers) to scrape abalone from rocks, a knife, a digging stick/prybar, and had a floating basket to deposit their catch which they could lay on to warm up in between dives. I think the basket was originally a wicker coracle, but changed to cedar-plank “washtub”, similar to coastal Chinese women’s washtubs which they paddled through the harbor to get close to British ships to trade.

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