Friday, May 27, 2005

$1 Billion!!! Kazamaura’s Cut of the Juicy Jomon Pie

I ought to begin by clarifying that $1 billion is the whole pie (on an annual basis), not the speck of crumb that Kazamaura got its sticky fingers on.

Now that that little point is cleared up . . . . I have been aware for quite some time that there is a Jomon era archaeological dig going on in Kazamaura. In fact, I had always meant to check it out someday. I figured that I would wander up the creek bed in Hebiura that someone told me led to it, and that I would find a few tarps and three or four archaeologist types in straw hats puttering around a little hole. So I was quite surprised yesterday when I finally did visit the site with my supervisor (it was one of my office days, with absolutely no scheduled work on my plate).

I knew that things were not as I had imagined when we stopped by the field office that housed both a construction company’s supervisory staff and the prefectural archaeologists. It finally sank into my head that this was one of those mandatory pre-construction excavations. As is the case in most wealthy nations, there are regulations in Japan that require the discovery of archaeological artefacts on construction sites to be followed up with a state directed archaeological dig prior to further construction. And the central government is especially anxious to develop knowledge about the Jomon period. In order to understand why the quest for Jomon era artefacts is such an obsession in Japan, I would recommend reading this article in its entirety. Although the website I found it on seems a little peculiar, the article itself was written by a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times correspondent for the Far East. This means that whether the information contained therein is pure, transcendent truth or crass, diabolical lies, it is sanctioned by the normative powers of the English speaking world and you have to . . . but I digress.

We were instructed to follow the lady with the bucket down through the ongoing construction of a culvert and up the opposite hillside (which will no doubt eventually be removed altogether to make way for the new back road being put in).

As we crested the hill I was met by a most unexpected site—about thirty or forty enslaved village women (and a few men) scraping away at the earth and clay, uncovering tree roots and carrying away the refuse in wheel barrows. Standing over them in their straw hats and fancy grey work jackets were the prefectural archaeologists wielding clipboards and surveying equipment. No whips, but I could hear some of the women muttering about those lousy “Straw Hats.”

On closer inspection I discovered that this crowd was virtually a Who’s Who list of “mom’s I know.” This little sub-group was still tickled by a remarkable performance of mine in the junior high school’s Sports-fest the other day, so when I asked if I could photograph them at work they happily agreed. I am therefore mystified as to why, by the time I got my cell-phone camera turned on, one of them had fled the scene and the other two had carefully positioned their faces away from me.

As soon as I put my cell-phone away, though, they cheerfully chattered away with me and showed me their findings of the day: a plastic bag full of flint blades and the tip of a buried pot. The metal fragment, of course, is from a gardening implement of the twentieth century. The hill on which the site is located used to be covered by gardens back when the villagers grew all their own food. Then, some decades after the War, the gardens were replaced by cedar trees during a lumber boom. The villagers have always been aware of the archaeological significance of the hill, since they used to uncover pottery and stone knives all the time in their gardens, but it wasn’t until the road was slated to go through that funding kicked in for a proper excavation.

As far as the village is concerned, the whole project is a gravy train. Last year applicants were selected evenly from the three different hamlets of Kazamaura, and the lucky chosen ones began digging back in April, and they will carry on doing so at the rate of ¥6,800 a day until sometime in October. No perks. Out of curiosity I calculated my own daily wages from my annual JET salary: ¥13,846 basic; or, taking into account my twenty days paid leave, ¥15,000; or, also taking into account my six days of marital leave,¥15,385. I really don’t feel up to calculating in my wedding bonus or my travel allowances for conferences and whatnot.

A Close Up of the Pot Uncovered by the Guys in the Photo Above