On the basis of archaeological finds, it has been postulated that hominid activity in Japan may date as early as 200,000 BC, when the islands were connected to the Asian mainland. Although some scholars doubt this early date for habitation, most agree that by around 40,000 BC. glaciation had reconnected the islands with the mainland. Based on archaeological evidence, they also agree that by between 35,000 BC and 30,000 BC Homo sapiens had migrated to the islands from eastern and southeastern Asia and had well-established patterns of hunting and gathering and stone toolmaking. Stone tools, inhabitation sites, and human fossils from this period have been found throughout all the islands of Japan.
More stable living patterns gave rise by around 10,000 BC. to a Neolithic or, as some scholars argue, Mesolithic culture. Possibly distant ancestors of the Ainu aboriginal people of modern Japan, members of the heterogeneous Jomon culture (ca. 10,000-300 B.C.) left the clearest archaeological record. By 3,000 BC, the Jomon people were making clay figures and vessels decorated with patterns made by impressing the wet clay with braided or unbraided cord and sticks with a growing sophistication. These people also used chipped stone tools, traps, and bows and were hunters, gatherers, and skillful coastal and deep-water fishermen. They practised a rudimentary form of agriculture and lived in caves and later in groups of either temporary shallow pit dwellings or above-ground houses, leaving rich kitchen middens for modern anthropological study.
By the late Jomon period, a dramatic shift had taken place according to archaeological studies. Incipient cultivation had evolved into sophisticated rice-paddy farming and government control. Many other elements of Japanese culture also may date from this period and reflect a mingled migration from the northern Asian continent and the southern Pacific areas. Among these elements are Shinto mythology, marriage customs, architectural styles, and technological developments, such as lacquerware, textiles, metalworking, and glass making.
The literature of Shinto (Way of the Gods) employs much mythology to describe the supposed historical origins of Japan. According to the creation story found in the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters, dating from A.D. 712) and the Nihongi or Nihon-shoki (Chronicle of Japan, from A.D. 720), the Japanese islands were created by the gods, two of whom--the male Izanagi and the female Izanami--descended from heaven to carry out the task. They also brought into being other kami (deities or supernatural forces), such as those influencing the sea, rivers, wind, woods, and mountains. Two of these deities, the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu Omikami, and her brother, the Storm God, Susanowo, warred against each other, with Amaterasu emerging victorious.