The earliest period in Japanese history, the Jomon Period lasted from about 10,000 BC until about 300 BC. The Jomon Period draws its name from the distinctive cord-patterned pottery its people produced.

The Jomon people were costal dwellers who built small villages in sheltered bays. They lived on a diet of fish, crabs, and shellfish and buried their dead uncerimoniously in massive heaps of discarded shells that apparently served as all-purpose garbage dumps. They used stone and bone tools and are one of the earliest peoples to use pottery. Little else is known of the Jomon people, as they did not possess writing.

There is much debate surrounding the true identity of the Jomon. Some argue that they were caucasian, perhaps ancestors of the Ainu, while others contend that they were the direct ancestors of the modern Japanese. Mythology, national pride, and racism continue to play a role in both arguments.

The next period in Japanese history was the Yayoi Period.