Encircling the Sea of Japan, or East Sea in Korean terms, is a north-temperate landscape that includes thousands of miles of deeply indented seacoast, mountains, and plains, all covered by variously mixed woodlands. The Japanese archipelago comprises its eastern edge, fronting the Pacific Ocean, while the great Amur-Ussuri-Sungari riverine plain forms its far west. We perceive the region comprised by modern Korea, Japan, and the Russian Far East as a "Japan Sea Oikumene," and review culture-historical and environmental evidence to show that—contrary to earlier historical and archaeological impressions—the region has a long-lived ecological and technological unity as a distinctive "cultural world" that can be traced continuously from late Pleistocene into recent times.
To contextualize this "world" in comparative terms, we note that it is analogous in prominent ways to the Atlantic sides of both Europe and North America, feeling the cold of northern winters but also warmed by the currents of a southern ocean and having both coastal and deeply continental terrains. Like them also, it is a region of great biotic diversity and productivity where the species of northern and southern ranges overlap and hunting-fishing-gathering peoples developed prosperous, stable, and long-lived cultural traditions. All three of these north-temperate "cultural worlds" also saw their peoples relate increasingly over time to precocious southern lands "beyond," where husbandry, human numbers, and socioeconomic complexity grew on a steeper trajectory than they did farther north.