Japanese History/The Yayoi Period

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The Origins and General Development of the Yayoi Culture[edit]

When considering the Late Jomon period the first thing that leaps to my attention is the fact that the two main centers in the Tohoku and in Kyushu were radically different in important ways. The Tohoku culture continued the general Jomon tendency to ever more complicated pottery styles, whereas the Kyushu culture gradually eliminated nearly all ornament, ending up with simple black burnished wares. The large zone between them was thinly inhabited so far as house sites are concerned, and one must think that they had scarcely any contact with each other.

Also, the Tohoku culture continued a general multi-faceted type of subsistence culture, with emphasis on both hunting and fishing plus the gathering and preservation of horse chestnuts. In Kyushu there was some fishing along the northern coast, but the culture seems to have focused on exploiting plant food sources to the maximum extent possible, so much so that many archaeologists feel that they were verging upon agriculture, or what is sometimes called horticulture, meaning the cultivation of things like legumes rather than grain crops. However, it has to be noted that lately some sites that were formerly called "Final Jomon" have been reclassified as "Early Yayoi," taking with them much of the evidence (like a couple of rice grains stuck to a pot) for incipient agriculture.

It certainly seems fair to speculate that the people in Kyushu were now in contact with whoever lived in Korea at the time and had become a separate culture that should no longer be considered typically Jomon. I don't know of any archaeologist who has gone quite that far.

Food[edit]

The main plant food source was a type of warm climate acorn that was not available elsewhere in Japan at the time. These were preserved in pits dug into bogs so that the acorns were under water. This doesn't sound promising, but it apparently works very well. In 1975 an acorn was germinated that had been preserved this way for over 3000 years. According to Imamura Keiji this technique goes back all the way to early Jomon in Kyushu and continued to be used into historical times.

Dates of the Yayoi Period[edit]

Now we have to look at the revolution in dates. Every book that I know of in English is based on a scheme of dating which was challenged in 2003 and is now considered to be completely overthrown. This happened because of the introduction of a new method of dating based on carbon isotope ratios. Radiocarbon dating became important in the study of prehistory starting in 1948, but the method used was based on relatively crude measurements by recording radioactive decay using essentially a Geiger counter. This required a large sample of material which is often difficult to find, especially given that the sample of biological material must be securely tied to the overall date of the archaeological site, which is often not easy to do. The new technique is called "accelerator mass spectrometry" or AMS and it is based on actually counting individual atoms of carbon. The sample required is small. In the case of Jomon and Yayoi period sites in Japan, the most common source of a sample for AMS testing is soot adhering to the surface of a pot. This is securely tied to the age of the pot, unlike a pile of charcoal that might be found somewhere in the deposits and could easily be an intrusion from some different time.

It was formerly believed that the transition from Jomon to Yayoi occurred in about 300 BC or 400 BC. My understanding is that this determination was purely an estimate based on the fact that stylistically Yayoi could be broken into three main phases, the last two of which can be dated reasonably accurately because of objects imported from China or Korea. On the assumption that each of the three phases lasted approximately the same amount of time, you get the presumed starting date of about 300 or 400 BC. Then, in 1955 a piece of iron that looked like it might be part of an ax turned up in a shell mound in Kyushu. The excavator assigned it "early" Yayoi. In 1981 a second iron object was discovered, this time at the site of Magarita on the north Kyushu coast. This was a complete iron ax which had evidently been made in China in the "Warring States" period, roughly 300 or 400 BC. Magarita has a layer that has been considered one of the oldest Yayoi sites. This certainly supported the dating of the start of Yayoi because of the fact that the smelting of iron was only discovered in China around 600 BC and spread slowly enough that it was not until about 300 BC that stone tools disappeared there. 400 BC would be about the earliest possible date for a Chinese iron ax to appear in Japan.

In 2003 it was announced at an academic conference in Japan that recently conducted AMS dates for late Jomon and early Yayoi sites showed that the transition occured in approxmately 1000 BC, hundreds of years earlier than previously believed, and also hundreds of years before the beginning of iron casting in China. It is easy to imagine how this would have started a big fight, as a great many archaeologists considered that such a date had to be impossible. There must be something wrong with the AMS dating method.

All radiocarbon dates require "calibration" due to the fact that the mix of the two isotopes of carbon in the atmosphere changes over time. Calibration tables were put together years ago for the original technique (which forced a lot of redating and big fights in European archaeology a few decades ago), and when AMS appeared people immediately went to work to calibrate it. This was relatively easy to do because there now exist well worked out sequences of tree ring dates in many places. A selection of wood samples of known age were run through the AMS process leading directly to a calibration table. This was completed in 1998. It was done on the basis of European and North American wood, however, and many people argued that there must be something different about Japan. However, as time has passed it has become clear that there is nothing different about Japan. Chinese scholars performed their own evaluation of the technique by using it to date the tombs of the successive kings of the Western Chou dynasty, the dates of whose deaths are accurately known. The results matched perfectly.

There is one problem with the method for archeology. The calibration required for the period from 400 BC to 750 BC is such that dates in this period are ambiguous, meaning that you can say that a sample comes "between 400 BC and 750 BC" but nothing more. This is called (in Japan anyway) the 2400 year problem because it kicks in 2400 years ago.

In 2004 an archaeologist named Harunori Hideji who had originally opposed the new dates decided that it was necessary to go back and reexamine the two announced finds of early Yayoi iron. It is noteworthy that in the hundred years of study of Yayoi culture there were actually only two cases of "early Yayoi" iron. He went back to the original site reports and was able to demonstrate that the attributions to the early period were shaky at best. Since then there have been more than 1600 AMS measurements of late Jomon and early Yayoi sites and the results are clear. The earliest Yayoi sites are now dated to 900 BC and the arrival of iron in Japan is still put at about 400 BC.

There are quite a lot of books and articles on this in Japanese. The most useful to me have been [弥生時代の実年代] The Actual Dates of the Yayoi Period edited by Imamura Mineo and Harunari Hideji, Tokyo 2004 and [新弥生時代のはじまり] The Revised Beginning of the Yayoi Period 3 volumes edited by Nishimoto Toyohiro, Tokyo 2006.

Yayoi Agriculture[edit]

Imamura Keiji mentions claims of Jomon farming as far back as 3500 BC for beans, perilla, gourd, rape, burdock, and hemp, with rice and barley coming in around 1000 BC, which he takes to be the end of Late Jomon and the beginning of Final Jomon. However, he notes that few if any archaeologists argue that this can be counted as "agriculture" because whatever gardening was done did not increase the food supply sufficiently to allow an increase of the population or the formation of more complex social structures. Imamura also notes that whatever was done did not inspire the creation of any new types of tools. All of the evidence that can be found can be just as easily interpreted as merely the intense exploitation of wild plants. The citations for rice and barley are associated with the appearance of one or two grains stuck to the side of a pot. There is no sign whatever of the technology associated with leveling and plowing fields, weeding them, irrigating them, harvesting them, or storing the resulting harvest. It is likely that small amounts of grain were brought back from Korea by fishermen or acquired from Yayoi pioneers.

Everyone agrees that rice farming, bronze technology, and iron technology were brought to Japan from the mainland. There is no trace in Jomon archeology of the early stages in the evolution of any of these technologies. The debate is over whether these technologies were brought in by immigrants or whether they were picked up by the Jomon people through cultural contacts with Korea. Every aspect of the Yayoi culture is different from Jomon culture. It is especially noteworthy that Jomon and Yayoi pots were assembled from raw clay in entirely different ways, their differences are not merely a matter of the style of decoration. Also, it is evident from burial practices the Yayoi people brought in a new religion. Jomon style ritual items are not used and entirely new types of ritual items appear. Above all is the fact that rice farming in irrigated paddies is a mature technology that evolved over a long period in China. In Japan it suddenly appeared in an advanced form.

Rice farming began in the Yangtze River area of China as early as 5000 BC, and was well developed by the time of the Yayoi people. Korean and Japanese rice farming mostly relies on a subspecies Oriza sativa japonica, which is the type of rice most suited to their cold (by rice standards) climates. This variety is not much grown in China in modern times, but was important in ancient times and is probably native to the Yangtze valley. It is almost certain that the rice farmed by the Yayoi people originated in China as opposed to some other place in tropical Asia, where the "japonica" variety is unknown. China had also been using bronze for a long time already when the Yayoi culture began in Japan. Before the AMS dates it was thought that the Yayoi people must have come from the Yangtze region during the "Warring States" period of great violence and turmoil as the Chinese empire was being assembled. However, now it appears that they left the mainland sometime during the Western Chou period, or, if they spent a couple of hundred years in Korea first, even the Shang period. This opens up many more possibilities, because in that time Chinese civilization was composed of city states that occupied restricted zones where the forests were lighter and could be easily turned into farmland using stone tools. These states were all surrounded by various types of "barbarians" who lived simpler lives in the thicker forest areas. Chinese civilization had not penetrated the Yangtze area at all this early. AMS dating also shows that the Mumun pottery culture of southern Korea, which was the Korean equivalent of Yayoi, began to move in as early as 1300 BC and was well established by 1000 BC. This makes it likely that the Yayoi arrived in Japan from Korea, as opposed to crossing directly from the mainland, and that it was in Korea that the details of farming rice in a new, colder, climate were worked out. Archaeologists had long noted that in Yayoi Japan "japonica" was the only type of rice grown, so that the selection down to just this one type must have occurred somewhere other than the Yangtze region. This timing also fits in with the period in which rice farming first reached the Shantung Peninsula of China. Shantung had always been a popular staging point except that with the old dates for Yayoi it was hard to explain why farming took so long to make the short jump to Korea and how it could happen with a non-Chinese people in an era when Shantung was thoroughly Chinese (the Warring States period). Now it seems much more natural. Shantung was barbarian territory during the Shang and early Chou periods.

Ethnicity of the Yayoi People[edit]

It is difficult to say anything about the ethnicity of the Yayoi people. Japanese and Korean are members of the Altaic group of languages, which firmly points to Manchuria, Mongolia, and Central Asia, not to China or southeast Asia. It would seem impossible that early rice farmers could have been Altaic speakers. The Chinese don't tell us anything useful about the language of the Wa (their name for the early Japanese). The only hint I have seen mentioned is a 3rd century AD book that says that the language of the Wa "sounds like the language of Wu." Wu was the name of a dynasty that ruled most of southern China between 222 and 277 AD, but the reference is probably to the ancient kingdom of Wu of the lower Yangtze River, which was considered by the Chinese to have been "barbarian" and which was destroyed in 473 BC. The later Chinese dynasty was named after the old kingdom (dynasties were routinely named after ancient kingdoms or earlier dynasties). However, we don't know anything about the language of ancient Wu, though it was most likely a Sino-Tibetan type language like Chinese, but also like Vietnamese, Lao, and many others, living and extinct.

The Spread of Yayoi Culture in Japan[edit]

There is no doubt at all that Yayoi first appeared on the north coast of Kyushu, where Japan is closest to Korea. There is no evidence at any time during the Yayoi period of iron mining in Japan. The Chinese more than once mention that there was an active business exporting iron ingots from Korea to Japan and there are finds of forges in Yayoi sites. There is ample evidence that the Yayoi Japanese made bronze items themselves because many molds have been found and there are many distinctively Japanese types of item. Even there, however, it appears that nearly all of the bronze metal was imported, either as ingots or as manufactured items that were melted down and reused. It is possible to tell exactly where bronze comes from because of isotope ratios in tin. Japanese, Korean, northern Chinese, and southern Chinese bronze are all different, and Yayoi bronzes are always made of Korean or Chinese material. In historical times making bronze items in Japan was always difficult because copper is rare in Japan. Every time a new copper deposit was found there was general rejoicing and an upsurge in bronze statuary.

The Yayoi culture soon replaced Jomon in most of Kyushu (there were probable Jomon survivals in south Kyushu and the island chains to the south) and spread rapidly eastward up the Inland Sea and also up the Japan Sea coast. Recall that during the Late Jomon much of this land was essentially uninhabited. There is good land for farming in the Kinai area and again in a large area around modern Nagoya. Expansion continued, though much more slowly, into the east and the northeast, even briefly extending rice farming further north than its northern limit in early historical times. It was originally thought that it took about 200 years to take over the entire area where rice farming was possible at the time, but with the new, early, dates, it may turn out that this process went a bit slower than that.

The earliest AMS dates in the Kanto and northeast are not spectacularly early, so far. North of that there remained for a time a late Jomon culture sometimes called Epi-Jomon that acquired iron objects from the Yayoi Japanese and learned to farm plants that would grow in the climate.

When the Japanese began to move into Hokkaido in a serious way in the 18th century it was mostly inhabited by a non-Japanese people called Ainu. When the Jomon archaeological culture was discovered there was immediate speculation that the Jomon people were Ainu. The ethnographic history of the north is complicated, but I believe that it is fair to say that most authorities now think that this is not true and that the Ainu entered the area from Siberia considerably later, though I think that there is not much agreement on which of the succession of archaeological cultures that existed marks their arrival. Imamura Keiji has a discussion of this in his book.

In early historical times the Japanese state dealt with "barbarians" from the northeast that they called Ebisu or Emeshi. There was much fighting before they were finally brought under the control of the Japanese state. At least one battle that occurred appears to have been with people that the locals reported to have only recently arrived by boat. It is probable that most Ebisu were merely Yayoi people who lived outside of the Japanese political structure of the Kofun peiod and early historical times. The early frontier was well within the rice growing zone so that the Jomon people had departed long before. There were "barbarians" in Kyushu also, known variously as Kumaso, Hayato, and Tsuchigumo. It is probable that these also were Yayoi people who resisted inclusion in the Japanese state structure of the Kofun period. Their strong point was not in the remote south, but in the original heartland of Yayoi culture in northern Kyushu.

The Beginning of Japanese History[edit]

The Chinese sent an army into southern Manchuria and northern Korea in 108 BC that destroyed a kingdom called Chao Hsien 朝鮮 by the Chinese or Choson by the Koreans that evidently had its capital in or near the modern city of Pyongyang. There are presumed archaeological remains from this kingdom in the form of elite tombs, all empty of anything interesting. This kingdom was situated north of the zone where the Mumun culture of rice farmers lived. Choson provides the normal Japanese name for Korea, Chosen, and Choson is the name used by the country we call North Korea.

A distinction is made between "Old Choson" and "Wiman Choson", due to the fact that, according to Chinese sources, a Chinese adventurer whose name becomes Wiman in Korean overthrew the king of Old Choson and established a dynasty about 100 years before the Han dynasty invasion of 108 BC.

The Han dynasty and its successors the Wei and Chin dynasties treated the conquered area as an integral part of the Chinese Empire. The Han originally set up four "chun" administrative units that presumably were spread along the coast from southern Manchuria down to Pyongyang or, possibly, the area of the South Korean capital of Seoul. The far north of Korea, the Japan Sea side of Korea, and Korea south of Seoul were not occupied. Rather soon after the conquest two of the districts were abandoned and not too long after that a third was suppressed as well. The surviving district was called Lo-lang and its capital was located on the other side of the Taedong river from modern Pyongyang. Japanese archaeologists excavated several elite tombs in the 1930s, finding high quality Chinese goods of all kinds. Before the recent explosion of archeology in China, these excavations were almost the only source for Han dynasty art.

It is assumed that there was no secure land connection to the small part of Manchuria controlled by China and that communication was by boat via the Shantung Peninsula. Lo-lang remained Chinese for over 400 years until its destruction in 313 AD (traditional date, disputed by some). The Han dynasty Chinese provide the first mention of the existence of a people they called Wa 倭 who were evidently Yayoi period Japanese. It is assumed that there is a close connection between Yayoi Japan and Mumun Korea. The contents of elite tombs on the two sides are almost indistinguishable, extending to the presence of Yayoi pottery in Korean tombs and Korean pottery in Japanese ones. However, the Chinese put the population of southern Korea into a different ethnic category called Han.

This is a potentially confusing name. In modern times we have the habit of referring to the main Chinese ethnic group as Han Chinese to distinguish them from the large number of different minority groups living in the Chinese political entity. The two are different words in Chinese, 漢 for Chinese (after the Han dynasty) and 韓 for south Koreans. Modern South Korea calls itself the Han Republic, and the word is also a common term for Korea in Japan (pronouced Kan in Japanese, as is the name of the Han dynasty. South Korea is Hanguo in Chinese, Hanguk in Korean and Kankoku in Japanese, but they are all the same words, just pronounced differently).

According to the Han dynasty Chinese the Wa were divided into many different "countries". They say 100 but this probably simply means "a lot" in this context. These Wa countries individually dealt with the Chinese authorities in Lo-lang. Twice during the Eastern Han period, in 57 AD and again in 107 AD, groups of Wa states sent a joint embassy to Lo-lang that was forwarded on to the Han capital of Loyang. The leading "country" in the embassy was called "Na" or "Nu". In 57 AD the "king" of Na was awarded a gold seal. In 1784 a seal exactly matching the description was found by a peasant at Hakata bay in northern Kyushu. It still survives. For a long time it was not known whether it was authentic or a forgery, but since then two similar seals have been found in good archaeological contexts in China, and it is clear that a) the Han were in the habit of handing these out to barbarian rulers, and b) a forger of 1784 could never have seen an authentic one to copy. There is a place called Nanotsu, which means "the port of Na," in the vicinity of the find, and it is believed that this is the location of the Yayoi country of Na.

The Eastern Han dynasty was overthrown by one of its generals in 220 AD. He proclaimed a new dynasty called Wei. He also lost control of southern China which spawned two rival dynasties. The period is known as the "three kingdoms." However, Wei retained control of the north including southern Manchuria and Lo-lang in Korea. There was a family based in Manchuria named Kung-sun who actually ran things until 236 when their leader made the mistake of proclaiming himself King of Yen (an ancient Chinese kingdom in the area). At some time between 196 and 220 Lo-lang had been abandoned and a new administrative capital had been established at T'ai-fang, which is thought to have been closer to modern Seoul, perhaps at Inchon, perhaps further north. The Wei sent in a large army that went as far as T'ai-fang and restablished direct Chinese authority. This impressed the Wa and in 238 an embassy went to T'ai-fang and asked to be allowed to go to China, which was permitted. As a follow up the Chinese sent an official to visit the Wa ruler and bring some promised presents in 240, and a second Chinese embassy went to the Wa some time soon after 257. There was a final Wa embassy to China in 269 (by which time the Wei had been overthrown by a general who proclaimed the Chin dynasty and temporarily reunified China). The official history of the Wei, which was written during the Chin period and completed sometime before 297, when its author is known to have died, includes a lengthy account of all of this. It is the first detailed historical information about Japan.

The article about the Wa includes transcriptions into Chinese of many place names and official titles and a few personal names. All of these would have been based on how Chinese was pronounced at that time. A lot of people have studied this, mainly by analyzing poetry, for Chinese poetry at the time used rhymes, which gives clues as to how words were pronounced. However, the Japanese do not ordinarily worry about this. They base their transcriptions on Chinese as it is pronounced by modern Japanese. It is well to not get carried away by resemblances between these transcriptions and modern Japanese words and names. First, given a choice of pronunciations most scholars select the one that best suits their theories, and second, we know that the Japanese have had copies of this Chinese book since early times. It is quoted by name in Nihon Shoki, published in 720 AD. That means that names in the Chinese account could have influenced names used in ancient Japan.

There is a complete translation into English in Japan in the Chinese dynastic histories by Tsunoda Ryusaku and L. C. Goodrich (1951). This was never a best-seller, shall we say, and has been out of print for ages, so it might be hard to find. Since the Mickey Mouse Protection Act guarantees that no work published since 1923 can ever go into the public domain unless its publisher specifically puts it there, I assume that I cannot legally copy it. So, I have written my own translation from the Chinese original with the aid of several translations into Japanese, my Chinese not being good enough to do it without some help.

There are a few comments to make before I begin. There is an active controversy about the location of places named in the text, and at one point the Chinese is ambiguous enough grammatically that it becomes necessary to make a decision as to exactly how to translate it (into Japanese or English), and the choice permits one to support one theory or the other. I have chosen one rendering, but because this is an important issue, when the spot comes up I will include a note explaining what is at stake. Also, it will become immediately obvious that there is something wrong with the distances cited. I will ignore that until after the translation is completed. Finally, I have corrected the text in three places. The oldest surviving Chinese text comes from printed editions that are several hundred years later than the original, and there may well be other mistakes that we cannot recover. The three in question, however, represent a modern consensus. Two are minor, but the third is important. The leading Wa state in the text is customarily rendered as Yamatai in both English and Japanese. In Japanese this is written 邪馬台. The character 台 is actually a modern Japanese simplification of 臺. However, the Chinese source actually used a different character, 壹. If you are not familiar with Chinese characters you may have to look closely to see the difference. However, if this were not changed, the correct pronunciation would be Yamai or even Yamachi or Yamaichi. Later Chinese books that quote this material all use the "tai" character. The explanation is supposed to be that during the Wei dynasty the "tai" character was reserved for use in imperial proclamations and ordinary subjects were not permitted to use it. The author of the text had the choice of finding another character that was pronounced the same or another character that looked as much as possible like the original character. Chinese authors normally preferred to do the latter in such cases, ignoring the dictionary meaning and pronunciation of the replacement character. However, it is just as possible that the printer of the oldest version made a mistake. This is important because Yamatai sounds much like Yamato, which is one of the ancient Japanese names for Japan. Many Japanese scholars would say that Yamatai ought to be replaced by Yamato, but everyone has agreed to keep Yamatai so that it is clear that we are referring to the 3rd century version and not the later one.

The Text of the "Account of the Wa"[edit]

The Wa people live in the middle of the great ocean southeast of the prefecture. They live on mountainous islands divided into countries and districts. Formerly there were about 100 countries. In the time of the Han dynasty they came to the court a few times. These days about 30 countries have diplomatic relations with us.

To get to Wa from the prefecture, one follows the coast by sea. Passing by the Han countries, go south first and then east to arrive at 狗邪韓国 which is its northern coast. The distance is about 7,000 ‘li’.

This line is much argued about. What, exactly, does "its northern coast" mean? Some say that the country 狗邪韓国 is the most northern outpost of Wa, others that it is the last Han country north of Wa. The latter is almost certainly correct. The country name includes the character for Han meaning ethnic south Korean, 韓, and it does not appear on the list of 30 countries belonging to "the female king" provided below. "Kuya" also appears in the article in the same history about the Han people with no hint that it is a Wa country. It is the only country name that includes the character meaning country, 国, so there is also argument about how this should be read. I interpret it to mean "the Han country of Kuya". I believe that everyone agrees that it was located at the mouth of the Naktong River just west of modern Pusan.

Cross the ocean for the first time for 1000 li to reach the country of Tsuma 対馬. Its highest official is called ‘hiku’ 卑狗, and his assistant is called ‘hinumori’ 卑奴母離. This place is an isolated island of only 400 square li. It is mountainous and thickly forested and its roads are like the trails of wild animals. There are 1000 households. There is no good farmland and the people eat seafood. They go in boats to the north and the south to trade for grain.

From there continue south across the ocean for 1000 li. This is called ‘The Wide Sea’. You reach Iki. Its official is also called hiku and the assistant hinumori. The area is only 300 li square and it is thickly forested with trees and bamboo. There are about 3,000 households. There is farmland and it is farmed but cannot produce enough to feed the population, so they also trade north and south for grain.

Again cross the sea for 1000 li to reach Matsuro 末盧. It has 4,000 households. It is a narrow shore between mountain and sea. The forest is so thick you cannot see a person walking in front of you. They like to eat fish and abalone. The water is shallow, and they gather them by diving.

Travel southeast overland for 500 li to reach Ito (or Izu) 伊都. Its official is called niki 爾支 and his assistants are semmoku 泄謨觚 and hekkuho 柄渠觚. It has 1000 households. Formerly it had a king [or these countries had kings] but now all belong to the 'female king' country. When ambassadors come and go they always stop here.

To the southeast it is 100 li to Na (or Nu) 奴. Its official is called ‘shimako’ 兕馬觚 and his assistant ‘hinumori’. It has 20,000 households.

East, it is 100 li to Fumi 不弥. Its official is called ‘tamo’ 多模 and his assistant ‘hinumori’. It has 1,000 households.

Here is where the description becomes tricky. Up to this point all movements say "next move east" or "again cross the sea" but now this is replaced by "to the east is". If you want to support the proposition that Yamatai was in Kyushu, you emphasize this change and if you want to support the proposition that Yamatai was in central Honshu you suppress it and pretend nothing has changed. That is, the Kyushu theory says that Fumi is 100 li east of Ito and the distances to Toma and Yamatai are also measured from Ito, whereas the Yamato theory says that Fumi is 100 li from Na, Toma is 20 days from Fumi and Yamatai is 10 days from Toma.

South, to get to the country of Toma 投馬 is 20 days by sea. Its official is called ‘mimi’ 弥弥 and his assistant ‘miminari’ 弥弥那利. There are 50,000 households.

South, to the country of Yamatai 邪馬台, which is the residence of the female king, is 10 days by water or 1 month overland. Its chief officer is called ‘ikima’ 伊支馬, next is ‘mimasho’ 弥馬升, next there is ‘mimagushi’ 弥馬獲支, and then there is ‘nakato’ 奴佳革. There are at least 70,000 households.

For the area to the north of the king's country, it was possible to obtain a reasonably good estimate of the population and the routes. As the other countries are far away it is not possible to say much about them. There is first Shima 斯馬, then Ipokki 已百支, then Iza 伊邪, then Tsuki 都支, then Minu 弥奴, then Kaseto 好古都, then Fuku 不呼, then Shanu 姐奴, then Tsusu 対蘇, then Sonu 蘇奴, then Koyi 呼邑, then Kenusonu 華奴蘇奴, then Ki 鬼, then Igo 為吾, then Kinu 鬼奴, then Yama 邪馬, then Kushi 躬臣, then Hari 巴利, then Kiwi 支惟, then Wunu 烏奴, then Nu 奴, which is the last to belong to the king.

You may note that the last country 奴 is the same character as Na on the north coast. This is probably an error in the text, but there is no way to guess what the correction ought to be.

To the south is Kuna or Kunu 狗奴,which has a male king. Its chief officer is called Kukohiku 狗古卑狗. It does not obey the female king.

The total distance from the prefecture to the country of the female king is 12,000 li.

All men, high and low, tattoo their faces and decorate their bodies with designs.

From olden times envoys who visit the Chinese court have called themselves gentlemen 大夫.

A son of the ruler Shao-k’ang of Hsia, when he was enfeofed as lord of K’uai-chi, cut his hair and decorated his body with designs in order to avoid the attack of serpents and dragons. The Wa, who are accustomed to diving into the water to get fish and shells, also decorated their bodies in order to keep away large fish and birds. Later, however, the designs became merely ornamental. Designs on the body differ in the various countries and their position and size vary according to the rank of the individual.

Calculation of the distances seems to indicate that the country of the female king is located east of Tung-chih in K’uai-chi [approximately modern Shanghai, too far south].

The social customs are not lewd. The men wear a band of cloth around their heads, exposing the top. Their clothing is fastened around the body with little sewing. The women wear their hair in loops. Their clothing is like an unlined bed cover and is worn by slipping the head through an opening in the center. They cultivate grains, rice, hemp, and mulberry trees. They spin and weave and produce fine linen and silk fabrics. There are no cattle, horses, tigers, leopards, sheep, or magpies. Their weapons are spears, shields, and wooden bows made with a short lower part and long upper part [the pattern of later bows also]. The arrows are bamboo, tipped with either iron or bone. In their material culture they are like the people of Hainan Island.

The land of Wa is warm and mild. In winter as in summer people can eat vegetables and go barefooted. Their houses have rooms and father and mother and older and younger sleep separately. They smear their bodies with pink and scarlet as the Chinese use powder. They serve food on bamboo and wooden trays, helping themselves with their fingers. When a person dies they prepare a single coffin, without an outer one. They cover the graves with sand to make a mound. When death occurs mourning is observed for at least 10 days, during which time they do not eat meat. The head mourners wail and lament, while friends sing, dance, and drink liquor. When the funeral is over, all members of the family go into the water to bathe, to purify themselves.

When they cross the sea to visit China, they always choose a man who does not arrange his hair, does not rid himself of fleas, lets his clothing get as dirty as it will, does not eat meat, and does not approach women. This man behaves as a mourner and is known as the fortune keeper. If the voyage ends successfully, they lavish on him slaves and other valuables. In case there is disease or other mishap, they kill him, saying that he must not have been scrupulous in his duties.

Here I skip a section that lists types of trees and birds that are found that has problems that are really impossible to sort out. There is no way to tell what species are meant from modern Chinese or Japanese dictionaries.

Whenever they undertake an enterprise and dispute arises, they heat bones and perform divination in order to tell whether fortune will be good or bad. First they announce the object of the divination, using the same manner of speech as in (Chinese) tortoise shell divination. Then they examine the cracks made by the fire and tell what will happen.

In public meetings all sit together and there is no difference between father and son or man and woman. They are fond of liquor. In their worship, men of importance simply clap their hands instead of kneeling or bowing. The people live long, some to one hundred, others to 80 or 90 years. Ordinarily, men of importance have four or five wives, the lesser ones two or three. Women are not loose in morals or jealous. There is no theft and litigation is infrequent. When there is a violation of the law, the wives and children of a lesser offender are enslaved, a great offender is killed along with his entire household and other kinsmen. There are class distinctions and some men are subordinate to others. Taxes are collected. There are granaries as well as markets in each province where necessities are exchanged under the supervision of an official.

To the north of the female king’s land there is a high official stationed especially to watch over those provinces so that they remain in a state of awe and fear. He rules the country of Ito residing in the country like a Chinese governor. If the king sends envoys to the capital or T’ai-fang 帯方 prefecture or if the prefecture or various Han countries send embassies to the Wa, they are all made to stop at the port for inspection, so that messages and gifts to the king will reach her without mishap.

When the lowly meet men of importance on the road, they stop and withdraw to the roadside. In conveying messages to such men or speaking to them, they either squat or kneel, with both hands on the ground. This is the way they show respect. When responding they say “ah” which means “yes”.

The country formerly had a man as ruler. Then, about seventy or eighty years ago there was a period of warfare. Finally, the people agreed on a woman for their ruler. Her name was Himiko 卑弥呼. She occupied herself with magic and sorcery, bewitching the people. Though mature in age, she remained unmarried. She had a younger brother who assisted her in running the country. After she became ruler few people saw her. She had one thousand women as attendants but only one man. He served her food and drink and took communications in and out. She resided in a palace that was fortified by a stockade with armed guards at all times.

1000 li across the sea to the east from the country of the female king there are more countries, all belonging to the Wa race.

Additionally, there is the country of the dwarfs. It is in the south. Its people are 3 or 4 feet tall. It is about 4,000 li from the Queen country. Also, there are the land of naked men and the land of the black-teeth people. They are further south east. They can be reached by a sea voyage of one year.

In the 6th month of the 2nd year of Ching-ch’u (238), the king of Wa sent the gentleman Nashomi 難升米 and others to the prefecture where they requested permission to continue to the imperial court with tribute. The governor, Liu Hsia, dispatched an officer to accompany the party to the capital. An edict of the emperor was issued in the 12th month of the same year addressed to the king of Wa “Herein we address Himiko, King of Wa, whom we now designate a friend of Wei. The governor of T’ai-fang, Liu Hsia, has sent a messenger to accompany your servant Nashomi and the assistant ambassador Tsushi Gori 都市牛利. They have arrived here with your tribute, consisting of four male slaves and six female slaves, together with two bolts of twenty feet of cloth with designs. You live very far away across the sea, yet you have sent an embassy with tribute. Your loyalty and filial piety we appreciate very much. We confer upon you, therefore, the title of 'King of Wa Friend of Wei,’ together with the decoration of the gold seal with purple ribbon. The latter, properly encased, is to be sent to you through the governor of T’ai-fang. We expect you, king, to rule your people in peace and to endeavor to be devoted and obedient.”

“Your ambassadors Nashomi and Gori who have come from afar had a fatiguing journey. We have therefore given to Nashomi an appointment as lieutenant colonel in the Imperial Guard and to Gori an appointment as commandant in the Imperial Guard. We also bestow upon them the decoration of the silver seal with blue ribbon. We have granted them audience in appreciation of their visit, before sending them home with gifts. The gifts are these: five pieces of crimson brocade with dragon designs, ten pieces of crimson tapestry with dappled pattern, fifty lengths of bluish-red fabric, and fifty lengths of dark blue fabric. These are in return for what you sent as tribute. As a special gift we bestow upon you three pieces of blue brocade with interwoven characters, five pieces of tapestry with delicate floral designs, fifty lengths of white silk, eight taels of gold, two swords five feet long, one hundred bronze mirrors, and fifty catties each of jade and red beads. All of these things are packed in boxes and entrusted to Nashomi and Gori. When they arrive and you acknowledge their receipt, you may exhibit them to your countrymen in order to show that our country thinks so much of you as to bestow such splendid gifts.”

In the first year of Cheng-shih (240), the governor, Kung Tsun, sent T’i Chun, a commandant of the Imperial Guard, with an imperial rescript and the seal with ribbon to visit the Wa country. He had an audience with the king and took with him, in addition to the rescript, gifts of gold brocade, tapestry, swords, mirrors, and other things. Thereupon the Wa king sent an envoy with a memorial expressing appreciation.

In the 4th year (243) the Wa king sent another embassy of eight men led by Isegi 伊声耆 and Yasuku 掖邪狗 and bestowed presents of slaves, brocade, red and blue silk, a fabric robe, cloth, cinnabar, and a short bow with arrows. Yasuku was granted the commission of lieutenant colonel in the Imperial Guards and also the ribbon seal.

In the 6th year (245), by imperial decree, Nashomi of Wa was granted a yellow pennant to be awarded through the office of the prefect.

In the 8th year (257) the governor Wang Ch’i arrived to take up office. The king of Wa, Himiko 卑弥呼, had been at odds with the king of Kunu, Himikuko 卑弥弓呼 and had sent Saishi 載斯 and Uwo 烏越 and others of the Wa to the prefecture to report in person concerning this conflict. Chang Cheng, acting commander of the border guard, was sent with a rescript and the yellow pennant conferred on Nashomi. He issued a proclamation advising reconciliation.

When Himiko died a great mound was raised, more than a hundred paces across. Over a hundred male and female attendants followed her to the grave. Then a male king was established, but the people would not obey him. Violence followed and more than one thousand were killed. A relative of Himiko named Iyo 壹與, a girl of thirteen, was then made king and order was restored. Cheng issued a proclamation recognizing Iyo as ruler. Then Iyo sent the gentleman and guards commander Yasuku 掖邪狗 to accompany Cheng home. This delegation visited the capital and presented thirty male and female slaves. It also offered five thousand white gems and two pieces of carved jade, as well as twenty bolts of brocade with designs.

The Location of Yamatai[edit]

There has been continuing for a long time now a scholarly controversy over the location of Yamatai. Many believe that Yamatai is the same as Yamato and was located in what later became Yamato province, modern Nara Prefecture in central Honshu. However, a straightforward reading of the text clearly says that Yamatai was in northern Kyushu. There is concern about the ridiculous distances in li. Traditionally, 50 li is the distance you can travel in one day. If you take the distances measured in terms of travel time , 10 days to Toma, 20 days to Yamatai, and convert them you get numbers on the same scale as the others in the text. They are all still absurd, of course, both as distances and times. I have never seen a plausible explanation. Putting that aside the text says that from T'ai-fang to the north coast of Kyushu at Matsuro is 10,000 li and that the distance from T'ai-fang to Yamatai is 12,000 li. On that scale the distance to historical Yamato would actually be 20,000 li. Furthermore, the text clearly names 7 countries (counting the islands), all of which except Toma are definitely on the north coast of Kyushu or islands off the north coast. It says these are "the countries that are north of Yamatai." It lists 23 other countries that obey Yamatai but which must be somewhere else than between Yamatai and the north coast of Kyushu. There is no room for so many countries without including the western end of Honshu, which matches the archeology which shows that that area was culturally identical with northern Kyushu. That, combined with the relatively short distance from the coast to Yamatai, seems to seal the deal.

Those who argue for Yamato as the location claim that the Chinese of this time had seriously mistaken ideas about Japanese geography and either the original report was mistaken or it was rewritten back in China by people who thought they knew more about the subject than the men on the spot. The main claim is that (after reaching the Kyushu coast), every time the Chinese say "south" the real direction is "east". It is definitely true that some Chinese maps from hundreds of years later do not give an accurate location for Japan (putting it too far south) or an accurate layout of the island chain, making it run mostly north-south whereas it is more accurate to describe it as east-west. On the other hand, no one has ever claimed that the Chinese of this era were great map makers. It should be noted that the Yamato theory would seem to demand that the Chinese were unable to specify the location of any country between Kyushu and Yamato except for Toma, which would be 2/3 of the way and therefore probably ancient Kibi (modern Okayama prefecture). That would strongly suggest that the Chinese themselves did not make that journey and never got beyond Ito, but the article says that one ambassador had an audience with Himiko. Even if they sailed the whole way in their own ship with only one stop at Toma, they surely would have asked the names of the countries they passed, given the amount of geographic detail that they did include.

The total amount written on this topic is enormous, involving both archaeologists and historians. The reason that it is considered important is that it is closely tied into two major questions. There is no doubt at all that the Yayoi culture began in Kyushu and that throughout the Yayoi period Kyushu was the richest and most sophisticated part of the country. At some unknown point in time there was a change and the Nara plain in central Honshu became the wealthiest region and the home of the most powerful persons. The first question is, when did this transition take place? Secondly, it is agreed that there must be one point when a person first appeared who could legitimately be considered the first king of Wa. When was this point, and was this person resident in Kyushu or in Yamato?

The government of Japan between the 1880s and 1945 treated Nihon Shoki as something close to a sacred text, and even today there is a considerable group of nationalistic historians who attempt to find evidence for the proposition that Japan has had a true ruler since early times, perhaps the 1st century AD, and that this ruler has always ruled from Yamato, because that is what Nihon Shoki says. The Chinese article says that "70 or 80 years ago" there was a period of warfare out of which emerged the regime led by Himiko. It does not, of course, say what year to count back from. However, everyone tends to assume that it points to approximately 180. It is argued by many that the state of Yamato as described in Nihon Shoki emerged from this turmoil. Their big problem is that Nihon Shoki does not offer any room for Himiko in the part of the narrative associated with the origins of the ruling clan. At the point that the Chinese article was written China had only ever had one female ruler, Empress Lu of the Western Han dynasty. She was the widow of an emperor who took over as a near usurper (supported by her clan of male relatives) and is one of the famous villains of Chinese history. It would not be at all natural for the Chinese to decide that the "king" of Yamatai was a woman unless there were compelling circumstances. The closest thing that Nihon Shoki has to offer is the fact that it was customary for a female relative of the ruler to serve as the high priestess of Amaterasu. This doesn't seem enough to explain the Chinese reaction.

Archaeologists do not mind contradicting Nihon Shoki at all, and making the most prestigious person in the regime a female shaman is not a problem for them. What attracts them is the question of whether they can use the historical material, the Chinese account and Nihon Shoki, to assist them in dating things. From that point of view it is quite important to know where Himiko was located.

It does seem to me that it happens that people adopt one view or the other and then become partisans, fighting to win, rather than trying to find out what is correct. It is easy to find contradictions in things written on the topic. My own prejudice is to keep things simple. If Nihon Shoki did not exist, I do not believe that anyone reading the Chinese account would think that Yamatai was not in Kyushu. In fact, it is pretty obvious that the authors of Nihon Shoki thought that it says that Yamatai was in Kyushu. They inserted a stand-in for Himiko (Jingu Kogo) to fit at the point in their narrative matching 240 AD and they went to a great deal of trouble to have her based in Kyushu at that time. On the same principle, it is impossible for me to avoid thinking that the start of the Yamato state must be directly tied to the appearance of the first of the great tombs of the Kofun period. This happened in Yamato. Everything depends on the dating. After looking over the treatments of this that appear in English, I find that I am not satisfied with them. I will, therefore, take a stab at it here, first presenting the latest archaeological picture, minus the mass of detail in the archaeological books.

When the Chinese moved into Korea in 108 BC, they made available to the Wa a variety of high quality objects with scarcity value. By tracing the way that these objects show up in the ground, archaeologists have built up a picture of an evolution of society in northern Kyushu in which status divisions began to appear as the population density rose. It becomes possible to classify graves as to whether they belonged to "chiefs", who probably ran one village, to "big chiefs", who probably ran four or five villages, to "kings" who ran the "countries" named by the Chinese. The imported objects were only one element in the measurement of status because there were a lot of locally made "prestige" goods that only high class people could own as well. Then, after 180 or so, the Eastern Han dynasty suffered from severe popular uprisings (the "Yellow Turbans") and a major failure in the effectiveness of its institutions as measured by its degree of success in collecting taxes. Effective control in southern Manchuria and Korea fell into the hands of the Kung-sun family. They were not able to provide the usual prestige goods and this led to a time of troubles in Japan. The timing matches the "period of warfare" exactly. It is noteworthy that northern Kyushu graves in this time include large numbers of people with battle injuries, such as arrow heads stuck in their bones or broken skulls. There are people who were beheaded, then given normal burials, as if they were the victims of massacres. The locals also were forced to make substitutes for the missing goods, such as badly made local copies of Chinese bronze mirrors. The setup described by the Chinese where some 30 countries were organized under the overall control of a ruler in Yamatai was clearly a step up to a still higher level of organization. The Chinese clearly say that Yamatai maintained officials at Ito who inspected travellers to make sure that all goods destined for the ruler reached the ruler. It is reasonable to speculate that the reduction in the supply after 180 had something to do with this consolidation.

Then, the Wei armies reached T'ai-fang and suddenly the Chinese started sending new things. There is a particular type of Chinese mirror that is definitely of Wei dynasty manufacture called a "TR" mirror by English speaking archaeologists. There are several hundred of them known in Japan and many of them were copies of each other, that is made from a single mold. As of the most recent count I have seen (2007) there are 75 different sets known. None of these mirrors are found in typical late Yayoi graves. All of them come from Kofun style graves, and there is good reason to believe that all of them were imported into Japan in a relatively short period between 240 and 290, when contact with China lapsed again. This corresponds to a period known to archaeologists as "Early Kofun 1," which they date 250 to 300. The death of Himiko and the start of Early Kofun are clearly close together. I will defer saying more about this until the next section, where I can include Japanese historical sources. For now, I would like to switch to a related topic.

The Transition from Yayoi to Kofun[edit]

Egami Namio announced a new theory of the origins of the historical Japanese state in 1949 and it has generated enormous controversy since. He pointed out that the years after 300 AD saw enormous changes on the mainland, and that it was unrealistic to imagine that these had no impact on Japan. The Chinese empire that had first been put together by Ch'in Shih Huang Ti in 221 BC and which survived the transitions through the Western Han, Hsin, Eastern Han, Wei, and Chin dynasties finally crashed and burned at that time. The Chin dynasty fell apart due to a chaotic civil war among rival princes battling for the throne and then Northern China was swept by a flood of barbarian invasions involving many different peoples. China was invaded from Manchuria, from Mongolia, from Central Asia, and from Tibet. Chin survivors fled to the south and regrouped there, but northern China entered into a period of fragmentation known as "the 16 kingdoms." South China saw a succession of 5 short lived dynasties. At the same time, Korea was invaded from Manchuria and the Chinese district there was destroyed. The date of 313 is often given for this, but that comes from a rather late book and some think that archaeology shows that Lo-lang and T'ai-fang remained culturally Chinese for some time after that date. The invaders were already known to the Chinese as the Kingdom of Koguryo 高句麗 since the 1st century AD, a kingdom which had long controlled parts of Manchuria and northern Korea beyond the Chinese sphere. According to both the Chinese and Koguryo itself, the ruling group in Koguryo were members of an ethnic group the Chinese call Fu-yu and the Koreans call Puyo. These were speakers of an Altaic language and originated in the forests of eastern Manchuria, but emerged at some point onto the plains and became horse riding nomads.

Koguryo was a hybrid state in which a population of farmers had been conqured by barbarian horsemen who set themselves up as a distinct ruling class made up of warriors. At first the commoners lived in towns and villages and the horsemen continued to live in tents, but by 300 the horsemen had settled down. Soon after the fall of the Chinese center in Korea a second kingdom emerged to the south, Paekche 百済, first mentioned in Chinese records in 342. In 472 Paekche sent an embassy to the Northern Wei dynasty. At that time the king (Kaero) wrote that “We and Koguryo both come from the Puyo race. At first our relations were friendly, but former Koguryo King Kogugwon rashly ruptured amity with his neighbors and brought his army to attack us. My ancestor Kunch’ogo led his own army to attack him and took his head.” That occurred in 371. There is another letter from a king of Koguryo that says that the rulers of both Paekche and a third Korean kingdom that evolved in the southeast called Silla 新羅 were related to the Koguryo royal family.

The Puyo aristocracy of Paekche clearly ruled over commoners who were none other than the Han people already known to the Chinese. The name Paekche is thought to derive from the name of one of the Han tribes mentioned in the Wei history (the "three kingdoms" Wei dynasty must not be confused with the Northern or T'oba (Turkish) Wei dynasty, which was named after it). From Paekche materials quoted in Nihon Shoki we discover that the "Wa" had diplomatic relations with Paekche from an early time and from Koguryo materials we find that Wa were fighting against Koguryo in alliance with Paekche as early as the 4th century. There is an inscribed sword in Japan which appears to say that it was made in 369 and presented by the king of Paekche to the king of the Wa. The interpretation of this sword is controversial, and at least one scholar thinks that it is a 19th century forgery, created based on the mention of such a sword presentation in Nihon Shoki. However, there are many reasons to argue otherwise. This will be covered in detail in the chapter on the Yamato state.

Egami's thesis, put simply, is that the Puyo invasions did not stop at the waters edge, but continued on into Japan and that the "Wa" leaders who were involved with Koguryo and Paekche were themselves Puyo warriors. There is a Korean historian, Hong Wontuck, who argues that the founders of the Japanese imperial house were a branch of the Paekche royal family and that Japan began as a Paekche colony. He has a book in English. Not many will go that far, but it is certain that for 300 years before the destruction of Paekche that country and Japan maintained close relations and almost continuous friendship. It is also certain that a substantial group of people in southern Korea were in some sense or other under the political control of the Wa ruler and might, in some contexts, have been counted as "Wa" themselves. Japan risked its own existence in an effort to try to save Paekche from conquest by T'ang dynasty China, and after the fall of Paekche there existed for at least 300 years in Japan a family whose name can be translated as "King of Paekche".

There is also a long list of ways in which ancient Japan seems to be intimately connected with Koguryo in cultural matters. This will all be discussed later as well.

It is a curious fact that historians tend to favor the horse-rider theory and archaeologists oppose it despite the fact that nearly all of the evidence in favor is archaeological in character. Gina Barnes in her most recent book, State Formation in Japan (2007) treats the hypothesis as "an absurdity." [Give a page number for this quote or delete it] The last couple of generations of archaeologists have tended to be strongly opposed to explanations for archaeological changes that suggest population movements and warfare, despite the fact that these are well known occurences in historical periods, and despite those Yayoi bodies that had been shot full of arrows.

I will use Barnes to lay out the argument in favor of the Egami thesis, to show that I am not "cherry picking" a pro-horse-rider archaeologist. It is essentially based on the notion that the Chinese are correct in saying that Yayoi Japan did not have horses, a situation which is supported by archaeology. At some point in the fifth century AD we suddenly find Japan controlled by an aristocracy of mounted warriors who deposited large numbers of weapons and a lot of horse riding gear, saddles, bridles, and the like, in their tombs. Since we know that Korea was overrun by mounted warriors, it is not at all "absurd" to hypothesize that some of them made it to Japan.

Barnes quotes a classification of all of the Kofun tombs put together by a Japanese archaeologist, Hirose Kazuo, in 1992. The technical details will be explained below.

Early Kofun 1 250-300

There are no haniwa, but some tombs have jars treated like haniwa. There are only authentic Chinese mirrors (largely TR type), no Japanese imitations.

Early Kofun 2 300-350
Cylindrical haniwa appear. The mirrors are all "large style" imitations. There is much stone "jewelry".

Early Kofun 3 around 350
Like the above except that new coffin types appear and stone imitations of other objects increase considerably.

Early Kofun 4 350-400
Like the above except that armor begins to appear, along with "small style" imitation mirrors and further proliferations of stone objects.

Middle Kofun 5 around 400
The quantity of iron armor and weapons increases, nearly all types of bronze objects disappear, many types of stone objects disappear.

Middle Kofun 6 400-450
Sue pottery, riveted armor and helmets, horse gear, haniwa in animal and human forms appear, nearly all types of stone objects disappear.

Middle Kofun 7 around 450
New mirror types, armor types, and a proliferation of horse gear occur

Late Kofun 8 450-500
Relatively minor stylistic changes.

Late Kofun 9 500-550
More stylistic changes, most notably the appearance of swords. Small tombs cut into cliffs appear and proliferate

Late Kofun 10 550-600
Haniwa nearly all disappear.

It may be seen that the most extensive change in the tombs occurred in period 6, after 400, when Sue pottery, human and animal figurine haniwa, continental style riveted and laminated armor, and horse gear all appeared. Both before that and after that the changes from phase to phase are relatively minor stylistic evolutions. Period 6 is associated with Ojin Tenno, the presumed leader of the horse-riders, who died sometime close to 400. Ojin's tomb marks the archaeological beginning of the period.

Barnes and others find the "absurdity" in Egami's theory by clinging to the original 1949 formulation made at a time when a great deal less was known about kofun tomb archaeology than now. Egami was a colorful character who enjoyed being controversial, but a great many more sober-sided people have accepted his idea and developed it. The modern version is that Early Kofun culture was purely native and evolved out of the Late Yayoi of Kyushu, but that bands of Puyo entered Japan at an unknown date before 400, defeated the early Kofun rulers in Yamato and took over the state, following practices already worked out in the cases of Koguryo and Paekche and Silla, and also much used by the contemporary barbarian invaders of China. The system is to conquer groups of farmers and then pretty much leave them alone to run their own affairs, collecting taxes from them, and also taking over and coopting members of the former ruling classes, who know how to talk to the commoners and control them. There would not need to have been a huge number of invaders, just a few thousand with clear military superiority, who would settle in at the highest level and push the native elite down to the level of district chiefs, to do all the actual work of running things. This is exactly the kind of state that early historical Yamato looks like.

It seems all but certain that the Korean Mumun and the Japanese Yayoi cultures of rice farmers were founded by immigrants from the south who spoke a language affiliated somehow with the Sinitic group. It is equally certain that Korea was overrun by Puyo invaders speaking an Altaic language who set up the three kingdoms of Koguryo, Paekche, and Silla. If there was no further movement of Puyo into Japan, just how do we explain the facts that Japanese is an Altaic language closely related to Korean, that the recorded foundation myths and early religious beliefs of the three Korean kingdoms and early Japan are nearly identical, that Nihon Shoki attests in several places to the fact that the Japanese considered themselves to be very close to Koguryo in matters such as court ceremonial, music, and dance, and that more than 300 aristocratic Japanese clans were list as immigrants from Paekche.

The start of "Middle Kofun" is when evidence appears that the Japanese started to manufacture iron directly from ores, as opposed to importing it from Korea. This change may have been related to the introduction of a new type of pottery, used by the elite only, called sue 須恵 (pronounced "soo eh") which was made at much higher temperatures than any kind of Yayoi pottery. Also, the technical means of inserting the coffin and grave goods into the tomb was changed. In Yayoi tombs and early Kofun tombs the mound was constructed first and then a vertical shaft was dug down from the top to place the coffin and grave goods. In the later phase a horizontal tunnel was made running from the crypt to one side of the tomb and closed up again after the funeral. In general these later tombs are like contemporary Koguryo elite tombs internally, while continuing the external appearance of earlier Kofun tombs.

Haniwa 埴輪, which are mentioned above, are pottery objects that were placed on the surface of a tomb, partially buried. Some period 1 tombs had ordinary vases distributed over the area where the coffin was located half buried in the tomb, and there soon evolved special pots made just for this purpose where the part that was going to be underground was narrower than a normal pot. The cylindrical haniwa were specially built for tombs. Some had fancy tops in plant shapes or umbrella shapes, and there were also house models made of the same clay. These were not technically haniwa because they had no underground component but simply sat on the surface of the tomb. With Ojin's tomb and those of his successors there were suddenly thousands of haniwa, including many new types, including images of people of all types, including armored warriors, and many types of animals, especially horses, sometimes armored. In Kyushu a couple of ships have been found. The use of haniwa faded out in central Japan after the end of the Ojin dynasty, but they continued to be popular in eastern Japan, which is where the most artistic ones come from. There is a famous story in Nihon Shoki about a man who traded his horse for a curious looking red one that the next morning turned out to be a haniwa from Ojin's tomb, where he found his own horse quietly grazing.

The most recent developments have occurred due to changes in dating for this period. It is not really possible to use radio carbon dating for such a recent period, it is not precise enough. However, the extensive use of tree ring dates has had the effect of pushing many sites back to times significantly earlier than had been previously thought. This has caused archeologists to rethink the question of the transition from yayoi to Kofun and the result has been the tendency to reclassify many sites that had formerly been called Kofun as late Yayoi. The main justification for this was the movement of a type of pottery widely used as a marker from the Kofun period to the Yayoi period. This has all happened so recently that I don't think it has been widely noticed how much it tends to support the Egami thesis.

The result is that the early development of the great tombs that give Kofun its name occurred during the Yayoi period and the start of the next era is put at around 400 AD and the arrival of the the horse gear and the restructuring of the contents of the tombs. The grave goods in the older tombs were, in fact, mostly typical of Yayoi tombs, and except for the tombs themselves and the fact that the earliest were located in the Yamato area and not in Kyushu, there were no changes significant enough to justify naming a new culture before 400. Scholars have begun to take a serious look at what may have caused a sudden change in the political center of Japan from Yamatai (in Kyushu) to Yamato in central Honshu sometime during the generation immediately after the death of Himiko. The similarity of names now becomes interesting as suggesting that a group of people actually moved from Kyushu to Yamato and accomplished some sort of political transformation. This also helps with one mystery of the early tombs which is that although they are located in the Yamato region the Yayoi grave goods within them were all of the type found in Kyushu, and show no connection with the rather distinctive Yayoi culture of the Yamato region.

The Kyushu Yayoi culture had a peculiar custom of making bronze weapons that were so exaggerated in shape as to be completely useless for any practical purpose. These are found in western Honshu extending up to the edge of the Yamato area of later times. To the east, extending from the Yamato area to the Tokyo area, there was instead the custom of creating equally exaggerated bronze bells that are never found at settlement sites or in graves but in isolated burials in remote places. Their use is unknown but is presumed to have involved being hidden in normal times and brought out for certain ceremonies and then hidden again. In any case, it is clear that there was a sharp cultural distinction between eastern and western variants of Yayoi culture, and that the occupants of the first phases of Kofun tombs were buried in the Kyushu mode and not the eastern mode.

The eastern Yayoi settlement sites show a relatively uniformitarian culture. Only the western people show the kind of status differentiation described by the Chinese "Account of the Wa."

The Chinese article on Yamatai twice mentions occasions of civil war over the question of whether the ruler should be a man or a woman. In both cases the result was the rule of a female. It is now suggested that the move to Yamato enabled the accomplishment of the change from female rule, focused on the religious role of a shaman, to male rule, focused on military command. The distribution of the TR mirrors in this period shows that the rulers in Yamato now controlled communcations with China, and it has been noted that the oldest group of Kofun type tombs in northern Kyushu is located exactly at the position of the ancient states of Ito and Na on Hakata Bay. The oldest great tomb in Yamato is that known as Hashihaka, and according to Nihon Shoki it is the tomb of a woman who was on the one hand a priestess and on the other the aunt of Sujin Tenno. Sujin is at one point called Hatsukunioshirasu Sumeramikoto, "the first ruler to rule the land," and is assigned to the second oldest tomb.

Later, we find descendants of Sujin Tenno attempting the conquest of the part of Kyushu to the interior of Na where their opponents are described as female rulers. It is certainly plausible, at least, to suggest that the losers of the civil war that put Iyo on the throne in Kyushu withdrew to Yamato and started their own rival regime there. The newest dates for the group of tombs that begin with Hashihaka match this thesis exactly.

This view means that Egami Namio was wrong about one thing, that the invasion of Japan occurred rather early in the 4th century, soon after the fall of Lo-lang and probably even before the appearance of Paekche as a state (known to the Chinese) in 342. If it happened it must be timed to coincide with the appearance of horse-riding gear and mainland style armor in Japan, so it has to be put a few generations later and the arrival of Ojin Tenno, who swept through Kyushu and overthrew successors of Sujin Tenno based in Yamato and made himself ruler of Japan. Ojin is the occupant of the first great tomb of the new type and he must have died sometime around 400 AD, once again considered the date of the end of the Yayoi period. As shall be seen later the heavy fighting reported between Koguryo and "the Wa" occurred in the years leading up to 400 and "the Wa" involved may have been mainly based in Korea rather than in Japan.


Japanese History

Introduction
Prehistory through the Jomon Period – The Yayoi Period – The Kofun or Yamato Period – The Asuka Period – The Nara Period – The Spread of Buddhism in Japan – The Early Heian Period – The Middle Heian Period – The Late Heian Period – The Kamakura Period – The Kemmu Restoration – The Nanboku-chō Period – The Muromachi Period (Ashikaga) – The Warring States Period – The Azuchi–Momoyama Period – The Edo Period – The Meiji Restoration – The Meiji Period – The Taisho Period – The Rise of Militarism – World War II – The American Occupation of Japan – Post-War Japan – Japan Today
Further Reading