Japanese History: Yayoi period. 日本史: 弥生時代

The Yayoi period (弥生時代) is known as the iron age of Japan and lasted from about 300 BC to 300 AD. It is named after the neighborhood of Tokyo (東京) in which archaeologists first discovered artifacts and features from that era.  Distinguishing characteristics of the Yayoi period (弥生時代) include the appearance of new pottery styles and the start of an intensive rice agriculture in paddy fields. Techniques in metallurgy based of the use of iron and bronze along with hierarchical social class structure also emerged in this period.

The earliest archaeological evidence of the Yayoi period (弥生時代) is found on northern Kyushu (九州) though this is still debated. As the Yayoi (弥生) population increased, the society became more stratified and complex. They wove textiles, lived in permanent farming villages, and constructed buildings with wood and stone. They also accumulated wealth through land ownership and the storage of grain. These factors promoted the development of distinct social classes. Yayoi (弥生) chiefs, in some parts of Kyūshū (九州), appear to have sponsored, and politically manipulated, trade in bronze and other prestige objects. This was possible due to the introduction of an irrigated, wet-rice culture from the Yangtze estuary in southern China. Wet-rice agriculture led to the development and growth of a sedentary, agrarian society in Japan. Local political and social developments in Japan were more important than the activities of the central authority within a stratified society.


Direct comparisons between Jōmon (縄文) and Yayoi (弥生) skeletons show that the two peoples are noticeably distinguishable. The Jōmon (縄文) tended to be shorter, with relatively longer forearms and lower legs, more wide-set eyes, shorter and wider faces, and much more pronounced facial topography. They also have strikingly raised brow ridges, noses, and nose bridges. Yayoi (弥生) people, on the other hand, averaged an inch or two taller, with close-set eyes, high and narrow faces, and flat brow ridges and noses.


The origin of Yayoi (弥生) culture has long been debated. Chinese influence was obvious in the bronze and copper weapons, dokyo, dotaku, as well as irrigated paddy rice cultivation. Three major symbols of the Yayoi (弥生) culture are the bronze mirror, the bronze sword, and the royal seal stone.


Some scholars have also concluded that Korean influence existed. Hudson has cited archaeological evidence that included but were not limited to “bounded paddy fields, new types of polished stone tools, wooden farming implements, iron tools, weaving technology, ceramic storage jars, exterior bonding of clay coils in pottery fabrication, ditched settlements, domesticated pigs, and jawbone rituals.” The migrant transfusion via the Korean peninsula also gains strength due to the fact that Yayoi (弥生) culture began on the north coast of Kyūshū (九州), where Japan is closest to Korea. Yayoi (弥生) pottery, burial mounds, and food preservation were discovered to be very similar to the pottery of southern Korea.

However, some scholars argue that the rapid increase of roughly four million people in Japan between the Jōmon (縄文) and Yayoi (弥生) periods cannot be explained by migration alone. They attribute the increase primarily to a shift from a hunter-gatherer to an agricultural diet on the islands, with the introduction of rice. It is quite likely that rice cultivation and its subsequent deification allowed for mass population increase.

Regardless, there is archaeological evidence that supports the idea that there was an influx of farmers from the continent to Japan that absorbed or overwhelmed the native hunter-gatherer population.

I hope this gives you more of an understanding of the Yayoi period (弥生時代).  As always if you have any questions on this or any other topic that I cover you can always email me at colormeindie@gmail.com or leave a comment below.


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