Japanese History: Kofun period. Part 1 日本史: 古墳時代 パート1

The Kofun period (古墳時代) is lasted from 250 to 538. It is named after the type of burial mounds dated from this era. The Kofun period (古墳時代) and the subsequent Asuka period (飛鳥時代) is sometimes referred to collectively as the Yamato period (大和時代). The Kofun period (古墳時代) is the oldest era of recorded history in Japan.

The Kofun period (古墳時代) and the Asuka period (飛鳥時代) are divided by their cultural differences. The Kofun period (古墳時代) is characterized by a Shinto culture which existed before the the introduction of Buddhism.

Kofun (古墳) are defined as the burial mounds built for the people of the ruling class during the 3rd to 7th centuries in Japan. The mounds contained large stone burial chambers. Some are surrounded by moats. Kofun (古墳) come in many shapes, with round and square being the simplest. A distinct style is the keyhole-shaped kofun, with its square front and round back. Kofun (古墳) range in size from several meters to over 400 meters in length.

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The oldest Japanese kofun is said to be Hokenoyama Kofun located in Sakurai (櫻井) in Nara prefecture (奈良県) and it dates back to the 3rd century. The trend of the keyhole kofun first spread from Yamato to Kawachi and then throughout the country (except for Tohoko region) in the 5th century. Keyhole kofun disappeared later in the 6th century, probably because of the drastic reformation which took place in the Yamato court.

While conventionally assigned to the period from 250 AD, the actual start of Yamato rule is disputed. Regardless, it is generally agreed that Yamato rulers possessed keyhole kofun culture and held hegemony in Yamato up to the 4th century.

The regional autonomy of local powers remained throughout the period, particularly in places such as Kibi (current Okayama prefecture 岡山県), Izumo (current Shimane prefecture 島根県), Koshi (current Fukui and Niigata prefectures 福井県 and 新潟県), Kenu (northern Kantou), Chikushi (northern Kyushu), and Hi (central Kyushu). It was only in the 6th century that the Yamato clans could be said to be dominant over the entire southern half of Japan.

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The Yamato polity, which emerged by the late 5th century, was distinguished by powerful clans (豪族 Gozoku). Each clan was headed by a patriarch (氏上 Uji-no-kami) who performed sacred rites to the clan’s kami to ensure the long-term welfare of the clan. Clan members were the aristocracy, and the kingly line that controlled the Yamato court was at its pinnacle. Powerful clan leaders were awarded kanabe, a title that denoted a political rank. This title was inherited, and used instead of the family name.

The Yamato court ultimately exercised power over clans in Kyushu and Honshu, bestowing titles, some hereditary, on clan chieftains. The Yamato name became synonymous with all of Japan as the Yamato rulers suppressed the clans and acquired agricultural lands.

Based on Chinese models (including the adoption of the Chinese written language), they started to develop a central administration and an imperial court attended by subordinate clan chieftains but with no permanent capital.

The famous powerful clans were the Soga (蘇我氏), Katsuraki (葛城氏), Heguri (平群氏), Koze clans (巨勢氏) in the Yamato and Bizen Province, and the Kibi clans (吉備氏) in the Izumo Provence. The Otomo (吉備氏) and Mononobe clans (物部氏) were the military leaders, and the Nakatomi (中臣氏) and Inbe clans (忌部氏) handled rituals. The Soga clan (蘇我氏) provided the highest minister in the government, while the Otomo (吉備氏) and Mononobe clans (物部氏) provided the second highest ministers. The heads of provinces were called Kuni-no-miyatsuko. The crafts were organized into guilds.

I hope this gives you a better understanding of the Kofun period (古墳時代). Stayed tuned next week for part 2 where we will go into more depth about this period! As always if you have any questions on this or any other topic we cover feel free to send me an email at colormeinide@gmail.com or leave a comment below. Until next time! ~まったね!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Japanese History: Jōmon period. 日本史:縄文時代。

The Jōmon period (縄文時代) is a time in prehistoric Japan that ranged from about 14,500 BC to about 300 BC. The very long—approximately 14,000 years—Jōmon period (縄文時代) is conventionally divided into a number of phases: Incipient, Initial, Early, Middle, Late and Final, with the phases getting progressively shorter. Most dates for the change of phase are broadly agreed, but dates given for the start of the Incipient phase still vary rather considerably, from about 14,000 BC to 10,500 BC. The fact that this entire period is given the same name by archaeologists should not be taken to mean that there was not considerable regional and temporal diversity; the chronological distance between the earliest Jōmon (縄文) pottery and that of the more well-known Middle Jōmon period (縄文時代) is about twice as long as the span separating the building of the great pyramid of Giza from the 21st century.

This period was rich in tools and jewelry made from bone, stone, shell and antler; pottery figurines, vessels, and lacquered wood.The Jōmon (縄文) culture is often compared to pre-Columbian cultures of Pacific Northwest North America because in both regions cultural complexity developed within a primarily hunting-gathering context.

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The name Jōmon (縄文) means “cord-marked” and was first applied by the American scholar Edward S Morse whom discovered sherds of pottery in 1877. This pottery style was characteristic of the first phases of the Jōmon period (縄文時代) and was decorated by impressing cords into the surface of wet clay. The earliest vessels were mostly smallish round-bottomed bowls 10–50 cm high that are assumed to have been used for boiling food, and perhaps storing it beforehand. The size of the vessels may have been limited by a need for portability; as later bowls increase in size, this is taken to be a sign of an increasingly settled pattern of living. This pottery, dated to around 16,000 years ago, is perhaps the oldest in the world.

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By the end of the Incipient Jōmon (縄文) phase, around 8,000 BC, a semi-sedentary lifestyle apparently led to an increase in population density, so that the subsequent phase, the Initial Jōmon (縄文), exhibits some of the highest densities known for foraging populations. Genetic mapping studies by Cavalli-Sforza have shown a pattern of expansion from the Sea of Japan towards the rest of eastern Asia. This appears as the third principal component of genetic variation in Eurasia (after the “Great expansion” from the African continent, and a second expansion from the area of Northern Siberia), which suggests geographical expansion during the early Jōmon period (縄文時代). These studies also suggest that the Jōmon (縄文) demographic expansion may have reached America along a path following the Pacific coast.

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The foundation myths of the origins of Japanese civilization extend back to the periods now regarded as the Jōmon period (縄文時代), though they show little or no relation to what we know archaeologically of Jōmon (縄文) culture. 11 February 660 BC is the traditional founding date of the Japanese nation by Emperor Jimmu. This version of Japanese history however comes the country’s first written records, the Kojiki (古事記) and the Nihongi (日本紀) or Nihon shoki (日本書紀), dating from the 6th to the 8th centuries after Japan had adopted the Chinese writing system.

Some elements of modern Japanese culture may date from this period and reflect the influences of a mingled migration from the northern Asian continent and the southern Pacific areas and the Jōmon peoples. Among these elements are the precursors to the Shinto religion, some marriage customs, architectural styles, and technology developments such as laquerware, laminated bows, metal working and glass making.

I hope this gives you more of an understanding of the Jōmon period (縄文時代). 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.