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History of Japan

  • Paleolithic 35000–14000 BC
  • Jōmon period 14000–400 BC
  • Yayoi period 400 BC – AD 250
  • Kofun period 250–538
  • Asuka period 538–710
  • Nara period 710–794
  • Heian period 794–1185
  • Kamakura period 1185–1333
    • Kemmu restoration 1333–1336
  • Muromachi period 1336–1573
    • Nanboku-chō period 1336–1392
    • Sengoku period
  • Azuchi-Momoyama period 1568–1603
    • Nanban trade
  • Edo period 1603–1868
    • Bakumatsu
  • Meiji period 1868–1912
    • Meiji Restoration
  • Taishō period 1912–1926
    • Japan in WWI
  • Shōwa period 1926–1989
    • Japanese militarism
    • Occupation of Japan
    • Post-Occupation Japan
  • Heisei period 1989–present
  • Economic history
  • Educational history
  • Military history
  • Naval history

The Yayoi period (弥生時代 Yayoi-jidai?) is an era in the history of Japan from about 500 BC to 300 AD.[1] It is named after the neighbourhood of Tokyo where archaeologists first uncovered artifacts and features from that era. Distinguishing characteristics of the Yayoi period include the appearance of new pottery styles and the start of an intensive rice agriculture in paddy fields. The Yayoi followed the Jōmon period (14,000 BC to 500 BC) and Yayoi culture flourished in a geographic area from southern Kyūshū to northern Honshū.

A new study used the Accelerator Mass Spectrometry method to analyze carbonized remains on pottery and wooden stakes, and discovered that these were dated back to 900 BC800 BC, nearly 500 years earlier than previously believed.[2] These artifacts came from the northern region of Kyūshū, and to further confirm this finding, artifacts from China and Jōmon earthenware from the Tohoku region of the same time period as the initial study were compared with the same results. Another researcher used other artifacts from similar Yayoi period sites and found that these were dated back to 500400 BC[citation needed].

Features of Yayoi Culture[]


A Yayoi jar, 1st-3rd century, excavated in Kugahara, Ota, Tokyo, Tokyo National Museum.

The earliest archaeological evidence of the Yayoi is found on northern Kyūshū.[3] Yayoi culture quickly spread to the main island of Honshū, where Yayoi farmers displaced the native Jōmon, although there was some mixing of the two distinct genetic stocks.[citation needed] Yayoi pottery was simply decorated, and produced on a potter's wheel[citation needed], as opposed to Jōmon pottery, which was produced by hand. Yayoi craft specialists made bronze ceremonial bells (Dōtaku), mirrors, and weapons. By the 1st century AD, Yayoi farmers began using iron agricultural tools and weapons.

The Yayoi population increased, and their society became more complex. They wove cloth textiles, lived in permanent farming villages and constructed buildings of wood and stone. They also accumulated wealth through land ownership and the storage of grain. These factors in turn promoted the development of distinct social classes. Yayoi chiefs in some parts of Kyūshū appear to have sponsored, and politically manipulated, trade in bronze and other prestige objects[4]. This was possible due to the introduction of an irrigated, wet-rice culture from the Yangtze estuary in southern China via the Ryukyu islands or Korean peninsula.[1][5] 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.[citation needed]

Direct comparisons between Jōmon and Yayoi skeletons show that the two peoples are noticeably distinguishable.[6] The Jōmon 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 browridges, noses, and nose bridges. Yayoi people, on the other hand, averaged an inch or two taller, with close-set eyes, high and narrow faces, and flat browridges and noses. By the Kofun period, almost all skeletons excavated in Japan, except those of the Ainu and Okinawans, resemble those of modern day Japanese.[7] The modern Japanese are believed to be descendants of the immigrants mixed with the indigenous Jōmon people, while the Ainu are believed to be relatively purer descendants of the Jōmon people, with some intermingling of genes from Nivkhs and from Yayoi immigrants.[citation needed]


Archivo:Bronze Mirror in Ancient Japan.jpg

Bronze mirror excavated in Tsubai-otsukayama kofun, Yamashiro, Kyoto.

Origin of the Yayoi people[]

The earliest archaeological sites are Itazuke site or Nabata site in the northern part of Kyūshū. The origin of Yayoi culture has long been debated. Chinese influence was obvious in the bronze and copper weapons, bronze mirrors (Dōkyō), bells (Dōtaku), as well as irrigated paddy rice cultivation. Three major symbols of the Yayoi Culture - the bronze mirror, the bronze sword, and the royal seal stone.

In recent years, more archaeological and genetic evidence have been found in both eastern China and western Japan to lend credibility to this argument. Between 1996 and 1999, a team led by Satoshi Yamaguchi, a researcher at Japan's National Science Museum, compared Yayoi remains found in Japan's Yamaguchi and Fukuoka prefectures with those from early Han Dynasty (202 BC-8) in China's coastal Jiangsu province, and found many similarities between the skulls and limbs of Yayoi people and the Jiangsu remains.[8] Two Jiangsu skulls showed spots where the front teeth had been pulled, a practice common in Japan in the Yayoi and preceding Jōmon period. The genetic samples from three of the 36 Jiangsu skeletons also matched part of the DNA base arrangements of samples from the Yayoi remains.

Some scholars also concluded that the Korean influence existed. These include "bunded 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."[9] This assumption also gains strength due to the fact that Yayoi culture began on the north coast of Kyūshū, where Japan is closest to Korea. Yayoi pottery, burial mounds, food preservation was discovered to be very similar to the pottery of southern Korea.[10]

However, some argue that the rapid increase of roughly four million people in Japan between the Jōmon and Yayoi 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.[citation needed] 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.[10]

Some pieces of Yayoi pottery clearly show the influence of Jōmon ceramics. In addition, the Yayoi lived in the same kind of pit-type or circular dwellings as that of the Jōmon. Other examples of commonality are chipped stone tools for hunting, bone tools for fishing, bracelets made from shells, and lacquer skills for vessels and accessories.

Today the theory, the Yayoi people are that mix of the native Jōmon with immigrants from China and Korea, is believed widely and most textbooks of Japan have described that.[citation needed]

Emergence of Wa in Chinese history texts[]

Archivo:Kan wana kokuo inbun.svg

Imprint of the Golden Seal, inscribed King of Na of Wa in Han Dynasty(漢委奴國王)

The earliest written records about people in Japan are from Chinese sources from this period. Wa (倭), the Japanese pronunciation of an early Chinese name for Japan, was mentioned in 57 AD; the Na or state of Wa (倭奴國, literally "Wa slave country") received a golden seal from the Emperor of the Later Han Dynasty. This was recorded in the Book of Later Han (Hou-Han Shu). The seal itself was discovered in northern Kyūshū in the 18th century.[11] Wa was also mentioned in 257 in the Wei zhi (The Records of Wei), a section of the San Guo Zhi.[12]

Early Chinese historians described Wa as a land of hundreds of scattered tribal communities, not the unified land with a 700-year tradition as laid out in the 8th-century work Nihongi, a part-mythical, part-historical account of Japan which dates the foundation of the country at 660 BC. Archaeological evidences also suggest that frequent conflicts between settlements or statelets broke out in the period. Many excavated settlements were moated or built at the tops of hills. Headless buried human bones[13] discovered in Yoshinogari site are regarded as the typical example of the presumption. In the coastal area of the Inland Sea, stone tips of arrows were often included in the burial goods.

Third century Chinese sources reported that the Wa people lived on raw fish, vegetables, and rice served on bamboo and wooden trays, clapped their hands in worship (something still done in Shinto shrines today), and built earthen grave mounds. They also maintained vassal-master relations, collected taxes, had provincial granaries and markets, and observed mourning. Society was characterized by violent struggles.



Hashihaka kofun, Sakurai, Nara

The Wei Zhi (Records of Wei), which is part of the San Guo Zhi, first mentions Yamataikoku and Queen Himiko in the 3rd century. According to the record, Himiko assumed the throne of Wa, as a spiritual leader, after the large civil war. Her younger brother carried out practical affairs of state, which included diplomatic relations with the court of the Chinese Kingdom of Wei.[14] When asked of their origins by the Wei embassy, the people of Wa claimed to be descendants of the Grand Count Tàibó of Wu, a historic figure of the Wu Kingdom (吳國) around the Yangtze Delta of China. (Original Chinese from the Records of Wei: 「倭人自謂太伯之後」.).

The location of Yamataikoku and the identity of Queen Himiko have been subjected to study for many years. There are two possible sites, Yoshinogari in Saga Prefecture and Makimuku in Nara Prefecture. General consensus centers around these two likely locations, either northern Kyūshū or the Kinki region of central Honshū. Recent archaeological research in Makimuku suggests that Yamataikoku located in the area.[15][16] Some scholars assume the Hashihaka kofun in Makimuku was the tomb of Himiko. Its relation of the origin of the Yamato polity in the following Kofun period also under debates.


  1. 1,0 1,1 Prehistoric Archaeological Periods in Japan, Charles T. Keally
  2. Shōda Shinya (March 2007). "Bulletin of the Society for East Asian Archaeology". Error: journal= not stated 1. Society for East Asian Archaeology. Retrieved on 2007-11-10.
  3. 縄文後期~弥生6期土器形式併行関係一覧表, National Museum of Japanese History
  4. Pearson, Richard J. Chiefly Exchange Between Kyushu and Okinawa, Japan, in the Yayoi Period. Antiquity 64(245)912-922, 1990.
  5. Earlier Start for Japanese Rice Cultivation, Dennis Normile, Science, 2003
  6. 縄文人の顔と骨格-骨格の比較, Information-technology Promotion Agency
  7. Jared Diamond (June 1998). "Japanese Roots". DISCOVER 19 (6). Retrieved on 2007-11-10.
  8. Long Journey to Prehistorical Japan (Japanese). National Science Museum of Japan. Retrieved on 2007-11-10.
  9. Mark J. Hudson (1999). Ruins of Identity Ethnogenesis in the Japanese Islands. University Hawai'i Press. 0-8248-2156-4. 
  10. 10,0 10,1 Diamond, Jared (1998-06-01). "Japanese Roots". Discover Magazine (June 1998). Retrieved on 2008-05-12.
  11. Gold Seal (Kin-in). Fukuoka City Museum. Retrieved on 2007-11-10.
  12. 魏志倭人伝, Chinese texts and its Japanese translation
  13. 首なしの人骨, Niigata Prefectural Education Center
  14. 魏志倭人伝, Chinese texts of the Wei Zhi, Wikisource
  15. 古墳2タイプ、同時に出現か・奈良の古墳群で判明, Nikkei Net, March 6, 2008
  16. 最古級の奈良・桜井“3兄弟古墳”、形状ほぼ判明 卑弥呼の時代に相次いで築造, Sankei Shimbun, March 6, 2008

External links[]

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