The Birth of Japan
The Birth of Japan
According to Japan’s primary creation myth, the Heavenly Progenitor ordained that the twin gods Izanami and hanagi should go forth and procreate to fill the empty space below the heavenly domain. Yet the pair know not how to begin this great work until they sighted a wagtail. The backward and forward movements of the bird’s tail feathers suggested the essential technique, and from the joyful union that resulted the eight islands of the Japanese archipelago were born. For the Ainu, living in Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido and considered by many to be remnants of the islands’ indigenous population, it is the humble wagtail itself that takes the central role, sent by the Great Spirit down into the marshy quagmire created out of the chaos below heaven. The wagtail piled, pressed, and patted mounds of sand until they came to form the eight islands of the Japanese archipelago. And from that point on earthly life began.
Out of Myth and into the Archaeological Record
Curiously, however, neither creation myth reflects the fact that when humans first came to the Japanese islands, they were not islands at all. Current estimations place the first human presence within Japanese territory at the very least around a hundred thousand years ago, around the beginning of the last Ice Age. The stone tools, such as flint and obsidian knives and axes, typical of most paleolithic cultures make their first appearance in Japanese territory approximately thirty-two thousand years ago. much as they did elsewhere. However, a discovery in recent years at Odai Yamamoto in Aomori prefecture, northern Honshu, has demonstrated that at least one paleolithic community in what was to become Japan made pottery vessels some sixteen thousand years ago. making it the world’s earliest ceramic-producing culture.
Even before the discovery of these shards, archaeological efforts were beginning to unearth ceramic material at Ice Age paleolithic sites in China and Siberia. This was based on the discovery in 1960 of shards at the Senpukuji and Fukui caves on the island of Kyushu, dating to around 10,700 b.c.e. Significantly, all of these finds have firmly established East Asia, and Japan in particular, as important centres for the production of the first pottery, laying to rest long-held theories that ceramic production first made its appearance around 9000 b.c.e. with the shift from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies in the ancient Middle East. It is now clear that, at least in East Asia, ceramic wares were first made by hunter-gather- er communities of the paleolithic period. And in the subsequent post-glacial period, with the rising of the sea level and Japan’s isolation from the Asian mainland, it is the hunter- gatherer culture that flourished on the newly-formed archipelago which produced one of the most dynamic ceramic traditions of the ancient world.
The end of the Ice Age coincides with that of most of the paleolithic cultures across the Eurasian continent. The so- called neolithic cultures that came into being as the climate grew warmer are characterized by more refined, polished stone tools, and increasing evidence of social organization within communities. While from China to the Middle East, this is indeed normally accompanied by a departure from hunting and gathering ways and the beginning of animal husbandry and agriculture, in Japan this same material and social progress is achieved within a foraging context. And the most remarkable accomplishment that has come down to us of this neolithic hunter-gatherer culture is, in fact, its ceramic wares. In 1877, the American scholar Edward S. Morse (1838— 1925), while excavating some shell mounds, discovered numerous ceramic shards decorated with marks that seemed to have been produced by impressing rope or cord into the wet clay. He referred to these shards as “cord-marked” wares, and the Japanese translation of that term—Jomon—soon came to be applied to the entire culture. Thousands of Jomon sites have since been found throughout the archipelago. Extending over a period of almost ten thousand years, each site has been rich in the trademark cord-marked ceramics, and the development of this ceramic tradition over the millennia has helped to illuminate the nature of Jomon civilization. The ceramics themselves have since been categorized into seventy styles with more than 400 “local” variations.
The Jomon Period (с. 11,000-400 b.c.e.)
The origins of the Jomon people remain shrouded in mystery. Not only is it uncertain whether they were descendants of the Ice Age paleolithic population, but how they relate to the post- Jomon period Japanese population is also highly problematic.
What is known about the Jomon is that they began as a hunter-gatherer society and remained one. Yet the second great mystery of the Jomon people is how—as a hunter- gatherer society—did they manage by the Middle Jomon phase to support themselves in relatively large and settled communities, even to the extent of forming a network of communities that traded with each other. There is still a great deal of research being done on whether the Jomon people’s highly organized methods of foraging might not constitute a kind of agriculture—what is termed swidden cultivation—and whether their methods of fishing and hunting might not have encompassed some elements of animal husbandry. It is clear that they subsisted not only on the hunting of game and collecting of the fruits of the field and forest, but also relied on the sea, even to the extent of fashioning special harpoons for deep- sea fishing. Furthermore, from the Middle Jomon onward certain of the roots they ate—such as yam, taro, and lily bulbs— seem to be products of cultivation, while in Final Jomon sites, evidence of different grains has been found, and in particular rice, pointing towards the beginning of their cultivation. The overall population did remain small and thinly distributed in foraging groups across all the main Japanese islands, but especially in central and northern Honshu. However, by the end of the Initial Jomon in the fifth millennium b.c.e., these groups had begun associating in settlements. Often these Jomon settlement sites seemed to be inhabited only on a seasonal, cyclical basis, but by the Early Jomon phase more permanently occupied settlements are to be found as well.
The third great mystery of the Jomon people is that while the shift into settled communities across the greater part of the Asian continent also ultimately brought about the Bronze Age from the fifth millennium b.c.e. onward. Yet it can be argued that the alternation between a simple elegance and a rough exuberance that characterizes Jomon material culture, and especially their hallmark ceramics, forms an aesthetic template that will be repeatedly used in every subsequent Japanese artistic period.
Kato Shinpei has estimated that the Jomon population during the six thousand years of the Incipient and Initial phases remained at around only twenty thousand, organized in small groupings ranging over a wide area, not unlike hunter- gatherer communities in desert or arctic areas of the present day. In sites dating to the later Incipient phase, evidence of settlements can be found, but always of an ephemeral nature, with at best evidence of recurring, seasonal occupation.
This suggests a portability in keeping with a nomadic lifestyle since such designs would be suited to the uneven surfaces of a forest or cave campsite and for use as cooking utensils in the middle of a fire. From the paleolithic shards from Odai Yamamoto onward, it is obvious that the majority of these vessels were meant for boiling food while placed on an open fire or more formal hearth. Like all Jomon pots, these first Incipient wares were earthenware made of coiled clay and then fired in open fires.
These larger bowls are significantly less portable than their smaller counterparts, and their appearance is one signifier of the increasing trend towards settlement. The gentle undulations of its rim are echoed by the pattern of the cord markings. These rim undulations will be seen to become more accentuated in the succeeding phases, as will the character of the cord-marked designs.
Other artifacts of the Incipient and Initial Jomon phases include small, portable figurines (dogu). Of a very rudimentary character, these figurines of stone and clay will in later phases take on much more definite and even flamboyant shapes, and have better defined functions within a ritualistic tradition. However, their presence, no matter how primitive and unformed, in these Incipient and Initial phases points to the fact that ritualistic traditions were being established at this time. Even more advanced are the stone earrings and pendants found among the grave goods of a large cemetery at Kuwano in Fukui prefecture, western central Honshu, dating to the mid to the late Initial phase, c. 6,500 to 5000 b.c.e. (Fig. 3). Their well-shaped and polished circular forms indicate a significant departure from the paleolithic chipped flint knives and axes. They not only demonstrate an already well-developed culture of personal adornment, which would become ever richer as the Jomon period progressed, but also one with formalized funerary rituals. It is possible as well that possession of these beautifully crafted pieces represent the individual’s position within a social hierarchy.
Early Jomon (c. 5000-2500 b.c.e.) phase
It is not until the Early Jomon phase, however, that a clear picture emerges of how Jomon communities were organized. The population during the Early phase began to rise steadily, and particularly on the northeastern coast of Honshu. Numerous village sites have revealed a great quantity of ceramic cooking pots, ceramic and stone figures, wicker baskets, stone tools, stone and bone earrings and pendants, as well as sewing implements of bone. In addition, the first objects in Japan’s long and esteemed lacquer tradition were produced, including lacquered pottery, wooden and basketry vessels, and personal ornaments such as combs and thread. Finds of similar age have been made in China, but their presence in Jomon communities indicates an independent origin for what in future centuries would become one of the most distinctive of Japanese crafts.
The organization of these houses into permanent communities now begins to take on a distinctive character. Kobayashi Tatsuo has outlined several types of community organization that were established at least by the Early Jomon.A second type of village settlement is smaller in scope, and usually located on the top of a ridge with a very narrow plaza: in some such cases there may be no more than one or two houses. A third type of settlement has no houses but evidence of repeated campsites: these are thought to be the sites of hunting or seasonal foraging grounds. A fourth type of site becomes increasingly common late in the succeeding Middle Jomon. and includes cemeteries separate from the living settlements, rubbish dumps, quarries for clay and stone, stone-tool manufacture areas, animal pit-traps, and the first stone circles.
Another interesting feature of Early Jomon phase architecture has been the discovery of a series of enormous structures in some of the core settlements. Most famous is the one measuring around 56 x 26 feet (17 x 8 m) at Fudodo in Toyama prefecture. Dating to around 2800 b.c.e., this building and others like it may also have had raised floors. Watanabe Makoto has proposed they were communal gathering and working areas, meant especially for protection during the winter and inclement weather.
In contrast to Incipient and Initial Jomon vessels, pots of this phase seem to be intended as more than merely functional cooking vessels. They usually have flat bottoms so that they can be placed on smoothed surfaces. It has been proposed by several scholars that pottery production was the province of the Jomon women, and that these designs and the even more distinctive ones of the Middle Jomon phase relate to Jomon systems of belief—ideas often connected to fertility and regeneration. However, while most of these pottery vessels retain a practical everyday use. the clay and stone figures, which in the Early Jomon also begin to take on more distinctive shapes, have only a ritual role.
In some cases these stone objects also incorporate female genitalia. Unsurprisingly, these objects have been interpreted as unashamed symbols of regeneration, just as they have in other cultures. It should be mentioned that such phallic imagery did not die with the Jomon period, but is an important symbol of regeneration and life force even within present-day Shinto and folk belief.
Supporting at its height something like a quarter of a million people, the Middle Jomon population has one of the highest densities a non-agricultural society has ever known. The individual pit house also became larger, evolving into a circular form some 16-18 feet (5-6 m) in diameter.
The scalloped edge that began so subtly in the Initial Jomon has now flared into a wildly flameshaped cockscomb (keito). Although the vessel is only about 12 inches (30 cm) tall, its openwork, sculptural form and almost three-dimensional decoration of parallel grooves and swirls arrest the gaze in a way that prehistoric Japanese artifacts seldom do. But, however emphatic their expression, the meaning of the flame-style decoration is as elusive as the cord markings of earlier vessels. Furthermore, as a style of vessel it did not spread to other areas of the Middle Jomon world and was relatively short-lived even in the place of its creation.
Before the end of the Middle Jomon the Shinano River settlements had adopted a less flamboyant and more utilitarian form of storage and cooking vessel, closer in form to Early Jomon types, but often having four lug handles.
Theories abound as to what these animals might be intended to convey to the viewer: were they meant to be
guardians over the vessel’s contents (why else place a poisonous viper on the handle of a jar?), or, as with the seemingly more whimsical imagery of the lamp/censer, were they meant to amuse? As will be demonstrated often in succeeding periods, the playful has often a role to play and is not necessarily excluded even when the most sober topics are being addressed.
Late (c. 1500-1000 b.c.e.) and Final Jomon (с. 1000-400 b.c.e.) phases
The middle centuries of the second millennium b.c.e. that straddle the shift between the Middle and Late Jomon are marked by a catastrophic collapse in population. From a peak of around two hundred and fifty thousand, archaeologists of the period estimate that roughly half that number of people existed in the Late phase, while by the Final phase the population numbered perhaps only around seventy thousand. Theories on the collapse all remain highly speculative, with the mini-ice Age that occurred at this period often being the focus of blame, as are the age-old curses of disease and famine. Certainly it is true that many of the more upland settlements of the Middle Jomon are abandoned, and the population centres shift to either the east or west coast of north/central Honshu, with the vast majority grouping on the east coast, or just above present-day Tokyo.
Coinciding with the decrease in population is the multiplying of figurines in the Late and Final phases, giving further support to theories ascribing a propitiatory role to these images in Jomon ritual. One aspect of these images—like their ancestors from earlier phases—is that they are usually either overtly female with prominent breasts, or they have an ambiguous gender. Because Jomon culture was not shy about representing male genitalia, it has been posited that these less certain images are probably meant to represent females as well. One theory suggests that female figurines represent an Earth Mother to the Jomon peoples, the being who in later, post-Jomon periods would be known as Jiboshin. As many of these Late and Final figurines have been damaged, it follows that they might also have acted as votive offerings—the missing or damaged body part representing a corporeal equivalent that the supplicant wished healed.
Stone circles with an almost certainly ritual purpose also appear in these last two phases. In the previous Early and Middle Jomon phases there had been evidence of altars in the home and in the village as a whole, but these circles represent a new development within the ritual life of Jomon culture.
cooking pots with only slightly flared walls and others with spouts, resembling teapots, there are also some vessels of very refined execution which can only be described as serving dishes, including a kind of shallow bowl. These Late and Final Jomon wares are distinctively black with highly polished surfaces, and they are commonly decorated with a technique referred to as “erased-cord marking”.
An excellent example of this is the shallow bowl (Fig. 16) found at Aomori, which is also an example of the new kind of serving dish. The bold iron oxide swirls on a black ground elegantly echo the carefully modeled body of the bowl. There has been a certain amount of speculation that such fine serving/presentation wares in the Late and Final Jomon might be one of the indications that the much reduced population of this period was beginning to stratify into a strict hierarchy, these bowls being important signifiers of a person or family group’s status within this hierarchy. Certainly there seems to be some differentiation in burial practices during this period, with a small, but significant minority of graves being better equipped than those of their neighbors. However, such speculation has often led to the projection of earlier Jomon phases, which do not have such clear indications of social differentiation, as a kind of Arcadian republic, a lost golden age of human equality succeeded by ages that brought civilization but also despotic tyranny. Tempting and comforting though this image might be, it should be remembered that twentieth-century anthropological studies of societies existing at a paleolithic or neolithic level have seldom if ever stumbled across such a utopia.
The Yayoi Period (c. 400 B.C.E.-300 c.e.)
The explosion of diversity that characterized Middle Jomon pottery is countered in the last two phases by a reduction to a much more standardized output. However, the number and size of kiln sites suggests that the scale of pottery production seems, if anything, to have increased, with centralized manufacture becoming the norm. Among the standardized.
Ironically enough Yayoi is in fact the name of a district of Tokyo where the first archaeological finds relating to this period were found. Yet it would not be until the period was somewhat advanced that Yayoi-type settlements would actually extend up into this ancient heartland of the Jomon. It remains a matter of considerable debate and ongoing research exactly how Japan stepped so late, but so suddenly, from a hunter-gatherer lithic culture to one that worked metal and focused almost entirely on the cultivation of rice.
One long-standing theory has been that the people of the Yayoi are a colonial invasion from Korea and/or China, displacing the indigenous Jomon. The case for this arises from the fact that the earliest yet known Yayoi sites have been located in Kyushu—not far from the southern tip of the Korean peninsula—and that these sites display a complete and fully evolved practice of rice cultivation as also employed on the continent where it had taken many thousands of years to evolve. Although charred rice grains have been discovered at the few Final Jomon sites to be found in Kyushfl, their presence a few hundred years prior to the Yayoi is unlikely ever to be convinсingly argued as evidence for an indigenous evolution of rice culture. Furthermore, although much of the Yayoi metalwork appears rough, crude and even deliberately archaic in comparison to contemporary developments on the Asian mainland, it nevertheless does not resemble the products of a nascent metalworking culture.
Apart from the archaeological evidence, supporters of the colonization theory look also at the case of the Ainu, who live on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido.
A more recent line of thought, however, is that the Yayoi is not so much a colonial invasion, as a revolution—and a technological and social one at that. This argument runs that the presence of a fully formed ricegrowing and metalworking culture need not indicate displacement, but instead a kind of industrial and agricultural revolution. Certainly these changes were imported from the continent, but they could as easily have been brought back and used to transform the existing Jomon society, just as after 1868 Japan—long cut off from the world—became fully exposed to the fruits of the Western Industrial Revolution, and within the space of a century utterly transformed itself.
One of this theory’s supporting arguments is that there is very little evidence of violent death amongst the buried of the early Yayoi period, or of an inordinant amount of dead, or burnt or otherwise violently destroyed settlements, as one would expect to find with a colonization and displacement of the aboriginal community. Oddly enough, such evidence does surface in the middle Yayoi period—around the beginning of the first millennium c.e.—but in a context where the adversaries must almost certainly have been other Yayoi peoples. Furthermore, while there are many details of the material culture that are exactly mirrored on the continent, there is nothing in Korea or China from which the whole of Yayoi society could be derived, whereas there are likely inheritances to be found in Yayoi culture from the Jomon, most tangibly in the ceramic and lithic production.
Therefore, the first ruler, Ninigi, is the grandson of the sun goddess Amaterasu, who sent her descendent with a retinue of eight million deities down to the earth (i.e., Japan) to rule it. Ninigi found Japan already ruled by a race of earth deities (he and his grandmother being of the race of heavenly deities). Therefore, Ninigi formed alliances with, fought with, intermarried with, and tradition holds that he reigned from 660 to 585 b.c.e. Furthermore, Ninigi descended to and subdued the island of Kyushu, and it was only in the reign of Jimmu that the imperial house departed for southern Honshu where they ultimately made the Yamato Plain their home.
The traditional dates for Jimmu and presumably that of his great grandfather Ninigi place them squarely within what archaeology so far believes to be the non-agricultural and lithic society of the Final Jomon phase. These dates established in the eighth century c.e. are—like a great deal in the text and of the period—influenced and shaped by Chinese historical precedents, in whose relatively ancient written historical culture dates in the mid first millennium b.c.e. would be considered venerable, but hardly the mists of time. Nevertheless, allowing for a bit of chronological hyperbole on the part of the compilers of the Kojiki as well as for the pitfalls they must have encountered in applying the Chinese sixty-year calendar cycle to dates for Japan’s protohistorical period.
The Three Sacred Treasures
Curiously enough, another aspect of Japanese traditional lore appears to be borne out by a grave in northern KytishQ dating to the second century b.c.e. (Fig. 17). In the grave were a quantity of objects, including a bronze mirror very probably of Korean manufacture and cast with sophisticated geometric designs on its back, two bronze daggers, a bronze spearhead, a bronze halberd, and an E-shaped stone bead known in later epochs as a magatama, although it is more often in a C-shaped form. Within a scientific archaeological context, these are goods that belong to a high-status member of the community, the bronze blades are Korean in form and (in a period when iron would have been used for actual weapons) ceremonial in nature. Whether that ceremonial purpose was limited to burial, or if it was also applied in life remains open to speculation. In the opinion of Koji Mizoguchi. the mirror and magatama were certainly indicators of the deceased’s status while living.
The association of the mirror with Amaterasu remains an all-important symbol. According to mythology, it relates to the occasion when Amaterasu, angered by the irresponsible and destructive antics of her brother Susano-o no Mikoto, shut herself into a cave, thereby extinguishing all light from the world.
The nature of the transition from the neolithic Jomon to the Iron Age Yayoi may never be completely understood. Still, the combination of archaeological and written testimony can give some idea. It does seem that well before the advent of the first Yayoi site Jomon settlement in the Kyushu, Shikoku, and southern Honshu islands had declined to a point where vast areas of these territories were unlikely to have been occupied on a permanent basis. If there had been an incursion of technologically advanced colonists to this southern region, would they necessarily have encountered any significant amount of armed resistance to their occupation? By the same token, it is evident from Final Jomon sites in Kyushu that rice was not unknown to these communities, and that, increasingly dependent on the sea, they might have more opportunity of commerce and trade with the kingdoms of the Korean peninsula. Perhaps, at least in part, the Yayoi transition to metalworking and agriculture took place within formerly lithic communities, while the wholesale adoption of the external accoutrements and social organization of their Korean (and possibly also Chinese) neighbors—particularly by the community’s elite—may have been seen as an important factor in the agricultural and technological revolution. Certainly such a passionate adoption of foreign technologies and customs and the setting aside of native custom occurs to varying degrees throughout Japanese history.
Another popular theory of recent years is that perhaps some Korean elites abandoned their homeland due to overly aggressive neighbors and set themselves up instead in southern Kyushu either through force or through intermarriage— bringing some of their people with them, but not entirely displacing the native population which (perhaps eagerly) was assimilating to this technologically advanced and ecologically more stable society. That amongst the new Japanese of the seventh and eighth centuries there still persisted, even in the central Yamato Plain, emishi (barbarian; i.e.. uncivilized and unassimilated) elements within the greater population (usually in the unenviable position of slaves), suggests that what perhaps did begin as a lifestyle choice in the fourth century b.c.e. had a thousand years later become an ethnic division between what was regarded as the Japanese and an uncivilized other.
By the second century b.c.e., however, the transition to Yayoi-type settlements across Kyushu, Shikoku, and all but the Tohoku region of northern Honshu appears to have been effected. These settlements do not seem to have been connected under a central authority, but each operated as an independent polity. As evinced by the grave goods in these communities, they had not only taken on agricultural and metalworking technologies from—most likely—Korea, but they had also adapted (or brought with them) a continental social organization with a shamanic/warrior aristocracy atop an agricultural peasant base.
Moats are not an infrequent feature of early to middle Yayoi settlements, and in the past have generally been interpreted as defensive structures. However, Koji Mizoguchi has pointed out that these moats existed during a period when the archaeological evidence points to a fairly peaceful coexistence between the different communities, whereas later in the period, when there is considerable evidence of armed conflict, such moats are not found or have silted up. Furthermore, if the moats were defensive, why were the rice granaries placed outside them? He posits the theory that, instead of being defensive structures, the moats are in fact elements of a primitive system of irrigation for the rice paddies.
Certainly, by the middle of the yayoi period when the moats fall out of use, cultivation techniques had advanced to a more recognizable irrigation system that allowed for relatively easy regulation of the flow of water into the rice paddies.In addition a new type of building had been designed to store the harvests as demonstrated by the Yoshinogari site. In the Jomon, their gathered crops of nuts and roots were kept in storage pits, but in the Yayoi—perhaps influenced by continental prototypes—a new granary was developed to store rice. The obvious advantage of this type of often deliberately buried in hoards. In type, they seem to be related most closely to the Chinese zhong, a kind of bell without a clapper common to Chinese cultures of the first millennium b.c.e. Zhong of decreasing size and tone would be suspended from a framework along with stone chimes and struck as part of ritual music. One such assemblage is depicted on the side of a Chinese bronze vessel dating to between 480 and 222
b. c.e. (Fig. 19). Framed above and below by scenes of warfare, the zhong and chime assemblage can be seen above figures poised to strike them. A pair of fantastic bird or dragon figures frame the supporting bar. Whether in Japan the zhong/dotaku were ever meant for musical use or simply for ceremonial presence is the topic of continuing research.
By the end of the Yayoi period, Japanese craftsmen had advanced enough to reproduce the complicated designs cast on Korean and Chinese mirrors. Curiously, however, these bronze objects, the mirrors and weapons, and also a kind of bell (dotaku), were reproduced in styles that had often long gone out of fashion on the mainland—usually by at least a couple of hundred years. As demonstrated by the Sanshu no jingi (Three Sacred Treasures) of the second-century b.c.e. grave burial in Kyushu, the bronze mirror and blades were markers of status and ceremonial.
While bronze blades and mirrors are a feature of burials in Kyushu, in southern Honshu, primarily the Kyoto-Osaka area, and on Shikoku there can also be found the bronze bell, or dotaku.
Although the appearance of metal objects is the most dazzling development within Yayoi material culture, the objects most commonly found at Yayoi sites are—as with the Jomon—ceramics. Like their neolithic predecessors, they are unglazed earthenware ceramics used both as ritual objects and for everyday living, and virtually in continuation of developments in the Final Jomon phase, their shapes are standardized. being limited primarily to tall, narrow-necked vessels, pitchers, wide-mouthed cooking pots, and storage jars and bowls, some with pedestals (Fig. 21). As in the Jomon period, they are built of stacked coils of clay, although their final shaping and embellishing has sometimes been done on a recent innovation, the rotating wheel. They continued to be fired in open fires, but also were sometimes placed in pit kilns.
Although they are relatively rare, there is a group of Yayoi pottery vessels that present interesting problems of interpretation. While varying greatly in shape, the individual pieces share a common characteristic: the depiction of a human face on the neck or body of the jar and was found in a cemetery in ibaraki prefecture with forty-one separate burials. It is unusually tall, measuring about 28 inches (70 cm), has a flat base, and swells to its widest point midway between the base and the rim. On one side, beginning at the neck and extending to the rim, is the representation of a human face, suggested by a thin ridge of clay that curves below the mouth at the jawline, two ear-like projections, and raised ridges to indicate the nose, lips, and eyelids. The areas around the eyes and mouth are scored with diagonal lines cut into the clay.
Kidder has suggested that large vessels with short necks like that in Figure 2 3 may have been used for storing grain, with the face intended as a protecting presence. In a funerary context, these grain containers would be either an offering to the spirit world or food for the deceased. Other theories revolve around Yayoi burial preparations, in particular the practice of a secondary burial. With all except a minority of very high- status burials (such as the one in KyQshQ with the Three Sacred Treasures), after a body had been buried for a certain period of time, it would be exhumed, the bones washed and possibly painted with red ocher, and reburied in a large earthenware jar. A vessel with a long narrow neck and a face just below the rim may have contained water and been used in the bone-washing ceremony, while a large, wide-necked storage jar would have received the bones. As these pieces with human faces are usually found singly in a cemetery among many plain jars, the protecting presence symbolized by the face may have been intended to protect the spirits of all the deceased buried around it.
The Kofun Period (300-710 c.e.)
Although there has so far been no evidence of written documents found at Yayoi sites, the period is still considered to be a protohistorical one because of the mention of Japan in contemporaneous Chinese records, and in particular those of the Hanshu. This history of China’s first great imperial dynasty, the Han (206 b.c.e-220 c.e.), records mention of an embassy arriving in 57 c.e. from a ruler of Na (jap. Wa) who craved recognition by the Emperor Guangwu (r. 25-58) as the supreme ruler of Na. This the emperor conferred in the form of a golden seal. In fact, Na/Wa has been correlated with not the entire archipelago, but merely with Kyushu, which is described in the Chinese annals as a congregation of tiny kingdoms. Almost two hundred years later in the Weizhi—the annals of the state of Wei (220-52), one of the successor states of the Han empire located on the southeastern coast of present-day China—there is mention of an embassy of 238 from a certain Himiko, a female ruler of Yamatai (an alternative reading of Yamato), which is once again located in Kyiishu. Himiko is also referred to in the Chinese text as the sovereign of Na, conjoining the name of the future imperial house with that of the ancient name given by China and Korea for Japan. The Weizhi also records the sudden death of Himiko and that a vast tomb mound was erected to her. accompanied by the sacrifice of many hundreds of people—something which no archaeological finds of any Japanese period can even begin to confirm. In the Japanese Kojiki and Nihon shoki, there is also a female ruler at this period, the empress Jingu (r. 201-70). Although embassies to Wei are not specifically mentioned, Jingu is most famous for having invaded and subdued the kingdoms of southern Korea—events unmentioned in either Korean or Chinese histories.
In the opinion of the fourteenth-century historian Kitabatake Chikafusa, Jingu should be considered identical with the Himiko of the Weizhi, although she outlasted the Chinese state of Wei and is reputed to have died at the venerable age of 100. Obviously, when compared to the archaeological record, both histories are made unreliable by their outrageous claims—mass human sacrifice in the first case and conquering Korea in the second. There is also a disparity of locale, as the Weizhi places Himiko of Yamatai within a Kyushu context, whereas by this time, according to the Kojiki. the house of Yamato had long been firmly ensconced on the Yamato Plain of southern Honshu. However, both texts do confirm Japan’s interaction with the outer world, and importantly feature significant positions for women within the Yayoi elite, to the extent that they could take on the supreme role of Mizoguchi’s shamanic/warrior ruler. In early historical times, this situation would continue, but in the eighth century it would famously come to an end in the name of national security.
According to the Kojiki. Jingu’s grandson was the emperor Nintoku, and one of the earliest monuments of the succeeding Kofun period has traditionally been ascribed to this emperor. An enormous key-shaped mound known as a kofun it is in fact the largest of all such tomb mounds that would be created in this period. Located at Sakai, near Osaka, the central keyhole shape is 90 ft (27 m) at its apex and almost one third of a mile (half a kilometer) long and is surrounded by three moats; the entire monument, including its moats, covers 458 acres. Nintoku’s alleged tomb, however, is not the first kofun. as these massive monuments make their appearance on the Yamato Plain—in the present Kansai region—around the beginning of the fourth century, and gradually spread throughout Japan. Their appearance in other parts of Japan parallels the efforts beginning in the fourth and fifth centuries to centralize authority in the main islands of Kyushu. Shikoku, and Honshu within a Yamato state. The rulers of the Yamato dynasty themselves would have been interred in the Kansai region, the seat of their power, but those buried outside the imperial precinct would have been high- ranking members of the great clans who helped to establish the Yamato state and who ruled in the provinces as the emperor’s representatives.
Although tomb mounds for great leaders have a strong precedent in China in the two millennia before the Kofun period, and in Korea for at least a thousand years before, the most direct ancestor of the Japanese kofun is likely to be found in the relatively small, but numerous mound burials that first started appearing in the early Yayoi period. By the middle Yayoi period, around the beginning of the first millennium c.e., a new type of monumental mound for the burial of a single important personage had appeared. Placed inside a wooden chamber at the heart of the mound, the body was accompanied by the blades and mirrors that symbolized its status. This replaced the simpler coffin burial for the elite, and the new mounds were sited separately from the cemeteries, often on the crest of a hill and making a significant impression from a considerable distance. Essentially these Yayoi mounds were round and could be up to 151 feet (46 m) in diameter. They often had two other mound projections, rectangular in shape, which served the practical purposes of leading to the mound’s summit—up to 17 feet (5 m) in height—and acting as platforms for funerary rituals. The Yayoi mounds were also surrounded by stone markers that delimited this sacred space from the countryside around.
However, although these Yayoi mounds are the ancestors of the keyhole-shaped kofun, there are substantial differences between them and it is these that form the distinction between the Yayoi and Kofun periods. First is the question of sheer size: even the smallest of the kofun measures in length more than 328 feet (100 m), while the largest of the Yayoi mounds is less than 164 feet (50 m) long. Second, the bronze blades, as well as the ritual burying of dotaku that feature in Yayoi grave mounds, utterly disappear in the kofun. Third, the rectangular projections either side of the Yayoi mound become a single triangular mound fronting the massive circular tumulus to create the characteristic keyhole shape of the kofun. All these differences point to a substantial shift in ritual practice as well as to the increased importance with which the community regarded such honored dead.
As mentioned, the most impressive kofun are located in the Kansai region and were built for members of the imperial Yamato family. However, the joining of the main clans under a more or less nominal allegiance to the Yamato rulers is not considered to have been effected until the end of the fourth century, perhaps in the time of the semi-legendary Emperor Nintoku, whose reign is famous for the long period of peace and productivity it brought. Yet there are quite a few kofun of more than 656 feet (200 m) in length that predate the one attributed to Nintoku, and would have required for their construction a concentration of labor it is likely that the Japanese islands had never before seen. In the opinion of Koji Mizoguchi. the Yamato would not have had either the military, political, or economic clout to have either forced or hired labor to construct these tombs. With an eye to the powerful belief that the emperors are of unilineal descent from Amaterasu and the heavenly gods, Mizoguchi suggests that perhaps the labor to construct the imperial kofun was offered on a voluntary basis, much as the Christian faithful of medieval Europe would offer themselves for the construction of a cathedral.
Certainly the aura of sanctity that surrounds the imperial house is immensely strong, even in today’s Japan. Although the Kofun period is the most recent of these prehistoric and protohistoric periods, archaeologists still know surprisingly little about it compared to the Jomon and Yayoi periods. The primary reason for this is that a significant number of the most important kofun are still today the property of the emperor, and under the administration of the Imperial Household Agency. Access to these sites is largely prohibited, and the possibility of digging or disinterring unthinkable. For example, the tomb identified with Emperor Nintoku is attributed to him by imperial tradition, but this claim has not been substantiated by modern scientific archaeology. However, not all kofun are considered imperial, and therefore can be investigated: and on special occasions even the great imperial kofun can become subject to limited inspection, such as when material within sites is exposed through the damage caused by events such as natural disaster.
During the sixth century, however, lumiwa disappeared as a feature from imperial kofun of the Kansai region, and the manufacture of these objects appears to have shifted eastward to the Kanto, the plain surrounding present- day Tokyo. The pattern of haniwa placement on tomb mounds is demonstrated in Figure 25 by the diagram of their distribution on one of these eastern kofun, the Futatsuyama tumulus in Gunma prefecture.
It is thought haniwa evolved out of hourglass-shaped jar stands used in conjunction with mound burials in the Yayoi period, perhaps to support vessels containing offerings.
An episode from the Nihon shoki (or Nihongi) of a gentleman riding past the kofun of Emperor Ojin (Nintoku’s father) by moonlight suggests how lifelike these haniwa could appear.
W.G. Aston, trans., Nihongi, London, 1896. 357-8.
However, the rider of the other horse intuited the man’s desire and exchanged horses with him. Happy, the gentleman returned home, placed his new horse in the stable, and went to bed. The next morning he found the red courser to be made of clay and upon going back and searching around the tomb he found his own piebald horse, for which he exchanged the haniwa horse.
The function for which the haniwa were intended is still being debated. However, even by the eighth century it is obvious that the Japanese themselves were struggling for an explanation of their use: in another passage from the Nihon shoki, an emperor, perhaps Suinin (r. 29-70), requested that a substitute be found for the live burial of attendants after the death of a member of the imperial family, and, in response, the clay- workers guild produced images of people and horses.
There are isolated mentions in the fudoki reports from the provinces of child sacrifices occurring in the past at the foundation of structures such as bridges (and these are described as barbaric practices by the recorders). However, unlike in ancient China (which the writers of the Nihon shoki clearly admired), there has so far been no evidence to support the idea of mass human sacrifice near any tomb of the Japanese elite. The story of Emperor Suinin was written at a time when the Japanese elite were almost fanatically trying to model themselves on Chinese imperial custom. Indeed in tombs of the Chinese elite, and particularly in the Chinese imperial tombs, there was a long tradition of placing ceramic figures within the tomb chamber. The most curious facet of this episode from the Nihon shoki is the extent to which the Japanese imperial court of the eighth century would attribute to themselves even the most unsavory aspects of Chinese imperial history. Amongst continental tomb ceramics, however, haniwa have close cousins in the cylindrically-based and simply modeled tomb sculptures that can be found placed in pairs in fifth/sixth-century tombs of the Kaya Hill States (part of present-day Korea).
The early haniwa, those produced in the Kansai region, are very limited in type, as though the clayworkers were required to adhere to a precise ritual standard that allowed little room for creative variety and evolution. Nevertheless, the pieces are well, often superbly, made, and some are striking in appearance. The sunshade, or kinugasa, from Anderayama kofun (in a suburb of modern Kyoto) is an object of great formal strength (Fig. 26). The basic shape is that of a round umbrella set on a cylindrical base, probably deriving from the sunshade held over people of importance at outdoor rituals. The drama of the piece is considerably heightened by the four featherlike shapes that rise up from a ring at the top, and by the four flanged pieces that extend down from the ring to the edge of the umbrella and then curl back again, Carved on the surface of the piece is a design known as the chokkomon, a geometric pattern of curves and intersecting lines.
The variety of later haniwa shapes from the eastern Kanto region around Tokyo is much richer. Figural lumiwa—men. women, singers, dancers, soldiers, and animals—are found throughout the region in such numbers and different types that Miki Fumio has called them genre sculpture. In contrast, the farmer, with a hoe over his shoulder and a wide grin on his face, is the epitome of a happy-go-lucky peasant (Fig. 29). The sculpture of a monkey is a true masterpiece.
Two sculptures of particular interest, not only because of their craftsmanship but also for the information they provide about Kofun culture, are a female head from the tomb of Emperor Nintoku and a large house found in northern Kytishti.
Mirrors continue to be important elements within the grave goods of high-status individuals throughout Kofun-period culture. It is also likely that the association with Amaterasu that can merely be imputed in the Yayoi period becomes apparent in this dawn of imperial government. Indeed, given the dissemination of Kofun-period mirrors throughout the country in the course of kofun burials, scholars believe that the mirrors were bestowed on local leaders as evidence that they were representatives or part of the Yamato state.
Of the many hundreds known, two mirrors must be singled out for special attention: a mirror with a design of four buildings and one from a group of mirrors, all from the same tomb, ornamented with the chokkomon design. Both are pieces that could have been made only in Japan. The question of whether the design was intended as a depiction of existing buildings or had a less literal meaning has not yet been resolved.
The mirror with the chokkomon design comes from the Otsuka Tomb on Kyushu, along with two others bearing the same motif (Fig. 34). The name chokkomon means “pattern of straight lines and arcs” and was coined by archaeologists to describe this motif. The bands with the chokkomon design are divided into segments, almost like wedges of pie; eight are in an outer band and four in an inner one. These units of arcs and lines in the two bands are similar except for their size, two in the outer band equalling one in the inner band. The design in this context is particularly pleasing, with its emphasis on fine raised lines disposed delicately between flat zones.
Other Grave Goods
Amongst the other materials found in kofun are some that also featured in elite burials of the Yayoi period, but others show the continuing evolution of the culture and its still close ties with the Korean and Chinese domains. China during most of the Kofun period was experiencing one of its periods of disunity, during which a succession of dynasties carved up portions of the empire. These rival states nevertheless were powerful neighbors and China’s cultural influence remained important for the Japanese. Korea at this time was comprised of four states: Paekche, Koguryo, Silla, and the confederacy of the Kaya Hill States. It is often hypothesized that the Japanese elite and the Yamato clan are in fact descendants of Kaya princes forced to flee their homeland. Certainly by 562 the last of the Kaya states had been swallowed up by Silla. Kaya grave goods of this period have close parallels with those of the Japanese elite, as has been demonstrated in relation to the haniwa (see pages 30-34). Paekche grave goods also bear many similarities, and it is known that the Yamato court had close diplomatic and cultural ties with Paekche before it too was swallowed by Silla in 660. In addition, the Yamato permitted several waves of immigration from Paekche to their domain from the fourth to seventh centuries. By the end of the Kofun period, China was once again united under a strong and dynamic dynasty—the Tang (618-907)—and Korea under Unified Silla (668-918), which was additionally a client state of Tang China. All of these nations seemed to have influenced the grave goods that the Japanese elite of the Kofun period carried with them into the next life.
One of the Sanshu no jingi of the imperial regalia, it can be found in this С-shape and in the E-shape seen in the Yayoi burial of Figure 17. The C- shape, however, is at once more ancient and international than the second variety. Magatama of this type have been found not only in Jomon period burials, but also hang from Korean gold crowns, necklaces, and earrings in the royal Paekche tombs contemporaneous with the Kofun period. Also stylistically close to the grave goods of Paekche, Kaya, and Silla are a pair of gold earrings excavated from a fifth-century tomb in the Nara region and a gilt bronze cap from a fifth/sixth-century mound located in Kyflshu (Figs 3 6 and 3 7). The discovery of a glass bowl with gold spots in a Nara area tomb of the fifth century (Fig. 38) also is similar to finds in Korean tombs of the period. Obviously a vessel held to be immensely precious, and possibly used by the deceased in life, it is likely to be the product not of a Japanese craftsman, but instead an expensive import from China, or possibly even further to the west from the region of ancient Persia.
The late Kofun period coincides with the sixth century and overlaps with the beginning of two historical periods, the Asuka (552-645) and Hakuho (645-710). Nevertheless the erection of vast tumuli and their furnishing with lavish grave goods continued until the early eighth century, when the imperial house and aristocracy turned instead to more modest structures in keeping with Buddhist funeral practices. The tombs of this final century will therefore be treated in this chapter as being the closing part of a long tradition, while the other aspects of seventh-century material culture properly belong to Chapter 2, and the discussion of the early historical centuries in the Nara area prior to the permanent removal of the imperial court to Heian (modern Kyoto).
Toward the end of the fifth or the beginning of the sixth century, the pit-shaft burial common to the kofun gave way instead to a Korean-style corridor tomb, such as that used in the royal tombs at Paekche. The chief advantage of the corridor tomb as opposed to the pit-shaft grave was that it was easier to reenter and could be used for multiple burials. By the sixth and seventh centuries, among the aristocracy family tombs became popular, along with the practice of decorating the stone walls of the main chamber with either painted or incised designs.
Iii the late Kofun period more tombs were built than in any of the preceding eras. They were smaller in size, and sometimes ornamented. They were not only constructed for the emperor and local leaders, but for all levels of the growing court aristocracy and officialdom. The most interesting of the ornamented tombs are in Fukuoka and Kumamoto prefectures in northern Kyflshu. Japanese scholars have classified these patterns of arcs and lines into two basic types: the А-type. in which a spiral is superimposed over crossing diagonals, resulting in four units that are further divided by curving lines: and the В-type, in which the spiral is no longer evident, but a strong sense of circular motion is still conveyed. Various suggestions have been made about the origin of the chokkomon design, including the idea that it is an abstraction of Chinese Han dynasty cosmic symbolism. The chokkomon motifs on the stone slabs are painted red. blue, and white, further emphasizing their abstract quality. Because of the advanced building techniques used at Idera, the tomb is usually dated to the seventh century.
The tomb is much smaller and not nearly as complicated in construction as the one at Idera, but the striking red and black painting makes this example prominent among known ornamented tombs. The composition is framed by two large, standing ceremonial fans, and the remaining pictorial elements are distributed in three loosely defined registers. At the top, a red-spotted black quadruped with wiry hairs extending from its body, particularly from the tail, gallops full tilt to the left. Directly in front of it is a small boat. Below and to the right is a vertical row of triangular shapes, perhaps an abstraction of a mountain pattern, and to the left is a groom tending to a horse placed above a boat. At the bottom, a stylized pattern of cresting waves forms a base line for the boat and the groom. The spotted quadruped is undoubtedly a spirit while the horse and groom below are of this world. Possibly the upper animal is the spirit of the horse. The groom may be a shaman.
Two tombs in particular shed light on the cultural and political climate of the late Kofun period. Dating to the late sixth century, the Fujinoki Tomb in Ikaruga was excavated in 1985; it is one of the longest corridor tombs so far found, and held a large quantity of fine grave goods. The sarcophagus contained the remains of two people, a small figure presumed to be a woman, and a larger one, probably male, approximately seventeen to twenty-five years of age, who was placed in the coffin after the woman, in what was clearly a secondary burial for him. Some of his bones were painted with vermilion, and the remains were surrounded by a great assortment of opulent objects, including openwork gold crowns, gilt bronze shoes, a belt, and silver daggers. More than eight different candidates have been proposed for his identity. Kidder has suggested that he was Emperor Sushun, assassinated in 592— after his death, Sushun would have been given a temporary burial, and, when his wife died, placed beside her in her tomb.
Two of the most beautiful objects found in the tomb are sheets of openwork gilt bronze fashioned to ornament the wooden front and back bows of a saddle. Both are decorated with hexagonal shapes enclosing animal and floral motifs: Chinese symbols such as the dragon, the phoenix, the lion, and the elephant; the makara (a crocodile-like animal found in Indian Buddhist art); and the Central Asiatic motif of the palmette.
The Takamatsu Tomb near Asuka, south of Nara, once identified with Emperor Monmu (r. 697-707), was permitted to be excavated in 1972 after the imperial Household Agency dropped it from the list of Imperial tombs. It had been looted in the distant past and as a result the surface of the south-entry wall has been badly damaged. Nevertheless, what was found upon opening was a set of wall paintings that provides yet another strong link with Korea.
The motifs depicted consist of three types of images: four groups of four human figures: three of the four animals symbolic of the four directions—originally derived from Chinese Daoist mythology and geomancy, but adopted by Korea and subsequently Japan; and representations of the sun, the moon, and the constellations. Of the directional animals, the blue dragon of the east and the white tiger of the west appear between two groups of human figures on the east and west walls respectively. The red phoenix which should have been on the south wall was damaged by the looters. Above the dragon on the east wall is a golden circle for the sun on a pattern of thin red cloud lines of irregular length and on the opposite wall above the tiger is a silver circle for the moon. The constellations are represented on the ceiling by seventy-two circles, once covered with gold leaf but now too damaged to be appreciated. Of most interest are the groups of human figures: the men on the south side of the tomb, the bright, warm, positive side, and the women on the north, the dark, cold, negative side—according to Chinese theories of yin and yang. Among the figures the most important is the deceased, positioned at the head of the group of men on the east side facing south. The other male and female figures are his attendants.
The tomb is extremely small, too low for the artist to have been able to stand while working. Nevertheless, the stone walls have been prepared in the continental fashion, with fine layers of plaster applied in order to build up a proper surface to bind the pigments. The best preserved section of painting shows the women on the northern end of the west wall. They are court ladies, all about the same height, but placed at different levels along the wall to suggest depth and interrelated by their positions rather than their actions. The women wear long jackets over what appear to be pleated skirts, a style of garment that is Korean in flavor. The faces and costumes are delineated by distinct, slightly calligraphic outlines, brush lines that vary slightly in width, depending on the pressure applied to the implement. The colors used are bright yellow, orange, red, and light green as well as some darker blues and greens.
From the skeletal remains of the deceased, experts have judged him to be a man in his forties, and from the evidence of a Chinese mirror ornamented with a lion and grape-leaf design dateable to 698, the tomb must have been closed near the end of the seventh century. The most likely candidate for the deceased is generally thought to be Prince Takechi (654-96), the son of Emperor Tenmu and a woman other than the empress Jito, his principal consort. At any rate, the tomb was clearly made at the end of the seventh century for someone of importance, a person who could plan for himself and arrange for a resting place in consonance with Chinese Daoist principles for burial, a space decorated in the best continental styles and techniques available in Japan at the time.