The history of Japan part one Early Japan (until 300AD)

Since a lot of people asked me to tell them more about the Japanese history, this series of blog postings will be about the history of Japan from the early years 14,000 BC) until the post war era. Whether you are a history buff or you would just like to learn a bit more about this facinating country and its inhabitants. this series will help you understand how Japan developed into the country it is today.
The Jōmon period (縄文時代 Jōmon jidai) is the time in Prehistoric Japan from about 14,000 BC to about 300 BC, when Japan was inhabited by a hunter-gatherer culture which reached a considerable degree of sedentism and cultural complexity.The name “cord-marked” was first applied by the American scholar Edward S. Morse who discovered sherds of pottery in 1877 and subsequently translated into Japanese as jōmon.; the pottery style characteristic of the first phases of Jōmon culture was decorated by impressing cords into the surface of wet clay. This pottery, dated to around 16,000 years ago, is perhaps the oldest in the world (pottery nearly as old has been found in southern China, the Russian Far East, and Korea). The period was rich in tools and jewelry made from bone, stone, shell, and antler; pottery figurines and vessels; and lacquered wood.The Jōmon 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 (with limited use of horticulture).

The very long—approximately 14,000 years—Jōmon period 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 pottery and that of the more well-known Middle Jōmon period is about twice as long as the span separating the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza from the 21st century.

Dating of the Jōmon sub-phases is based primarily upon ceramic typology, and to a lesser extent radiocarbon dating.

Incipient and Initial Jōmon (14,000–4,000 BC)

Traces of Paleolithic culture, mainly stone tools, occur in Japan from around 30,000 BC onwards. The earliest “Incipient Jōmon” phase began while Japan was still linked to continental Asia as a narrow peninsula. As the glaciers melted following the end of the last Ice Age (approximately 12,000 years ago), sea levels rose, separating the Japanese archipelago from the Asian mainland; the closest point (in Kyushu) about 190 km (120 miles) from the Korean Peninsula is near enough to be intermittently influenced by continental developments but far enough removed for the peoples of the Japanese islands to develop their own ways.

Within the archipelago the vegetation was transformed by the end of the Ice Age. In southwestern HonshuShikoku, and Kyushu, broadleaf evergreen trees dominated the forests, whereas broadleaf deciduous trees and conifers were common in north-eastern Honshu and southern Hokkaido. Many native tree species, such as beechesbuckeyeschestnuts, and oaks produced edible nuts and acorns. These provided abundant sources of food for humans and animals.

In the northeast, the plentiful marine life carried south by the Oyashio current, especially salmon, was an additional major source of food. Settlements along both the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean subsisted on immense amounts of shellfish, leaving distinctive middens (mounds of discarded shells and other refuse) that are now prized sources of information for archeologists. Other sources of food meriting special mention include deerwild boaryam-like tubers and other wild plants, and freshwater fish. Supported by the highly productive deciduous forests and an abundance of seafood, the population was concentrated in central and northern Honshu, but Jōmon sites range from Hokkaido to the Ryukyu Islands.

Early Jōmon (4,000–2500 BC)

Reconstructed buildings in the Sannai-Maruyama siteAomori Prefecture

The Early and Middle Jōmon periods saw an explosion in population, as indicated by the number of settlements from this period. These two periods occurred during the Holocene Climatic Optimum (between 4000 BC and 2000 BC), when temperatures reached several degrees Celsius higher than the present.

Middle Jōmon (2500-1500 BC)

Highly ornate pottery dogū figurines and vessels, such as the so-called “flame style” vessels, and lacquered wood objects remain from that time. Interestingly, although the ornamentation of pottery increased over time, the ceramic fabric always remained quite coarse.

The degree to which horticulture or small-scale agriculture was practiced by Jōmon people is debated, but there is evidence to suggest thatarboriculture was practiced in the form of tending groves of nut- and lacquer-producing trees.

This period saw a rise in complexity in the design of pit houses, the most commonly used method of housing at the time, with some even having stone paved floors.

Late and Final Jōmon (1500-900/300 BC)

After 1500 BC, the climate cooled, and populations seem to have contracted dramatically. Comparatively few archaeological sites can be found after 1500 BC.

During the Final Jōmon period, a slow shift was taking place in western Japan: steadily increasing contact with the Korean peninsula eventually led to the establishment of Korean-type settlements in western Kyushu, beginning around 900 BC. The settlers brought with them new technologies such as wet rice farming and bronze and iron metallurgy, as well as new pottery styles similar to those of the Mumun culture. The settlements of these new arrivals seem to have coexisted with those of the Jōmon for around a thousand years. The new farming culture is called Yayoi after an archaeological site near Tokyo.

The Final Jōmon is succeeded by the Yayoi period (ca. 300 BC-AD 300) outside Hokkaido; within Hokkaido the Jōmon is succeeded by the Zoku-Jōmon (post-Jōmon) or Epi-Jōmon period. The Zoku-Jōmon culture is in turn succeeded by the Satsumon culture around the 7th century.

Yayoi period  300 BC to AD 300

The Yayoi period (弥生時代 Yayoi jidai?) is an Iron Age era in the history of Japan traditionally dated 300 BC to AD 300. It is named after theneighbourhood 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. Techniques in metallurgy based on the use ofbronze and iron were also introduced in this period. A hierarchical social class structure also emerged in this period. The Yayoi followed the Jōmon period (13,000–400 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 900–800 BC, 500 years earlier than previously believed.

Origin of the Yayoi people

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

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, dōkyōdōtaku, as well as irrigated paddy rice cultivation. Three major symbols of the Yayoi culture are the bronze mirror, the bronze sword, and the royal seal stone.

In recent years, more archaeological and genetic evidence has 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 China’s coastal Jiangsu province, and found many similarities between the Yayoi and the Jiangsu remains. DNA tests conducted in 1999 support the theory that the origin of the Yayoi people was an area south of the Yangtze.

A Yayoi period Dōtaku bell, 3rd century AD.

Some scholars have also concluded that agriculturalists from the Korean peninsula 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 culture began on the north coast of Kyūshū, where Japan is closest to Korea. Yayoi 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 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. 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.

Some pieces of Yayoi pottery clearly show the influence of Jōmon ceramics. In addition, the Yayoi lived in the same type of pit or circular dwelling as that of the Jōmon. Other examples of commonality are chipped stone tools for hunting, bone tools for fishing, shells in bracelet construction, and lacquer decoration for vessels and accessories.

Emergence of Wa in Chinese history texts

The golden seal said to have been granted to the “King of Wa” by Emperor Guangwu of Han in 57 CE. It is inscribedKing 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, the Japanese pronunciation of an early Chinese name for Japan, was mentioned in 57 AD; the Na state of Wa received a golden seal from the Emperor Guangwu of the Later Han Dynasty. This event was recorded in the Hou Han Shu compiled by Fan Ye in the 5th century. The seal itself was discovered in northern Kyūshū in the 18th century. Wa was also mentioned in 257 in the Wei zhi, a section of theSan Guo Zhi compiled by the 3rd century scholar Chen Shou.

Early Chinese historians described Wa as a land of hundreds of scattered tribal communities rather than the unified land with a 700-year tradition as laid out in the 8th-century work Nihon Shoki, a partly mythical, partly historical account of Japan which dates the foundation of the country at 660 BC. Archaeological evidence also suggests 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 human bones discovered in Yoshinogari site are regarded as typical examples of finds from the period. In the coastal area of the Inland Sea, stone arrowheads are often found among funerary objects.

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, 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 a major civil war. Her younger brother was in charge of the affairs of state, including diplomatic relations with the Chinese court Kingdom of Wei.[18] When asked about 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 around the Yangtze Delta of China.

For many years, the location of Yamataikoku and the identity of Queen Himiko have been subject of research. Two possible sites, Yoshinogari in Saga Prefecture and Makimuku in Nara Prefecture have been suggested. Recent archaeological research in Makimuku suggests that Yamataikoku was located in the area.[19][20] Some scholars assume that the Hashihaka kofun in Makimuku was the tomb of Himiko. Its relation to the origin of theYamato polity in the following Kofun period is also under debate.

Categories: history of Japan, Japanese customs, Stories about Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Post navigation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: