Agriculture, iron, bronze and the legendary shaman queen Himiko
300 BC - 300 AD
author Armand Sadovschi, January 2018
Yayoi culture was introduced by countless migrations from Korea and China. Some Jomon people were conquered and assimilated by the Yayoi, while others simply adapted to the new technology and way of life. Furthermore, Ainu people, a particular population of Jomon that originated from Siberia, refused to adapt and preserved their traditions in the north of Japan. Specialists cannot agree on the topic of the Japanese genetic and cultural origins because they have no clear evidence about the actual contribution of each population. What is certain is that the Yayoi period is notable for the apparition of agriculture and bronze and iron tools and weapons, with big villages and communities that eventually created towns, commercial centers and tribe’s federations. It was an age of constant warfare, but the farmers practiced a communitarian life. The first written record of Japan appears now, when the Chinese named the country as “Wa” and spoke about the legendary shaman queen Himiko and the slow rise of Shintoism.
Yayoi jidai is the age that follows the Late Jomon period. Jidai is the Japanese terminology for era. Yayoi is mainly characterised by the apparition of rice padding agriculture, tools and weapons of bronze and iron. Villages were bigger and we observe the rise of the first cities, markets and commercial centers. It was a hierarchical society, developing the first forms of mature, organized religion. Chinese sources first mention the existence of numerous kingdoms in the Japanese archipelago in 57 AD. The origins of the Yayoi and their contribution to the history of Japan are still debated today by Japanese, Korean and Chinese scientists.

For a long period of time, Yayoi culture was unknown to Japanese scientists. The name of the era is drawn from the region near Tokyo where the first artifacts of that period were discovered at the end of the nineteenth century. At first, the archaeologists didn’t know that the remains belonged to a different culture from Kofun and thought that the period of time was a transition from prehistoric Jomon to Iron Age Kofun.

Unlike the prehistoric Jomon, social distinction was based on heredity. From the top to the bottom, the chain of command was composed of kings that were the rulers of tribe federations, tribe leaders, shamans, warriors, farmers, artisans and slaves. The authority of kings and tribe leaders was based on both secular and religious forms of justification. They played the role of political commanders and intermediaries between this world and the world of the gods, being both warriors and shamans. Due to a constant state of total war, slaves captured from different tribes were plentiful.

Usually, a farming culture is a relatively peaceful one. Yayoi is an exception: it was a very violent society. Evolution in terms of political organization and weapons encouraged a low scale warfare. There were hundreds of tribes organized in federations that fought for supremacy using war, religious affiliation, trade benefits and early diplomacy. The vast majority of Yayoi sites that were discovered are located on higher ground than any other Jomon sites, somewhere between 600 and 1,000 meters altitude. They had basic defences like ditches filled with water around the village and a little tower for scouting.

The relations between the Yayoi and the Jomon are not clear. Some theorize that the Yayoi came to Japan in successive waves, conquering and killing the less evolved Jomon people that were still using stone weapons and living in small communities. Others say that in the Late Jomon period the population in Japan was very low so the Yayoi had a easy time replacing a culture on the verge of extinction. The third theory says that Jomon and Yayoi were relatively equal in numbers and they mixed together into a new culture. The immigration was limited. There are solid arguments and evidence for each of these theories.

Agriculture had a slow positive effect on population growth. In the Middle Jomon period, at the height of demographic expansion in prehistoric Japan, the population reached 300,000 souls. Due to climate change, Late Jomon population dropped to 100,000 inhabitants that were, however, better organized and had pretty advanced tools. Thanks to the food surplus brought by agriculture, Early Yayoi had a population of 600,000 people. At the end of the Yayoi jidai, there were almost two million people in Japan. Some historians even claim there were as many as four million inhabitants.

Evidence indicates that, in spite of constant warfare and problems related to natural disasters, Yayoi was a very prosperous era. In this aspect, trade has the greatest merit. Bronze weapons, decorative bronze objects for royalty, iron tools for farming and building, pottery vessels, wood, fur, silk, rice, and fish, were all traded on a large scale between the four major islands of Japan. There were some mine ores for creating metals in Japan, but most of the bronze and iron was imported from Korea and China.

Rulers used bronze symbols in order to strengthen their reign. Archaeological discoveries have shown that in southwestern Japan these symbols were bronze swords and mirrors. In the northeast, the symbols for power were huge bronze bells. Because the two objects found in the southwestern Kyushu area are also the ancient symbols for the imperial court of Japan, historians have speculated that this was the location of the first proto-Japanese kingdom of the Yamatai. This was also the place where Emperor Jimmu, first in his line, established his base in 660 BC. This idea is, however, still only a probability.

There is a controversy among scientists concerning the moment prehistory ends and history begins. For classical theory, history starts when the first written language appears in the region. More modern approaches are not necessarily related to written records. Instead, the most important things are the practice of agriculture and trade on a large scale, the foundation of cities and towns and a hierarchical society. Because this is a problem related to the philosophy of history, Japanese and western scientists do not really agree on a clear demarcation and on clarifying the most relevant traits.

Historians and archaeologists have to work together in order to understand the Yayoi period. From a historic perspective, there are the late Kojiki and Nihon shoki chronicles that describe Yayoi in a mythical manner. Furthermore, the Yayoi people had regular contacts with ancient Korea and China. These incipient international relations are described by contemporary Chinese chronicles like ‘Records of the Three Kingdoms’. At the same time, archaeological research is the main source of probating whether what was written can be backed up by material evidence.

Authors that favor archaeological data to the detriment of written records think that the Jomon, Yayoi and even Kofun ages belong to prehistory because a writing system was adopted very late in the Japanese archipelago, at the end of Kofun and at the start of the Asuka era. The ones that prefer a historical methodology consider that Yayoi and Kofun represent an Early Antiquity phase, while Asuka, Nara and Heian belong to Classical Antiquity. In their opinion, the Yayoi were too evolved in comparison with Jomon, even though they had no written language.

In the Neolithic and Early Antiquity eras, the Chinese civilization was far more advanced than the cultures in the Japanese archipelago. The Shang dynasty of China had a written system from 1500 BC, almost two thousand years before writing was introduced in Japan. Jin state and the Mahan, Jinhan and Byeonhan confederacies of Korea also had more evolved cultures than the Jomon and Yayoi, due to their direct contact with China. People with Korean and Chinese descent moved into the Japanese archipelago, bringing with them knowledge about agriculture, bronze and iron tools and weapons. Their exact number and their contribution to the Japanese gene is still debated.

After the Shang emperors of China came the Zhou and Qin dynasties. Qin was contemporary with the Early Yayoi, and had a population of twenty million people when the whole Japanese archipelago had only 600.000 inhabitants. After a short reign, the Qin dynasty collapsed into eighteen feudal states. Historians believe that the displaced people from the civil war migrated to Korea and then into Japan, contributing to the Yayoi culture.

The Han dynasty unified the eighteen feudal states and lasted for four hundred years. The downfall of Han was a slow process. Consecutive rebellions in the course of a century ultimately forced the Han emperors to abdicate. The empire segregated into three parts: Cao Wei, Shu Han, and Eastern Wu. The bloody civil war that followed brought new waves of migrants to Japan.

The date for the beginning of the Yayoi period is much debated. There are historians who think that the major difference between the Jomon and Yayoi is the style of pottery. Because Late Jomon pottery had many similarities with that from Early Yayoi, the emergence of the Iron Age is pushed back. On the other side of the argument are archaeologists from a newer generation who think that agriculture is the characteristic that made the difference. They discovered clear evidence of rice agriculture in northern Kyushu, dating back one thousand years before our era. If they are correct, the whole concept about the stages of evolution in the Yayoi era have to be changed.

Neil Gordon Munro wrote the book ‘Prehistoric Japan’ in 1908. In it, he was the first to observe that the Yayoi was a different culture to the Jomon or the Kofun. He considered Yayoi as a period of transition, but not an age. The decisive discovery was made during the Second World War in Shizuoka, on the east coast of Honshu.

Any distinction between Jomon and Yayoi is problematic. The nature of the enigma is far more complex than it seems at first glance. Jomon and Yayoi cultures were not homogeneous in the first place. Both cultures originated from many different places and evolved at a different pace. Even more confusing is that in some regions of Japan the Yayoi became the majority, while in others they were the minority. Because of this, it’s impossible to be certain how many of the Yayoi were foreigners and how many were former Jomon who adopted the new lifestyle.

The mixture of different peoples is the reason why at least twelve types of pottery exist in this timeline. They belong to four big regions: northern Kyushu, Kanto plain in central Honshu, Aomori in northern Honshu, and Hokkaido. Each region has different pottery depending on the time of apparition: Early, Middle or Late Yayoi. And this is only the traditional classification. In the meantime, archaeologists discovered further evidence that highlights cultural diversity and the competition between different kingdoms in Japan.

Historians are influenced by epistemological beliefs. In this particular case, part of them are tributary to the linear evolution idea, others to the complex unique development. The first originates in Marxist theory, while the other in more modern studies of cultural anthropology. There are two relevant interpretations. Either the Yayoi was a homogeneous evolution from the Jomon produced by the change in the forces of production, or the Yayoi culture was a heterogeneous one, developed at different paces according to local circumstances.

From a physique standpoint, the Yayoi were different from the Jomon. The average height of the Yayoi was 1.62 meters, two centimeters taller than the Jomon. Genetic tests have shown that the people from Jomon jidai are similar to the ones in south China, whereas Yayoi people slightly resemble those from Northeast Asia and Korea.

An additional speculative theory is linked to the great Chinese shaman warrior Hsu Fu. He served the ancient dynasty of Qi and was sent to explore other lands. In the book ‘Records of the Grand Historian’, it is said that Hsu Fu went on a quest to find the elixir of eternal life. After many expeditions, he sent a request for his emperor to bring in more archers. He went on another voyage but never returned. Some Japanese historians believe that Hsu Fu discovered Jomon Japan and conquered northern Kyushu. Later, Hsu Fu became the God of farming, medicine and silk in Shinto tradition.

The legend of Hsu Fu could be at least partially true. Chinese chronicles mention that he set sail with a force of 5,000 warriors, more than enough to set a foothold on the northern coast of Kyushu. Maybe he died in battle or he just settled in Japan and decided not to return to the continent. The request for more archers could have meant that he needed reinforcements in order to secure his position in Kyushu. The date of his journey, between 219 BC and 210 BC, matches the rise of the early Yayoi chiefdoms. On the other hand, iron and bronze weapons close to that timeline have not been found in the area.

All scientists agree that the Yayoi people came from Korea and China. Beyond that fact, countless problems have appeared. Firstly, there is no certain way to detect the number of migrants or the exact period when the waves of migration happened. Secondly, there are two major theories regarding the Yayoi origins. On one side are those who think that most of the Yayoi came from Korea, while those on the other side say that a far earlier migration from China happened. Both camps bring arguments such as logical connections of causality, archaeological evidence and DNA results.

Traditionalists go for the Korean heritage interpretation. The first forms of Yayoi culture emerged in northern Kyushu, the closest place to Korea. Even in the next era named Kofun there were many warrior clans with Korean lineage. Iron tools and objects like mirrors or clothes were very similar to the ones from Korea. Using DNA testing, archaeologists concluded that a large Yayoi community also existed in the southern part of the Korean peninsula. Japanese historians claim this means that the Yayoi conquered parts of Korea and demanded tribute from the Korean tribes.

Usually, those who try to demonstrate the Chinese descent theory believe that the Yayoi appeared much earlier, hundreds of years before migrations from Korea. From this point of view, agriculture was brought from China by a large migration somewhere between 1000 BC and 900 BC. The group was mostly formed of aristocratic and warrior elite and a few farmers. They were the ones who founded the first kingdoms in Japan.

If the Chinese descent theory is accurate, the Korean migrations came later, and most of the group was made up of common folks like peasants, traders and artisans. They brought new technology and manufacturing techniques, but agriculture and kingdoms already existed in Japan. Because the Korean immigrants had many useful skills and knowledge, they were well received. Their value was so high that they acquired important political functions.

Satoshi Yamaguchi compared the skeletons of the Yayoi to the ones from the Chinese imperial Han dynasty and concluded that their bodies and genetic heritage are related. Furthermore, he discovered Chinese male skeletons of teenagers that had their teeth pulled out, a tradition belonging only to the late Jomon. All these Chinese remains were discovered in the Jiangsu province, a location very close to the East China Sea and from there to Kyushu.

Maybe a coincidence or not, the symbols that justified political dominance in the Yayoi period were the sword, the mirror and the royal seal. The exact same objects were used by the Qin dynasty of China. The similarities can be explained in two ways. The Qin dynasty of China was far more evolved that the Yayoi kingdoms, so the latter imitated the former in order to gain recognition. It can also be suggested that their royal representations were the same because the Yayoi elite was actually from the Yangtze River, confirming the Chinese descent theory.

Chinese chronicles note the existence of the Yayoi kingdoms on repeated occasions. The common people are described with disdain and from the perceived superiority of the Chinese civilization. On the other hand, the political elite of the Yayoi kingdoms is treated in very favorable terms, naming them close allies even though they payed tribute. In the book ‘Records of the Three Kingdoms’, the Yayoi leaders presented themselves to the Chinese emissaries as descendants of the king Taibo, the legendary founder of the Wu kingdom, located on the east coast of China.

Recent radiocarbon analysis of grains has shown that Japanese agriculture, at least in its early stages, didn’t come from Korea. That type of rice was not native in Korea at that time. By all probabilities, wet rice cultures were abundant near the Yangtze River, the cradle of the Chinese civilization. This would mean that the Yayoi culture appeared in 1000 BC, maybe earlier. Harunari Hideki was the chief archaeologist who presented these results. His theory was prized by some and criticized by others.

Critics say that the test samples are completely inaccurate because the rice that was tested was cooked, and that the process would have damaged the capability of carbon dating. They also point out the maritime effect. Because of complicated chemical and radiation processes, objects that are preserved in the sea tend to appear much older than they really are. Additionally, even if agriculture did appear so early, it was at a very limited scale. No other archaeological evidence supports Harunari’s claim, and the pottery from that time was almost the same as the Late Jomon.

The sites with signs of early agriculture are located in Kyushu, with only one in northern Honshu. The new discoveries make things even more confusing because the results indicate that rice was cultivated there from 3000 BC, in the Jomon era. This would validate the idea that the Yayoi came, at least in the first waves of migrations, from southeast China by sea. The route from China to Korea and then through the Tsushima strait into Japan is improbable because the climate in northern Korea was inauspicious for the cultivation of rice.

Wilhelm Solheim is a supporter of the Chinese descent theory. He thinks that traders from East China reached Korea and Japan by boat. They met with the Jomon and built temporary houses. Because the plains were fertile, they started to settle in the new lands. Besides the new opportunities, the migrators were motivated by possible civil wars in ancient China. Later, when the news about Japan’s prosperity traveled outside the archipelago, new migrants came from Korea. They also ran from the expansion of the Han dynasty. The Yayoi culture is the result of this mixture that happened over hundreds of years.

Onuki Y. thinks that the dating of the Yayoi era so early is incorrect because it does not match the archaeological findings on the continent. Agriculture and iron tools came into Japan from China and Korea. It makes no sense to place Yayoi Iron Age culture as contemporary to the Iron Age in China and Korea. In response, Shinya Shoda says that the archaeological dating in early ancient Korea and China are also vague and highly contested by the scientific community. At least up until now, we have no certain point of comparison.

Having in mind the latest works written about Yayoi issues, it is safe to presume that the Yayoi culture expanded in at least three main steps. The inaugural one happened in the Late Jomon era with the migration of people from East China who brought rice agriculture and basic iron tools. Their religious beliefs and habits intermingled with the local Jomon ones. The subsequent step was the migration from Korea in the first part of the Han dynasty’s rule. The third phase happened in the Late Yayoi, when independent states and a unique culture developed.

Agriculture and iron probably appeared in southern Korea at the end of the second millennium BC. This would mean that the technology had the necessary time to be assimilated by Late Jomon and Early Yayoi. If the theory is completely demonstrated, it will bring further complications. The traditional explanation for the Jomon extinction and Yayoi migration, that of climate change, is simply outdated. From this new viewpoint, agriculture appeared in Korea and Japan before climate cooling, suggesting political causality as the main explanation.

One more problem is posed by the fact that the Middle and Late Jomon used plant manipulation, a form of primitive agriculture. If the dating of rice padding culture of the Yayoi is so early, it means that the two traditional eras overlap. The whole part of this history has to be rethought around new concepts. Considering that the new radiocarbon information was only published in the last fifteen years, there is still a long way to go until we can learn what really happened.

At the start of the Yayoi era, stone tools were used in parallel with iron ones. Food was now stockpiled in granaries with elevated floors, built on wooden pillars. In time, new forms of production imposed the need for metal plows, rakes and shovels. Daggers, spearheads and arrowheads made from stone were updated to ones made from iron. Now weapons were not used mostly for hunting, but for killing other humans on a larger scale than simple quarrels between small groups. Bronze and iron swords were produced, along with primitive armor and shields.

Besides rice, the main diet of the Yayoi was composed of beans, millet and gourds. Fishing and hunting was only practiced for obtaining additional food supplies. Besides granaries, each village had wells that provided water for the irrigation of the fields. In time, the padded rice was elevated, making irrigation easier by the means of guiding the water to the slope.

Early Yayoi had pretty similar living conditions to the Jomon. Their houses were pit dwellings carved in the ground. As time progressed to the Middle Yayoi period, things started to change radically. Buildings were made above the ground, the floor being sustained by strong pillars. All the structures were made from different combinations of wood. Because of the warming climate, most of the houses didn’t need a fire in the middle of the room. Some of them had places for food storage and a corner for religious practices.

Yayoi people were very dependent on each other, even more than their prehistoric predecessors. Jomon groups were smaller and relied on hunting and gathering plants, activities that yielded a temporary but immediate result. The social hierarchy was at least vague. In contrast, the Yayoi had to work together for months in order to make sure that their culture of rice would grow in safe conditions. Their houses were built next to each other and every five homes had a communal storage pit or a little granary.

Elevated granaries had the same architecture as the later small Shinto temples. This fact made archaeologists highlight the spiritual links between Jomon, Yayoi and the next age named Yamato or Kofun. Communal life in the Yayoi village with a theoretically centralized political authority and the practically regionalized centers of power contained features that can be identified throughout all the history of Japan. The members of society were solidary and had a strong leader at a local level, as they competed with other more or less similar communities.

Only 106 Jomon sites from the Late Jomon age were discovered in Kyushu. At the same time, 681 Yayoi sites were found. Facts pinpoint, at least in the case of Kyushu, that the Jomon prehistoric populace was very low and could have been easily overrun by foreign migrations. From this point of view, the southern part of Japan had more Chinese and Korean immigrants. As we progress further to the north of the country, the genetic evidence shifts in the favor of the Jomon who eventually adopted Iron Age technologies and agriculture.

J. Edward Kidder believes that the Jomon population from the northern part of Honshu adopted agriculture and Yayoi technologies later due to the cold climate that discouraged farming. The enlargement of the Yayoi culture was postponed by natural factors. ‘Beyond Shizuoka lay dense cryptomeria forests, which formed a rather strong deterrent to land clearance for farming and beyond which Jomon traditions were deeply entrenched.’

Discoveries in Chiba and Nagano prefectures showed an overlap of plentiful graves and houses from contemporary Late Jomon and Early Yayoi. These sites are located on the east coast and in central Honshu, providing strong evidence of the coexistence of the two types of people in the early stage. It could also mean that Jomon groups beyond Kyushu assimilated the Yayoi lifestyle without being conquered. The pit dwellings and hunter-gatherer lifestyle simply changed to wood houses and wet rice padding farms.

Yayoi culture expanded further north to Kinki, Tokai coast, Kanto plain and Tohoku in northern Honshu. These regions contained Yayoi that were originally immigrants, Jomon locals and a genetic admixture resulting from intermarriage. The exact proportions of each ethnic group is still contested. Jar burial reached its highest usage in this timeline, giving testimony to the combination of various traditions. Starting with the Late Yayoi, mound burials replaced the jar ceremony.

Itazuke in northern Kyushu is one of the richest sites of ancient Japan and most probably the place where high scale agriculture started. It holds evidence of people that lived in Early and Late Jomon followed by Early and Middle Yayoi. Excavations started after the Second World War and are still ongoing.

J. Edward Kidder explains the phenomenon of admixture starting from the discoveries in northern Kyushu, a place where clearly Jomon people were a minority. At least in this case, Yayoi and Jomon buried their dead in separate graveyards. ‘Teeth mutilation was still extensively practiced. A recognizable degree of segregation is thought to indicate distinctions between blood relatives and outsiders married into the group, an idea supported by practices that have survived in western Japan until modern times.’

Graves with bronze weapons and jewels, mirrors and other symbols of wealth appeared in the Middle Yayoi period, when the migrations were fewer. This means that initial immigrants from Early Yayoi were not represented by spectacular movements of people, but by mostly individual and small group expeditions. With superior weapons and means of production, they imposed themselves as the ruling elite of the Jomon in Kyushu. Step by step they consolidated their position until Middle Yayoi, when extensive farming produced a demographic explosion.

Gradually, expansion of the Yayoi culture was backed by the low population number of the Late Jomon population and the modest amount of metal weapons found. As we move further from Kyushu, the number of iron tools decreases. These facts point out that the estimated six thousand Late Jomon population in northern Kyushu could have been easily subdued by a smaller group of Yayoi immigrants. After that, the notable growth of population created economic and political conditions for both imports and local production of bronze and iron that was needed in order to win regional wars.

Archaeologists know a lot of things about the communal lifestyle of the Yayoi thanks to discoveries made in Toro village. The small settlement was abandoned when a flood partially destroyed it. All the working tools were placed in a single house, meaning that private property was at least limited. Unlike the Jomon, Yayoi houses didn't have storage pits but separate granaries used by the whole community.

Settlements grew in size as the population increased. With guaranteed minimum food supplies for survival, people started to focus on more sophisticated jobs, giving birth to a further division of labor. Various roles in the village stimulated inequality in incomes and social status. In the meantime, most of the Korean peninsula became a protectorate of the Han dynasty, and peace was restored on the continent. The small Yayoi tribes seized the chance and began to trade and learn from their superior neighbors.

Repeated contact with Korean and Chinese authorities created the need for an educated Yayoi elite that would serve the interests of many tribes. Social stratification intensified. With the blessing of the Han dynasty, tribes started to surpass their enemies, either by force or by diplomacy, and formed tribe federations. Yayoi tribes that obtained the favour of the Chinese had access to precious metal ore for weapons. They could also use diplomatic means, increasing their economic benefits if smaller tribes would swear to be vassal.

Trade stimulated the development of specialized cities. The biggest trade center discovered so far from the Late Yayoi period is Asashi, located in the center of Honshu, on the east coast. The region was far from the trade routes to Korea and China. This meant that, after the Yayoi borrowed technology from their continental neighbors, their prosperity was mostly obtained from the commerce taking place in the Japanese archipelago. External trade supported the evolution of Middle Yayoi culture until the Late Phase, when it became mostly self-sufficient.

Internal trade between different Yayoi kingdoms and tribes is demonstrated by various archaeological finds. Sites from northern Honshu had large quantities of rice, which was impossible to cultivate in the region because of the climate. Other sites had iron tools without having any metal ore source close enough to be exploited, and other tribes produced huge amounts of salt that could only be destined for trade.

Foreign trade had bigger proportions than it was previously thought. According to J. Edward Kidder, a skeleton discovered in northern Kyushu had forty bracelets made from tropical sea materials that existed only hundreds of miles away, the closest source being the Ryukyu islands.

The Late Yayoi period was characterized by the ascension of different kingdoms from tribe federations. Being closer to continental China and to the Korean peninsula, the ones located in Kyushu had many customs that differed from the Jomon. As we go further into Honshu and Hokkaido, the traditions are more similar to the previous prehistoric culture. This means that a large part of the Yayoi culture was actually produced from the slow evolution of the local Jomon population and not just foreign imports.

The formation of the state in Late Yayoi was a violent process. Clear evidence of intensive military activities is recorded by most of the specialists. For example, ‘The Cambridge History of Japan Volume 1’ mentions: ‘One person at Doigahama had apparently been killed by a stone arrowhead that struck his skull, and a woman at Nejiko in Nagasaki Prefecture has a bronze arrowhead in hers. Several skeletons at Yoshinogari are completely headless.’

Chinese texts represent the most important source of knowledge about the Late Yayoi. Although contested by traditional nationalistic Japanese historians, most of the specialists from the newer generations acknowledge the authority of the Chinese descriptions and have even discovered archaeological evidence to prove it. The Late Yayoi people ate with their hands, drank a lot of alcohol, were generally uncivilized, with beards and long hair, and they did not wash. Members of the aristocracy could kill a peasant on the spot for a minor offence, a right that endured in the Samurai period.

With some inevitable exaggerations, the Chinese descriptions of the early Japanese people were accurate. The political elite became fully civilized at the beginning of Classical Antiquity, in the Asuka jidai. Common folks adopted this sophisticated lifestyle and habits only at the start of feudalism and the Samurai era, in Kamakura jidai. But then again, the living standards were far superior to those traced in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire and into the Middle Ages.

Intensive trade relations between at least forty kingdoms from Japan, Korea and China left behind a wealth of material evidence and scrolls. Korea was mostly an intermediary for brute ore and new technologies, while China sold the most bronze and iron ingots. In return, the Yayoi chiefdoms sold slaves captured from enemy tribes. Historians believe that the Han dynasty of China was so strong that they requested only a symbolic tribute as recognition of their superior civilization. If the foreigners accepted, they received everything they wanted, for free, in large quantities. This theory is supported by the general behavior of China from ancient times till the 19th century.

The clumsier shapes of the bells indicate that the Late Yayoi produced them locally, from indigenous mine ores or from imports. A common practice of the Yayoi was to import religious artifacts of bronze and iron from China and melt them in order to transform them into different objects. This was the case with the bronze bells and swords, discovered in large numbers all over Japan. Bronze swords were too large and impractical in battle. They were probably used as a symbol of the power and authority of the early kings.

J. Edward Kidder admits that metal ore was imported from Korea and China but he argues that the Yayoi also had domestic production. The enormous increase of metal objects from Early Yayoi to Middle Yayoi can’t be explained solely by commerce. ‘Local production occurred in at least two places in Kyushu: in Oita Prefecture to the east and in Miyazaki Prefecture to the south, where primitive bloom furnaces appear to have been capable of refining about ten kilograms of iron at a time.’

Usually bronze objects belonged to nobles, whereas iron tools were used by common farmers. Besides their religious and political role, the processing of bronze required knowledge and resources unavailable to peasants. On the other hand, iron could be produced even in primitive furnaces built in the backyard, and the process was simple. These plain facts imply that bronze was mostly imported, while iron was a domestic product.

Although peasants lived a relatively egalitarian life, the rest of society was hierarchical. Farmers had to pay their share of the harvest to the village leader. Taxes were collected from each village for the tribe. Also, tribes had to pay a symbolic tribute to the local kings. It was a highly centralized political system. Furthermore, in the Late Yayoi era, many kingdoms payed a small tribute to the Qin and Han dynasties of China, an empire that had a population of almost fifty million people.

Archaeologists describe the social distribution based on many criteria. Firstly, most of the iron and bronze objects could not be produced in Japan because they had no major ore mines. One had to be wealthy and have political influence in order to import or buy these kinds of objects from foreign traders. Secondly, the important people were buried in wooden coffins along with swords, jewels and mirrors, all indicators of a higher status. In the last stage of the Yayoi era, the coffin was put inside another coffin, imitating the Chinese model of the double box. Social stratification is displayed by differences in both living standards and respect for the dead. Small houses discovered from Middle and Late Yayoi had jar burials next to them, containing just the dead person, whereas big houses had cemeteries in which the dead were buried in a coffin alongside treasures.

Glass for mirrors and silk clothes were mostly produced in Kyushu. They were reserved only for those of a higher political and religious status. Only the wives of tribe leaders had access to them. The privilege of marrying more than one woman was common among aristocracy. According to Chinese chronicles, Yayoi peasants bowed to their superiors wherever they met them and would make room for official convoys to pass, a tradition that lasted until the Meiji Revolution.

Chinese chronicles mention the existence of Yayoi noblemen that had various aristocratic titles, stating that their meanings were impossible to translate into Chinese. From this fragment, historians believe that even without proper grammar or a writing system, the Japanese language had already evolved without foreign influences. The relative isolation of the Jomon and Yayoi people explains its uniqueness.

Chinese and Korean traditional rulers were males, but prehistoric Jomon had many female shamans as leaders. This separation is visible in ancient Japan. Yayoi kingdoms and tribes closer to Kyushu and strongly influenced by foreign immigrants were governed by male kings. As we go further eastward we encounter many queens respected for their magical powers. A possible theory states that Nihon shoki scholars downplayed the role of women in the politics of early ancient Japan. Instead, especially before emperor Sujin, they invented mythological male rulers.

Archaeological evidence points out that the Yayoi were organized into a form of egalitarian collectivization of production. A single family didn't have the resources and manpower necessary for harvesting rice. The whole village was needed in order to be efficient. Each village had a shaman or elder leader. Several villages formed a tribe, and small kingdoms were formed from confederations of tribes. In a sense, this was a cvasi relation of bondage similar to the one found in feudality. However, there were also differences, since local traditions and religious beliefs varied greatly, without a unifying doctrine, and the tribes were very autonomous.

Based on the pottery style, historians believe that there were at least three major centers of power in ancient Japan. The settlements are located in northern Kyushu, the Kinki region in southern Honshu, and the Kanto plain in northern Honshu. Variations in bronze objects have led specialists to believe that the three towns represented completely different forms of the Yayoi culture. It’s highly probable that they were involved in a race for hegemony in the Japanese archipelago. The victory of the Yamato clan marks the end of the Yayoi era.

Charles T. Kelly makes an enumeration of the main differences between archaeological sites. As expected, northern Kyushu had the most bronze weapons and Chinese mirrors. Jar burials indicate the admixture with the aboriginal Jomon. Numerous swords in the Setouchi area point out the importance of warfare. In view of hundreds of bronze bells discovered, Kansai was probably a religious center. The Tohoku plain region was bordered by farm villages. The people from Tohoku were mostly Jomon descendants that slowly adopted new technologies from the other neighboring Yayoi kingdoms.

J. Edward Kidder agrees that the different types of objects discovered in different locations actually indicate kingdoms in competition. ‘The overlap in the Inland Sea is the first archaeological indicator that this was the critical arena of conflict between Tsukushi tribes of the south and Kinki tribes of the east. The strategic Kibi region in between controlled the traffic of vital materials destined for the Kinki, making it necessary for any Kinki tribal leader interested in consolidating his position and expanding power to subjugate the Kibi, mollify its leaders, or resort to the use of diplomacy.’

Recent discoveries point to another strong kingdom on the southwest coast of Honshu, Izumo province. Mentions of this place appear in Nihon shoki, being described as the place of the devil and a space of transition to the underworld. The exact entrance is located in a cave, the place where, according to Shinto myths, Izanami went into the underworld in order to save his wife, Izanagi. Later, the ancient text says that Izumo rulers held the religious authority and Yamato rulers the political power.

Based on the ancient Japanese chronicles, historians believed that the Izumo underworld was just a legend. However, in the meantime, the biggest deposit of Yayoi swords in Japan and some burial mounds were discovered there. Now specialists believe that the legend was actually inspired by the existence of a strong impenetrable kingdom that was a rival to the Yamato in the Late Yayoi period. Because Nihon shoki was written at the command of the Yamato kings in order to boost their authority, scholars wrote about the Izumo province in demonic therms.

Tsukushi was perhaps the strongest kingdom in northern Kyushu. The favourite weapon of those warriors was the spear, as many Shinto myths relating magic weapons are originally local Tsukushi legends. They expanded eastward into central Honshu and conquered the tribes from the Kinki region, adopting the bronze bell as their prime symbol of power. Different legends and information worsen the confusion and overlapping of kingdoms, making the identification of the actual borders difficult.

In the first stages of the Yayoi period, pottery vessels were almost impossible to differentiate from those from the Jomon era. With the introduction of wheel technology for pottery from China and Korea, their design shifted. It had a less clumsy form, depicting an ideal of symmetrical lines. On the other hand, it was lacking the fantasy of the hunter-gatherer people. Vessels became used more as practical tools and less as religious symbols. This is why decorations and paintings were less frequent.

Bronze bells mostly replaced vessels as religious symbols. Unlike Yayoi pottery that had Korean and Chinese influences, the shape and design of the bronze bells are original Japanese. The art critic P. C. Swann speaks about their aesthetic value: ‘The flaring skirt-like silhouette produced by the wide sweeping flange gives them a rare elegance, and their beauty is further enhanced by their bright green patina which many of them have acquired through burial.’

Bronze bells were named dotaku. Many of them were painted, depicting daily activities like fishing, hunting or cooking. Historians compared the pictures with archaeological materials and concluded that the Yayoi people used dogs for hunting. They also understood the architecture of the houses and technology of the era. Dotaku offer researchers hints of what ancient life was like.

Pottery decorations moved from images of gods and fantastical being to simpler ornaments of flowers. More interesting are the clay figurines from the Yayoi period discovered in jar and mound burials. The figurines represented gods, humans, but also animals with religious semnifications like horses and snakes. This tradition goes way back to the prehistoric Jomon era, emphasizing the bond between the two cultures.

Having constant success in harvesting rice was essential for the survival of the Yayoi people. Overall, archaeologists observe that the main picture drawn on ancient artifacts was the deer. Connecting the missing dots, scientists theorized that deer were actually sacred animals that were still hunted. The constant flow of deer represented the beginning of a new season for harvesting. They were sacrificed in religious ceremonies held in the spring, as their blood was spilled on the field in order to boost the fertility of the land. The ringing of the bells increased the sacrality of the moment. Birds were also important drawings because they represented the gate between this world and the underworld. This is explained by numerous religious ceremonies mentioned in Nihon shoki, when the priests were dressed like birds. In addition, Yayoi legends talk about a bird that brought the first seed of rice in her beak, symbolizing the discovery of agriculture and cyclical harvests. A similar myth exists in ancient Korea, mentioned by Chinese chronicles.

Mirrors, bronze swords and bells were used in religious ceremonies held by religious and political authorities. Common folk were buried in separate graveyards from the nobles. No matter their status, after the flesh was completely rotten from the bones, the skeleton was exhumed, painted red and reburied in vessels. The reasons for this are not known. Besides political leaders, each village had shamans that conducted various local rituals that were at the foundation of Shinto beliefs. Some of them were traditions that originated from the Jomon, others were new and unrelated, while others were borrowed from Korea and China in a modified version.

Most of the graveyards were placed close to the village. Contrary to traditional beliefs, the ultimate burial ceremony was not that using jars. Recent excavations have shown that small burial mounds were most regular in the later stages. This habit is the predecessor of the Kofun jidai, the period of large burial mounds built by a massive workforce composed of common people in order to honor the political and religious elite.

Mark J. Hudson wrote one of the most thorough articles about religion in the Yayoi period. Right from the beginning he acknowledged that the Yayoi didn’t have a unified religion, but a set of complex ritual practices specific to local areas. But common patterns are also present. Examples can be found in ancient Chinese chronicles. Yayoi aristocracy clapped their hands when they prayed, a peculiar custom still practiced in Shintoism today.

Besides the logical overlapping of objects and customs, if considered strictly from a religious and cultural point of view, the Yayoi kingdoms and tribes were divided into two important groups in the West and East of Japan. The dividing line is around the Nagoya and Kansai area. For Hudson, the spiritual borders are still available today. ‘Many readers will be aware that this is close to the traditional divide between west and east Japan, as determined by various dialectical, dietary, and cultural traits. It also marks the split between the broadleaf evergreen and deciduous forest zones.’

Chinese travelers tell of another common ritual of the Yayoi era. Shamans burned bones as an act of divination, trying to find insight for good or bad omens. All the remains of this discovered by archaeologists are from Middle and Late Yayoi, located especially in Honshu, southern Kanto. No such ritual has been identified in Kyushu. The dating matches the first contacts with Chinese emissaries, while the location indicates that bone divination was a custom which resulted from the unique mixture of Jomon and Yayoi traditions. Deer bones were used most for this ceremony.

Kobayashi Tatsuo argued that the culture from western Japan is tributary to the Yayoi immigrants, whilst the eastern parts represent a cultural legacy of the prehistoric Jomon that were slowly overwhelmed. Nakamura Yoshiyuki pointed out the possibility that the Ainu culture was especially influenced by Late Jomon culture from Hokkaido that had contacts with Yayoi and Kofun culture from the rest of Japan, suggesting that Ainu had a very wide mixture of traditions. In comparison, Ainu had little to do to with Early and Middle prehistoric Jomon.

Dotaku sacred bells completely disappeared after the Yayoi jidai. Mishina Shoei thinks that a plausible explanation can be found in the nature of common beliefs. Bells were buried in the earth as a ceremony of fertility and cyclical life because that was the main philosophical perspective of the era. The change was gradual and slow. Kofun marks the beginning of a new perspective, moving the divination from the shamanistic earth to the more complex contemplation of the sky and spiritual guidance offered by state religion and a divine king.

Mark J. Hudson argues that the Yayoi archaic society was far from primitive. Their spiritual representations are more profound than it seems. ‘If we agree that the deer represented land spirits in agricultural ritual, then I believe we can understand why hunting and warfare scenes are so common in the Yayoi art. Hunting and warfare were a metaphor for the control of the wild or, in other words, the domestication of both rice and society.’

A practice that has intrigued both archaeologists and anthropologists is the second burial ceremony. There are some variations from one site to another, but the mains steps of the ceremony have been reconstructed. After a person died, the body was buried in a simple pit dug in the earth. Mourning lasted ten days, followed by prayers. Relatives waited for the body to decompose and then they exhumed the bones. A necklace made of the teeth of the dead was worn by the relatives. Bones were introduced into ceramic jars and reburied. The bones that were too big to fit in the jar were cremated alongside animal bones as an offering to the local deities. Then the necklace was also buried.

Secondary burials were discovered in too many sites to be considered a ceremony only for the political elite. Some archaeologists theorize that the burials were based by age classification, meaning that persons from the same generation were buried together. There is little archaeological evidence for this. Obayashi Taryo has another theory. He thinks that the whole ceremony is a tribute for the concept of rebirth, a comparison between the destiny of man and the fate of nature. Another version is that the secondary burials were a ritual of purification, a separation between the world of the dead and the living.

The Chinese chronicle of Wei zhi describes other interesting habits of the Yayoi. Mourning for a dead person lasted ten days, during which period it was forbidden to eat meat. The relatives lamented and cried, drinking alcohol, singing songs and dancing in a ritual manner. After the funeral, all of them went to a river and took a bath in a ceremony of purification that seems to be a precursor of Shinto beliefs.

Wei zhi mentions a strange custom that happened when Yayoi emissaries travelled across the open sea. They always took with them a man who behaved just like a mourner. His role was to bring luck and good omens. If the ship travelled in peace, he was considered protected by the gods and was rewarded with treasure and slaves. If they encountered a storm or any other misfortune, the man was executed because he was not favored by the gods and his sacrifice must please them.

Mark J. Hudson, a reputed archaeologist and anthropologist, warns us about the unfortunate problems that occur when attempting to reconstruct the customs, meanings and beliefs of an ancient society: ‘The first may seem a perfectly neutral exercise, but even here we should be aware that we are forcing our own contemporary perspectives onto the past. In choosing whether to stress the mound or the moat of the grave, for example, we are working on assumptions that may not have been held by the people who built that grave.’

According to the ancient chronicles Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, Jimmu was the first emperor of Japan and the descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu. Most historians think that Jimmu’s story is just a myth. As with any myth, there may be a grain of truth in it. Specialists have tried to guess who Jimmu really was. They speculated that he might actually have been a warrior tribal leader who settled in Japan. The exact location of departure and arrival are under debate, as are the location and the borders of his kingdom. Jimmu’s supposed ascension to the throne is the 11th of February, Japan’s national holiday.

The myth says that Jimmu lived to be 126 years old and was born in southern Kyushu. From the start, historians observed that life expectancy at that time was 30 years or even less, and that Jimmu probably represents more than one person. The tale continues in stating that Itsuse no Mikoto was the older brother of Jimmu and the real leader. At Itsuse’s orders, the whole army migrated eastward and encountered fierce resistance somewhere around today’s Osaka. Itsuse was killed in battle and command passed to Jimmu.

Historians now believe that Jimmu’s story was inspired by actual events that happened in the Middle and Late Yayoi, almost one thousand years later than the Nihon shoki chronicle claims. It is possible that Jimmu was not the first emperor of Japan, but a strong leader of a kingdom in southern Kyushu that conquered a strong rival in the Kinki region. Archaeological findings suggest that in both regions robust Yayoi political centers existed. Not to mention that the Yamato kingdom that finally won the war at the end of the Yayoi is probably located just a few kilometers to the east of Jimmu’s legendary acquisition.

Highlighting the special mystical relation of Jimmu with Amaterasu, the legend says that Jimmu was convinced that the cause of his brother’s defeat was clear: they fought with their faces against the sun. In order to remedy the problem, Jimmu takes his army by boat and encircles his enemies. This time he is victorious and establishes the first kingdom of the Yamato. Truth or fiction, his grave is still worshiped today, after almost two millennia.

One of the main supporters of Jimmu’s partial historicity theory is the philosopher Watsuji Tetsuro. Starting from archaeological findings and linking them with the ancient Japanese Chronicle Nihon shoki, he thinks that Jimmu controlled a state from Kyushu that had bronze swords as their prime symbol. He marched eastward, conquering a kingdom in the Kinai region that had dotaku bells as a token of their political and religious authority. Others believe that his theory is oversimplified because the separation and distribution of bronze bells and swords was not absolute.

Although the Yayoi culture had no written language and there are no empirical evidences of Emperor Sujin, he is considered the first emperor of Japan who might be a real person. From a traditional point of view, Sujin is the 9th emperor in the unbroken line of the Yamato dynasty. What makes his existence plausible are the archaeological discoveries. This period of time is marked by the apparition of the first small kingdoms in Japan and extensive trade with Korea and China. The encounters are noted in Chinese chronicles.

If the chronicle Nihon shoki is correct, Sujin made a lot of reforms, especially in centralizing political power and changing the tax system. Considering that archaeologists discovered that this period of time was characterized by major technological revolutions in agriculture and settlement organization, historians speculated that Sujin actually existed.

The ancient chronicles of Japan say that Sujin organized the building of vast water channels, that he appointed hundreds of governors and that he had to fight a lot of rebellions started by his generals. His reign was marked by military expansions. Coincidentally or not, all of these things happened in this particular timeline. Archaeologists found bigger settlements from Middle Yayoi with larger rice plantations that were irrigated. They also found evidence of the rise of important kingdoms larger than the common tribes that existed before.

Many of the written records about ancient Japan were made by Chinese scholars. Because they were produced at approximately the same time that events took place, the scrolls are remarkably accurate. Besides their inevitable subjectivity, most of the authors described things that happened in the course of their lives. The first mention of the Yayoi was made in the book ‘History of Han dynasty’. It says that the country of Wa, meaning the land of the dwarfs, contacted the Chinese empire in order to pay homage in 57 AD. Historians believe that ‘Wa’ was a humiliating name given by Chinese scholars to the Yayoi people.

Another fascinating mention related to the Yayoi people is the existence of the state ‘Na’ from the country of Wa. Chinese written records note that this kingdom received a golden seal from the Han emperor as the recognition of Na. The actual seal was discovered in the 18th century and its authenticity was proven by archaeologists.

‘Records of the Three Kingdoms’ is a book written by the scholar Chen Shou that focuses on a century of Chinese history that was marked by civil war. The scroll also has many detailed descriptions of the various kingdoms and tribes in Japanese Yayoi period. Contemporary with the historical events, the facts described by Chen Shou are incredibly accurate. There is no evidence that he traveled to Japan but he almost certainly encountered Yayoi emissaries and Chinese traders who went to Japan, due to his position in the Jin government. Most of his statements have been proven by archaeological discoveries.

Chen Shou was a Chinese scholar who held many important duties in the Shu Han state. After the collapse of the Shu, he served the Jin dynasty who ended the civil war by defeating the Eastern Wu kingdom in 280 AD. Chen Shou is one of the most respected Chinese chroniclers of his generation, with an opera of over two hundred manuscripts.

The section dedicated to the Yayoi culture is called ‘Account of the Wa people’. Chen Shou writes that the Yamatai people live on forested mountainous islands located in the middle of the ocean. There are more than one hundred tribes and kingdoms. Each one has a king based on the principle of heredity. The greatest kingdom of Wa is Yamatai. Some of the kings sent emissaries even from the time of the Han dynasty, which confirms the earlier Chinese chronicles. In the time of the author, more than thirty Wa states paid tribute to the Chinese empire.

Another useful detail is related to the population count. The text specifies that you can find more than 50,000 houses in the country of Wa, on your way to Yamatai state. Using archaeological information, we now know that a house had at least five occupants. Based on a quick calculation, this meant that there were at least 250,000 inhabitants in northern Kyushu or in southern Honshu, the regions that are believed to be the place of the Yamato kingdom.

Unlike other Japanese emperors, Himiko is not noted in the ancient Japanese chronicles and is not recognized by the official imperial line. On the other hand, her reign is depicted by Chinese chronicles, including the book ‘Records of the Three Kingdoms’. Due to this, historians believe it’s very probable that Himiko existed. The scrolls say that Himiko ended a civil war that lasted eighty years and founded the kingdom of Yamataikoku. She ascended to the throne when she was only fourteen years old and people believed in her magical powers.

The Chinese scrolls tell us that Himiko had superhuman abilities and that she ruled the kingdom alongside her brother. Both of the claims are interpreted by historians. Bearing in mind that shamans had an important role in the Yayoi society, it’s possible that Himiko was the religious leader, while her brother dealt with pragmatic administrative and military issues. Since she was the head of spectacular religious rituals, it is understandable why Chinese emissaries had the impression of meeting with a mystic person.

The dual leadership is backed by further considerations. Himiko’s reign happened in the Later Yayoi stage, when the transition to the next era was close. Archaeological evidence clearly indicates that the kingdom of the Yamato emerged victorious from the state of civil war specific to the Yayoi period. The triumph was not absolute, as many tribes and kingdoms remained independent. On the other hand, the Yamato state became the major power in the Early Antiquity of Japan.

Some historians think that the hegemony of the Yamato kingdom begins with Himiko. Archaeological discoveries explain that the new state was not based, at first, on military power. Considering that political and military centers of power were dispersed, the unification realized by Yamato could not have been achieved solely by brute force. Diplomacy played a key role, as most of their former enemies reached a compromise in accepting a divine ruler like Himiko. Even at the tribal level, shamans had the ability to enforce peace by evoking mystical arguments.

The state of Himiko entered diplomatic relations with the Chinese and pledged allegiance to the Cao Wei kingdom. It was a time when the Chinese kingdoms of Cao Wei, Shu Han and Eastern Wa were at war with each other. It’s logical that the empress tried to consolidate her internal position by entering under the protectorate of a Chinese kingdom that was more evolved. Her move also secured Yamataikoku from being attacked from outside of Japan. Chinese chronicles even mention that Himiko sent certain military assistance to the Cao Wei, showing an interest in international affairs.

Himiko traded a large number of slaves with the Chinese in exchange for bronze and iron objects. This exact phenomenon is observed in the Late Yayoi by the archaeologists. According to later Korean sources, Himiko had diplomatic relations with the Korean king Adalla, from the kingdom of Silla. Moreover, the chronicles talk about the wealth and authority of the empress. When she died, the Chinese sent emissaries in order to offer official condolences, and the travelers observed that her death was regretted by everyone.

Archaeologists have identified two important places in Japan that could be the location of Yamataikoku. Both settlements are large, with many irrigated farms and well structured defenses. Hundreds of swords and spears were unearthed. The first location is in northern Kyushu; the other in central Honshu, Kansai region. What we know for certain is that both were major kingdoms from the Late Yayoi and one of them is almost certainly the Yamato kingdom.

Those who think that the location of Yamataikoku is in northern Kyushu base their arguments around the fact that the settlement had far more objects of Chinese and Korean origin, as it was closer to the trade route. From this point of view, Yamataikoku was probably a different kingdom than the Yamato one.

Motoori Norinaga defended the official Japanese version. He thinks that Himiko is not related to the Yamato or Yamataikoku. Instead, she was the ruler of the Na state mentioned in earlier Chinese accounts. The Na state was also located in Kyushu, and was contemporary with the Yamato. It is possible that the later ‘Records of the Three Kingdoms’ confuses the emissaries from Na with the ones sent by empress Jingu of the Yamato.

The historians that advocate for the Kansai region give various arguments. Firstly, in the book ‘Records of the Three Kingdoms’ it is said that after you cross the sea, you have to travel on land for thirty days and have to cross other kingdoms before you reach Yamataikoku. If the description is correct, Yamataikoku could not have been located on northern Kyushu because that settlement is very close to the sea and to the Tsushima strait.

The Chinese chronicle says that Empress Himiko ruled over the Yamatai people. Scientists think that Yamatai could be a Chinese interpretation of the name Yamato. Even more relevant is the fact that the scrolls say that when Himiko died, she had a huge burial ceremony with 100 servants that committed suicide in order to follow her to the afterlife. Her grave was built as a huge mound. This type of burial was practiced on a large scale by the Yamato in the next era named Kofun, which actually means burial mounds.

Certain details in the Chinese depictions of Himiko strengthen the Yamato continuity idea. The book says that Himiko didn’t gain her throne by force. Instead, she was chosen by the people. Another thing is that she remained unmarried, suggesting that she was a virgin, a characteristic that was specific to persons with magical powers in that era. She was followed by the empress Iyo, a distant relative. Both used arhaic vague Shintoism as a justification for their reign, an element found especially in the Late Yayoi and in the Yamato or Kofun era.

Considering the way that she was buried, Himiko could have been an early Yamato ruler. After her death, a man tried to become the leader but he failed and a new short civil war started. Historians believe that the man might be Himiko’s brother. Order was soon re-established by the ascending to the throne of the empress Iyo, at only thirteen years old. This means that peace was again obtained only by a compromise based on religious authority. Although speculative, this theory seems to be pretty well synchronized with archaeological data.

Regardless which theory is correct, the logical conclusion is that even since Early Antiquity there has been a break in the Japanese dynastic imperial line. If Jimmu really came from southern Kyushu and conquered a region somewhere around Osaka, it means that he established a completely different kingdom. The archaeological evidence for a major town dated in the Early Yayoi period in that area is non-existent. A group of historians believes that Emperor Jimmu actually lived in the Late Yayoi period and that it is somehow overlapped with Himiko’s period due to the oral transmission of myths.

Empress Jingu was probably another fictional character or at least partially romanticized. Putting aside historical accuracy, her story describes a larger real phenomenon: the importance of women in the Early Antiquity of Japan. Starting with the goddess Amaterasu, there were many empresses who ruled this country up until the clear establishment of patriarchy after the assimilation of Buddhism in the seventh century AD. Furthermore, historical records show that many women fought in the first line up until feudalism, and many legends describe their heroism. Even after the formation of the Samurai system, noble women had the right to have property and a proper education.

Warrior women were called ona bushin, meaning just that. According to the ancient Japanese chronicles, one of them was Empress Jingu. Her husband died in a military campaign in Korea. Jingu took over the leadership of the military campaign and after three years of fighting returned victorious and ruled for 68 years. Some think that she might be the same person as Empress Himiko because the timeline of their reigns correspond. Japanese historians speculate that this may be true because we know of the existence of a small colony in southern Korea.

Another version of the story tells that Ojin, Jingu’s son, inherited the throne and that she didn’t play any role in Korea. The problem with this idea is that Ojin was too young when his father died. The logical conclusion is that Ojin was crowned emperor and Jingu acted as a regent at least until his coming of age. Considering that many similar situations existed in the history of Japan, it is possible that Jingu remained the main advisor for her son and ruled from the shadows until death.

It should be noted that Jingu’s existence is noted only in the ancient chronicles Kojiki and Nihon shoki, written many centuries after the events that they depict. She is the fifteenth empress in the traditional system. Like all the rulers from the Yayoi period, Jingu is most probably a mythical person inspired by a combination of real events. The hard facts are that the Yayoi people started to consolidate centralized political power and formed kingdoms from tribe federations. Notable settlements grew under the beneficial influence of agriculture and domestic and foreign trade.

Korean historians are very critical of the invasion theory. They state that the colony in southern Korea was actually a commercial center where the Yayoi were allowed to trade with the Korean tribe federations. The Yayoi were the ones that paid tribute in order to have this right. Their arguments are based on solid facts. The kingdoms from the Korean peninsula were more evolved in terms of farming and warfare technology, and trading with them was the only way to gain access to the huge Chinese market and get the favours of the imperial court. The problem is still open to debate.

From an archaeological viewpoint, the most probable Yayoi kingdom was located in central Honshu, Kansai province, close to where Nara prefecture is today. As we head towards the end of the Late Yayoi, the other settlements become smaller and the one from Kansai grows larger. Central Honshu is the home of the first large burial mounds and the cradle of Japanese civilization represented by the Yamato kingdom. The transition from the Yayoi era to the Kofun one was marked by several events. Firstly, the kingdom of Yamato became the hegemonic power in ancient Japan. This hegemony was exercised not only by military means, but also by adding other domains under a system of protectorates that paid tribute. Yamato’s influence reached most of Kyushu, southern and central Honshu. In Shikoku and northern Honshu, strong independent kingdoms still opposed the expansion of Yamato lords.

Religion started to be organized in order to serve political means. Yamato leaders needed strong arguments in order to justify their rule in the face of conquered tribes that had local customs. Shinto as an official religion slowly formed from various local spiritual perspectives that also had common points. Wealth, together with political, religious and military power encouraged further social differentiation based on heredity. The Late Yayoi elite already had ceremonies involving burial mounds, the prime symbol of the Kofun era.

In foreign politics, events unfolded in Japan’s favor. The civil war that commenced at the collapse of the Han dynasty was finally over at the beginning of the Kofun era. The situation in Korea was also stable. The new Yamato rulers initiated regulated diplomatic contracts with Jin emperors, the new dynasty of China, and with Korea. In exchange for paying a symbolic tribute to the Jin emperor, the kingdom of Yamato received further assistance in economic, technological and technical expertise, showing stunning progress and the potential for further reforms.