Diorama with Yayoi woman

Aileen Kawagoe wrote in Heritage of Japan: “We do not know what the Yayoi people called themselves because they did not have writing, but we do know that the Chinese of the Former and Later Han dynasties of China called them “the people of Wa”. The Yayoi people were taller, lighter built and had slenderer faces than the Jomon inhabitants who had occupied the Japanese islands before them. The Yayoi culture established itself, first in the south — in northern Kyushu, spreading quickly northeastwards along the Sannin coast and as far as the Kanto plain. Artifact unearthed by archaeologists include Yayoi pottery; remains of Yayoi architecture and settlements; iron and bronze weapons; bronze bells, bronze mirrors and coins; iron-tipped and other farming tools; carbonized rice and pollen remains and the remains of the rice fields; graves with new prestigious goods. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

“The Yayoi culture did not, however, wipe out the Jomon people or their old ways. In many places, the Yayoi people lived side by side with Jomon inhabitants and the Jomon culture remained strong in the south and in northern Japan the “Continuing Jomon phase” continued till around the 8th century or so. Tooth extraction custom did not disappear until the end of the Yayoi period.”

Charles T. Keally wrote: “The Yayoi people were quite distinct physically from the Jomon people, and they are clearly ancestral to the modern Japanese. The Jomon people are "southern," closely resembling peoples now in South China and Southeast Asia. The Yayoi people, in contrast, are "northern" and show a close relationship to peoples now in North China, Korea and Northeast Asia. [Source: Charles T. Keally, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology (retired), Sophia University, Tokyo, net.ne.jp/~keally/yayoi ]

Early Japanese History Websites: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com; Essay on Early Japan aboutjapan.japansociety.org ; Japanese Archeology www.t-net.ne.jp/~keally/index.htm ; Ancient Japan Links on Archeolink archaeolink.com ;Essay on Rice and History aboutjapan.japansociety.org ; Metropolitan Museum of Art Department of Asian Art metmuseum.org; Wikipedia article on the Jomon Wikipedia ; Historical Parks Sannai Maruyama Jomon Site in Northern Honshu sannaimaruyama.pref.aomori.jp ; Yoshinogari Historical Park yoshinogari.jp/en ;Good Photos of Jomon, Yayoi and Kofun Sites at Japan-Photo Archive japan-photo.de ; Wikipedia article on the Ainu Wikipedia ; Good Japanese History Websites: ; Wikipedia article on History of Japan Wikipedia ; Samurai Archives samurai-archives.com ; National Museum of Japanese History rekihaku.ac.jp ; English Translations of Important Historical Documents hi.u-tokyo.ac.jp/iriki

Development During the Yayoi Period


Agriculture, primarily rice planting, and metalworking techniques were introduced from the Asian continent around 300 B.C. The inhabitants of Japan used iron farming tools in their daily life to increase agricultural production and bronze swords and mirrors for religious rituals. The division of labor widened the gap between ruling and subject classes at this time, and many small states were formed across the country.[Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan **]

As the population increased and society became more complex, they wove cloth, lived in permanent farming villages, constructed buildings of wood and stone, accumulated wealth through landownership and the storage of grain, and developed distinct social classes. Their irrigated, wet-rice culture was similar to that of central and south China, requiring heavy inputs of human labor, which led to the development and eventual growth of a highly sedentary, agrarian society. Unlike China, which had to undertake massive public works and water-control projects, leading to a highly centralized government, Japan had abundant water. In Japan, then, local political and social developments were relatively more important than the activities of the central authority and a stratified society. [Source: Library of Congress]

Gradually the small states were unified, and by the fourth century a strong political authority centered in Yamato (now Nara Prefecture) ruled over the nation. The period from the fourth century through the sixth century saw great developments in agriculture as well as the introduction of Chinese culture, including Confucianism and Buddhism, via Korea. By the end of the fourth century contact had been established between Japan and the kingdoms on the Korean Peninsula. From Korea, such industrial arts as weaving, metalworking, tanning, and shipbuilding, which originally had been developed in China under the Han dynasty, were introduced into the country. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan **]

The written form of Chinese, based on ideographic characters, was adopted, and through this medium the Japanese learned the rudiments of medicine, the workings of the calendar and astronomy, and the philosophy of Confucianism. Buddhism was introduced into Japan in 538 from India by way of China and Korea. The Chinese system of government provided a pattern on which Japan’s rulers built their own system. **

Regionalization in Yayoi Japan

Keally wrote: “Yayoi was not a single, unified entity -- it was characterized by considerable regionalization. The regions and boundaries changed with time and are still poorly defined, at least in the literature. But grossly viewed, there were perhaps five major regions -- Northwest Kyushu, Setouchi, Kansai, Kanto and Tohoku -- each surrounded by less distinctive peripheral regions. [Source: Charles T. Keally, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology (retired), Sophia University, Tokyo, net.ne.jp/~keally/yayoi ++]

“Northern Kyushu was marked by jar burials and stone-slab cist burials, bronze spears and Han Chinese mirrors. Setouchi was marked by bronze swords. And Kansai was the center of bronze dotaku bells, and, at least at the end of Yayoi, by the "Wei" Chinese mirrors. Kanto was farming villages with iron but little bronze, and some retained Jomon traits mixed with an increasing body of traits from Yayoi culture west of the central mountains. Tohoku Yayoi perhaps should not even be called Yayoi -- it was a continuation of the Latest Jomon culture there, taking up some rice farming and a few other "Yayoi" traits. ++

“Hokkaido on the northern end of the Japanese archipelago and Okinawa on the southern end are, for all practical purposes, not part of Yayoi Japan. The cultures in both regions (Epi-jomon in Hokkaido and Late Shellmound in Okinawa) are largely continuations of the preceeding cultures in those regions. ++

“The regionalization of Yayoi culture is reflected in the many pottery types identified by archaeologists. The number of types commonly used for the Middle and Late Yayoi on the Kanto Plain around Tokyo gives some idea of the complexity and flux of this regionalization.” ++

Yayoi Life

In the Yayoi period, most Japanese were nature-worshiping villagers who caught fish and grew rice.Life was short. Evidence from Yoshinogari on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu indicates that on average people died before the age of 40 years old. The death rate was particularly high among children perhaps because of poor malnutrition and lack of good health care. About 40 percent of the burial jars in Yoshinogari contain children. [Source: Yoshinogari Historical Park yoshinogari.jp]

Keally wrote: “At first, Yayoi was a culture of peasant farmers living in small villages and supplementing their diet with the produce of the forests, streams and sea. With time, the population increased, more and more conflicts over land or water rights or whatever occurred, village leaders evolved into village chiefs, villages coalesced into chiefdoms, and fighting between chiefdoms became more common. By the last century of Yayoi, what were probably confederations of chiefdoms had developed, and this laid the foundations for the Japanese nation that appeared in the following Kofun period. One of these confederations was the famous and highly controversial Yamatai-koku of the third-century-A.D. Chinese Wei Records on Wa. [Source: Charles T. Keally, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology (retired), Sophia University, Tokyo, net.ne.jp/~keally/yayoi ++]

The Yayoi didn’t have a written language but that doesn’t mean everyone was illiterate. The Chinese written language existed in the Yayoi period and ancient Chinese chronicles described Yayoi Japan. Notes were exchanged between China and Japan. Presumably, interpreters and translators were employed for negotiations and trade. In the Yayoi period it can be assumed that languages and dialects were different in different regions. The Japanese language as we know it today had not formed.

Status and Chiefdoms

Yayoi society was tribal in nature and divided into a large number of family groupings established as agricultural, craft or religious communities, some of which were very wealthy. Keally wrote: ““The first powerful clans, or chiefdoms, appeared in northern Kyushu where continental influences were strongest and most available. These chiefdoms remained strong, but by the 3rd century A.D., the real power emanated from the Kansai District, particularly from the Nara Basin. The dotaku bronze-bell Yayoi people whose culture had centered on Kansai, shifted their center eastward to Aichi and surrounding localities and then disappeared with the end of the Yayoi Culture. At the same time, Japan east of the central mountains was farming villages, with some large settlements and probably a few weak chiefdoms appearing as Yayoi closed. The following Kofun Period culture and the early Japanese nation developed from the Kansai Yayoi. [Source: Charles T. Keally, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology (retired), Sophia University, Tokyo, net.ne.jp/~keally/yayoi ] Kawagoe wrote: According to Chinese documents, Yayoi society had many layers of hierarchy in which people were of different ranks and status. They gave different titles to men of different ranking. Men of high status had four or five wives while lower-ranking men had only two or three. When lower-ranking persons met a superior on the road, they bowed and stepped aside for their superiors to pass by. At the very bottom rank of society were the slaves. Queen Himiko was said to have been interred along with 1,000 slaves. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

Chinese Descriptions of Yayoi Life

The Chinese texts also reveal that Yayoi society was highly stratified society, with different classes of people with differing status and slaves occupying the lowest rung. The earliest detailed references to Japan are descriptions in a history text from the Chinese Wei Dynasty (A.D. 220 to 265) which portrays the people on Japan as law-abiding, fond of drinking and practitioners of a religion with divination and ritual purity. The text goes on to say these people were expert weavers and fishermen, they used wet-and rice cultivation and other forms of agriculture, lived in a society with social stratification, and wore tattoos and other body markings. These texts reported that the Wa people lived on raw vegetables, rice, and fish served on bamboo and wooden trays, had vassal-master relations, collected taxes, had provincial granaries and markets, clapped their hands in worship (something still done in Shinto shrines), had violent succession struggles, built earthen grave mounds, and observed mourning.

The text also mentions women shaman and mediums and a mini state made up of 30 “kumi” (regions ruled by chiefs) who vowed allegiance to Himiko, a female ruler who ruled an early political federation called Yamatai. Himiko ruled during the A.D. third century. While Himiko reigned as spiritual leader, her younger brother carried out affairs of state, which included diplomatic relations with the court of the Chinese Wei Dynasty (A.D. 220-65). The remains of the capital of one kumi have been found on Iki Island in Nagasaki prefecture. Archeologists are not sure whether Yamatai was in northern Kyushu or in the Kyoto-Nara region.

One Wei Zhi passage (A.D. 220-265, tr. Tsunoda 1951:14) relates Wa tattooing with legendary King Shao Kang of the Xia Dynasty: Men great and small, all tattoo their faces and decorate their bodies with designs. From olden times envoys who visited the Chinese Court called themselves “grandees”. A son of the ruler Shao-k’ang of Hsia, when he was enfeoffed as lord of K’uai-chi, cut his hair and decorated his body with designs in order to avoid the attack of serpents and dragons. The Wa, who are fond of diving into the water to get fish and shells, also decorated their bodies in order to keep away large fish and waterfowl. Later, however, the designs became merely ornamental. (tr. Tsunoda 1951:10) [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

Wajinden (“the Commentary on the People of Wa”)

Insightful details about everyday life in Yayoi Japan are given in the Chinese account Wajinden or “the Commentary on the People of Wa” written around 280 to 297 A.D. One passage reads: “The land of Wa is warm and mild. In winter as in summer the people live on vegetables and go about barefooted. Their houses have rooms; father and mother, elder and younger, sleep separately. They smear their bodies with pink and scarlet, just as the Chinese use powder. They serve meat on bamboo and wooden trays, helping themselves with their fingers.” Archaeologists have confirmed that the Yayoi people ate with their fingers since no chopsticks have ever been found from any excavated Yayoi settlements. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

According to Wajinden, the people of Wa, were also “fond of diving into the water to get fish and shells.” They ate raw fish, hunted deer and wild boar for meat. They ate out of graceful and elegant pottery ware including new forms such as pedestaled dishes and bowls. “There are no oxen, horses or sheep … Taxes are collected. There are granaries as well as markets in each province, where necessaries are exchanged under the supervision of Wa officials”… it was also recorded in the Wajinden account.

Wajinden mentioned that the Yayoi people cultivated “grains, rice, hemp, and mulberry trees for sericulture. They spin and weave and produce fine linen and silk fabrics.” “The men wear a band of cloth around their heads, exposing the top. Their clothing is fastened around the body with little sewing. The women wear their hair in loops. Their clothing is like an unlined coverlet and is worn by slipping the head through an opening in the center.” They wove cloth 20-30 centimeters wide on looms. Scientists have been able to examine fragments of cloth wrapped around human bones and bronze mirrors from excavations. The Yayoi farmers grew the plants and trees from which they made their silk, linen, cotton and hemp. They also made fibre from wild ramie that had an S-twisted warp of 6-10 threads and a woof of 24 threads.

Yayoi Food and Drink

Yayoi food

In the Yayoi period, rice farming was brought into Japan from China and Korea. In addition to rice, Yayoi people ate various plant, marine and mountain foods, including millet, wheat, gourds, acorns, walnuts, beans, dogs, chickens, deer, wild boars, bears, tanukis (raccoon dogs), carps, silver carps, sharks, sea bass, horse mackerels, pond snails, river snails and Japanese freshwater clams. It is believed to that the Yayoi people boiled or broiled their food and ate with their fingers. [Source: Yoshinogari Historical Park yoshinogari.jp]

A cooking facility has been excavated at Yoshinogari. It is comprised of various pit dwellings where evidence of fire has been found. It seems the Yayoi did not cook food in their dwellings. Instead, they appear to have used the large building (the main cooking house) at the cooking facility and a few smaller adjacent buildings to prepare food.

The drink of choice was likely water. Many spots where spring water gushes out of the ground have been found at Yoshinogari. It seems that the Yayoi people simply fenced of these places and collected and used the water for drinking and other purposes. Wells built in the late Yayoi period and early Kofun period have been found at other sites in Japan.

In the Yayoi period, according to Yoshinogari Historical Park. liquor was considered a special offering to ancestral spirits and was served only on special occasions, such as important gatherings and festivals. It is believed that women chewed steamed rice, mixing it with enough saliva so that when it was spat in a pot, it fermented naturally. Ceremonial bowls and tools found in one area of Yoshinogari are believed to have been used in ceremonies and festivals in the Northern Inner Enclosure because they differ from those used by commoners in daily life and careful craftsmanship and quality materials are employed.

Yayoi Rice Festival

Kawagoe wrote: “Although there are no written records to show us what the rice festivals or ceremonies were like, the Chinese Wei Zhi account does, however, in a section describe the people on the Korean Peninsula as offering their prayers to fierce gods and singing, dancing, and drinking continuously day and night, after sowing seeds in the fifth month and after harvesting their crops in the tenth month. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

“The pictorials of ritual dancing and mock battles engraved on one bronze mirror discovered in Gunma prefecture are thought to be particularly significant in helping experts interpret how and when the ritual objects were used. Aside from the agricultural connection and role, experts have noted that the pictorials appear to equally celebrate warfare and hunting. Bronze ceremonial weapons are often found buried together with bronze bells. Experts, combining information from the pictures on the jar, bells, mirror and customary and legendary accounts, picture the Yayoi people and possible shamans during their agricultural ceremonies, participating in ritual dancing, enacting mock battles and hunting scenes with their ceremonial bronze, stone or wooden weapons (spears, swords, daggers, spearheads and halberds) as ceremonial props.

“One detail has puzzled historians — bronze ceremonial items were usually found buried far away from the Yayoi village settlement. Were they buried at the supposed boundaries where the spirit and human world meet? The shaman is known from the Nara and Heian periods (and according to Nishimiya Hideki) to have had the role of mediating the spirits who died violent deaths and of pacifying “the evil and diseased spirits at the border of the living and the dead.” The bronze mirror, according to some archaeologists, was probably worn hanging from the neck of an important person in Yayoi society, officiating at the religious ceremonies. The mirror, reflecting the sun’s rays, would have been an impressive sight, singling out the wearer as somebody of high social status or authority.

“The mirrors were also exchanged with other persons with whom kinship ties were forged — this was an age when tribal blood kinship groups were formed and ties consolidated, the process, it is thought, involved various rituals concerned with the worship of ancestral deities. Other ritual objects have also been found, like the ritually carved rock above. It may have marked a ritual ceremonial site or may embodied an idea similar to that behind Japanese shrine rituals where a god temporarily resides in the iwakura rock.”

Yayoi Clothing, Silk and Toilets

Yayoi men's clothes

Where did the Yayoi people at Yoshinogari take care their business? No evidence of toilets or bathrooms has been found in the Yoshinogari ruins. Excrement was probably thrown into the circular moats. Signs of parasitic worms living only in human body have been discovered in circular moats at other ruins. The Yayoi people are believed to have bathed in the local river. [Source: Yoshinogari Historical Park yoshinogari.jp

According to ancient Chinese chronicles, Yayoi men wrapped themselves in a simple cloth called a Yokohabai, and women wore a pull- overdress called a Kantoi. Some pieces of linen and silk have been found in the burial jars at the Yoshinogari ruins. It seems that materials and the shapes of attire depended on social standing and rank.

Nakanomura, an area of Yoshinogari, is believed to have been where priests made ritual objects used in festivals and political ceremonies held in the Northern Inner Enclosure, the most important place in Yoshinogari. People probably brewed alcohol, raised silkworms and weaved here. It is also believed that priests lived near here although no firm evidence of this has been found.

Silkworms were raised Yoshinogari. It is believed were probably raised for special silk clothes used in festivals, and as offerings and national gifts to China. Silk taken from cocoons becomes stronger and more beautiful if two or three strands are woven together. Spinning techniques are supposed to have been introduced from China, and made rapid progress with spinning implements.

Stone Knives, Bird Statues and Mice Repellers

In Yoshinogari on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, stone knives were among the most widely-used tools based on the high number of them that have been found. It is believed that these knives were used to pick of tips of rice ears, not to cut fish and meat based on examinations of knife edges which yielded evidence of rice but no fat or meat. When using the stone knife, Yayoi people held it their palm and picked off the tips of the ears one by one. The tool was probably used to harvest rice, not a scythe which reaps at the root. This is because the rice grown at this time was nearly wild and didn’t ripen all at once like modern rice and thus only ripe ears were picked. [Source: Yoshinogari Historical Park yoshinogari.jp]

The Nezumi Gaeshi — or Mouse Repeller — is an ingenious device placed on elevated storehouses to keep mice from raiding grain supplies. It consists of a circular or rounded-corner rectangular board set at the joint between the post and floor of a high-floored storehouse. It is thought to have prevented mice from climbing up the ladder into a storehouse, preventing he animals from eating stored food, silk products and other goods. A Nezumi Gaeshi found at Yoshinogari was probably made of a big circular board split into two, Making such as device takes some effort and shows how important it was to protect provisions.

Wooden bird statues are found on the roofs and gates at Yoshinogari. In the Yayoi period, a bird seems to have been a symbol of a divine messenger that enlisted the help of spirits to protect crops and keep evil spirits away.

Yayoi Culture (400 B.C.-A.D. 300)

King of Na gold seal

Keally wrote: “Yayoi culture is found nowhere except in Japan -- it was not a continental import. But the constituent parts of the culture came from all over and at many different times. The rice-farming complex -- rice and paddie farming; and some architecture, tools, words, beliefs and rituals -- came from east-central China. The pottery was a direct descendant from the western Japan Latest Jomon that evolved originally under strong influence from the Korean Plain Pottery culture. This influence was already clear in the Latest Jomon pottery of Kyushu. Iron and bronze objects were primarily of Korean origin, but later styles were local Japanese developments and were manufactured locally. The first few bronze mirrors in Japan came from Korea, but the majority came from Han China. The Wei mirrors found at the end of Yayoi are controversially either Chinese- or Japanese-produced. [Source: Charles T. Keally, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology (retired), Sophia University, Tokyo, net.ne.jp/~keally/yayoi ++]

“The origin of the bronze dotaku bell is controversial. It is found almost exclusively in Yayoi sites in or near the Kansai District, well east of the closest points to Korea. A few have been found in Korea, and the molds are found mostly in Kyushu. It appears to be one of those things originated locally from a vague idea of the small practical bronze bells of Korea. ++

“Yayoi burials evolved from Jomon burials, but the mound and moat on later ones probably reflect ideas from the continent. The large jar burials typical of northwestern Kyushu are not continental and easily could have Jomon roots. The stone-slab cist burials, also centered in northern Kyushu, are continental in origin, but they might have entered Japan originally through the north during the Late or Latest Jomon period. Dwelling architecture evolved from Jomon styles. And a lot of other aspects of the Yayoi culture have Jomon roots or were originated in the Yayoi culture itself. Yayoi in eastern Honshu is effectively an increasingly acculturated continuation of the final Jomon culture there. ++

Chinese Writing Introduced to Japan Yayoi Period

King of Na gold seal face

Yayoi people did not have any writing system of their own. Records of Japan at that time were mainly in the form of records and documents written China and Korea. In 2001, archaeologists announced they found two pieces of slate with ancient Chinese writing on them, dated to between 200 B.C. and A.D. 100, in Yayoi period moats at the Tayama site, in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture.

From Matsue, Kyodo reported: “Two pieces of slate unearthed here — the oldest ever found in Japan — are from an ink stone imported from a Chinese colony set up in 108 B.C. on the Korean Peninsula, archaeologists said Thursday. The ink stone pieces are the first product of Lolang Province to be discovered in Japan, they said. The province was established by Emperor Wudi of China’s first Han Dynasty (202 B.C. – A.D. 8) near present day Pyongyang. [Source: Japan Times, October 5, 2001 -]

“The pieces were unearthed in 1998 at the Tawayama site in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, where moats dating back to the Yayoi Period (about 300 B.C. to A.D. 300) were discovered, according to the Matsue Board of Education. Although no examples of writing from the Yayoi Period have been discovered at the site, the finding of the Chinese ink stone parts suggests articles related to writing were introduced to Japan via the Korean Peninsula much earlier than previously thought. -

“The Chinese writing system is generally believed to have been introduced to Japan between A.D. 300 and 710 during the Kofun Period. The two fragments were found in layers dating back to between 200 B.C. and A.D. 100, board officials said. They resemble articles unearthed in what was Lolang Province and that are now kept at the Tokyo National Museum and other museums in Japan, they said. Tadashi Nishitani, an East Asia archaeology professor at the graduate school of Kyushu University, examined the objects and speculated that those in power in the Izumo region at the time imported the articles from areas of advanced culture to give themselves authority.” -

Yayoi Pottery

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “In striking contrast to Jomon pottery, Yayoi vessels have clean, functional shapes. Nonetheless, the technical process of pottery making remained essentially the same, and in all likelihood women using the coil method continued to be the primary producers. Two technical differences, however, are significant: the fine clay surfaces of Yayoi vessels were smoothed, and clay slip was sometimes applied over the body to make it less porous. Many Yayoi vessels resemble pots found in Korea, and some scholars have proposed that the Yayoi style originated in that land, arriving first in northern Kyushu and gradually spreading northeastward. Nevertheless, some pieces clearly show the influence of Jomon ceramics, leading others to speculate that Yayoi wares were the product of an indigenous evolution from the less elaborate Jomon wares of northern Kyushu.[Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Yayoi Culture (ca. 4th century B.C.–3rd century A.D.)". Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, October 2002, metmuseum.org \^/]

Kawagoe wrote: The earliest Yayoi types of pottery were at first indistinguishable from the latest earthenware of the Jomon culture that came before the Yayoi period. While old Jomon pottery styles did not disappear completely, new storage styles like those found on the Korean peninsula emerged. These storage jars and a type of cooking pot that emerged in Kyushu from the earliest Yayoi days, were clearly influenced by Korean mulmun plain pottery and the style featuring simpler patterns and shapes spread to southwestern Japan. A common and popular motif used was what historians call the “ryusui” flowing water pattern. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

“The reddish-brown eathenware known as hajiki became standard daily-use items of most people by the late Yayoi period, which continued well into the 12th century. The pottery was fine and even … compared to the rougher textured of earlier Jomon pottery. Yayoi pots were thin-walled and well-made using technologically advanced techniques. Though simpler, the forms of Yayoi earthenware were so graceful and elegant that they looked as though they had been made on a turntable. One pottery style, identical to modern sake (Japanese rice wine) containers, was so pleasing that they have survived till today. But in other areas of Japan, Jomon styles of pottery modified or were incorporated into the Korean-influenced storage jars and cooking pots that were associated with agricultural uses.

“Every family first made its own pots for basic needs like cooking and storage, and later with spare time, ritual purposes such as pottery with stands and other ritual vessels were produced. The Yayoi people made different types of pots for different uses: jars for cooking; pedestaled bowls used like dishes for serving foods; vases for storing food and water. Perforated jars were used for steaming foods such as rice. Pottery production later became a specialist’s craft produced at some specialist centres. Pottery items that were also prized symbols of status that sometimes were buried with important members of society.

Trade, Wealth and Power in Yayoi Japan

Kawagoe wrote: “The Yayoi people accumulated wealth through land ownership and the storage of grain, especially rice which became a precious trade commodity. They also carried on trade all over the country in various other goods, including cloth, silk (which was produced in Kyushu from around 1st century A.D., metals, salt, wooden tools and crafts, stone tools, bronze weapons and bronze bells and other commodities. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

“Evidence of trade was found in Tohoku (rice brought there); numerous stone reapers (produced at Tateiwa site, Iizuka city, Fukuoka prefecture); stone axes (produced at and distributed from Imayama, Nishi-ku, Fukuoka city); rough unfinished as well as finished wooden tools (produced in the vicinity of Uryudo site, Higashi Osaka City); shell bracelets from south seas found on Yayoi buried skeletons (Tateiwa, Fukuoka prefecture and Yoshinogari, Saga prefecture).

“New developments in glass technology and metallurgy also resulted in many new products becoming available for trade. Increased trade within the continent and within Japan. Each district in Yayoi Japan had a marketplace. One trading exchange centre was Asahi in Aichi Prefecture, the largest settlement ever found, covering almost 200 acres (vs. 5-70 acres of the average settlement).

“Rice was the most precious food commodity and resource produced by the community but that became controlled by a few elite members within the community. The production of rice led to fixed or permanent settlements and the need to defend their territory as well as to expand boundaries when local populations grew. This led to increased fighting, in which those few who controlled metal weapons in addition to warrior forces would have the upper hand.

“Those who able to control the resources in Yayoi society became members of society with an elite status. They maintained their position and showed off their status by acquiring ceremonial goods that they considered prestigious like bronze mirrors and bronze weapons, the metal raw materials for which were hard to come by, and could only be got from the mainland. As metal ore resources were scarce in Japan, whoever controlled metal implements became wealthy and would possess high status and ranking in the Yayoi society. Since metal ore came from Korea, only chiefdoms that had strategic allegiances with Korean tribes, gained access to metal resources. The inter-tribal powerplay and warfare led to the formation of numerous small kingdoms or chiefdoms within Yayoi Japan.

“Bronze mirrors were prestige goods that were exchanged with other persons with whom kinship ties were forged. The Yayoi period was an age when tribal blood kinship groups were formed and political ties consolidated — and the process, it is thought, involved various rituals connected with the worship of ancestral deities.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons; National Museum of Science, Tokyo kahaku.go.jp; Yoshinogari Historical Park yoshinogari.jp. Yayoi houses, Ray Kinnane

Text Sources: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com; Charles T. Keally, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology (retired), Sophia University, Tokyo, ++; Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org ~; Asia for Educators Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan; Library of Congress; Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO); New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; Daily Yomiuri; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated January 2017

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