Dotaku (bell-shaped bronze) from 1st century BC

Metallurgy was also introduced from the Asian mainland during the Yayoi Period. Bronze and iron were used to make weapons, armor, tools, and ritual implements such as bells (dotaku). The latter were frequently decorated with hatched lines, triangles, spirals, and geometric patterns, although representations of domesticated animals and scenes of daily life appear on some examples. [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 \^/]

Charles T. Keally wrote: “The first metal objects to come into Japan were practical iron tools from Korea — knives and axes — which are found in the oldest Yayoi sites in the western part of the country. One iron object has also been reported in a Latest Jomon site in Hokkaido, which would date to around the beginning of Yayoi in western Japan. Bronze objects came later and were predominantly ritual objects, first mirrors, swords and spears from Korea, then mirrors from Han China. Eventually most of these objects were manufactured locally in Japan, rather than being imported. The bronze swords and spears produced later in Japan are mostly very large and clearly not for practical use as weapons. The ritual dotaku bronze "bells" appear to be mostly a local innovation produced locally. [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Archives samurai-archives.com ; National Museum of Japanese History rekihaku.ac.jp ; English Translations of Important Historical Documents hi.u-tokyo.ac.jp/iriki

History of Yayoi Metallurgy

Iron was introduced slightly earlier than bronze in Yayoi Japan. Aileen Kawagoe wrote in Heritage of Japan: “Bronze and iron tools and weapons in the early days were either imported from the Korean continent in finished form or cast from imported pig iron. Finished metal products or the raw materials were brought over in ships to the Japanese archipelago – metalworking skills and techniques were advanced — clearly not an indigenous innovation. The earliest bronze swords and spearheads had probably been introduced by the 1st century B.C. An arrowhead from the 2nd century or 3rd century B.C. was discovered at Imakura, Fukushima prefecture … the oldest bronze artefact in Japan. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

“Bronze casting required highly trained specialists and production centers had to be supervised to control quality and distribution of bronze products. Iron, on the other hand, could be made in backyard furnaces by just about anybody with a little training. So bronze and iron came to have these patterns of use: Bronze objects were upper-class symbols of status as well as weapons of war; Iron implements were lower-class tools for manual labour and farming. Bronze objects included bronze arrowheads and other weapons, Chinese and northeast Asian mirrors, dagger-swords, spearheads, halberds, sword ornaments, shuriken -shaped ornaments for shields, bracelets, coins, vessels and dotaku and bataku horse bells.

“But within the next hundred years, the Yayoi people learned how to produce their own products locally. The first products were of good quality not technically inferior to those found in Korea so it is believed that immigrants were directly involved at first. Sandstone molds for weapons and bracelets have been found at several sites in North Kyushu. As the locals got better in their techniques, their forms changed too. Swords, daggers and halberds became longer, wider and thinner.

“Early bronze bells came from Korea, locally made in Japan ones were initially poorly made with many technical flaws. By the 2nd century, the quality of local bronze products had improved and by the 2nd century and were able to make good bells with pictorial or geometric patterns in sharp, linear relief. By the third century, the bells became thin-walled, taller and slenderer. Bell foundries were located in the Osaka-Nara area (evidenced by a mold found in Ibaraki city in Osaka prefecture) within 30 kilometers of a sandstone source. Stone and clay fragments of molds for small bells have been found in Fukuoka and Saga prefectures.

Iron and Bronze Tools and Weapons from the Yayoi Period

bronze swords from Korea

Iron tools excavated from the Yayoi period include swords, halberds, arrowheads, axes, chisels, point planes, knives, spade-shoes, reaping knives, sickles, needles; and fish-hooks. The earliest excavated metal specimen was a flat iron axe made of high-grade forged steel from the Magarita site in Fukuoka prefecture (dated to the Initial Yayoi period) and the Saitoyama site (Early Yayoi period) also in Fukuoka prefecture. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com]

The 3rd century Chinese document “Wei-shu” written in the A.D. 3rd century recorded that the Wa (Japanese) actively sought iron, along with the Han and the Ye peoples, and used it as a medium of exchange, like money. Iron is thought to have been the most important item traded in Yayoi times. By the late Yayoi phase, iron had replaced stone as the choice material for tools throughout the main islands of Japan. Iron, it seems, was preferred to bronze because it was more useful in making practical items such as tools and weapons with sharp edges. Bronze was rarer than iron and. It produced a duller edge but was more malleable. Bronze items tended to be ceremonial objects and prestige goods.

“Most early Yayoi iron artefacts, were Chinese-style foundry-made iron were probably items of Chinese trade. A large number of wrought-iron plates, were very similar to those mass-produced by the Han iron industry have been found in Japan and are said to be imports from China. Several early iron axeheads from Kyushu closely resembling early Chinese cast-iron implement-caps are also said to have Chinese provenance.”

Metal Versus Stone Agricultural Tools in the Yayoi Period

stone knife

Kawagoe wrote: Among the first imports from mainland Asia were the large bi-facially beveled stone axes used for harvesting lumber. Other new items introduced from the peninsula: stone reaping knives, wooden rakes for preparing fields, farming spade and hoe, polished stone daggers and arrowheads (along with cylindrical beads and the raised granary warehouse) were previously unknown in the Japanese islands. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com]

“Although the immigrants came with the knowledge of metallurgy techniques, metals were too scarce to be used as farming tools, so stone was still used with occasional iron tips for the tools. Quadrangular stone axes and flat plano-convex stone adze heads were used to make wooden farming implements, pestles and mortars, following the earlier Jomon tradition of stone tool-kits. By the end of the Yayoi period, nearly all stone tools had become extinct, a sign that they had been replaced by iron. Iron was a valuable material however, and was constantly recycled and remelted down for making new tools over the years. Hence, very few iron artefacts have been recovered from archaeological digs.

“Metal was a durable material especially useful for making tools for agriculture and warfare. Iron tools with sharp cutting edges could be produced making the work of reaping harvests, clearing forest undergrowth and cutting lumber more efficient.”

Impact of Metal on Yayoi Period Japan

Sword template

Kawagoe wrote:The introduction of metalworking produced one important improvement in Japanese daily life that we take for granted today. Iron needles were less clumsy than the Jomon bone and stone needles of yesteryear. Now, the privileged social classes could enjoy woven garments of silk and hemp that could be sewn together in more complicated fashions. Most common people, however, continued to wear the rougher textured and simpler clothes made of ramie … often merely woven cloth with a hole for the neck and tied with a sash at the waist. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

“The above important metal technological innovations impacted society and changed the way of life rapidly on the Japanese islands. The control of the supply of iron or bronze resources created a special and elite status for those who controlled the resources.

“The need for Korean iron also set in motion a process of inter-regional conflict and local consolidation of central power that was to characterize the following Kofun Period as ruling “kings” of the Kinai region expanded their bases of power westward along the Inland Sea and northern Kyushu as well as made shifting political alliances with different kingdoms in the Korean peninsula.”

Early Iron in Japan: Imports or Locally-Made

Donald B. Wagner, an expert of on the earliest use of iron in East Asia, wrote: “The general consensus among scholars appears to be that the earliest iron artefacts found in Japan are from the early Yayoi period; these earliest artefacts are imports, but by the late Yayoi period iron weapons and tools are being made locally (see e.g. Kubota 1986; Yoshimura & Barnes n.d.). The same question is relevant here as in Korea: was the raw material for these locally-produced iron artefacts produced locally or imported? [Source: Early iron in China, Korea and Japan Roundtable discussion notes by Donald B. Wagner author of The earliest use of iron in China; Iron in Ancient China, The Jade Road website |] “A large number of wrought-iron plates, very similar to those mass-produced by the Han iron industry (see above), have been found in Japan. These are listed by Li Jinghua (1992: 109), who proposes that they are imports from China. I agree with him that this is the most likely explanation for these artefacts. |

Hashiguchi Tatsuya (1992: 99-100) reproduces diagrams of two iron-production sites in Kyushu, but gives no explanation. One of these, his figure 1, excavated in Fukuoka, is fascinating, for it appears to show an odd type of bloomery which might be an early ancestor of the traditional Japanese tatara furnace (on which see e.g. Rostoker et al. 1989). It is dated to a time between the late Kofun and the late Nara period. If this is indeed a bloomery it is the earliest I know of from anywhere in East Asia. It shows that bloomeries were in use in early times in the Korea-Japan area, and my guess is that the bloomery iron-production technology was learned from Siberia rather than from China. Its peculiar construction may have been developed in Korea or Japan in response to the technical problems caused by the use of ironsand ore; such problems have been observed in eighteenth-century American bloomeries (Horne 1773) and in twentieth-century Chinese traditional “dwarf” blast furnaces (Wagner 1985: 17, 38, 55, 57). |

“Hashiguchi (1992: 101) also illustrates several early iron axeheads from Kyushu. Some of these closely resemble early Chinese cast-iron implement-caps, while others are obviously of wrought iron. The former he takes to be imports, the latter local products, and I would agree. There is however a peculiar problem here: in each of the “cast iron” axeheads, at the socket end, there is a gap which Li Jinghua (1992) takes to be a sign that these artefacts actually are of wrought iron, and he therefore suggests that they are local wrought-iron imitations of imported Chinese cast-iron axeheads. In Hashiguchi’s sketches these artefacts look very much like cast iron, and it would have required great skill on the part of the smith to imitate the cast implements so closely. The gaps in these artefacts may be cracks which occurred in the casting process: somewhat similar cracks are seen occasionally in ancient Chinese cast-iron artefacts (e.g. Mancheng, 1980: 280-281, pl. 197.1). In modern times, when white cast iron is cast, in order to avoid such cracks, the core of the mould is normally made of a material which is crushable and does not resist the shrinkage of the casting during solidification. In ancient China this type of artefact was often cast in cast-iron moulds with cast-iron cores, and cracking during solidification can be expected to have been a common phenomenon. Examination of the artefacts from Kyushu should solve this problem very quickly.” |

Yayoi spear

Where Did the Iron Come From? China or Korea

Kawagoe wrote: Because the 3rd century Chinese document “Wei-shu” reports that iron resources were found in southern Korea, iron technology and the supply of iron were once thought to have to have come to Japan from the Korean peninsula alone which had begun iron production under the influence of the Yen culture of the Chinese Warring States and possibly also under Siberian influences from the Tuman River Basin. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

The role of the Korean peninsula at the time as a source of iron is recorded in the Chinese histories such as Sanguo ji:“Pyonhan produces iron. Han, Ye and Ancient Japan [Wa] all come to buy it. Iron is used for buying and selling and Pyonhan also supplies iron to the two Chinese commanderies of Lelang and Daifang.”

“According to Korean scholars, “At the time, the Japanese did not possess the skills to produce iron and thus imported iron from Korea’s southern regions to make iron implements. Among the Samhan states, Guya (present-day Gimhae) was the center of iron production. According to the articles on Byeonhan in the Book of Wei of the Records of the Three Kingdoms, Guya sold iron to the rest of Samhan, as well as to Dongye, Nangnang and the Japanese states, and that iron was also used as currency.”

“Excavations have shown extensive trade of iron in various forms between Japan and the mainland. The great demand for iron and the need for access to iron sources from Yayoi times has been a determining factor in many of the key political and military events in Japan during the Kofun and Yamato years.”

Where Did the Metal Technology Come From? China, Korea or Russia

Kawagoe wrote: Many iron objects, both weapons and tools, from the tombs of this period have been discovered but experts find it difficult to tell whether they are Chinese or Korean products. The Chinese records suggest that iron technology was introduced from China into Korea through the establishment of Chinese commanderies in the north of the Korean peninsula. And until recently, most experts believed that ironworking in East Asia was introduced via that route at least before the 4th century B.C. since full-scale usage of ironware was seen in China. Chinese iron technology was already advanced by this time — China’s oldest excavated iron foundries on the Yangtze River date to the 7th century B.C. In May of 2003 archeologists found the first relics of an iron casting workshop along the Yangtze River, dating back to the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770 BC-256 B.C.) and the Qin Dynasty (221 -207 B.C.). [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

“Some scholars, on the other hand, believe that development of iron technology was indigenous — since it happened at the same time both in the north and south of Korea before the establishment of the commanderies, beginning around the time of the founding of the Chosun state. The Han Chinese had attacked Chosun as part of its expansionist policy and in its search for more sources of salt and iron.

Archaeologists have recently discovered another source of Korean ironworking technology apart from the Chinese one. Russian archaeologists as well, have maintained that iron technology came into central Asia at a relatively early time, when the inhabitants began to use ironware without first passing through the Bronze Age. Recent events have clarified the history of iron technology: In 2007, 2000 artifacts were excavated from the Barabash-3 settlement site, including earthen vessels and nine iron artifacts, such as an ax and an arrowhead. (Barabash village is 70 kilometers away from the border between Korea and Russia in a direction of Vladivostok.)

Korean smelting

“Among those artifacts, the excavated ironware is made of gray cast iron, which predates the Chinese ironwork by 2 to 3 centuries. Scholars of the history of iron technology had previously believed that cast iron first appeared in China as gray iron. (Gray iron, which is made by adding graphite, requires more sophisticated technology than white iron.) This technology first appeared during the 2nd century B.C. in China and had spread all over the country by the 1st century B.C.

“Archaeologists have recently finished excavating at Barabash an iron manufacturing workshop from sometime between the 7th and 5th centuries B.C. Nearby the prehistoric iron manufacturing site, artifacts from the Bohai(or Parhae) culture related to those in the Korean peninsula were discovered in two places. The experts found when examining the iron relics, that stone axes had already been replaced by iron axes at this period. Archaeologists also uncovered a crescent-shaped stone knife, a relic that marks the rice-growing culture on Korean peninsula. There were signs at recently excavated site that the workers destroyed on purpose their iron manufacturing workshop when they migrated elsewhere.

“While Chinese records stated that Japan bought iron from Pyonhan in southern Korea, it is now believed that iron and iron technology of early Japan may also have been of Chinese provenance and some, possibly Siberian (Central Asian) provenance. Two iron-production sites excavated in Kyushu, including the find of one of the earliest bloomeries found in East Asia, suggest a Siberian provenance for the technology.”

Early Metallurgy in Japan and Problems Dating the Yayoi Period

Kawagoe wrote: Most sources cite Initial Yayoi or Early Yayoi dates for the influx of the earliest iron into Japan, however, the National Institute for Cultural Properties in Nara’s Shoda Shinya states that both the early 1st millenium B.C. dates of the northern part of the Korean Peninsula as well as the Japanese Early Yayoi Period chronologies are unreliable and need to be set back to younger dates, the latter to the Middle Yayoi period. Shoda is of the view that only the AMS C14-based dates in South Korean sites are sound. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

Archaeologist Charles T. Keally explains the radiocarbon dating controversy differently and backs the radiocarbon ages of the Yayoi artefacts: “In Japan, the oldest generally accepted evidence of iron use comes from the Magarita site in Fukuoka Prefecture (Hayamaru Yayoi 2003). This iron was found with Yuusu I pottery of the Earliest Yayoi period, giving it a simple radiocarbon age of about 700 B.C. or older (see Harunari et al. 2003). This date is 200-300 years older than the 4th-5th century B.C. that archaeologists give for the beginning of Yayoi. Even the dates available before 2003 (Watanabe 1966; Keally & Muto 1982; Imamura 2001) suggest that this site is older than 500 B.C. and most likely 600 B.C. These simple radiocarbon dates become about 750-800 cal B.C. in calibrated years (see Stuiver et al. 1998).

There are several other sites yielding iron artifacts that date from the beginning of Early Yayoi, for example, the Saitoyama Shellmound in Kumamoto Prefecture (Wajima 1967, pp. 435-436), the Imagawa site in Fukuoka Prefecture (Saiko no tetsu 1980), and the Okamoto Yonchome site in Fukuoka Prefecture (Nihon saiko no tekken 1980).

There even are two Latest Jomon sites claimed to have evidence of metal use in Japan before the Yayoi Period began. Cutting and stabbing marks on human bones from the Itoku site in Kochi Prefecture were identified as those made by a metal implement (Jomon-jin no hone 2002; Kizu ato jinkotsu 2003). These bones were associated with middle to late Latest Jomon pottery, thought to date to around 2800-2500 B.C. [uncalibrated radiocarbon date]. The newpapers, however, reported the radiocarbon date [calibrated?] of this site as about 3200 BP, or about 1260-1130 B.C. [cal BC?] (Kizu ato jinkotsu 2003). There also is the completely overlooked terminal Latest Jomon site in Kushiro City, Hokkaido, that yielded a fragment of an iron artifact in a burial (Kono 1973). Available dates (Watanabe 1966; Keally & Muto 1982) suggest this iron dates to at least 500 B.C. (ca. 750 cal B.C.) and possibly 600 B.C. (ca. 800 cal B.C.) (see Stuiver et al. 1998).”

Bronze Treasures and Weapons in the Yayoi Period

Kawagoe wrote: Bronze tools and objects were imported and cast and were greatly sought after as prestige goods and status symbols. Bronze mirrors were handed down as family heirlooms and buried in graves; bronze bells were the most treasured items and the Yayoi people over time collected and made larger and larger ones, sometimes ten times larger than those seen in Chinese mainland or Korean peninsula. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

“The largest cache of buried bronze treasure ever discovered was found from two pits at Kojindani in Shimane prefecture: 358 bronze swords, 16 bronze spearheads and 6 bronze bells or dotaku (in Japanese). Bronze treasures found buried in graves of persons of high status are unusual and rare and are seen only in northern Kyushu. It is still a mystery as to why most bronze treasures are found most often in places faraway from settlement sites and graves from Kyushu to the Chubu district. The bronze treasures were possibly buried in an emergency due to enemy attack or as magical safeguards at the boundaries of their world.

“At first, the Yayoi people made bronze objects in the Korean tradition, however, they soon began to produce them in unique Japanese forms. One strikingly unique bronze object indigenous to Japan is the tomoe bronze cog-wheel ornament (resembling the ninja shuriken weapon but probably copied from the shape of the Harpago chiragra seashell bracelet) that was used to decorate shields and other objects. The tomoe/shuriken ornaments were found in Kyushu, Shikoku and the Kinai region.

“Bronze swords with broad blades, iron and bronze tools and weapons were a huge improvement over the obsidian or bone implements previously used. Metal was more durable and the sharp edges produced for weapons and tools made cutting tasks easier. This meant people could clear their land and reap their harvests more efficiently.”

Early Bronze in Japan


Kawagoe wrote: Yayoi Japan imported bronze from Korea from the end of the Early Yayoi period to the beginning of the Middle Yayoi period. Korean bronze products consisted of swords, spearheads, halberds, mirrors and small bells.Molds from early Yayoi times have been excavated in Japan from Souza and Yoshinogari sites (in Saga prefecture), evidence that bronze tools were cast in Japan soon after imported bronze products began to arrive in Japan. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com]

“By middle Yayoi period, the Yayoi people were mostly making bronze tools and objects themselves. Moulds, mostly made of stone, from more than 60 sites have been recovered, and furnaces, moulds and bellow tuyeres were unearthed from pit-dwellings at the Yasunagata site. Large bronze bells were cast in major workshops in Yayoi Japan and then distributed over large areas – archaeologists have found bells cast from moulds at Higashinara (Osaka prefecture) but which have turned up further a field in Gahaishiyama (Kawagawa prefecture), Sakurazuka (Osaka prefecture) and Kehi (Hyogo prefecture).

“Lead isotope analysis gives scientists a very precise idea of where metal comes from, because the product can be matched to specimens in the mines. Experts have been able to know the following: 1) Korean imported bronze weapons and mirrors came from present-day mines in Korea; 2) Chinese imported mirrors used bronze material from northern China. 3) The earliest bronze bells made in Japan used materials of Korean origin. Thereafter, bronze bells were cast locally using raw materials in the form of lead ingots from northern China to supplement recycled bronze material. Out of 53 made in Japan mirrors, two of the oldest bells were found to be made of recycled Korean bronze, 33 were made of Chinese bronze from the Former Han period and 18 were made of bronze from the Later Han period.

“Other goods that were considered prestigious to the Yayoi and therefore sought after and hoarded as status symbols were bronze weapons such as bronze swords, halberds, daggers and spearheads. Yayoi bronze relics are concentrated in two regions: bronze weapons in north Kyushu and as far as the middle Inland Sea: and bronze bells in the eastern Inland Sea and as far east as the southern Tokai. The bronze objects overlap in the Inland Sea where both types of bronze objects can be found … indicating this was where the Tsukushi tribes of the south and the Kinki tribes of the east clashed.”

Origin of Japanese Mirrors

Kawagoe wrote: “It was supposed for a long time that all of the Yayoi and Kofun Japanese bronze mirrors came from Korea, but the position changed after metal analysis studies showed that the metals of most mirrors were of Chinese provenance. It is now the consensus view that only the first mirrors were Korean, thereafter the majority of Chinese mirrors were procured from the Han Chinese and then copied. The Wei mirrors found at the end of Yayoi were either Chinese- or Japanese-produced. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com]

“According to scholars, 2,500 out of the 3,500 bronze mirrors found in Japan were made locally in Japan. The majority of Yayoi period mirrors were imported from China, one quarter were locally made in Japan. According to an earlier position, it was thought that during the Kofun period, three quarters of the mirrors were locally made, and were close copies of Chinese mirrors in terms of their chemical composition as well as techniques and motifs. A few local compositions and designs did however emerge.

“It has also been pointed out that Korean and Chinese mirrors have different designs – Chinese motifs of dragons and human figures were common while Korean ones tended towards geometric designs like triangle shaped patterns on the rims. A Korean-Japanese study, research effort, conducted between 2004-2010 entitled “Multilateral Comparative Study on Introduction, Acculturation, and Distribution of Bronze Culture in East Asia,” examined bronze products mainly of the Bronze-Three Kingdoms periods, found in the Kyongsang-do region in Korea (Old Gaya confederacy and parts of Silla), as well as those found in the Japanese Archipelago, and conducted lead isotope analysis on them. The results revealed that some types of lead considered to have been produced in South China possibly originated in a mine in Chilgok-gun, located near Daegu City, Kyeongsangbuk-do. In addition, the group found that the bronze products containing these groups of lead first appeared and started to increase around the fourth century, concurrent with the expansion of Silla’s influence into the Daegu region. In 2008, the group’s research showed results concerning bronze products in Japan again, bringing up the possibility that some raw materials that had been considered to have been produced in China actually originated on the Korean Peninsula. Likewise, while mines in Yamaguchi Prefecture had been considered the first example of mass production in Japan, some bronze considered to originate from this region was found to possibly be from other regions. [Source: National Museum of Japanese History]

Bronze Bells in the Yayoi Period


Kawagoe wrote: Bronze Bells were especially treasured by the Yayoi people — they were regarded as cult objects, ceremonial treasures. When the Japanese began to make the bells themselves, they made them bigger and better, and sometimes ten times larger than the Korean originals. They were probably then displayed prominently on some kind of platform or hung from a tree. Although the first bells were inspired by the Korean bronze bells and could be rung, later bells lost their original function. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

“Bronze bells are called dotaku in Japanese. At present over 430 bells have been discovered, mainly from the Kinki Region, of which about 40 were found in Tokushima Prefecture and 39 were found at one site alone at Kamoiwakura, in Shimane prefecture (the largest number ever found). The Kamoiwakura bells were decorated with pictures of deer and dragonflies. They are thought to have been used in rites for worshipping the god that makes rice grow.

“The Korean-type small-sized bell from the Korean continent probably inspired the typical dotaku with the characteristic shape found in Yayoi Japan. Small horse bells called bataku usually not longer than 10 cm, were discovered at Kasuga city (three) in Fukuoka prefecture, a site at Usa city (one) Oita prefecture. They are thought to have been imported from Korea.

“Early bells were hung and jingled. Then their use was changed into bells that were no longer rung. As they got larger and larger and were sometimes more ornately decorated. They were likely used for public display, it is thought, during rice farming festivals in the Yayoi Period. Many hoards of the bronze bells were buried under the ground. Fourteen bells of different sizes, along with seven halberds were found on a forested ridge at Sakuragaoka-cho above the city of Kobe. While one theory has it that the bells may have been buried during emergencies such as during hostile attacks, since the bells are usually found isolated on hill terraces above fertile fields, they were most likely buried in some ritual ceremony to ensure a good harvest. The dotaku mysteriously disappeared fairly suddenly … coinciding with the next era when people started to construct kofun.

Magical Bronze Mirrors from the Yayoi Period

Kawagoe wrote: The Yayoi people began to import bronze mirrors from China from the Middle Yayoi period. Two bronze mirrors were discovered inside a wooden casket from the Hananotani burial mound in the Fukui region of Japan. One of them made in the latter half of the 1st century B.C. was 9.6 centimeters in diameter and was decorated with patterns associated with rulers of Yayoi Japan. The second made during a later period was 22 centimeters in diameter bearing images of Chinese mythical beasts. Similar mirrors have been found at the Kurozuka mound in Nara and at Ishizuka mound in Fukuoka prefecture. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

“The Chinese style mirror called Shinjukyo (“deity and beast mirror”) is decorated with deities and animals from Chinese mythology. They were frequently produced in China during the Han dynasty and during the 1st -6th centuries, but were also produced in the Lelang Chinese colony in Korea as well as in Japan. From the Records of Wei, the first historical reference to bronze mirrors is made that the Emperor presents to Queen Himiko of Wa “one hundred bronze mirrors” among other gifts. A well-known tomb from the Yoshinogari site in Saga Prefecture contained 33 shinjukyo bronze mirrors. Bronze mirrors, like bronze bells may have been worn around the neck during religious ceremonies to reflect the sun’s rays and to indicate the wearer’s high status.”

To make a bronze mirror one first has to create a mold. If the mirror back has a lot of designs, the mold can take a considerable amount of time to make. Once the mold is complete bronze or cupronickel melted at a temperature of around 1200 degree C is cast in the mold. After the mirror is hardened and removed their reflective surface’s created with five polishing procedures. Nickel plating is then applied to make surface perfectly smooth.

Mirrors have a long association with Japanese religion. They are among the most scared objects in Shintoism, with a special mirror for the Japanese Emperor kept in Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture. A makyo mirror is a special mirror that appears perfectly smooth, but when a bright light is shined on it, an inscribed image can be seen in its reflected image in a wall. The image is usually spiritual symbol of some kind. To make such a mirror the design is created on the side of a sheet of metal. The other side which becomes the front of the mirror us is buffed for a considerable amount of time until the thickness of the mirror is reduced to less than a millimeter so the image appears when light strikes it.

Ritual Uses of “Magic” Mirrors in Ancient Japan

Yayoi Period Japanese may have used “magic mirrors” to conjure up images of mountain wizards and divine beasts for sun-worshipping rituals, scientists at Kyoto Nation Museum said in January 2014. Tsuyoshi Sato wrote in the Asahi Shimbun, “The Kyoto National Museum said patterns engraved on the back of a type of bronze mirror associated with ancient queen Himiko are projected on a wall when sunlight reflects off the front. Ryu Murakami, head of the museum’s curatorial board, said the discovery could provide valuable clues in studying how bronze mirrors were used in ancient Japan. “Someone apparently noticed the phenomenon and intentionally shaped mirrors in this way,” he said. “I believe they have something to do with sun worship.” [Source: Tsuyoshi Sato, Asahi Shimbun, January 30, 2014 /=/]

“Using a 3-D printer, Murakami, an expert in historical materials science, produced replicas of two Sankakubuchi Shinjukyo mirrors from materials used in the originals, such as copper and tin powder. The mirrors, 21 and 24 centimeters in diameter, were found in the Higashinomiya tomb in Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture, and are owned by the Kyoto National Museum. The Sankakubuchi Shinjukyo mirror, believed to be produced around the third century, is characterized by its triangular rim when seen in cross-section. Its back features a relief engraving of wizards and mythical creatures. /=/

“More than 500 mirrors have been unearthed in areas from the northeastern Tohoku region to the southern island of Kyushu, with many in the Kinki region. The mirror is associated with Himiko because some were inscribed with the year 239, when a Chinese emperor presented 100 bronze mirrors to the queen’s emissary, according to a Chinese chronicle. Some ancient Chinese mirrors are known to function as magic mirrors.” But the Kyoto National Museum “announcement was the first to confirm similar properties in an ancient mirror excavated in Japan. /=/

“In a magic mirror, unevenness on the polished surface—too subtle to be detected by the naked eye—reproduces patterns on the back when sunlight reflects off the front. Minute concavities and convexities that mirror the backside designs are created during the polishing process. The concave parts focus light, while convex parts diffuse light, resulting in the projected image. Murakami has yet to confirm whether other types of bronze mirrors work like a magic mirror, but he believes that other Sankakubuchi Shinjukyo mirrors have similar projective qualities if substantial differences exist in the metal’s thickness. /=/

“Shoji Morishita, an associate professor of archaeology at Otemae University’s faculty of cultural and historical studies, said researchers tended to focus on the back of bronze mirrors, but cutting-edge technologies have shed new light on the mirrors. “The finding could lead to reconsideration of the role of mirrors in ancient rituals,” said Morishita, who is well versed in bronze mirrors. “Sometimes, dozens of mirrors are found from the same burial mound. Theoretically, it’s not hard to imagine that they were lined up to project a number of images.”“

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, ++; 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 September 2016

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