Haniwa (burial figure) man

Aileen Kawagoe wrote in Heritage of Japan: There are no written records to tell us how the people of the Kofun Period lived, but from the many haniwa clay figurines and earthenware, as well as tumuli paintings, historians and archaeologists have been able to piece together details about how people of the Kofun Period lived. Clay figurines suggest that in higher society, the men wore vest-like garments and trousers that resemble the modern-day Japanese hakama, and that the women wore vest-like garments and a skirt (called a “mo“). [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

“Many of the common people still lived in thatched pit houses, little changed from the prehistoric Jomon times, with one improvement, the kamado stove. Most houses had one built along the wall, that helped improve air quality within the home. Some of the homes were no longer pit houses or subterranean, but were built above ground and others had wooden walls and wooden boarding over the floors.

“Houses of powerful clansmen and village leaders were considerably grander and were sometimes constructed using architectural techniques for building raised storehouses. They also began to set their homes apart from those of the commonfolk, surrounded them with ditches and fences. Their homes had ritual altars within them. Kings and chiefs began to live in buildings with grand palatial features, showing off their status.

“People made their living by cultivating rice but to elevate the lean times during late winter, they planted other crops and also hunted and fished. They worked rice fields with good drainage and with immigrant technology, built irrigation facilities that had become the norm. During the period, the Kofun people also extensively reclaimed wasteland or developed wet marshes as agricultural land. Due to the keen cooperation required to construct irrigation ditches and to work the fields and bring in the harvests, relationships, ranks, and rules within the community became established.”

Websites: Yamato Period Wikipedia article on the Yamato period Wikipedia article ; Kojiki, Nihongi and Sacred Shinto Texts sacred-texts.com ; Imperial Household Agency kunaicho.go.jp/eindexList of Emperors of Japan friesian.com ; Buddhism and Prince Shotoku onmarkproductions.com ; Essay on the Japanese Missions to Tang China aboutjapan.japansociety.org . References: 1) The Chronicles of Wa, Gishiwajinden by Wes Injerd; 2) Wa (Japan), Wikipedia; 3) Excerpts from the History of the Kingdom of Wei, Columbia University’s Primary Source Document Asia for Educators. Asuka Wikipedia article on Asuka Wikipedia ; Asuka Park asuka-park.go.jp ; Asuka Historical Museum asukanet.gr.jp ; UNESCO World Heritage sites ; 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

Sword Shows Japanese Used a a Calendar in A.D. 570

Kofun bronze mirror

In September 2011, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “A sword that discovered in an ancient burial mound bears an inscription indicating a specific date in the year 570, providing the oldest known evidence of the use of calendars in this nation, according to the Fukuoka municipal board of education. The inscription was revealed by X-ray examinations of the iron sword, which was excavated from the ancient Motooka tombs in Nishi Ward, Fukuoka. [Source: The Yomiuri Shimbun, September 29, 2011]

Two of the inscribed kanji indicate the Chinese calendar year of Koin, or the year A.D. 570 by the Western calendar. The 75-centimeter-long sword was found in a stone chamber of an 18-meter-diameter burial mound known as the G6 tomb, where it had been stored together with crystal balls, glass beads and gilt bronze earrings.It is the fifth sword bearing a reference to the calendar system to be discovered in the tombs.

The X-rays show 19 kanji on the sword’s blade. They state that the sword was produced on "the sixth day of the first month, which was the day of Koin, in the year of Koin."Under the Chinese calendar system, Koin represents a certain combination of one of the five natural elements and one of the 12 signs of the zodiac.The year of Koin occurs once every 60 years, but 570 is the only year of Koin in the relevant period in which the day of Koin fell on Jan. 6.

Based on analysis of earthenware burial ornaments found in the G6 tomb, experts believe the tomb was built in the mid-seventh century. This indicates the sword was placed in the tomb several generations after its production.Other historical treasures excavated from the Motooka tombs include weapons and saddlery that indicate people buried there were connected to the Yamato regime that ruled ancient Japan.

According to the board of education, experts believe people buried in the tombs belonged to influential families that were tasked with governing the Kyushu region and sending troops to the Korean Peninsula under the rule of the Yamato regime.Kyushu University Prof. Yasutoshi Sakaue, a scholar of ancient Japanese history, said: "The Japanese calendar system of counting years originated in China. The Chronicles of Japan [an ancient historical text dating from 720] says a calendar expert came to Japan from Baekje, a kingdom in the southwest of what is now the Korean Peninsula, in 554. "A date from the year 570 is carved into the sword, which makes it the oldest known example of the use of a calendar in Japan. It shows that people in the Japanese archipelago had grown accustomed to the calendar system just a bit more than 10 years after it was introduced," he said.

Development of the Japanese Calendar

Japan’s first calendar came from China via Korea. It was a lunisolar calendrical system similar to the Chinese Xuanmingli system that was in use in China until the Jiutangshu. In the middle of the 6th century, the Yamato Imperial Court, which ruled Japan at the time, invited a priest from Paekche (Kudara in Japanese), to learn from him how to draw up a calendar, as well as astronomy and geography. Consequently, Japan organized its first calendar in the 12th year of Suiko (604). [Source: Calendar History, The National Diet Library Japan) ndl.go.jp]

“The calendar used then was called “Tai-in-taiyo-reki,” a lunisolar calendar, or “Onmyo-reki.” Each month was adjusted to the cycle of moon’s waxing and waning. Since the moon orbits the earth in about 29.5 days, adjustment was required and this was done by making months with either 30 days or 29 days, the former, “Dai-no-tsuki (long month),” the latter, “Sho-no-tsuki (short month).” Aside from the moon’s orbit round the earth, the earth orbits the sun in 365.25 days, which, as we all know, causes the seasonal changes. Thus, merely repeating long and short months gradually produced a discrepancy between the actual season and the calendar. To compensate for this, a month called “Uru-zuki,” or intercalary month, was inserted every few years to produce a year with 13 months, with the order of longer and shorter months changing year by year.

“Unlike our contemporary calendar in which there is no change in the order of months, back then the fixing of a calendar was deemed so important that it was placed under the control of the imperial court and, in the later Edo period, under the superimposed military shogunate regime. The calendar established by Onmyo-ryo [Astronomy and Metereology Administration] was called “Guchu-reki,” one in which various words indicating seasons, annual events and daily good omens were written in Chinese characters and called “Reki-chu (calendar notes).” The Guchu-reki derives its name from the fact that the notes were written in detail.

Kofun Villages and Settlements

Haniwa house

Kawagoe wrote: “What we know of village life and settlement patterns is based on the excavated remains of a few Kofun age settlements: the Mitsudera, Nakada, Ozono, Kobukada, Nokata and Mizokui sites. However, in Gunma Prefecture on central Honshu island, the eruption of Mt. Haruna in the mid-sixth century that buried the Mitsudera village under the volcanic debris has given archaelogists a remarkable find — akin to that of the discovery of the city of Pompei buried by Mt Vesuvius. The volcanic debris had covered thereby preserving a residential compound at Mitsudera, surrounded by a stone-lined moat, and a farmstead at Kuroimine. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com]

“A number of important things can be learned about life in the Kofun age from the excavations of these ruined settlements. This arrangement of elite members living in separate enclosures showed that a new social hierarchy had emerged, that there were strict class divisions. Within those separate enclosures, were raised storehouses containing not just grain but weapons and armoury…hence, the storehouses were symbols of military prowess. The socially powerful people (the elite) not only lived in separate quarters but were buried in monumental mounds and entombed with with splendid treasures. The farmers and common folk lived outside and away from these compounds. Following the appearance of early separate compounds of sites such as Mitsudera, larger and grander residential dwellings were built and ultimately, the early palaces of Yamato emerged in the Kansai region.

“The Ozono site in Osaka prefecture contains only post structures which are thought to be the residence of a minor chief or a powerful farmer. A rectangular ditch encircled the southern group of buildings which consisted of a main building, two annex buildings, a storehouse, and a well, which together demarcated a dwelling section. This fitted the homestead settlement pattern of the yashiki-chi, with the land on which the house stood clearly demarcated. Mizokui site in Osaka Prefecture is a complex of sites which lasted from Yayoi through to the Edo Period. The Kobukada site is a collection of pit houses, and was probably a village of commoner farmers.

Kofun Homesteads

Kofun-era warehouse replica in Osaka

Kawagoe wrote: In tandem with the trends seen among the royal family and aristocrats of developing royal estates during the Kofun Age, another development among the farming villagers of fundamental importance to Japanese society was the emergence of yashiki-chi — homesteads or premises for individual households in farm villages. Settlements from Jomon through Yayoi Age consisted only of aggregations of single dwellings, but in the Kofun Age settlements began to be an aggregation of homesteads (yashiki-chi), with the land on which the house stood clearly demarcated. Thus began the prototype of farm villages of the Tokugawa period, and the basis of agricultural society in Ancient and Modern Japan. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

“The homestead movement or trend began during the ancient burial mound period and was practiced mainly by people in the upper part of the social stratification. This development was fundamentally important in the social history of Japan in terms of the subsequent development of the Japanese family system.

“The emergence of individual homesteads in farming villages during the Kofun Age is highly significant in the following points: 1) First, it implies a greater independence of individual households within a community. Farmers were free to rebuild their dwellings without strict regulation by the community. The prehistorian Iwasaki Takuya noticed a frequent rebuilding within the same premises in the Kanto area during a relatively short time in the Onitaka subperiod of the late Kofun Age. 2) Second, the existence of individual homesteads laid the material foundation for Japanese ancestor worship. As the social anthropologist Muratake Seiichi has pointed out, behind the aspiration for the permanence of an ie lies a deep attachment to and veneration for the homestead (yashiki-chi) inherited from ancestors which is “not merely land for building but also land with a building supported spiritually and magically by supernatural forces”.

“These developments provided the foundations for the later Japanese concept of ie that emerged – that was formed as a synthesis of ie, in the sense of family-dwelling, and yake, a chieftain’s residence which included the function of administrating the community. These newly emerged settlement patterns allowed for more stable settlement sites and therefore more permanent homesteads.”

Large Kofun Villages

Kawagoe wrote: At the Mitsudera ruins in Gunma Prefecture “Archaeologists are able to tell us that residential quarters for the chieftains and elite members were established in compounds separate from the rest of the population. At Mitsudera there was a central area with large post structures separated from an area with pit houses by a fence. The latter area is presumed to be the workshops of craft specialists or houses of retainers. This arrangement of elite members living in separate enclosures showed that a new social hierarchy had emerged, that there were strict class divisions. Within those separate enclosures, were raised storehouses containing not just grain but weapons and armoury…hence, the storehouses were symbols of military prowess. The socially powerful people (the elite) not only lived in separate quarters but were buried in monumental mounds and entombed with with splendid treasures. Following the appearance of early separate compounds of sites such as Mitsudera, larger and grander residential dwellings were built and ultimately, the early palaces of emerged in the Kansai region.” [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

The Nakada village site in Hachioji, Tokyo “covers an area of 2.3 hectares, consisting of four or five sections. A tan’i-shudan for agricultural activities, if the group was a section, would have had an area of about 3,000 square meters. The geographer Kaneda Akihiro observed that a house lot (yachi) of the Nara and Heian Ages usually covered 1,000 to 3,000 square meters (compared to Yayoi’s 1,000 – 2,000 square meters. Thus here in this unit group for agricultural production of the Kofun age – we see the forerunner of the yachi of the Nara and Heian periods — The size of these yachi continued to remain almost the same through the ages, from 1,000 to 3,000 square meters. [Source: Tsude Hiroshi ]

Of these, the site belonging to Kofun Period is estimated to be largest. The ruins of Nokata (Nokata Iseki) in Nishi-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka Prefecture consist of the remains of a village located on a long, fan-shaped plateau, which has an altitude of 17 meters to 20 meters, and measures 600 meters from north to south, and 200 meters east to west. The village existed from the end of the Yayoi period to the Kofun period, and during the Yayoi period, it had had two moats.

During the Kofun age, Nokata village had more than 300 dwellings. The burial area was clearly situated away from the residential area. Many artefacts were excavated from the kango, including earthenware, stone implements and ironware, along with a variety of clam shells and bones from animals, birds, and fish, such as shark, bream and sea bass. Also unearthed were stone coffins filled with mirrors, balls, swords, glass balls and beads.


Kofun Period Architecture

Kawagoe wrote: “In Japan, from the 3rd century to through the 6th century, dwelling houses of the ancient burial mound period diversified in form and construction technique. No longer contented with the thatched pit houses, homes and residences grew in size, added timbered walls. The Kofun Period people even built upwards with more storeys. Houses of the previous era, excepting grain storehouses, were mostly subterranean, but now raised-floor houses became common dwellings too. Some houses were positively palatial and grand for those times! [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com]

“Better equipment and techniques of building, as well as a sense that private dwellings could be symbols of social status, led the people of the Kofun age to experiment with their buildings and homes. Few buildings of the Kofun age are left today because people began to build homes with raised floors, so that there were no longer the post holes of the pit homes of earlier periods to mark their settlements. However, we know their buildings looked like from the art left behind on bronze mirrors and haniwa earthenware models of buildings of the tumuli.

“While commoners continued to live in pit dwellings similar to those of the Jomon and Yayoi eras, important and wealthier people built larger and even multi-storied buildings for themselves, often in fenced-around compounds that separated the ruling elite from the common people. Palace-like residences came to be built as royal estates were being established during the Kofun age not only in the city or town centers, but also in the outlying provinces.

“But the raised floors used in storehouses became incorporated into the residences of local chieftains and other high-ranking persons. The raised floor dwelling became a mark of social status for Kofun people in western Japan and the Osaka area. Decorative features of architecture diversified taking on many experimental forms. In the Kanto and eastern areas, the ground-level dwelling was more popular with people of rank and status. The storehouses or warehouses that had appeared in the earlier Yayoi period remained important architecture in the Kofun age. They remained mostly in the same style, but larger warehouses were seen in the areas controlled by the royal rulers and chieftain kings.”


Kofun Dwellings

Charles T. Keally wrote: “Kofun Period dwellings are almost universally square pits. These range in size from about 3 meters on a side up to 8 meters or 10 meters on a side. The largest yet reported was recently excavated at the Miyagayato site in Akiruno City in western Tokyo -- it was 11.6 meters by 13.8 meters, and is dated to the later half of the Kofun Period. Most are about 50 centimeters deep. Many do not have recognizable postholes, but 4 postholes is common. Some of the larger dwellings have 6 postholes. These upright posts were set about 50 centimeters to 1 meters in from the earth wall. Entrances are thought to have been generally on the south side, or opposite the oven in dwellings from the Middle Kofun Period on. These dwellings evolved directly from the preceding Yayoi dwellings, but, with the oven, they are almost identical to contemporary dwellings in Korea. [Source: Charles T. Keally, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology (retired), Sophia University, Tokyo, t-net.ne.jp/~keally/kofun ++]

“Reconstructions of the roof vary, but the many houses that burned down in this period provide good evidence of the superstructure. The roof was thatched. There was a peak covering the top of the roof, with smoke vents on both ends. The thatch came down to the ground, or almost to the ground if the dwelling had wooden walls inside the pit. ++

“In the Kanto area, this type of dwelling continued in general use until around the end of the Heian Period, when the ground-level dwelling came into common use. Some of the "dwelling" pits are quite small, only about 3 meters in length, but they have an oven on one end. These might have served only as a kitchen building. Sets of four or six postholes in a square or rectangle are thought to be the remains of raised-floor storehouses like those of the preceding Yayoi Period, or ground-level buildings, possibly sheds or even houses. These various buildings form clusters that appear to represent the property of individual households. In most large settlements, at least one building can be recognized as being a smithy. This building will have a lot of burnt earth and slag, and the clay mouth pieces for bellows.”

Kofun Period Hearths and Kamado Stoves


Keally wrote: “Early Kofun dwellings had a hearth in the middle of the floor. This appears archaeologically as a patch of burnt earth. But with the influx of Korean ideas, technologies and people in the 5th century, clay ovens were built on one wall, with flues extending out beyond the thatch. These were usually on the wall opposite the entrance, where evidence of the entranceway can be detected, and they are frequently on the north wall of the dwelling. There are some dwellings that appear to have had the entrance next to the oven. The oven had a horizontal hole at floor level for feeding firewood, and a vertical hole on top for setting the pots for cooking or boiling water. A clay cylinder, or "leg", was usually set directly in the fire under the pot to keep the heat uniformly over the lower half. These Kofun period ovens were quite similar to ovens used in Japanese farm houses until quite recently. In fact, some old farm houses still use them. [Source: Charles T. Keally, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology (retired), Sophia University, Tokyo, t-net.ne.jp/~keally/kofun ]

On the same ovens, Kawagoe wrote: “ A pot was inserted into the hole at the top. It was placed against the wall so its flue would vent smoke through a hole in the wall to the outside. This feature greatly reduced indoor pollution and improved the quality of the air within the home. The user fed fuel wood into the stove through the arched opening in front and heat rose beneath the pot. The user then placed the food to be cooked in a container that nestled in the round opening at the top of the stove. The kamado improved fuel efficiency and made it easier to control cooking heat. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

Kofun Period Household Items

Keally wrote: “Some dwellings had storage pits next to the ovens. These were located directly beside the oven on the left or right side, or in one of the corners of the house near the oven. They are often filled with kitchen ware. A few larger dwellings had large storage pits under the entranceway opposite the oven. These pits usually protrude out a bit beyond the wall. Studies suggest a board walkway was placed over the pit for entering the house. Some dwelling pits also have a small ditch all around the inside of the pit wall. Archaeologists generally interpret this ditch as the setting for boards used to hold up the earth wall. ++

The most common objects found in Kofun Period dwelling pits are the various haji ware pots and bowls. Many dwelling pits also have a number of sausage-shaped natural stones that are interpreted as weaving weights. These stones are usually found in a cluster in the corner on the right side of the entrance, but sometimes they are found strung out across the middle of the floor from side to side. Occasionally, clay spindle whorls, iron knives, iron sickles, iron blades for shovels, and other such objects are also found in or near the dwelling pits. ++

“Sociological interpretation of these dwellings is only a guess. The whole inner end of the dwelling seems to be the kitchen -- a woman’s area. Weaving apparently was done in the middle of the floor across the whole center of the dwelling -- again, a woman’s area. And the weaving tools were stored in the corner by the entranceway -- another woman’s area. That leaves just a bit of the left side of the dwelling, when entering, for the males. Sleeping is thought to have taken place near the left and right walls, behind the posts. But there is no clear evidence that this sexual and activity division actually existed.” ++

Remains Found of Kofun-period Man Wearing Armor

Haniwa of armored soldier

In December 2012, it was announced that the remains of a Kofun-Period infant and adult male were recovered from the Kanai Higashiura site (Shibukawa city, Gunma prefecture), buried under a layer of volcanic ash dating to the early-6th century (the Late Kofun Period). While sites buried under volcanic ash have been found previously, this marks the first discovery of Kofun-Period human remains in such a context. [Source:Joseph Ryan, japanesearchaeology.com]

Joseph Ryan wrote in japanesearchaeology.com: “The Kanai Higashiura site provides another “first” for Japan, as well — the adult male is wearing a lamellar suit of armor. Over 600 suits of Kofun-Period armor have been discovered to date, but never before had one been found worn by its owner. Previous finds of suits of armor have all been found from tombs, placed next to their owner as one of the many accompanying burial goods. Numerous iron arrowheads were also found nearby.

“The Kanai Higashiura site was buried following the eruption of Harunayama Futatsudake Hr-FA) in the early-6th century (it would erupt again in the mid-6th century). Nearby sites Kuroimine and Nakasuji were also affected, their levels of preservation prompting researchers to call them “the Pompeii of Japan.” The adult male was found face down in the direction of Harunayama. Judging by the angle of his legs, researchers believe he fell forward from a kneeling position. Several pit dwellings from the late-5th century have been found in the area, in addition to the nearby Maruyama Kofun and numerous tombs along the Tone River.

“The fact that lamellar armor belonged almost exclusively to the elite in this period gives us a generous clue as we attempt to reconstruct the local history of the region and understand the level of administrative and military control exercised by the central Yamato authorities. Ichinose Kazuo of Kyoto Tachibana University suggests that the man was perhaps a guard of an elite residence. The fact that he is not wearing a full suit of armor (only protection for his torso and thighs) may imply that he was not on official duty, but rather running for cover with his family. Others, citing the size and nature of tombs bearing similar armor, however, believe the man to have been a local ruler.”

When Were Horses Domesticated in Japan?

Haniwa horse

Kawagoe wrote: Until recently, horses were believed to have arrived from the Asian continent as an import from the 5th century during the Kofun era and that horses were not found locally before then in Japan – because the absence of horses was noted in various Chinese records. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com]

“Nihonshoki chronicle records that the king of Silla, upon being defeated by Empress Jingu, presented the horse to her as a gift. The introduction of mounted cavalry and advanced military strategies has been attributed to this act. Also, according to both the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, during Emperor Suijin’s reign, Geunchogo of Paekche presented stallions and broodmares with horse trainers to the Japanese emperor. However, the idea that horses did not exist before the Kofun era has now been debunked by new archaeological evidence. Bone fossils of early prehistoric as well as Neolithic age horses have been excavated in Japan although such fossils are rare because island life in those times was not conducive to horses.” (See Below)

“However, there remains a puzzling account — according to Chinese records, the Chinese delegations observed that the Wa people had no horses. It is thus speculated that either horses had died out until being reintroduced during the Kofun era, or that they had existed but were few in number and were not widely used in the communities of Yamatai – and so were not visible to the visiting Chinese delegates. More likely, prior to the introduction of continental horses, horses were only hunted and eaten, but not used as pack animals, i.e. not domesticated.”

The footprints of humans and cows dating to the Middle to Late Kofun period (400-600 AD) have also been found, as well as the sharply cloven hoof prints characteristic of deer.”

Early History of Horses in Japan

Kawagoe wrote: “In the Middle Pleistocene, some Manchurian or North Chinese Steppe horses are thought to have migrated into Japan — evidenced by the fossil remains aof a tooth found in the Tuki-noki asphalt bed of Akita prefecture. Another tooth was found lying on the sa-ndy shore near Hitati-mati, Ibaraki prefecture. Horse fossils of a similar age have also been found in Keisei, Tyosen, and Kuroi village in Hyogo prefecture as well as from Tsukinoki, from Kotari and from Shioda, all on Honshu island. The oldest find was an isolated tooth from Tsukinoki, said to be mid-Pleistocene in age; the Shioda find has been dated to around 28,400 years ago. In addition, Pleistocene fossils were also found in Kyushu. They were either naturally small-sized or may have been small due to living on an island. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

“Since horses are poor swimmers over water, experts believe they probably either arrived across water over land from the Asiatic continent during a period of low sea level during the late Pleistocene (between 35,000 (or earlier) and 18,000 years before present day) when the sea level is believed to have dropped 130 m. It is thought they may have come via Korea from northeastern China or via Sakhalin from southeastern Russia because moderately sized true horses lived in both areas.

“More than 532 Jomon shellmound sites have been noted to have contained horse bones, starting about the time of Late Jomon (Oikawa, 62:7). Experts say that the Jomon era horses were small to medium-sized horses, judging from the skeletons and teeth unearthed from archaeological sites such as Shell Mounds. The small horse had a shoulder height of about 110-120 centimeters and is thought to be the same as the Tokara uma which inhabited the Ryukyu Islands until recently. The medium sized horse was about 130-150 centimeters high and is thought to be the same as the misaki uma and Kiso uma that has been raised continuously and extensively until the Meiji period (1868-1912) Both are thought to be descended from the Mongolian horse on the continent.”

Domestication of Horses in Japan

Kawagoe wrote: “From the Kofun era onwards, evidence of domesticated horse culture is found in the horse trappings used as grave goods that have been round in 5th century kofun mounded tombs. Evidence of horses being raised in the mid-fifth century was discovered from the Shitomiya Kita remains in Shijonawate, Osaka Prefecture (around the time Sueki pottery was introduced into Japan). The methods for manufacturing harnesses and weapons were also introduced to Japan around the same period. These were introduced from Korean peninsula although later in the Nara period, Chinese style saddles (and perhaps horses as well) were introduced. Archaeologists have also discovered that horse-riding and iron-weapon-wielding migrants from the Korean Peninsula had lived in Uji in the late fourth century … leading to the view that horse-riding-and-raising technologies had been introduced by the people from the Korean mainland. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

“Since wild horses are now found to have survived in Japan in the Neolithic period and Yayoi horses were a little larger, indicating the possibility of domestication, experts now consider it possible that domestication happened locally in Japan. The Japanese domestic horse still shows dental similitarities with the Mongolian domestic horse and until recently, the extant wild Przewalski’s horse.

Scientists divide horse populations or breeds into four roughly classified clusters: 1) Asian native horses, 2) European race-horse breeds, 3) European draft-horse breeds and 4) European pony breeds. All of the six main breeds of Japanese native horses found in the different geographic regions of Japan have been determined by recent DNA studies to belong to the subcluster of Mongolian native horses which in turn belongs to the cluster of Asian native horses since Mongolian horses possessed all the DNA chromosome alleles found in Japanese horses. Scientists making their phylogenetic analysis, and reconstructing the genetic relationship between the different breeds of native horses and their geographical distribution, have concluded that Japanese horses are descended from Mongolian horses migrating from the Korean peninsula.

"It has been further surmised from the reconstructed phylogenetic relationship or family tree picture as well as from the low genetic variety seen in the native breeds of horses, that all the populations in Japan came from just one original horse population that was transported about 2,000 years ago through the Korean peninsula. Multiplying from that one original horse population, this original population of horses is thought to have then spread all over Japan, localizing to the particular areas in Japan from which today’s different breeds of Japanese native horses hail.

"This conclusion is thus in line with ancient records testifying that there were no horses in Japan about 2,000 years ago as well as archaeological and historical evidence that native horses on the Asian continent were frequently transported to Japan via the Korean peninsula. Eurasian nomadic horse pastoralism, however, is now thought to have developed considerably later than the Botai or Ukrainian horse domestication event (2,000-3,000BC). The horse emerged on in small numbers (an increase in hunting) in the archaeological record in Begash, Kazakhstan before the end of the first millenium B.C."

Sixth Century Horse Trappings Found Dug up in Tokyo

In July 2007, researchers announced they dug up a set of horse trappings (and ornamental covering or harness for a horse) dated to the early sixth century B.C. at a burial mound in Ota Ward, Tokyo. World Archaeology News reported: “It marked the second discovery of a set of ancient horse articles in Tokyo, following that at Kamezuka burial mound in Komae in the 1950s. Experts said it was rare for ancient trappings to be found in such good condition. [Source:World Archaeology News, July 15, 2007]

“The trappings, discovered at Tsutsumikata Gongendai burial mound, were mostly designed to decorate a horse’s rump. A group of researchers headed by Hideichi Sakazume, professor emeritus of Rissho University, uncovered the uzu, a circular ornament hung at the top of the horses’ tail; three 20-centimeter-long, 12-centimeter-wide kyoyo swordlike ornaments hung from the uzu; and three metal fittings. In addition to the set of tail ornaments, the researchers found other items, including a bit.

The trappings were discovered in a four-meter-long wooden coffin, according to the researchers. Hatsushige Otsuka, professor emeritus of Meiji University, said the discovery provided researchers with precious materials to learn about burial mounds built in the southern part of Musashi Province, which straddles Tokyo and Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures. “I find it quite interesting that the trappings were placed to make it look as if they were actually decorating a horse,” Otsuka said.

Kofun Period Water Works and Tools

Excavations at Motodaka Yumi no Ki Iseki in Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture have revealed remains of Kofun-period public water projects. According to japanarchaeology.wordpress.com: “A 4th century (Early Kofun) ditch and pond, in addition to a dirt mound and wooden structure, were found accompanied by contemporaneous pottery in 2009. The mounded dirt and wooden structure (which was supported by pillars) are believed to have been implemented to control the flow of water. Of interest here is the method of piling dirt, which involved spreading down layers ofsugi (Cryptomeria japonica) bark and matting (perhaps of rush). [Source: japanarchaeology.wordpress.com, Communist Party 25, 2010 =]

“Stacked around the wooden structure are bags of earth (dono) that have been remarkably preserved. The white band across the middle of the sandbag in the picture is a string, which has been preserved to such an extent that researchers are able to understand the type of knot used to tie the bag together. =


“It was announced in 2009 that an iron-bladed hand tool for plucking the heads of rice and other grains had been uncovered at the site in almost perfect condition – a domestic first. Dating to the Middle Kofun period, its condition is remarkable for a farming implement some 1,600 years old. The wooden base is made of Quercus acuta, and the iron blade is inserted into a groove made along the bottom. This being the first time an almost complete tool of this variety has been found, it is an indispensable clue to understanding the implement’s design. The photos provided below allow a glimpse into its practical use. =

“In addition to this remarkable specimen, another cutting tool of a slightly different shape was found dating from the Early Kofun period (circa 300 AD), but only a section of its iron blade remains, highlighting how truly amazing the intact, Middle-Kofun find is. Not only is this the first time an almost complete specimen has been unearthed with the iron blade still fully inserted into the implement’s groove, this is also the first time two such implements with full/partial iron blades still inserted have been uncovered from the same archaeological site. =

Kofun-Era Trade in Shell Bracelets from Southern Islands

Kawagoe wrote: “Between the Yayoi and Kofun Periods, shell bracelets and amulets made of shells from the Ryukyu Islands were extremely popular and a brisk trade in these items went on. Later during the Kofun period, however, there was a shift to locally producing imitation bracelets out of stone, perhaps due to the insatiable demand for the prestige goods. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

“The Hirota site is an ancient burial site located atop a sand dune on Tanegashima, an island off the southern coast of Kyushu. The site dates from the late Yayoi to the Kofun period. It was discovered in 1955, and excavations were conducted between 1957 and 1959 by archaeologists including Morizono Naotaka, Kokubu Naoichi and Kanaseki Takeo. The excavations uncovered the remains of as many as 90 graves and over 150 human bones. More than 44,000 shell artifacts were also found, including amulets and shell bracelets carved with distinctive designs and crossed-comma-shaped pendants. These are unique to the southern islands of Japan, and have received attention for their sophisticated craftsmanship.

“Archaeological surveys of the site have since continued to uncover the remains of further graves, in addition to approximately 3,000 artifacts including worked shell objects, earthenware and glass beads. The site provides important insight into the unique customs of southern island society and the breadth of Japanese culture, and for this reason was designated as a Historic Site by the Japanese government in 2008. Artifacts from the site were designated as Important Cultural Property the following year.”

Kofun Period Pottery

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “A notable contribution to pottery during the Kofun period was Sueki ware, first produced in the mid-fifth century. Sueki pottery is usually made of blue-gray clay and is often thin-bodied and hard, having been fired at temperatures of roughly 1,100 to 1,200̊ C, a range similar to that used to produce modern stoneware and porcelain. Although the roots of Sueki reach back to ancient China, its direct precursor is the grayware of the Three Kingdoms period in Korea. Technically more advanced than Jomon and Yayoi pottery, Sueki marks a turning point in the history of Japanese ceramics. The potter’s wheel was used for the first time, and Sueki were fired in a Korean-style anagama kiln, made of a single tunnel-like chamber half buried in the ground along the slope of a hill. Green glaze, evolving from the appearance of natural ash glaze that resulted from accidental effects inside the kiln, was intentionally applied to ceremonial objects beginning in the second half of the seventh century.” [Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art Department of Asian Art, "Kofun Period (ca. 3rd century–538)". Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, October 2002. metmuseum.org ]


Keally wrote: “The pottery of the Kofun Period is divided into two large categories: haji ware and sue ware. The haji ware is a reddish yellow, low-fired utilitarian ware of local origins. The sue ware is a grey, high-fired expensive or ritual ware made with technology imported from Korea. Both categories are subdivided into numerous regional and temporal types. These types in most regions of the country are now dated to calendar intervals approaching 50 years. [Source: Charles T. Keally, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology (retired), Sophia University, Tokyo, t-net.ne.jp/~keally/kofun ++]

“Haji ware is abundant in all sites throughout the Kofun Period. It is an everyday utilitarian ware, commonly found around the "kitchen" area of dwellings or in trash heaps. This pottery evolves directly out of the preceding Yayoi pottery. Archaeologists differ on just which micro-characteristics should identify a pot as final Yayoi or as beginning haji. A non-specialist could not see a difference, the transition from Yayoi ware to haji ware is so gradual. Haji ware continued as the main pottery all the way through the Kofun Period and on to the end of the Heian Period. ++

“The Early Kofun Goryo type haji has many forms -- bulbous pots with short or long flaring rims, bowls with round bottoms, bulbous pots with short flaring rims and long pedestals, and pedestals with only a small cup on top used for setting other pots. The surface of most pots is roughened with a fine-toothed comb-like tool. The lips often have small notch-like indentations. And some vessels are painted with red and look very much like Yayoi vessels of the same shape and decoration. The general shapes of the preceding Late Yayoi Maenocho pottery were the same as the Goryo shapes. But more of them appear to have had smooth surfaces, much like the Korea Plain Pottery ware of the same age. ++

“The Middle Kofun Izumi type pottery continued the bulbous pots and bowls with round bottoms common in the Goryo type. But fewer of the vessels had roughened surfaces; many were smoothed with a spatula-like instrument. But most pots had short flaring rims, with few having the long flaring rims common on Goryo type pottery. Also, pots with pedestals faded and were replaced by bowls with pedestals. ++

“The Late Kofun Onitaka type pottery has lots of bowls, bowls with pedestals, and long-bodied pots with only short flaring rims. The long-bodied pots are rounded in the early stages, becoming more cylindrical in later stages. Although Onitaka haji ware is divided into stages I, II and III, there really is not much change through the roughly two centuries of this type, nor even through the next three centuries of the Nara-Heian Period Mama and Kokubu haji ware. And, although archaeologists recognize many regional types, from Kanto to Kyushu, these are hard for the beginner to distinguish. But the haji ware found in sites in Tohoku is much easier to distinguish, especially in the northernmost sites in Aomori Prefecture. ++

“Sue ware begins to appear in sites, especially mound tombs, that are dated sometime after about 400 A.D. This ware was fired at about 1,200 degrees centigrade, and it is sometimes referred to as stoneware in English. Although few if any sue vessels came directly from Korea, the technology was a direct import, and many if not most of the potters were Korean. Most sue ware in Japan is indistinguishable from its parent in Korea. Sue ware was more expensive to produce than haji, so it is found mostly in the houses of richer people or in tombs. In the houses of poorer people there is frequently one sue vessel, probably used in household rituals. ++

Kofun Period Musical Instruments and Korea

Haniwa (clay terracotta replicas of) musical instruments have been recovered from ancient tumuli of the Kofun. It is likely that the musical assemblage seen in the tumuli either has common roots with, or are derived from those found on the mainland Chinese continent with common roots, and may have been sourced from contemporaneous the Korean kingdoms. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, heritageofjapan.wordpress.com ]

In a section on “Musical Notations of Korea and Japan” in “The History of Ancient Japanese Musical Notations”, Lee Ji-sun wrote: ““From an early age, the geographical conditions of Japan allowed for the introduction of various cultures and goods from China, Korea and its western neighbors. Part of this phenomenon was music, a wide range of foreign music and instruments was introduced to Japan. The Nihon Shoki, a Japanese history book, contains records about musical exchanges between Korea and Japan, such as when the Silla Kingdom sent delegations for the funeral of a Japanese emperor in the middle of the 5th century CE, when a group of musicians-inresidence who had been sent from Baekje Kingdom was replaced with a new group in the 6th century, and when the music of the three Korean kingdoms (Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla) were performed in the Japanese imperial court in the 7th century. Known as komagaku, the music of the Korean kingdoms has been passed down to this day, forming an important part of Japanese court music. Musicians, instruments, and manuscripts will naturally follow when music is introduced to other countries. [Source: “Musical Notations of Korea and Japan” by Lee Ji-sun, from Chap VII, p. 173 C M Y K, “The History of Ancient Japanese Musical Notations” ^^^]

“A gayageum, a 12-stringed zither played in the music of Silla, has been preserved with the label “shiragikoto”in the Sho – soin1 imperial repository in Japan. Instruments offered by an envoy from Joseon have also been preserved. There is a record that an envoy presented ten instruments on his visit to Nikko in 1655, and of them, a chuk, an eo, a so, and a seul have remained in the treasure house of Rinnoji Temple. No solid records have been discovered as to whether Korean scores were introduced to Japan, let alone used. It is reasonable to assume, however, that they were used to transmit Korean music. Though extant Japanese music manuscripts bear no direct relation to ancient Korean manuscripts, Chinese notational systems introduced to the two countries may shed light on a possible relationship. Furthermore, there are some manuscripts that were written separately in the two countries but share similar features, and others that are completely different, which may illustrate both common and unique features of the manuscripts of the two countries. In this chapter, I will examine the relationships between the notations of Korea and Japan by examining the history of ancient Japanese notations, from court music to various genres of popular music, and comparing them to their Korean counterparts. ^^^

“A variety of musics came to be performed in the Japanese imperial court, from Korean music in the 5th century C. E. to those of China and its western neighbors. The repertoire of Japanese court music was established in the beginning of the Heian period (794-1192 CE) and has been passed down with the name of gagaku. This period was the heyday of Japanese imperial culture, and the music of gagaku also flourished. The music was performed not only for court events and festivities, but also for social gatherings of the imperial family and the aristocracy, who played a leading role in the publishing of a number of manuscripts. ^^^

“All of the above observations demonstrate that, although the Chinese had some influence on Korean and Japanese notations, a number of notational systems of Korea and Japan were created in their own cultures. Most government-published manuscripts of Korea added Yuljabo, Oeumyakbo, and Gungsangjabo to Jeongganbo, while popular music chiefly adopted Hapjabo and the mnemonic system. In particular, Oeumyakbo, a unique Korean form of notation, is not found in China or Japan. In Japan, notation with instructions for performing techniques was far more common, both in court music and in popular music, than notation identifying pitches. In Korea, Jeongganbo and Yuljabo are still commonly used, making it easy for performers to understand music, whereas in Japan, different notational systems have developed for different genres, so it is difficult to interpret them unless one is well acquainted with those genres of music. Also, unlike in Korea, strict mensural notation has never been actively used in Japan, which may be ascribed to the fact that in that country, vocal music is more developed than instrumental music and that free rhythm is widely practiced.” ^^

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons; Mitsudera: Japanese Archaeology and Cultural Heritage (ORJACH)

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 September 2016

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