The History of Japan in English 1-2 “Establishment of the Agrarian Society”【英語で読む高校日本史】

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mortar 臼
pestle 杵
thresh 脱穀する
husk もみがら
kernel 穀粒
stilt 竹馬(ここでは高床の)
plane 鉋(かんな) 原著では鉇(やりがんな)。
upland rice 陸稲(おかぼ・りくとう)
dug standing pillar 掘立柱
moat encircling settlement 環濠集落
sarcophagus 石棺
reinterment 再葬
Han Shu 漢書
pre-Han 前漢
Wajin 倭人
Lelang county 楽浪郡
Later Han Shu 後漢書
Eastern Yi 東夷
Nu Kingdom, Nukoku 奴国
Emperor Gwangmu 光武帝
Suisho 帥升
Wei Zhi 魏志
Wei, Wu, and Shu 魏・呉・蜀
Sanguozhi 三国志

Establishment of Yayoi Culture

While the Jomon culture continued in the Japanese archipelago for more than 10,000 years, agriculture of millet (Awa and Kibi) began in the middle reaches of the Yellow River in the north and rice cultivation in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River (Yosuko) in the south, establishing an agricultural society around 6500 to 5500 BC in mainland China. Furthermore, the use of iron tools began around the 6th century B.C., and agricultural production progressed markedly during the Spring and Autumn period and Warring States Period. The development of agrarian culture in mainland China had a strong influence on the surrounding areas and spread to the Japanese archipelago via the Korean peninsula.

Toward the end of the Jomon Period, which is estimated to have been around 2,500 years ago, rice cultivation in rice paddies began in northern Kyushu, near the Korean Peninsula. After a brief trial phase, the Yayoi culture, based on rice paddy farming, was established in western Japan around the 4th century B.C. and eventually spread to eastern Japan. Thus, most of the Japanese archipelago, with the exception of Hokkaido and the Nansei Islands, entered a phase of food production from a phase of food gathering. This period from around the 4th century B.C. to the middle of the 3rd century A.D. is called the Yayoi Period.

The Yayoi culture was a new culture based on rice paddy farming, and included bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, and from the middle period onward, iron and other metal tools, stone knives for picking rice ears, stone axes for cutting and processing wood, and other polished stone tools of continental origin common to the Korean Peninsula, as well as weaving techniques. Earthenware also changed to red-fired Yayoi earthenware, including jars for boiling and cooking, jars for storage, and bowls and cups for serving food.

These new technologies, such as rice paddy farming and metalware production, were introduced from China and the Korean peninsula. Among the Yayoi human bones found in northern Kyushu and the Chugoku and Kinki regions, some are taller than Jomon bones, and their faces are long-faced and less undulating. However, there are aspects of the Yayoi culture that clearly carry on the traditions of the Jomon culture, such as the basic techniques of pottery making, battered stone tools, and pit houses. These facts suggest that the Yayoi culture was created by a small number of people from the Korean Peninsula, which had already formed an agricultural society with metal tools, who came to the Japanese archipelago with their new technology, along with the native Jomon people.

Life of Yayoi people

As food production began in the Yayoi period, people’s lives changed dramatically. Although most rice paddies of this period were small plots of only a few meters on each side, they were full-scale ones equipped with waterways for irrigation and drainage, and it is known that rice planting had already begun.

Farm tools used for crafting were wooden plows and hoes, and harvesting was done with stone knives. A wooden mortar and pestle were used to thresh the grain from the ears and remove the husks from the kernels, and the harvest was stored in stilt warehouses or storage pits. Polished stone tools were used to make wooden farming implements in the beginning, but iron tools such as axes, planes(yariganna), and small knives(toushi) gradually came to be used. In the Late Period, most stone tools disappeared, and iron tools became widespread. Along with the spread of farming tools with iron edges, development of not only wet fields in the early period but also dry fields was promoted in the middle and late periods. In some areas, upland rice and various cereals were cultivated, and along with agriculture, hunting and fishing were also popular, and it is also known that pigs were raised.

As in the Jomon period, pit dwellings were the most common type of dwelling, but stilt warehouses on dug standing pillars and buildings on flat ground gradually became more common in the villages. The number of dwellings that made up a village increased, and large villages appeared in various locations. Among them, there are many moat encircling settlements with deep dugouts and earthen mounds around them.

The dead were buried in a communal cemetery near the village. Many of them were extended and buried in earthen tombs, wooden coffin tombs, and box-shaped sarcophagus tombs. In northern Kyushu and other areas, some people built stone tombs with large stones placed on the ground or buried their dead in large, specially made jars. In eastern Japan, reinterment tombs in which the bones of the dead were packed in clay vessels are also found in the early period.

The extensive occurrence of graves with heaped earth is another characteristic of the Yayoi period. Square ditch tombs, low square mounds surrounded by ditches, are found in many areas, and in the later stages of the period, tombs with rather large mounds appeared in various locations. The Tatetsuki mound tombs in Okayama Prefecture, with protruding sections on both sides of a circular mound of over 40 meters in diameter, and the four-cornered protruding mound tombs in the San’in region are representative examples of this type. In addition, some jar coffin tombs from the mid-Yayoi period in northern Kyushu have more than 30 Chinese mirrors and bronze weapons buried side by side. The appearance of these large mound tombs and tombs with a large number of grave goods indicates the emergence of status differences within the group and the emergence of powerful rulers in various regions.

In villages, festivals were held to pray for a bountiful harvest and to give thanks for the harvest, and bronze ritual implements such as bronze bells, bronze swords, bronze spears, and bronze dagger-axes were used in these festivals. Of these, bronze bells are distributed in the Kinki region, flat-shaped bronze swords in the central Seto Inland Sea, and bronze spears and bronze dagger-axes in northern Kyushu, indicating the emergence of several regional blocs that used common ritual weapons. These bronze ritual implements in the form of bronze bells and larger weapons were rarely buried in individual graves, but rather were ritual tools used in communal rituals among the people of the village. Some believe that they were buried in the ground on a daily basis and dug up and used only during festivals.

Establishment of small countries

In the Yayoi period, moat encircling settlements appeared, and stone and metal weapons, which were not seen in the Jomon period, appeared. It is known that as agricultural societies were established in various parts of the world, settlements equipped with weapons and defensive facilities for warfare emerged, and battles began over the accumulated surplus produce.

The Japanese archipelago thus entered a period of warfare, with powerful settlements consolidating several surrounding settlements, and political entities known as “kuni” were fragmented in various regions. The burials of the jar coffins with a large amount of burial accessories in the Middle Yayoi Period or the tombs with large mounds in the Late Yayoi Period were probably of the kings of these small countries.

The situation of this small countries division is also described in Chinese history books. According to the “Han Shu” (Geography of the Han Dynasty), which was written in the 1st century and describes the history of the Han (pre-Han) Dynasty, the “Wajin” society was divided into more than 100 countries and regularly sent their dead to the Lelang county.

In the “Later Han Shu” (Records of the Later Han Dynasty), the Biography of the Eastern Yi states that in 57 A.D., an envoy of the king of the Nu Kingdom of Japan went to Luoyang, the capital of the Later Han Dynasty, to receive an official seal from Emperor Gwangmu. In 107, it is recorded that the king of Japan, Suisho, and others presented 60 living people to the emperor An. Nukoku was a small country located near present-day Fukuoka City, and a gold seal thought to have been given to the king of Nukoku by Emperor Gwangmu was discovered on Shika Island in the same city.

The kings of these small states were in a better position to obtain advanced cultural relics from China and the Korean peninsula, and they may have sent envoys to China in an attempt to raise their position in Japan above the other small states.

Confederation of Yamataikoku

In 220, the Later Han Dynasty fell and was replaced by the Three Kingdoms Period in which Wei, Wu, and Shu ruled the Chinese mainland. According to the “Wei Zhi” (Biography of Wei) in “Sanguozhi,” a history book of the Three Kingdoms period, a major war broke out in Wakoku (ancient Japan) around the end of the 2nd century, and it was difficult to settle the conflict. The nations worked together to establish Himiko of Yamataikoku as queen, and the conflict finally subsided, giving birth to a federation of 29 small states centered on Yamataikoku. In 239, Himiko sent an envoy to the Emperor Wei, who gave her the title of “Shingiwaou” (King of Japan which is intimate with Wei), a gold seal, and a number of bronze mirrors. Himiko, as a priestess, was skilled at hearing the will of the gods, and she is said to have used her magical authority as a backdrop for her political activities.

In the Yamataikoku, there were differences in status, such as Taijin (ruling class) and Geko (lower class), and to some extent there was a governing organization and a system of taxation and punishment, and fairs were held. Himiko fought with Kuna state in her later years, but died in 247 or shortly thereafter. A male king later took the throne, but the country remained unsettled until Himiko’s consort, Iyo (or Toyo), finally became king. However, in 266, a Japanese queen (Iyo?) sent an envoy to Luoyang, the capital of the Jin Dynasty which had replaced Wei, and for the next 150 years, references to Japan disappeared from Chinese history books.

There are two theories as to the location of this Yamataikoku, one says that it was located in Yamato in the Kinki region and the other says that it was located in northern Kyushu. If we take the Kinki theory, then a broad-based political union had already been established in the first half of the 3rd century, extending from the central Kinki region to northern Kyushu, leading to the later establishment of the Yamato regime. On the other hand, if we take the Kyushu theory, Yamataikoku was a relatively small area centered on northern Kyushu. That suggests that The Yamato regime was formed separately from it in the east, either consolidating the Yamataikoku coalition in Kyushu or, conversely, the forces of the Yamataikoku moved eastward to form the Yamato regime.


※reference: 改訂版 詳説日本史 (山川出版社)

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