The History of Japan in English 1-3 “Tumuli and Yamato Administration”【英語で読む高校日本史】

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Tumulus(単) Tumuli(複) 古墳
anteroposterior 前後の
quiver 矢筒
Jin 晋
Xiongnu 匈奴
Wuhu 五胡
Goguryeo 高句麗
Lelang County 楽浪郡
Mahan 馬韓
Benhan 弁韓
Chinhan 辰韓
Baekje 百済
Silla 新羅
Gwanggaeto 好太王
San, Jin, Je, Heung, and Bu 讃・珍・済・興・武
Book of Song 宗書
pay tribute 朝貢する
five classics 五経
Teiki 帝紀
Kyuji 旧辞
horizontal stone chamber 横穴式石室
sekijin 石人
sekiba 石馬

The Emergence of Tumuli and Yamato Administration

In the late Yayoi period, tombs with large mounds were already being constructed in many places, but in the mid to late 3rd century, larger tombs, such as Zenpou Kouenfun (circular‐shaped ancient tomb with rectangular frontage), appeared mainly in western Japan. Most of these burial mounds of the emergence period were either Zenpou Kouenfun or Zenpou Kouhoufun (anteroposterior rectangular shaped ancient tomb). They had uniform features such as burial facilities consisting of a long wooden coffin in a pit-type stone chamber and other magical burial accessories especially numerous bronze mirrors.

It is thought that the tomb system was created based on the common intention of the chiefs of various regions, and that a broad-based political union was formed prior to the appearance of the tombs. The largest of the burial mounds of the emergence period are found in Nara Prefecture (Yamato), where a political union was formed by the forces of the central Kinki region, centering on the Yamato district during this period. This political union centered in the Yamato region is called the Yamato administration. Tumuli spread to the central Tohoku region by the middle of the 4th century at the latest, which also indicates that a vast area of eastern Japan was incorporated into the Yamato political system.

Early and Middle Period Tumuli

Tumuli come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including Zenpou Kouenfun (circular‐shaped ancient tomb with rectangular frontage), Zenpou Kouhoufun (anteroposterior rectangular shaped ancient tomb), round tomb, and square tomb. The most numerous are the round and square tombs, but all of the large tumuli are Zenpou Kouenfun, which were adopted by powerful chiefs in various regions. Haniwa (clay figurines) were placed on the mound of tombs, the slopes were covered with thatched stones, and many of the mounds were surrounded by dugouts. In the early period, cylindrical haniwa and house-shaped haniwa, as well as shields, quivers, and lids were used for haniwa.

In the early and middle ages, burial facilities included wooden coffins and sarcophagi in pit-type stone chambers, and clay burial chambers with coffins covered with clay. In the later period, the number of side-hole stone chambers increased. In addition to iron weapons and farming tools, many of the burial accessories in the early period have a strong magical and religious flavor, including a large number of bronze mirrors and bracelet-shaped stone objects, such as triangular-rimmed bronze mirrors. This indicates that the chiefs of the various regions who were buried in the tombs during this period had a priestly character. In the middle period, iron weapons and arms became more prevalent among the burial accessories, indicating that the entombed became more warrior-like in character with the addition of horse harnesses and other items.

The largest tumulus is Osaka Prefecture’s Daisenryo Kofun (Nintoku-tennō-ryō tumulus), built in the middle period, with a 486-meter long circular‐shaped ancient tomb with rectangular frontage surrounded by a two- to three-layered moat. The area of the tombs, including the surrounding area where small subordinate tumuli called “Baichou” (relatives’ and servants’ tumuli) were constructed, covers an area of 80 hectares. Together with the second largest tumulus, the Eida Gobyozan Kofun (Emperor Ojin’s Tumulus) in Osaka Prefecture, it is considered to be the tomb of the great king of Yamato administration in the 5th century.

Huge mid-period circular‐shaped ancient tombs with rectangular frontage are found not only in the central Kinki region, but also in Gunma Prefecture (Kamitsukeno), northern Kyoto Prefecture (Tango), Okayama Prefecture (Kibi), and Miyazaki Prefecture (Hyuga). In particular, the Zouzan tumulus in Okayama Prefecture is the fourth largest tumulus in Japanese archipelago, with a mound length of 360 meters. This indicates that the powerful families of these regions occupied an important position in the political confederation known as the Yamato administration.

Relations with East Asian Countries

In China, the Jin Dynasty unified the country after the Three Kingdoms Period, but in the early 4th century, the Xiongnu and other ethnic groups (Wuhu) invaded from the north and moved to the south, leading to the North-South and South-South dynasties, which divided the country. As a result, Chinese dominance over neighboring peoples weakened, and states were formed one after another in the regions of East Asia.

The Goguryeo Dynasty, which originated in northeastern China, expanded its territory to the northern part of the Korean peninsula and destroyed the Lelang County in 313. In the southern part of the Korean Peninsula, a confederation of small states called Mahan, Benhan, and Chinhan was formed, and in the 4th century, Baekje emerged from Mahan and Silla from Chinhan to form a state.

From early on, the Japanese (Yamato regime) had close relations with the Kaya (Kara) nations in the former land of Benkan in order to secure iron resources in the southern part of the Korean peninsula. In the latter half of the 4th century, when Koguryo advanced its southward policy, Japan, along with Baekje and Kaya, had to contend with Koguryo. The inscription of King Gwanggaeto of Goguryeo states that Japan engaged in war with Goguryeo. From battles with the cavalry of the Koguryo Dynasty, the Japanese, who had no custom of riding horses, began to learn the art of horsemanship, and by the 5th century, horse harnesses began to be found buried in tumuli in the Japanese archipelago. During this period, the Japanese learned various technologies from Baekje and Kaya, and many visitors crossed the sea to introduce diverse technologies and cultures to Japan.

Furthermore, in order to gain an advantageous diplomatic and military position over the southern part of the Korean peninsula, for nearly a century from the early 5th century, the five kings of Japan (San, Jin, Je, Heung, and Bu), who are mentioned in the Biography of Yamato in the “Book of Song” , paid tribute to the Southern Dynasty in China in succession.

Acceptance of Continental Culture

In the course of these relationships with the Korean Peninsula and China, more advanced iron and Sue ware production, weaving, metal crafts, civil engineering, and other technologies were introduced, mainly by the people who came from the Korean peninsula.

The Yamato regime organized them into groups of engineers called karakanuchibe (black smiths), suetsukuribe (pottery makers), nishigoribe (weavers), kuratsukuribe (leather makers), etc., and had them live in various locations. The use of Chinese characters also began, and as evidenced by the inscription on an iron sword excavated from the Inariyama tumulus in Saitama Prefecture, it became possible to write Japanese names and place names by borrowing the sounds of Chinese characters. It was also the foreigners called fuhitobe, who were responsible for the creation of various records, receipts, and diplomatic documents of the Yamato administration, using Chinese characters.

In the 6th century, Confucianism was introduced by the Five Classics scholars who came from Baekje, while medicine, fortune-telling, history, and other studies were also accepted by the ruling class, and Buddhism was introduced from the Korean peninsula. It is also believed that the “Teiki” (traditions centering on the lineage of great kings) and “Kyuji” (traditions and discourses of the imperial court), which were the basis for the “Kojiki” and “Nihonshoki,” history books created in the early 8th century, also began to be compiled at this time.

Changes in Tumulus Culture

By the late Kofun period in the 6th century, significant changes were evident in tumuli themselves. The traditional pit-type burial facility was replaced by the horizontal stone chamber, which was common on the Korean peninsula, and the large amount of pottery associated with the new funerary rites began to be buried side by side with the burial chamber. In addition, horizontal pits with grave chambers dug into hillsides and mountain slopes appeared in many places. Figurative haniwa (clay figurines) such as human haniwa and animal haniwa became popular. The group images of human and animal haniwa arranged around tumuli and on the mound are probably intended to preserve for posterity the funeral rituals or the manner in which the chief performed them during his lifetime.

In addition, stone haniwa, such as sekijin and sekiba, were erected in tumuli in northern Kyushu, and decorative tumuli with colored or line-engraved murals were created in Kyushu, Ibaraki, and Fukushima prefectures, thus strengthening regional characteristics of the tumuli.

On the other hand, from the late 5th to the 6th century, there were changes in the way tumuli were constructed. In the central Kinki region, large-scale Zenpou Kouenfun (circular‐shaped ancient tomb with rectangular frontage) continued to be constructed, while in the Kibi region, which until then had the second largest Zenpou Kouenfun only to Kinki region, no more large tumuli were seen. This indicates a major shift in the character of the Yamato regime, from a form of government composed of a coalition of local powerful clans to one in which local powerful clans were subject to the power of the Kinki region, led by a great king.

Related to the changes in the Yamato regime was an explosive increase in the number of small tumuli, and a large number of small tumuli, known as cluster tumuli, were widely constructed in the mountains and even on small islands. This is an indication that even influential farmers, who would never have considered building tumuli, have begun to do so. It is thought that the Yamato regime sought to bring the newly emerged powerful peasantry under its direct control by incorporating them into the status system of the Yamato regime, which originally consisted only of chiefs.


※To be updated.

※reference: 改訂版 詳説日本史 (山川出版社)

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