The History of Early Yamato

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The ancient Japanese kingdom of Yamato emerged in the 3rd century CE from the Late Yayoi culture (100 – 300 CE). Centred in the western Honshu locality, it was ruled by okimi, known as great kings, whose burial mounds were named kofun. The kingdom was a confederation of semiautonomous powerful clans brought together under the leadership of the imperial clan who imposed its authority over others by means of its military power as much as by the claim of its solar ancestry.

The foundation of the Yamato kingdom has had much written about it, yet there is little actually know about it, which may sound paradoxical. This is due to the fact that there is little reliable evidence, although there are scattered texts that mention the Japanese kingdom.

One of these texts comes from China – this chronicle of the third century mentions that “a female shamanic ruler, Pimiku (Himiko in Japanese, meaning “sun-daughter” or “sun princess”), reigned over Yamatai, one of the principalities in Japan; she “was old and unmarried, and had devoted herself to magic.” This record states that people in Japan practiced divination by burning bones. It also mentions that when Himiko died a great mound was raised over her, and more than 1,000 of her male and female attendants followed her in death. She was succeeded by a young female relative named Iyo or Ichiyo” (Kitagawa, p.212-213).This tomb was one of the kofun.

There has been some debate as to the ethnic origin of the imperial clan and the process of the establishment of the Yamato kingdom. According to one scholar, Professor Egami, the Altaic group (a group of people believed to be from Eurasia), was probably the ‘horseback-riding tribe’ which pushed down to Korea around the turn of the fourth century CE and established its hegemony in the southern tip of the Korean peninsula. “Early in the fourth century, this horseback-riding tribe under the leadership of its chief, presumably the tenth legendary emperor of the Yamato Kingdom, Sujin, invaded Japan, first going to Kyushu Island but later to central Japan and establishing the Yamato Kingdom. More recently, Egami revised his view to the effect that while it was the tenth emperor, Sujin, who invaded Kyushf from Korea, it was Ojin, the fifteenth legendary emperor of the Yamato Kingdom, who established the Yamato Kingdom toward the end of the fourth or early fifth century” (Kitagawa, p.214).

There has been much controversy rising from new theories of dynastic origins and many of the basic ‘assumptions’ originating from pre-war historians are now being re-evaluated and abandoned. The degree to which the Yamato kingdom developed into an organised state structure is up for debate at this time.

Bibliography:

Higham, Charles (2005) The Human Past – Complex Societies of East and Southeast Asia, Thames & Hudson.

Kitagawa, Joseph H. (1974) The Japanese “Kokutai” (National Community) History and Myth, History of Religions, The University of Chicago Press.

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