Saturday 7 January 2017

Kofun Period Of Japan

The Kofun period is an era in the history of Japan from around 250 to 538 AD. It follows the Yayoi period. The word kofun is Japanese for the type of burial mounds dating from this era. The Kofun and the subsequent Asuka periods are sometimes referred to collectively as the Yamato period. The Kofun period is the earliest era of recorded history in Japan.

Daisenryo Kofun (Emperor Nintoku's tomb)

The Kofun period is characterized by a Shinto culture which existed prior to the introduction of Buddhism. Politically, the leader of a powerful clan won control over much of west Honshū and the northern half of Kyūshū and eventually established the Imperial House of Japan.

Imperial Seal of Japan

Kofun burial mounds on Tanegashima and two very old Shinto shrines on Yakushima suggest that these islands were the southern boundaries of the Yamato state, while its northernmost extent was as far north as Tainai in the modern Niigata Prefecture, where mounds have been excavated associated with a person with close links to the Yamato kingdom.

Kofun Burial Mound

Chinese, Korean and Japanese wrote accounts of history mostly in Chinese characters, making original pronunciations difficult to trace. While writing was largely unknown to the indigenous Japanese of this period, the literary skills of foreigners seem to have become increasingly appreciated by the Japanese elite in many regions. The Inariyama Sword, tentatively dated 471 or 531, contains Chinese-character inscriptions in styles used in China at the time.

Inariyama Sword lettering

The cavalry wore armour, carried swords and other weapons, and used advanced military methods like those of northeast Asia. Evidence of these advances is seen in haniwa, the clay offerings placed in a ring on and around the tomb mounds of the ruling elite. The most important of these haniwa were found in southern Honshū—especially the Kinai region around Nara Prefecture—and northern Kyūshū.

Kofun period haniwa chieftain.

Haniwa grave offerings were made in numerous forms, such as horses, chickens, birds, fans, fish, houses, weapons, shields, sunshades, pillows, and male and female humans. Another funerary piece, the magatama ("curved jewel"), became one of the symbols of the power of the imperial house.

Kofun haniwa soldier.

Much of the material culture of the Kofun period demonstrates that Japan at this time was in close political and economic contact with continental Asia, especially with the southern dynasties of China, via the countries of the Korean peninsula. Indeed, bronze mirrors cast from the same mould have been found on both sides of the Tsushima Strait. Irrigation, sericulture, and weaving were also brought to Japan by Chinese immigrants who are mentioned in the ancient Japanese histories.

Detail of horse chariots on a Chinese bronze mirror sent to Japan during the Kofun period (5th-6th century).

Among the many Korean immigrants who settled in Japan beginning in the 4th century, some came to be the progenitors of Japanese clans. According to Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, the oldest record of a Silla immigrant is Amenohiboko, a legendary prince of Silla who settled to Japan at the era of Emperor Suinin, perhaps around the 3rd or 4th century.

Emperor Suinin

The archaeological record, and ancient Chinese sources, indicate that the various tribes and chiefdom of Japan did not begin to coalesce into states until 300 AD, when large tombs began to appear. According to the history records in Japan (Nihon Shoki) and Korea (Samguk Sagi), Korean princes were sent to Japan as hostages. 

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