Saturday, February 8, 2014

Prehistoric Japan: Yayoi Culture

Dotaku 
(Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Japan is an archipelago in the eastern part of Asia. It is widely known as the Land of Rising Sun. The people of Japan believed that they and their islands were made by the gods, Izanagi and Izanami. In archaeological perspective, Japanese civilization began with prehistoric small cultures, such as the Jomon Culture. Later on, with immigrants from China and Southeast Asia came, the Jomon was succeeded by the Yayoi culture.

Yayoi culture was a Neolithic culture that succeeded the Jomon culture in developing Japan. It flourished from 400 BCE – 250 CE. Remains of the culture were uncovered on 1884. Its people were migrants from other parts of Asia. They came from southern China and insular Southeast Asia. They began to use metals and started to make various items from it. They made advancements in their food source by having agriculture. They also progressed on creating textiles. Because of agriculture, they began to settle in one location. With established settlement, concepts of authority, politics, and diplomacy became a part of life.

The Yayoi people brought from their migration the use of metallic elements. Bronze and iron were primarily used in creating much needed tools and probably weapons. With better bronze and iron tools, they managed to create new wood cutting tools, such as rake and other farm implements. Besides using metal for tools, they began to make amazing ornaments that distinguished the Yayoi culture. Dotaku were bell shape adornment that symbols power and wealth and a signified the Yayoi Culture. With concept of symbols of wealth and power, social stratification might also have existed.

The new tools made the Yayoi people succeed in developing agriculture.  They started the cultivation of grain and mass growing of rice. The metal tools helped also to build the needed infrastructure to maintain agriculture. They build irrigation canals that would bring water from nearby rivers and springs. Besides staple foods, they entered also to the cultivation of hemp and mulberry trees.

Hemp and mulberry trees helped to the progress of sericulture and textile. The mulberry trees was needed for the domestication of silk worms. These silkworms would then produce the silk that was a good material in creating fine and high quality cloths.

Agriculture also allowed them to settle in one territory which paved the way for a sense of territoriality. Permanent settlements were established. Politics developed with tribal system as the form of government. With politics and permanent territories, war and diplomacy began to show up. One Yayoi kingdom, known as Wa, managed to have direct diplomatic ties with China.

The Yayoi culture progressed differ from the previous Jomon culture. Coming from mainland Asia, they were able to bring some new technology to Japan, such as agriculture and sericulture. They also began to develop a stratified society and a sense of authority. Later on, the Yayoi culture ended and the Kofun or tomb culture as stepped up as its successor and the progress of Japanese culture continued. 
Henshall, Kenneth. A History of Japan : From Stone Age to SuperpowerNew York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Perez, Louis. The History of Japan. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1998. 

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