Monday, May 18, 2015

Who was Queen Himiko?

Illustration by Newton Graphic Science Magazine “Nihon no ruutsu”
In the era before written accounts of Japan, in particular the Yayoi and Kofun age, various kingdoms emerged and flourished. The Kingdom of Wa was among these kingdoms. The Kingdom of Wa became even more famous for its mysterious and elusive ruler, Queen Himiko.

Nothing much is known about Queen Himiko or Pimiko and even her Kingdom of Wa. Much of the sources about her came from the Chinese. Much of the information about her came from History of the Three Kingdoms or the Records of the Three Kingdoms by Chen Shou. Himiko also appeared in the Book the Later Han in 432. Japanese sources, like the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki did not mentioned anything about Queen Himiko or or the Kingdom of Wa, which the Japanese called Yamatai. Even the location Yamatai had remained unknown, but approximations showed that the Kingdom flourished in Northern Kyushu. Because of few sources, the story and facts of Queen Himiko and her Kingdom continued to be intriguing, mysterious, as well as controversial.

Queen Himiko ruled the Kingdom of Wa or Yamatai from 238 up to 247. The period coincided with the transition from the Yayoi period to the Kofun or Yamato period. The similarities in the pronunciation between Yamatai and Yamato led to some to suggest that Yamatai and Yamato Empire were one and the same. Queen Himiko emerged as the ruler of Yamatai during the middle of a nasty civil war. According to Chinese records, a King once ruled Yamatai for 70 to 80 years, but once he died, the kingdom fell to civil war, bringing chaos. But then, Himiko, a shaman or a priestess skilled in magic against demons in her twilight years, rose up and proclaimed herself as the new ruler. The people of Yamatai bowed to their new Queen.

Not much information discussed the reign of Himiko, but in the point of view of the Chinese, she had good relations with China and ruled Yamatai with respect and mystery. Queen Himiko resided in a palace surrounded by palisades, watched by towers, and guarded by over a thousand soldiers. She had numerous female attendants that assisted her in her religious rituals. Her reign became known for her reclusiveness. She did not went out of her palace too much and only allowed men to see her only if they brought her meals. And so, much of the state affairs fell to her younger brother, hence her role had more religious than administrative and political role. Concerning the relation of China and Yamatai, Himiko enjoyed good relations with the Chinese Kingdom of Wei during the Three Kingdoms Period. In 238, Himiko sent an embassy to the Luoyang, the capital of Wei. Her embassy gave gifts to its ruler and in return, the ruler of Wei gave Himiko the title Queen of Wa, Friendly to Wei in addition to a golden seal and hundreds of bronze mirror. In 243, Himiko once again sent another embassy. However, the embassy reported to the kingdom that Yamatai engaged in a conflict with a neighboring kingdom called Kunu.

After that, not much had been known but in 243, Queen Himiko passed away. In her honor, the people of Yamatai built a huge tomb mount for her. A culture that became prominent in the next period in Japanese history – the Kofun Period. Along with Himiko, hundreds of her male and female slave followed her in the afterlife along with precious materials.

After the demise of Queen Himiko, the Kingdom of Yamatai once again descended to the chaos of civil war. In the process of the conflict for succession, thousands said to had been slain. But later on, a relative of Queen Himiko, a thirteen year old girl named Iyo, succeeded the late Queen as the ruler of Yamatai.

Queen Himiko inspired speculation and controversy. Many remained alluded with the story of this mystical and mysterious Queen. Many speculated that her Kingdom later developed to the Yamato Empire, which Japan rooted itself. Her burial showed the shift to the Kofun or Burial Mound culture of the succeeding period of Yayoi culture. But Himiko also showed the great matriarchal power in ancient Japan. Himiko, along with the goddess Amaterasu, showed the great power that women held in the ancient Japanese society. It also showed the great spiritual beliefs that the ancient Japanese people also held in high esteem. And so Queen Himiko remains a mysterious yet significant figure in Japanese history.

See also:
Bibliography:
"Himiko." In Japan Encyclopedia. Edited by Louis Frederic. Translated by Kathe Roth. United States: n.p., 2002.

Farris, W. Wayne. "Himiko." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History. Edited by Bonnie Smith. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Meyer, M. Japan: A Concise History. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Pub., 1993.

Murdoch, J. A History of Japan. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1949.

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