How Japan Started
It is said that mankind first set foot on the Japanese archipelago about 30,000 years ago. Theories hold that mankind started to live in the Nara Basin starting from the late Paleolithic age about 20,000 years ago.
Subsequently, after the primitive Jomon period of hunting and gathering, rice cultivation was transmitted from China. Japan then transitioned to an agricultural society during the Yayoi period.
Karako-Kagi Site(B.C. 5th～B.C. 3nd century)
The power of the rice led to the creation of huge settlements and chieftains with power and authority. Settlements began to created ringed moats as a defense against enemies. The history of Japan shifts from the primitive hunting and gathering of the Jomon period to the Yayoi period by the 3rd century BC. Rice farming knowledge came from China. Japan grew to form a farming society, large settlements were created, and groups welding power appeared in many regions. These settlements were distinguished by their moats, used to defend against external attacks.
During the Yayoi period, the Karako Kagi region in the Yamato area was a large moated settlement. Its ruins have produced many important finds, including remains indicating that it may have been a large sanctuary for a leader of the Kinki area, a workshop where copper equipment for rituals (dotaku, bronze bell for ceremonial use) were cast, and the largest and highest grade jade gems and relics from the Yayoi period. A tower drawn on earthenware excavated from the ruins has been reconstructed, and can still be seen today.
Yamataikoku and Makimuku Ruins(B.C. 3nd～3rd century)
Although Japan was stably held by feuding regional groups for some time, a major conflict erupted in the latter half of the second century. Japan fell into a national civil war, and some factions formed the "Yamataikoku Alliance" under a queen named Himiko. Theories once held that Yamataikoku was located in Kyushu, but the theory that it was located at the site of the Makimuku ruins in Sakurai City has gained influence in recent years.
©Kaoru Terasawa, Aiichi Kato
The vast ruins - stretching about 1.5km north and south and 2km east and west - are considered the first capital of the Yamato Dynasty for the following four reasons.
- Coverage of a large area.
- Discovery of numerous pottery items made in Kyushu, Kanto, and other regions. These are believed to have been given to the king from regions that interacted with the area.
- The presence of many huge, ancient tombs first constructed in this area.
- Few agricultural tools have been excavated, while numerous tools for civil engineering works have been found.
Less than 2% of the area has been investigated, leaving many parts still unknown.
Kofun Period / Yamato Period 3rd - 7th century
Yamato Dynasty was the heir to the power of Yamataikoku. It allied with powerful groups across the area that makes up Japan, ruling almost the entire nation and becoming its center. The word "Yamato" came to mean "Japan" itself. The Japanese spirit is called the "Yamato Soul" even now, and people in Okinawa still call the people of Japan's mainland (Hokkaido - Kyushu) "Yamatonchu". This era saw the creation of a prototypical Japan. Furthermore, the Yamato Period is also known as the "Kofun Period" because many enormous, keyhole-shaped burial mounds (Kofun) were created for kings and powerful individuals at the time.
Yamato's Burial Mounds
A Kofun burial mound refers to a tomb with a mound of soil over the top. These mounds were actively built as tombs for high-ranking and powerful individuals in East Asia. In Japanese history, it generally refers to a tomb built in Japan from the middle of the 3rd century to the 7th century. Here in Yamato, visitors can spot numerous keyhole-shaped burial mounds. There are over 2,000 tumuli in the Yamato area - from those along Yamanobe Road in Oyamato, Yanagimoto, and the Makimuku tumuli cluster, the Miyake tumuli group to the West, and others.
Circular shaped ancient tombs with rectangular frontage
This is one of the ancient tomb shapes. Specifically, a keyhole shape. These were first made in the Yamato area in the middle of the 3rd century and spread all over Japan. They were built until around the beginning of the 7th century, and the spread of the manufacturing method for this type of tomb is an evidence of the expanding power of the Yamato Dynasty.
The circular part is viewed as the rear. The dead are buried near this summit. Stones are spread over the steeply-inclined hill section. The entire tomb may be surrounded by a moat. The coffins were sealed tightly with stones and clay. There are also cases where many copper mirrors surround the coffin to ward off evil. It is said that subordinates who served the king were buried alive. However, Emperor Suinin is said to have abolished this martyrdom in the 4th century, pitying the poor subordinates. “Haniwa” clay dolls shaped like people and animals came to be buried instead.
See the Burial Mounds
From the Asuka period onwards 6th century -
Buddhist teachings came to Japan from continental China in this era. This led to a war between the Soga Clan, who sought to convert the Emperor to Buddhism, and the Mononobe Clan, who sought to preserve the Shinto tradition. The Soga Clan won and moved the capital from Yamato to Asuka, about 10km to the southwest. The Asuka Period flourished for about 100 years, and the capital then moved to Nara. From there, in the year of 794, the capital moved to Kyoto. It flourished there for over 1000 years, and moved to Tokyo in the modern era. While it was home to the royal dynasty for some time, Yamato eventually vanished from the main stage of history.