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I am sure that when many of us think of the terms “ancient civilization,” thoughts of Sumeria and Egypt come to mind. However, one of the oldest civilizations in the world is Japan.. This may be an alarming observation to some since many avid readers of history have become devoted to theories held by anthropologists and scholars who seem scientific in their approach, but have limited their chronological dates of humanity’s origin to ancient Mesopotamia and the date of 5,000 BCE, since many of these so-called scholars will not allow the scientific evidence that man existence is older than what is calculated by them so as not to conflict with the “Abrahamic reiligions” that many of them are a part of.
Another reason Japan is not referred to as one of the most ancient civilizations, is largely because its modern written history, contained in the Kojiki, the oldest extant chronicle of Japan, is dated around the early 8th century. This has led to incorrect reports appearing across the internet stating that Japan, properly called Nihon, or Nippon meaning Land of the Rising Sun, historically began around the 8th century. Unfortunately, this theory is also applied to Shinto, a form of spirituality that began before the creation of human beings.
In the scholarly world, we find that Japan is divided up into four historical periods.
|PREHISTORIC PERIODS IN JAPANESE ARCHAEOLOGY|
|Palaeolithic||50/35,000-13/9,500 years ago|
|Jomon||13/9,500-2,500 years ago|
|Yayoi||500 B.C.-A.D. 300|
The Palaeolithic period in Japan’s history has been subject to much debate. yet evidence shows that this period may extend back as far as 120,000 years ago. one resource about this matter can be found in an article written by ICHIRO NONAKA where he discuss the stone tools found by archaeologists . Here is a picture of these ancient tools:
Next, we have the Joman period. The term “Jōmon” means “cord-patterned” in Japanese. It refers to the markings made on clay vessels and figures using sticks with cords wrapped around them which are characteristic of the Jōmon people. This period is date from about 15,000 years ago until about 500 BCE. Interestingly, what separates these various periods really has a lot to do with the people who occupied Japan during varying times. It appears that their were other nations who were ancestors of the current population of Japan. We can compare this to how many Americans have ancestral ties to the people who Columbus met when he arrived to the Old World that was new to his experience. Just a thought. it would seem that in the case of Japan though that many people of Japan are related in some way to those who preceded them. This is evidenced by the preservation of the Shinto practices, which precede Imperial japan by thousands of years.
We can see that the people during the Jomon Period were in some ways different from the current Japanese population, though they were ancestors to them. Ceramic figures known as the “dogu,” dating from the Jomon Period are on display at the British Museum. Here are a few photographs of these figures, which are over 13,000 years old:
The development of the Jomon people began to spread across Japan. Around 500 BCE, a new culture began to emerge that many scholars often refer to as the Yoyoi, which began in Kyushu. However, some recent evidence has surfaced labeling the beginning of the Yoyoi Period at approximately 1,000 BCE. The Yoyoi Period is defined by Japan’s first rice farming and metal using culture. A class society began to emerge during the Yayoi period. Over time, the Yayoi people grouped themselves into clan-nations, which by the first century numbered more than a hundred. Throughout the second and third centuries, the clans fought among themselves until the Yamato clan gained dominance in the fifth century.
It seems that the previous Jomon people were an amalgamation of the people of South China and Southeast Asia, and Northeast Africa. Paula J. Nielson states the following in an online article entitled, Ancient Japan-The Yayoi Period:
“The Yayoi people, on the other hand, are clearly the ancestors of the modern Japanese people sharing characteristics with the current populations from Northeast Asia, Northern China and Korea. This shows that while much of the Jomon culture was retained by the Yayoi, the population had little genetic intermingling between the Jomon and Yayoi periods. A much smaller Jomon population may have existed at the time of the influx of the Yayoi. Comparisons of the physical remains of the Japanese Yayoi and the Jiangsu Chinese coastal peoples of the early Han Dynasty show many striking similarities, strengthening the argument for a Chinese origin of the Yayoi. Interestingly, the imperial Shinto symbols of ancient Japan–the mirror, the sword, and the jewel–are the same symbols as found from the Qin Dynasty of China.”
You can read more of her essay here: http://cultural-anthropology.suite101.com/article.cfm/ancient_japan_the_yayoi_period
The next period that we will discuss is the Kofun Period, which is also known as ther Yamatoera. The term Kofun takes its origin the rich funerary rites and earthen mounds, which contained large burial chambers.
During the Kofun period, a highly aristocratic society with militaristic rulers developed. Its horse-riding warriors wore armor, carried swords and other weapons, and used advanced military methods like those of Northeast Asia.
The Kofun period was a critical stage in Japan’s evolution toward a more cohesive and recognized state. This society was most developed in the Kinai Region and the easternmost part of the Inland Sea (Seto Naikai), and its armies established a foothold on the southern tip of Korea. Japan’s rulers of the time even petitioned the Chinese court for confirmation of royal titles; the Chinese, in turn, recognized Japanese military control over parts of the Korean peninsula.
The Yamato polity, which emerged by the late 5th century, was distinguished by powerful great clans or extended families, including their dependents. Each clan was headed by a patriarch who performed sacred rites to the clan’s Kami to make sure the long-term welfare of the clan. Clan members were the aristocracy, and the kingly line that controlled the Yamato court was at its pinnacle.
More exchange occurred between Japan and the continent of Asia late in the Kofun period. Buddhism was introduced from Korea, probably in A.D. 538, exposing Japan to a new body of religious doctrine. The Soga, a Japanese court family that rose to prominence with the accession of the Emperor Kimmei about A.D. 531, favored the adoption of Buddhism and of governmental and cultural models based on Chinese Confucianism. But some at the Yamato court–such as the Nakatomi family, which was responsible for performing Shinto rituals at court, and the Mononobe, a military clan–were set on maintaining their prerogatives and resisted the alien religious influence of Buddhism. The Soga introduced Chinese-modeled fiscal policies, established the first national treasury, and considered the Korean peninsula a trade route rather than an object of territorial expansion. Acrimony continued between the Soga and the Nakatomi and Mononobe clans for more than a century, during which the Soga temporarily emerged ascendant.
The Kofun period is seen as ending by A.D. 538, when the use of elaborate kofun by the Yamato and other elite fell out of use because of prevailing new Buddhist beliefs, which put greater emphasis on the transience of human life. Commoners and the elite in outlying regions, however, continued to use kofun until the late 7th century, and simpler but distinctive tombs continued in use throughout the following period. The Kofun period was followed by the Asuka period. Below is a famous tomb from the Kofun Period
Daisen-kofun in Sakai, Osaka, Japan. This is one of the largest tombs in the world. Japanese government regards this as the tomb of Emperor Nintoku, the 16th emperor, but many historians don’t think so.
The keyhole-like tomb is 486m long, 305m wide at the bottom and 245m in diameter.