Table of Contents

Jomon Period

The Jomon period of Japanese history is the time between 14000 BC and 400 BC and represents the earliest history of Japan. The Jomon period is known for its early pottery, population expansion, and a shift from semi-nomadic life to rice paddy farming. The name Jomon, “cord-patterened,” originally referred to decorative markings made on pottery with cord-wrapped sticks.

The Jomon period is typically divided into these different sub-periods:


Incipient and Initial Jomon

During the Incipient Jomon period, the early Japanese culture began to stabilize, resulting in the first clear archaeological records in Japan. While the culture of the first Jomon period was mostly hunter-gatherers, the nomadic societies slowly began creating villages and becoming more stationary. During this time, the Japanese began creating pottery and clay figures and statues. Initially, the culture of the Incipient Jomon shared much with the Jeulmun culture that thrived in Korea around the same time, but the two cultures diverged when rising ocean levels in 11000 BC isolated Japan from the rest of Asia.

Early Jomon

During the Early Jomon period, sea levels continued to rise, reaching heights a good two to three meters or more than they are today. However, despite being cut off from the rest of Asian, the early Japanese people thrived. Population increased significantly, as did the complexity of the Japanese tools, art, and housing. Pottery found from the Early Jomon period is much more decorated than those from earlier years.

Middle Jomon

During the Middle Jomon period, the population continued to expand at a rapid rate. This period, as the Early Jomon period, saw the seas continue to rise, and the overall temperature of Japan was hotter than it is today. Arts continued to flourish, and excavations have discovered highly decorated pottery and other items that can be dated to the Middle Jomon period. As the Japanese culture continued to become more stationary, larger villages appeared. In fact, the Jomon period had a very highest population density when viewed alongside other comparable foraging societies.

Late Jomon

The time between 2000 BC and 1000 BC, the Late Jomon period, saw a significant drop in temperature which resulted in the large population of the Middle Jomon period declining drastically. While a large number of artifacts can be found from both previous and subsequent periods, few sites have been found from the latter portion of the Late Jomon period.

Final Jomon

The Final Jomon period shows a large shift in the Japanese way of life. The most significant shift came in the form of new technology brought to Japan by visitors from the West. While these newcomers set up colonies and peacefully co-existed with the Japanese, their effect on Japanese culture was just as dramatic as if they had invaded.

The cornerstone of this new technology was rice-paddy farming. While the Japanese society before the Final Jomon period wasn’t as strictly hunter-gatherer as many societies at the time were, they weren’t farmers by any means. However, society greatly shifted to farming during this time, with many new villages and towns appearing. Other new technology helped cement and stabilize Japanese settlements, including glass blowing, textile making, and metalworking. More structured government appeared, as did many of the traditional Japanese marriage customs. Shinto was also introduced to Japan, bringing its rituals, beliefs, and myths to the Final Jomon society.

The Invention of Pottery

While pottery has been used by many civilizations, archaeological finds and radiocarbon dating have suggested that the Jomon people were the first in the world to use pottery and stone tools. However, there is evidence that also suggests that pottery was brought to Japan from Asia, leading archaeologists on a hunt for the true origins of pottery. Studies are still being conducted on the Fukui Cave pottery (the earliest found pottery in Japan) and pottery found on mainland Asia to determine which was created first.

Much of the pottery found from this time period is decorated with Jomon, or patterns made from rope. These patterns were made by wetting soil and wringing it into a rope. This rope was then molded into shapes by hand. The pottery made during this time was generally used to store food and other supplies, although clay figures have also been discovered. During the latter years of the Jomon period, the Japanese began decorating their clay vessels and pots with sophisticated designed and symbols.

It is this pottery that has lead archaeologists to determine many traits of the Jomon period. Few hunter-gatherer societies produce pottery since it was so easily breakable, leading experts to deduce that the Jomon were at least somewhat sedentary. Archaeologists have also discovered stone tools, traps, fishing paraphernalia, and early bows and arrows. Agriculture, especially in the later years, became more advanced, and by the end of the Jomon period, the Japanese were living in houses and keeping good-sized fields of crops.

Yayoi Period

The Yayoi period, the second period of Japanese history, took place between 400 BC and 300 AD. Named after the Yayoi section of Tokyo where the first artifacts from this period were found, the Yayoi period is mainly characterized by new and more advanced forms of pottery and an increase in rice production. During this time, the Japanese expanded to cover the area between Kyushu in the south and Honshu in the north.

Government continued to evolve during the Yayoi period. Social classes became more and more apparent, with chieftains at the top. Villages became more permanent, and society as a whole become more and more sedimentary. Pottery, now created on a wheel, was painted or glazed. While the Jomon period saw high seas cut off Japan from the rest of Asia, during the Yayoi period, Japan reestablished contact with both China and Korea. This led to the introduction of bronze and copper working, new rice growing techniques, ceramics, farming implements, iron tools, weaving, domesticated swine, and new methods of pottery. From this new technology came symbols of prestige, including swords, spears, mirrors, irrigation technology, and more.

The Yayoi period is especially noted for three bronze creations: mirrors, swords, and the royal seal stone. These three items reflect the three pieces of the imperial regalia of Japan that play a large role in mythology: the sword Kusanagi, the mirror of the goddess Amaterasu, and the legendary jewel. Since the late 600s, these three items have been used in the installation of each successive emperor.

During the Yayoi period, the Japanese completed the transformation from hunter-gatherers into an agricultural society. The population then expanded even more than it had during the end of the Jomon period. Part of this was attributed to the new rice farming techniques and the increase in food that came with them. Archaeological evidence also shows that there was some immigration from mainland Asia, leading to blending of different societies and thoughts in addition to increasing the population.

Common traits with the Jomon period

While the Yayoi technology did change during the period, artifacts still show a very clear Jomon influence thanks to a merging of the two cultures. The Yayoi used the same kind of circular pit houses, stone and bone tools, and the same way of making lacquer accessories that the Jomon did. One of the differences, however, is that they integrated materials from China and Korea.

Yayoi Culture

While the earliest evidence of Yayoi culture was found on Kyushu, it eventually spread across most of Japan, including Honshu, where Yayoi and Jomon societies met and merged. Yayoi society, however, was much more complex and sophisticated. Their pottery, for example, was made on a wheel instead of by hand as it was during the Jomon period. Other examples include iron tools and weapons, bronze mirrors and bells, cloth textiles, and more.

Because of their more sedimentary lifestyle, Yayoi farmers were able to create granaries for storing extra grain. Irrigation techniques imported from China and Korea led to increased rice production. For the first time, excess and wealth were accumulated, which lead to even more distinct social levels and the collection of a tithe. Chiefs began trading with other villages and even Korea and China. Relationships similar to the vassal-lord relationships of feudal Europe developed around this time as well.

During the Yayoi period, chiefs were buried in square mounds circled by ditches. One of the most famous examples of this design is the Tatetsuki Mound Tomb in Okayama. Another style used during this time were square mounds with four distinct corners. These tombs can mostly be found in the coastal area known as the San’in region. These tombs are easily identified and contrasted with the later Kofun burial style that gives its name to the Kofun period.

As far as physical traits go, the Yayoi were taller, had closer-set eyes, and narrower faces, making them closer in appearance to the modern Japanese than the Jomon. In fact, modern Japanese are believed to be descended from a mix of immigrants and people from this period, while the indigenous Ainu of Northern Japan are a more direct descendant of the Jomon without outside influences.

The Chinese View of the Yayoi

It was during the Yayoi period that China first began writing about the Japanese. Wa, as the Chinese of the time called Japan, was first mentioned in 57 AD. One of the states of Wa, called Na or Nu, actually received a golden seal from the emperor of China, an act that was listed in the Book of Later Han. The seal was later found in northern Kyushu during the 18th century.

Wa, according to the Chinese, wasn’t a unified country as the eighth century Japanese semi-historical Nihongi claims. Instead, the Chinese work discusses the many different tribes and communities that were scattered across Japan, each with its own chief and form of government. This description is backed up by archaeologists who have found evidence of many different tribal skirmishes. Villages surrounded by moats or built on higher ground suggest defensive building. In burial sites from the Yayoi period, arrow heads have been found, suggesting a society of warriors, plus headless skeletons, the bones of dead enemies, appeared in graves from the time period.

Food-wise, the Chinese reported that the Yayoi people ate a variety of vegetables, raw fish, and rice ate from wooden trays.

The Chinese records are also responsible for the mystery of the kingdom of Yamataikoku, which was supposedly ruled over by Queen Himiko. However, it is unclear where the location of this kingdom was. Possible locations include Yoshinogari in Saga Prefecture or Makimuki in Nara, where a recently excavated tomb may be the burial place of Himiko.

Kofun Period

The Kofun period, named after the mound graves the upper class were buried in during the time, was a period highlighted by close relations with Korea and an increase in decoration and design. The Kofun tombs, for example, included ceramics, iron and bronze items, jewelry, and very sophisticated clay sculptures. Some histories and archaeologists combine the Kofun period with the following Asuka period to make the Yamato period.

However, the Kofun and the Asuka periods are markedly different, mainly culturally. During the Kofun period, the culture was very animistic, which changed once Buddhism was introduced to Japan. The Yamato court, which ruled a good portion of Japan, is another defining mark of the period. The multitude of tribes slowly merged into states around the beginning of the period, and these city-states began vying for control of Kyushu and Honshu.

Early Kofun

The early Kofun period is marked by the building of the keyhole-shaped kofun tombs. The first was found in the Makimuku area. These tombs were on a much larger scale than the mounds built during the Yayoi period, with some being nearly 300 meters long. The common structure of a kofun tomb featured a wooden coffin at the bottom of a long shaft surrounded by walls of flat stones. Then huge stones were placed on top as a roof. Like Egyptian Pharaohs, the Kofun aristocrats who were buried in the tombs were buried with bronze mirrors, swords, jewels, and other items. Today, the Imperial Household Agency has listed 740 kofun as tombs of imperial family members, although this number is in dispute. Neither the public nor archaeological teams are allowed into most of these kofun, although a team was permitted to enter the tomb of Empress Jingu in 2008.

Middle Kofun

The kofun tomb building spread through the middle of the period from Yamato Province to Kawachi, which became the home of the huge tombs like that of Emperor Nintoku. By the fifth century, kofun could be found in nearly every region of Japan with the exception of th Tohoku region. The kofun style of tomb building must have impressived visitors from the main land as well: kofun tombs dating back to the Kofun period have been found in the Southern part of Korea.

The Yamato court is giving credit for spreading the kofun style of burial. However, while the court is aknowledged as being a major power during the period, some archeologists simply feel that the tomb’s style spread was purely cultural and had nothing to do with the political system. Korean scholars, in particular, deny that the tombs in Souther Korea were influenced by the Japanese at all, although this point is hotly contested by most Japanese archeologists, who feel that the evidence is irrefutable. No matter the source, the tradition of creating keyhole shaped kofun didn’t last much past the sixth century and the introduction of Buddhism.

The Yamato

The Yamato court rose to power around 250 AD and ruled over the southern part of Japan. While local governments ruled in the fourth and fifth centuries in many areas, during the sixth century, the Yamato clans dominated the entire southern area. Chinese and Korean records show that the Yamato court was the only Japanese court to have relations with mainland Asia, a history that began in the late fourth century.

The Yamato court was composed of powerful clans headed by patriarchs. These patriarchs and their immediate families formed the members of the Yamato aristocracy, and the Yamato ruling family shifted into the Imperial dynasty at the end of the period, beating out many other reginonal patriarchs and families to become the dominant court in Japan. At the height of their power, Yamato ruled over Kyushu and Honshu.

The court adapoted much from the Chinese, including their system of central government, an imperial court, and the Chinese system of writing. In fact, the Yamato even entreated the Chinese court to bestow royal titles on their leaders, although this did not happen. The Yamato also did not establish a permanent capital; instead, clan chieftains met in various locations as the court dictated.

The Yamato court also had close ties to the Korean Gaya confederacy in southern Korea. This is the same location as that of the Korean kofun tombs, showing just how close these two states were. In fact, theories were even put forth that the Gaya confederacy was a colony of the Yamato court, although these theories have been rejected. On the other hand, the Takamatsuzuka Tomb build several centuries after the Kofun period reflects Korean tomb design and decoration.

The Yamato court expanded over time to include areas between the Shimane prefecture to the east and the Kumamoto prefecture in the north. Records indicate the court aggressively expanded at several different periods, including one record that chronicles the battle against a rival tribe in eastern Honshu. Prince Yamato Takeru is noted as one of the main figures in these battles.

The Yamato Clans

The Yamato Clans were fairly varied, although all were loyal to the Yamato court. Many Yamato patriarchs and chiefs claim to have been descended from either the imperial family or one of the tribal gods, while others were actually immigrants from China and Korea.

Much of what we know about the Yamato clans comes from swords such as the Inariyama sword. This weapon lists all of the name of the bearer’s ancestors, including the son of Emperor Kogen. Kogen’s grandson became head of the Kazuraki clan, which had close ties and marriages with members of the Yamato imperial family. The Kazuarki were later replaced with the Otomo clan at the end of the fifth century. However, when Emperor Buretsu died with no heir, the thrown and control of the Yamato eventually went to the Mononobe and Soga clans.

The Okimi

The aristocracy during the Kofun period began to overlay the aristocratic social structure of the previous Yayoi period with military overtones. This lead to a more cohesive society overall, and historians often remark on how the Kofun society is directly responsible for much of modern Japanese culture. Many rulers during this time took on the title of Okimi, which means Great King. The Inariyama sword and the Eta Funayama sword back up this claim. In fact, records on the swords even go as far as to equate Okimi as “ruling of Heaven and Earth.” Thus, religious overtones also authority also prevailed in the Yamato court.

The Chinese and Korean Immigrants in the Kofun Period

The Chinese immigrants in Japan actually held considerable influence in the Yamato court. In fact, the court lists 163 distinct Chinese clans during the time. One, the Hata clan, was often employed to manufacture silk for the court of Emperor Nintoku, and later members were named to various positions in the finance ministry. Later Chinese immigrants went on to introduce aspects of the Chinese system of writing to the court, plus a descendent of Cao Cao, a famous Chinese figure, would later play a key role in the Taika Reform.

The Koreans began immigrating to Japan during the fourth century. One of these immigrants, according to the Nihongi record, was a prince of Silla who moved to Japan during the time of Emperor Suinin. He is later described as an ancestor of Empress Jingu, the empress who supposedly defeated the Silla. However, this event is highly contested since some records have Jingu dying in 269 AD, well before the Silla prince’s immigration.

Other Korean immigrants include members of the Baekje royal family. Geunchogo of Baekje send many gifts and scholars to Emperor Ojin’s court, and these scholars introduced many important pieces of Chinese culture to the Japanese. Also, according to the Chinese historical Book of Sui, the Baekje family requested aid from the Yamato court for various military campaigns. During several of these, princes and other royals were sent to the Yamato court as hostages in exchange for solidiers.

These immigrants, Chinese and Korean both, were collectively called Torai-Jin by the Yamato and were highly respected, possibly due to many upper-class Yamato citizens having Chinese or Korean ancestors. Many of these advances brought to Japan by the Torai-Jin were very similar to those of mainland Asia, including funeral rights. Kofun have been found with clay rings, horses, fans, fish, weapons, pillows, and human statues buried in them. Much of the Yamato culture, especially by the end of the Kofun period, in fact, was nearly identical to that of the southern Korean peninsula.

Introduction of Horses

The Kofun period also marks the introduction of horses to Japan, the absence of which was noted in various Chinese records. As recorded in the semi-historical Nihonshoki, the king of Silla, after being defeated by Empress Jingu, presented the horse to her as a gift. This led to the introduction of mounted cavalry and advanced military strategies.

End of the Kofun period

Around the middle of the sixth century, the Kofun period fades into the Asuka period, an event that is marked by the introduction of Buddhism to Japan. Officially brought to Japan in 538 AD, the Asuka period would see Japan shift in a new direction, one more influenced by the reunified China than Korea.

The Kofun Tombs

The Kofun period, named after the mound graves the upper class were buried in during the time, was a period highlighted by close relations with Korea and an increase in decoration and design. The Kofun tombs, for example, included ceramics, iron and bronze items, jewelry, and very sophisticated clay sculptures. Some histories and archaeologists combine the Kofun period with the following Asuka period to make the Yamato period.

However, the Kofun and the Asuka periods are markedly different, mainly culturally. During the Kofun period, the culture was very animistic, which changed once Buddhism was introduced to Japan. The Yamato court, which ruled a good portion of Japan, is another defining mark of the period. The multitude of tribes slowly merged into states around the beginning of the period, and these city-states began vying for control of Kyushu and Honshu.

Early Kofun

The early Kofun period is marked by the building of the keyhole-shaped kofun tombs. The first was found in the Makimuku area. These tombs were on a much larger scale than the mounds built during the Yayoi period, with some being nearly 300 meters long. The common structure of a kofun tomb featured a wooden coffin at the bottom of a long shaft surrounded by walls of flat stones. Then huge stones were placed on top as a roof. Like Egyptian Pharaohs, the Kofun aristocrats who were buried in the tombs were buried with bronze mirrors, swords, jewels, and other items. Today, the Imperial Household Agency has listed 740 kofun as tombs of imperial family members, although this number is in dispute. Neither the public nor archaeological teams are allowed into most of these kofun, although a team was permitted to enter the tomb of Empress Jingu in 2008.

Middle Kofun

The kofun tomb building spread through the middle of the period from Yamato Province to Kawachi, which became the home of the huge tombs like that of Emperor Nintoku. By the fifth century, kofun could be found in nearly every region of Japan with the exception of th Tohoku region. The kofun style of tomb building must have impressived visitors from the main land as well: kofun tombs dating back to the Kofun period have been found in the Southern part of Korea.

The Yamato court is giving credit for spreading the kofun style of burial. However, while the court is aknowledged as being a major power during the period, some archeologists simply feel that the tomb’s style spread was purely cultural and had nothing to do with the political system. Korean scholars, in particular, deny that the tombs in Souther Korea were influenced by the Japanese at all, although this point is hotly contested by most Japanese archeologists, who feel that the evidence is irrefutable. No matter the source, the tradition of creating keyhole shaped kofun didn’t last much past the sixth century and the introduction of Buddhism.

The Yamato

The Yamato court rose to power around 250 AD and ruled over the southern part of Japan. While local governments ruled in the fourth and fifth centuries in many areas, during the sixth century, the Yamato clans dominated the entire southern area. Chinese and Korean records show that the Yamato court was the only Japanese court to have relations with mainland Asia, a history that began in the late fourth century.

The Yamato court was composed of powerful clans headed by patriarchs. These patriarchs and their immediate families formed the members of the Yamato aristocracy, and the Yamato ruling family shifted into the Imperial dynasty at the end of the period, beating out many other reginonal patriarchs and families to become the dominant court in Japan. At the height of their power, Yamato ruled over Kyushu and Honshu.

The court adapoted much from the Chinese, including their system of central government, an imperial court, and the Chinese system of writing. In fact, the Yamato even entreated the Chinese court to bestow royal titles on their leaders, although this did not happen. The Yamato also did not establish a permanent capital; instead, clan chieftains met in various locations as the court dictated.

The Yamato court also had close ties to the Korean Gaya confederacy in southern Korea. This is the same location as that of the Korean kofun tombs, showing just how close these two states were. In fact, theories were even put forth that the Gaya confederacy was a colony of the Yamato court, although these theories have been rejected. On the other hand, the Takamatsuzuka Tomb build several centuries after the Kofun period reflects Korean tomb design and decoration.

The Yamato court expanded over time to include areas between the Shimane prefecture to the east and the Kumamoto prefecture in the north. Records indicate the court aggressively expanded at several different periods, including one record that chronicles the battle against a rival tribe in eastern Honshu. Prince Yamato Takeru is noted as one of the main figures in these battles.

The Yamato Clans

The Yamato Clans were fairly varied, although all were loyal to the Yamato court. Many Yamato patriarchs and chiefs claim to have been descended from either the imperial family or one of the tribal gods, while others were actually immigrants from China and Korea.

Much of what we know about the Yamato clans comes from swords such as the Inariyama sword. This weapon lists all of the name of the bearer’s ancestors, including the son of Emperor Kogen. Kogen’s grandson became head of the Kazuraki clan, which had close ties and marriages with members of the Yamato imperial family. The Kazuarki were later replaced with the Otomo clan at the end of the fifth century. However, when Emperor Buretsu died with no heir, the thrown and control of the Yamato eventually went to the Mononobe and Soga clans.

The Okimi

The aristocracy during the Kofun period began to overlay the aristocratic social structure of the previous Yayoi period with military overtones. This lead to a more cohesive society overall, and historians often remark on how the Kofun society is directly responsible for much of modern Japanese culture. Many rulers during this time took on the title of Okimi, which means Great King. The Inariyama sword and the Eta Funayama sword back up this claim. In fact, records on the swords even go as far as to equate Okimi as “ruling of Heaven and Earth.” Thus, religious overtones also authority also prevailed in the Yamato court.

The Chinese and Korean Immigrants in the Kofun Period

The Chinese immigrants in Japan actually held considerable influence in the Yamato court. In fact, the court lists 163 distinct Chinese clans during the time. One, the Hata clan, was often employed to manufacture silk for the court of Emperor Nintoku, and later members were named to various positions in the finance ministry. Later Chinese immigrants went on to introduce aspects of the Chinese system of writing to the court, plus a descendent of Cao Cao, a famous Chinese figure, would later play a key role in the Taika Reform.

The Koreans began immigrating to Japan during the fourth century. One of these immigrants, according to the Nihongi record, was a prince of Silla who moved to Japan during the time of Emperor Suinin. He is later described as an ancestor of Empress Jingu, the empress who supposedly defeated the Silla. However, this event is highly contested since some records have Jingu dying in 269 AD, well before the Silla prince’s immigration.

Other Korean immigrants include members of the Baekje royal family. Geunchogo of Baekje send many gifts and scholars to Emperor Ojin’s court, and these scholars introduced many important pieces of Chinese culture to the Japanese. Also, according to the Chinese historical Book of Sui, the Baekje family requested aid from the Yamato court for various military campaigns. During several of these, princes and other royals were sent to the Yamato court as hostages in exchange for solidiers.

These immigrants, Chinese and Korean both, were collectively called Torai-Jin by the Yamato and were highly respected, possibly due to many upper-class Yamato citizens having Chinese or Korean ancestors. Many of these advances brought to Japan by the Torai-Jin were very similar to those of mainland Asia, including funeral rights. Kofun have been found with clay rings, horses, fans, fish, weapons, pillows, and human statues buried in them. Much of the Yamato culture, especially by the end of the Kofun period, in fact, was nearly identical to that of the southern Korean peninsula.

Introduction of Horses

The Kofun period also marks the introduction of horses to Japan, the absence of which was noted in various Chinese records. As recorded in the semi-historical Nihonshoki, the king of Silla, after being defeated by Empress Jingu, presented the horse to her as a gift. This led to the introduction of mounted cavalry and advanced military strategies.

End of the Kofun period

Around the middle of the sixth century, the Kofun period fades into the Asuka period, an event that is marked by the introduction of Buddhism to Japan. Officially brought to Japan in 538 AD, the Asuka period would see Japan shift in a new direction, one more influenced by the reunified China than Korea.

Asuka Period

Japan changed drastically when, in 552, Korean immigrants brought the ideas of Buddhism to the country. Adopted by Empress Suiko and Prince-Regent Shotoku, Buddhism took fewer than 100 years to become wide-spread. While in many areas, a new religion tends to dominate and erase the current religion, in Japan, Buddhism and Shinto, the long-standing faith, peacefully co-existed. To learn more about this new form of belief, Empress Suiko and the royal court invited monks and others from Korea and China to move to Japan and bring the various accoutrements of Buddhism with them. Because of this and the support from the aristocracy, there are very few items left from the Asuka period that aren’t connected to Buddhism in some way.

The name Asuka was actually first used to describe the period of arts and architecture, and it later came to mean the time period as a whole. Starting in 552, the natural ending time for the Asuka period came with the moving of the imperial capital to Heijo Palace in 645, the year before the Taika Reform. Some historians don’t end the Asuka period until around 700, however. Those that choose this period often divide the Asuka period into sub-periods, one before the Taika Reform and one after.

Besides and because of the introduction of Buddhism, the Asuka period represents a significant change in art, society, and politics. It was also during this time that the Japanese changed the name of the country from Wa, as the Chinese had named them, to Nihon.

Cultural Influences from the Mainland

While little architecture remains from previous period, some structures from the Asuka period have been found intact. Many of them, such as the buildings at Horyu-ji, reflect some designs from China and other western countries. Some of the pillars, for example, are similar to those found in ancient Greece, and the traditional five-story pagoda bears some resemblance to the Indian building known as the Stupa. Artwork from this time shows some influence from China and Korea as well.

The biggest cultural influence to come from China was, of course, Buddhism, and many sculptures were done in the Chinese style. The Tori Style, as it was called because of the amount of work done by Kuratsukuri Tori, a descendent of a Chinese immigrant, is the most prominent style from the Asuka period.

Banking was also introduced to Japan during the Asuka period. Modeled after the Chinese fiscal strategies, the first imperial treasury was established and more aggressive trade with Korea began.

Religion in Japan – Buddhism and Shinto

With Buddhism introduced to Japan by the Koreans in 538, Japanese culture changed dramatically. The Soga clan, the ruling family at the time, replaced many Confucian rites and models with Buddhism ones. However, some Yamato court families, especially those who were highly involved in Shinto rituals and the military, were leery of the new religion.

Laws regarding tombs, especially the kofun, were put into place after the Taika Reform and the Funeral Simplification Edict. According to this Edict, the size and shape of a person’s kofun was determined by their class, and very large kofun were banned altogether. Because of this, the kofun of important or beloved family members, although smaller than what they would have been during previous periods, were elaborately decorated with Buddhist and Taoist images. Most of these decorated kofun, however, were found in regions far from the capital; the imperial family no longer used kofun because of the new Buddhist beliefs, which put much less emphasis on worldly goods.

Taoism also came to Japan during the Asuka period, but it didn’t gain as much prominence as Buddhism. However, Taoist beliefs appear in my places. The octagon-shaped tombs of the imperial family, for instance, are based on Taoist beliefs, as was the term tenno, the title adapted by the ruling Yamato emperors during the Asuka time.

The Taoist, Buddhist, and Shinto beliefs and rituals slowly began mixing as the three systems and their followers found ways to peacefully coexist. As the Asuka period moved on, fewer religious conflicts were seen, and eventually, the three religions melded with the native mythology to create a very interesting and complex belief system.

The Yamato Court

Established in the late fifth century, the Yamato court continued to rule Japan during the Asuka period. The Yamato court was at its pinnacle during the Asuka period, and the ruling family founded the imperial dynasty early on. In fact, the Asuka period is noted as being the first period in which the emperor ruled uncontested. With most of their political rivals defeated or assimilated, the Yamato court continued to expand during this time while establishing tighter ties with China and Korea.

By 587, the Soga clan had intermarried with the imperial family to the point that their chief, Soga no Umako, was able to place his nephew on the throne. He later killed his puppet emperor and replaced him with Empress Suiko, the first empress of Japan. However, she, too, was simply a figurehead, and the real power belonged to Umako and Prince Regent Shotoku.

Prince Regent Shotoku, however, was far from a dictator. Instead, he is often regarded as one of the greatest intellects of his time. He was very well-read and followed both Buddhist and Confucian principles. He introduced Confucian etiquette to the court and introduced a seventeen-article constitution designed to bring about harmony in the government and Japan as a whole. Shotoku was also responsible for the building of many Buddhist temples, creating a system of trade routes, introducing the Chinese calendar to Japan, and ordering the keeping of a detailed set of court records. Under Shotoku, six different groups of students and priests visited China to study philosophy and literature.

The Taika Reform

In 645, 23 years after Shotoku’s death, disagreement over the line of succession led to a coup. Prince Naka no Oe and Fujiwara no Kamatari took control of the government from the Soga clan and introduced the Taika Reforn. This coup would later become known as the Isshi Incident.

The Taiki Reform was a list of administrative guidelines that established the ritsuryo system. This system of patrimonial rule followed a very strict and elaborate legal code that dictated reform in just about every area of Japanese society.

First, land was redistributed, transferring the private lands of the clans to public, i.e., court control. Clan chieftains also lost their hereditary titles. Families could no longer pass land down to their children; instead, it belonged to the state. Taxes were placed on everything from harvested food to silk and textile products. These taxes were used to fund the military and build public buildings and roads.

Three minister positions, advisors to the emperor, were created at this time: Minister of the Left, Minister of the Right, and Chancellor of the Realm. The empire was also split into provinces, each of which was ruled by a court-appointed governor. These provinces were then sub-divided into districts and villages, setting up a system that is still in use today.

Naka no Oe took the title of Crown Prince, while Fujiwara became a court aristocrat with considerable influence. Later, Naka no Oe would assume the throne under the name Emperor Tenji. Emperor Tenji was the first emperor to use the Japanese term for emperor that translates to Heavenly Sovereign, a title that heavily emphasized the imperial family’s divine heritage.

While part of the reasoning behind this title was to discourage another coup, with Tenji’s death, his brother and his son battled for the throne, with his brother, known them as Emperor Temmu, eventually winning. Temmu continued the reforms Tenji began and solidified the imperial court’s power.

The Ritsuryo System

The Taika Reform’s ritsuryo system was implemented in several stages. The first, the Omi Code, was finished in 668. This was enhanced in 689 by the Asuka Kiyomihara Code, and was then even further codified later by the Taiho Code. Nearly all of these codes remained in effect until 1868.

The most pervasive of these codes was the Taiho Code, while created a judicial system based on the Confucian idea of light punishments rather than heavy ones. The government also adapted a central administration system based on the Chinese system, Shinto, and court rituals. A department of state with eight ministries was also created, with ministries for ceremonies, the imperial house, administration, civil affairs, justice, the military, people’s affairs, and the treasury. The college office was also created and charged with training, although the aristocracy still based much on class rather than on education. One interesting thing to note is that the Taiho Code did not prohibit women from inheriting the throne, and in fact several empresses ruled Japan until 770, when succession was limited to men only.

Japan and Korea during the Asuka Period

In addition to the many imported ideas and students sent to China and Korea, many emissaries from these countries visited Japan. In fact, Japan even sent its navy to assist the Baekje kingdom in a battle. This military aid was perhaps because of the close ties between Prince Shotoku and the Baekje: one of his tutors was from Korea.

In 660, Baekje fell to the Silla and T’ang China, and many refugees fled to Japan. The imperial court welcomed the royal family of Baekje with open arms, and the emperor even bestowed the family name Kudara no Konikishi (“king of Baekje”) upon them.

Japan and China during the Asuka Period

While the Chinese influence in Japan was arguably very great during the Asuka period, relations between the two countries weren’t always friendly. Shotoku, in fact, pushed to put Japan on equal footing with the Chinese by writing letters addressing the Chinese emperor as an equal. The Chinese were greatly offended by this and gave the Japanese state no title, viewing Japan as a lesser country. However, while political relations were a bit strained, cultural and intellectual relations flourished. Two of the nineteen writers of the Taiho Code, in fact, were Chinese priests.

Nara Period

It was during the Nara period of Japanese history that Buddhism saw the largest growth. Many different temples were bui