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Himiko and Japan's Elusive Chiefdom of Yamatai

Himiko and Japan's Elusive Chiefdom of Yamatai: Archaeology, History, and Mythology

J. Edward Kidder
Copyright Date: 2007
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  • Book Info
    Himiko and Japan's Elusive Chiefdom of Yamatai
    Book Description:

    The third-century Chinese chronicle Wei zhi (Record of Wei) is responsible for Japan’s most enduring ancient mystery. This early history tells of a group of islands off the China coast that were dominated by a female shaman named Himiko. Himiko ruled for more than half a century as head of the largest chiefdom, traditionally known as Yamatai, until her death in 248. Yet no such person appears in the old Japanese literature. Who was Himiko and where was the Yamatai she governed? In this, the most comprehensive treatment in English to date, a senior scholar of early Japan turns to three sources—historical, archaeological, and mythological—to provide a multifaceted study of Himiko and ancient Japanese society.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6284-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations and Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    Chinese historians, in meeting their obligations to document the activities of their dynasties or the debt they believed they owed to their predecessors, collected and eventually recorded information on their neighbors. This material became a store of useful data for managing political relations, trading guides, and military strategy.

    Earlier historic events were sometimes used to justify later actions. In the case of Japan, two histories are particularly valuable: theHou Han shu(History of Later Han; J:Gokansho), recording the period from AD 25 to 220, and a section of theSanguo zhi(History of the Three Kingdoms; J:Sangokushi)...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Ancient Texts and Sources
    (pp. 1-7)

    As already mentioned, Chinese historians dealt with early Japan primarily in two works that concern these events:Hou Han shuand in a section of theSanguo zhicalledWei zhi. The Han history is a collection of records pieced together, chiefly by Pan Ye (398–445), and first printed between 994 and 1004.¹ It is a later retrospective, and some sections were copied directly from theWei zhi, but other texts were available as it does include a few items not appearing in theWei zhi.

    The Wei history was compiled by Chen Shou (233–297), professional historian for...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Wei Zhi and the Wa People
    (pp. 8-20)

    Much discussion regarding the origin and meaning of the term “Wa”¹ cannot evade the Chinese intention: it identified little people or dwarfs, and from the Chinese vantage point in north China doubtless had some implications for the relative stature of the people to China’s south and east. The Japanese continually tried to escape the burden of this appellation and, by referring to themselves as people of Nippon (Ch: Riben), the (land of the) sunrise, achieved some success from at least the seventh century.

    Once Japanese scholars of recent centuries began to seriously study the Chinese text, they resented their relegation...

  8. CHAPTER 3 The Initial Problem and Three Centuries of Compounding It
    (pp. 21-35)

    The Chinese historian described the location of Yamatai as beyond thekokuof Toma to the south another ten days by water, one month by land, but if a naive traveler were to follow these directions going south—as we know the geography today—he may well have found himself floating aimlessly in the middle of the ocean. If, on the other hand, he had gone roughly the right distance in a more or less easterly but quite wrong direction, he would have gone to or through the Kinki region, the heart of which eventually cradled the Yamato state. Where...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Travel by Land and Water to Neighboring Countries
    (pp. 36-52)

    Even a quick glance at the Chinese record gives the impression of sophisticated politicians surrounding Himiko. The Wa behaved in a statesman-like manner, exchanged envoys with China, and presented gifts of notable variety and quality. On the other hand, if one takes the Japanese texts literally, when the Wa first became involved with a foreign region they were being told by theirkamito plunder the Korean coast. It was as though the Wa were playing two games: kowtow to the powerful Chinese and attack the weak south Koreans. In fact, something of this sort was probably going on, quite...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Han Commanderies, Korean Kingdoms, and Wei China
    (pp. 53-58)

    Himiko would not be known if the Chinese had not had their historians and if the Wei had not been successful in putting down rebellions in north Korea and requiring all subdued people to show their respect and pay tribute. Those who were one step removed, like the Japanese Wa, were sufficiently intimidated to follow the wise course of professing goodwill and sending missions, even flattering by asking for aid. Himiko was an astute fringe neighbor. Her court circle had learned the mechanics of international politics and ways of enhancing the Wa position, for which the Chinese recognized her and...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Japan in Transition from Yayoi to Kofun
    (pp. 59-113)

    Since Himiko was dead before AD 250 and Nara archaeologists are pushing the earliest mounded tombs back several decades, as will be discussed later, the first major evidence of a center of authority with the power to build large tumuli occurs in the first half of the third century. Social grading, a feature initiated by Yayoi immigrants in their preference for an agricultural lifestyle and the necessary supporting metal crafts to maintain it, had made this possible. These immigrants, many probably coming over as family groups that evolved into chiefdoms, produced not only the invigorating cultural mix but also the...

  12. CHAPTER 7 The Izumo-Yamato Contention
    (pp. 114-126)

    The obsession Yamato had with Izumo, as described by the writers of theNihon shoki,was a mystery until the discovery of the 358 Kanba-kōjindani swords and the thirty-nine Kamo-iwakura bells. The revelation of these caches of bronze objects, so much larger than any finds known elsewhere in the country, was astounding. Izumo has relatively few Jōmon sites, but the artifacts do include pottery from Kyushu of the Middle and Late Jōmon and from the Inland Sea of Late Jōmon. There is Yayoi pottery, some also brought up from Kyushu, and a few shell bracelets, which must have followed the...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Himiko, Shamans, Divination, and Other Magic
    (pp. 127-159)

    The roster of magic practitioners, pre-Buddhist magicians and diviners—using the term “magic”(majinai)in the general sense of trying to achieve a natural occurrence through nonnatural means that includes through the medium of occult forces in nature—is led by the diviners, geomancers, and soothsayers, formally known asurabe. Other methods of reaching these goals are pursued by abstainers(jisai; imibeorimbe),purifiers (specialists inharai), and shamans (for whom the male title has almost disappeared in favor ofkannushi, the shrine priest, while female shamans are calledmiko). The necromancers, who became professionalized in medieval times, are...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Mirrors and Himiko’s Allotment
    (pp. 160-185)

    Before looking at mirrors normally associated with Himiko, it is worth noting that small bronze mirrors were already being cast in Japan well before her time. These have been found as far north, south, east, and west as Gumma, Kumamoto, Chiba, and Ishikawa prefectures. Takakura estimates that about two hundred are known today.¹ Although workshops in Korea met some of the demand, local production of mirrors had started by about the end of the first century AD, but the products—some if not most cast in stone molds—are unpretentious and illustrate only nominal skill. Most are smaller than 10...

  15. CHAPTER 10 The Japanese View of the Wei Zhi Years
    (pp. 186-228)

    Many of the stories in theKojikiandNihon shokiare obviously space fillers that could be used at any time, but the style of storytelling and the content reveal the inner workings of a culture the Chinese knew only through a female ruler. It is as though the Chinese looked at the face of an old pocket watch and saw the hands go round, but the Japanese took off the back to see the turning wheels inside.

    The mix of what appears to be serious content and frivolous concern with unpredictable deities obscures the broader picture of the birth...

  16. CHAPTER 11 The Endless Search for Yamatai
    (pp. 229-238)

    The relatively successful efforts before World War II to move Yamatai and Himiko out of the mainstream of Japanese history have been sketched, but there remained those who believed that the description of Yamatai applied to the Yamato area and that the directions and distances did not prove otherwise. The more vulnerable national university professors had become particularly adept at treading lightly, and those in Kyoto had found they could study relevant topics and still avoid the most sensitive issue of all. The trauma of war changed the political scene, but left traces of the mentality intact. On the questions...

  17. CHAPTER 12 Makimuku and the Location of Yamatai
    (pp. 239-282)

    Early in his reign Emperor Sujin is said to have taken up residence in a palace called Mizugaki in Shiki. This is today’s Kanaya in Sakurai city in Nara prefecture, an area southwest of Mt. Miwa. Hikers would know Kanaya as the first little community the Yamanobe hiking course goes through when the route is entered from the south, at the Sakurai end.

    The tomb attributed to Sujin, formally called Yamanobe-no-michi-magarino-oka-no-ue-ryō, seems to be the first imperial tomb of keyhole shape and is moated. Still a hillside construction, facing west-northwest, the moat is unique in being on two levels. Moats...

  18. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 283-284)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 285-338)
  20. Wei Zhi Text
    (pp. 339-342)
  21. Select Glossary
    (pp. 343-358)
  22. Bibliography
    (pp. 359-390)
  23. Index
    (pp. 391-401)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 402-402)