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Yayoi (弥生時代) is an era in Japan from 300 BC to A.D. 250. It is named after the section of Tōkyō where archaeological investigations uncovered its first recognized traces. The Yayoi period is marked either by the start of the practice of growing rice in a paddy field or a new Yayoi style earthenware.
Following the Jōmon period, the Yayoi flourished between about 300 BC and A.D. 250 from southern Kyūshū to northern Honshū. Modern discoveries suggest that it started as early as 900 BC. Because of the seemingly abrupt and dramatic cultural changes associated with the Yayoi period, it was once generally assumed that the Yayoi culture did not develop directly from the Jōmon, but that the Yayoi were a people who migrated from the Asian mainland. Recent discoveries, like evidence of dry rice farming predating wet rice farming, and the fact that the genetic makeup of Japanese rice is similar to that of the sticky rice found in Laos, make the following theory much more tentative.
As Korea is the most accessible location, a theory publicized in the early Meiji period in Japan argued that the Yayoi culture was brought to the Japanese islands by immigrants from the Korean peninsula, most likely from Goguryeo (a.k.a. Koguryo) or Baekje (a.k.a. Paekche). This theory is weakened by the fact that there are limited similarities between the Korean and Japanese languages, and that it is unlikely that the roughly 4 million people needed to fill the population gap between the Jōmon and Yayoi periods could have migrated in such a short time (though the larger population of the Yayoi period could be accounted for by the greater nutrition possible from an agriculturally-based diet, as opposed to the more limited caloric intake of a hunter-gatherer diet). On the other hand, grammatical structures are similar between the two languages, and some aspects of the Japanese language closely resemble that of Goguryeo. Historians such as Jared Diamond have theorized that the Yayoi may have been related to the Goguryeo or the Baekje, tribes that were eventually incorporated into the medieval Korean state. Information on the Goguryeo language is limited, but analysis by Christopher Beckwith and others appears to support a connection to ancient Japanese.
One current theory is that the Yayoi culture did emerge out of the Jōmon culture with only limited immigration from Baekje upon its extinction. The practice of rice farming that was once believed to have been passed on from China through the Korean peninsula is instead thought to have been passed from southern China by way of Okinawa, and continued into southern Korea. However, this theory or limited migration does not account for the two very different physical types of people in Japan. They are differentiated by tooth shape, body type, and several skull features (including overall shape of the head, eye sockets, and nose).
The earliest Yayoi people, themselves using chipped stone tools, appear to have started from northern Kyūshū and intermixed with the Jōmon. Although the pottery of the Yayoi was more technologically advanced—--produced on a potter's wheel—it was more simply decorated than Jōmon ware. The Yayoi made bronze ceremonial bells, mirrors, and weapons and, by the 1st century A.D., iron agricultural tools and weapons. As the population increased and society became more complex, they wove cloth, lived in permanent farming villages, constructed buildings of wood and stone, accumulated wealth through land ownership and the storage of grain, and developed distinct social classes. Their irrigated, wet-rice culture was similar to that of central and south China, requiring heavy human labor, which led to the development and eventual growth of a highly sedentary, agrarian society. Unlike China, which had to undertake massive public works and water-control projects, leading to a highly centralized government, Japan had abundant water. In Japan, then, local political and social developments were relatively more important than the activities of the central authority and a stratified society.
Building at a Yayoi settlement (reconstructed)
The earliest written records about Japan are from Chinese sources from this period. Wa 倭 (the Japanese pronunciation of an early Chinese name for Japan) was first mentioned in A.D. 257 in the Wei zhi, a Chinese history. Early Chinese historians described Wa as a land of hundreds of scattered tribal communities, not the unified land with a 700-year tradition as laid out in the 8th-century work Nihongi, the part-mythical, part-historical account of Japan which puts the foundation of the country at 660 BC. 3rd century Chinese sources reported that the Wa people lived on raw vegetables, rice, and fish served on bamboo and wooden trays, had vassal-master relations, collected taxes, had provincial granaries and markets, clapped their hands in worship (something still done in Shinto shrines), had violent succession struggles, built earthen grave mounds, and observed mourning. A ruler known as Himiko in Japanese, a female ruler of an early political federation known as Yamatai , flourished during the 3rd century. While Himiko reigned as spiritual leader, her younger brother carried out affairs of state, which included diplomatic relations with the court of the Chinese Kingdom of Wei (A.D. 220-265).
A recent study
A new study that used the AMS method to analyze carbonized remain on pottery and wooden stakes discovered that these were dated back to 900-800BC, nearly 500 years earlier than previously believed. These artifacts came from the northern region of Kyūshū and to further confirm this finding, artifacts of the same time period from Korea and Tohoku's Jōmon earthenware were compared with the same result. Another researcher used different artifacts from similar Yayoi period sites and found that these were dated back to 400-500BC.
- An article by Richard Hooker and the Yayoi and the Jōmon.