Archaeology[Chapter 5] Royal Authority and Shintō: Kofun Period

From the end of the second century, the Land of Wa (Japan) was engulfed in local civil wars. Himiko, a sorceress practicing the Way of Spirits (kidō), was made queen,  unifying the various factions into an alliance.  From the middle of the third century, the first large funeral tumuli or kofun started to be constructed on the Nara plain in central Japan.
Then from the mid-6th century for the next 300 years, the central areas around the Nara basin saw the construction of many 'keyhole' shaped funeral mounds for regional leaders.  A political system based on unifying society through common funeral rites spread through the Honshū, Kyūshū, and Shikoku regions. Alongside these funeral rites, the earliest forms of Shinto also developed.
The Kofun period is divided into early, middle, late-mid, and late periods. In the early Kofun period, a vertical placement of the body became the standard style of kofun, and in various funeral mounds Chinese mirrors and jewelry made from shells imported from the southern islands have been found, indicating that these were buried as funeral goods.  By the mid-Kofun period, technology was imported from the Korean peninsula, and iron military gear and items started to appear with regularity in funeral mounds. In the late-mid Kofun period, horizontal stone caskets and rooms become common, and small groupings of funeral tumuli were employed. The late Kofun period saw only the funeral mounds of kings produced on a large scale. 

-Haji ware and Su'e ware-

Haji ware resembles earlier Yayoi earthenware, and it is a type of baked pottery designed for practical use. However, from the early Kofun period, small highly detailed vessels came into use for ritual purposes. Su'e ware appeared in the fourth century, influenced by the porcelain imported from the Korean peninsula. These fine kiln-fired goods can be found in various funeral tumuli where they were used for ritual purposes. These Su'e ware pieces continued to be produced in the Osaka region until the 10th century. A framework for dating the Su'e ware based on specific details has been developed. 


Haniwa statues originated in the kofun period, and they can be seen in the Kibi region as early as the Yayoi period, alongside the serving trays and images of food and drink in the form of vessels which were given as offerings in the funeral tumuli.  These may be the precursors to the later cylindrical haniwa and conical haniwa.  From as early as the fourth century, haniwa images in the forms of birds, houses, shields, lids, and quivers began to appear. From the fifth century, haniwa in the shape of human figures and animals began to appear. By the first half of the fifth century, kiln production methods had been introduced, and one production site became capable or providing haniwa for many kofun. 

-Imported Mirrors and Imitation Mirrors-

In the Yayoi period, mirrors imported from the continent were buried in the grave sites of important rulers in northern Kyūshū. The mirrors can be classified by their designs: early Tang (with flower, cloud, and star designs common) and later Tang (with squared and more regular designs).  In the region around present-day Kyoto, mirrors with images of gods and beasts began to be given as funeral offerings from the earlies Kofun period. Later, Japanese themselves made these mirrors with imitation Chinese designs, and some of these are as large as 20cm across. Some of these feature reliefs, others house crests, and some include bells attached to the edges of the mirrors, indicating the development of a unique Japanese style of mirrors. 

-Beads as Personal Accessories and Ritual Implements- 

The production of jewel beads during during the kofun period was based on traditions inherited from the Yayoi. Jade, jasper, and crystal were used to form magatama (comma-shaped jewels), tubular beads, small beads and glass beads to be used to adorn the body.  At the same time, bracelets made from stone and imitating shells from the southern seas began to be produced.  Many of these remained as funerary goods in the kofun of powerful people in the vicinity of present-day Kyoto. From the mid-Kofun period forward, stone models of mirrors, swords, and jewels and other sorts of material wealth are seen throughout the land and are found in both kofun and funeral sites. 

-Kofun Period Military Goods, Weapons, and Harnesses- 

The military goods, weapons, and harnesses in the Kofun period were imported from China through Korea as well as produced in Japan.  By the middle Kofun period, iron-banded helmets and armor began to be made in Japan, along with ornamental harnesses not intended only for practical use but also to serve as decorations. By the late Kofun period, highly mobile armor began to be produced. For a long time, Japanese-style swords existed together with Korean-style swords. By the Asuka period, different types of sword sheaths were developed, and ultimately Chinese Tang-style swords became the norm. 

-The Development of Clustered Graves-

By the late 6th century, the keyhole-shaped funeral tumilus style of burial used for local leaders during the Kofun period began to decline and small-scale tumuli with stone burial chambers, and horizontal chambers in hillsides clustered together in groups throughout the land.  This phenomena is thought to be related to the unification of powerful clans under the authority of the Yamato court. The archaeological research laboratory of this university has conducted a survey of a cluster of funeral tumuli in Nagano. This research is an investigation into the close of the late Kofun period and the beginning of the ancient historical period in Japan.

-Funeral Tumuli of the Asuka Period-

The construction of large, keyhole-shaped kofun funeral tumuli was coming to an end in the early 7th century just as the Asuka period was beginning. For a time, this period saw the continued construction of funeral tumuli in various regions. The most notable of these are large funeral mounds built for emperors.  There were various styles of kofun built during this period: round, octagonal, rounded top on square base, etc. The burials themselves could be in horizontal stone chambers, or as seen in the Kinai district, a group of pillars with a side entrance. Lacquered caskets of layered lacquer and cloth, or simply painted with lacquer, were limited only to the emperor, imperial family, and other members of the aristocracy around the vicinity of present-day Kyoto. 

-The Appearance of Temples and the Production of Tiles-

The first building built in Japan with a tile roof was the Asuka temple, constructed in the first year of the reign of Emperor Sushun (558).  The tiled roof had round tile decoration on the edges and eaves, with tiles imported from the Korean peninsula. The tiles feature lotus crests similar to those in use in the kingdoms of Paekche and Kōkuri in Korea.  From the 7th century, a more complicated type of lotus crest tile became popular. In the 7th century, Hōryūji's Wakakusa Garan (Hall), as well as the Iida temple were constructed with hand-carved tiles in the oldest example of Tang-style patterned tiles made in Japan. Note, however, that the thatched and shingle roofing pattern of the Asuka temple became the traditional style of architecture for the imperial palaces in Japan. 

-Early “Shintō” -

Starting in the early Kofun period, various regional factions came under the authority of the Yamato court. A unified political system, the basis for a future nation, was formed. Along with the appearance of a unified polity it is also possible to see the early origins of Japan’s indigenous religion, Shintō. The mirrors, iron goods, and human figures, as well as offerings of cloth are found in the kofun as a shared feature of funeral rites. These are thought to be related to the development of ancestor worship and kami worship (jingi shinkō).