Portal:Ancient Japan

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THE ANCIENT JAPAN PORTAL

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Depiction of bearded Emperor Jimmu with his emblematic long bow and an accompanying wild bird.

The history of Ancient Japan can be broken down into three distinct periods. The first period called Jōmon period is the time in from about 14,000 BC to 300 BC. 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.

The second period called Yayoi period is an era in the history of Japan traditionally dated 300 BC to 300 AD. It is named after the neighbourhood of Tokyo where archaeologists first uncovered artifacts and features from that era. Distinguishing characteristics of the Yayoi period include the appearance of new pottery styles and the start of an intensive rice agriculture in paddy fields. Yayoi culture flourished in a geographic area from southern Kyūshū to northern Honshū.

The last period called Kofun period of ancient Japanese history, beginning around AD 250, is named after the large tumulus burial mounds (kofun) that appeared at the time. The Kofun period saw the establishment of strong military states centered around powerful clans, and the establishment of the dominant Yamato polity centred in the Yamato and Kawachi provinces, from the 3rd century to the 7th century, origin of the Japanese imperial lineage. Japan started to send tributes to Imperial China in the 5th century. In the Chinese history records, the polity was called Wa and its five kings were recorded. Based upon the Chinese model, they developed a central administration and an imperial court system and its society was organized into occupation groups. Close relationships between the Three Kingdoms of Korea and Japan began during the middle of this period, around the end of the 4th century.


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Small seal script epigraph on the standard weight prototype of China's Qin Dynasty.

Written Chinese comprises Chinese characters used to represent the Chinese language and the rules about how they are arranged and punctuated. It had a huge effect on the development of the written language of ancient Japan. Chinese characters are called kanji in Japanese. Kanji do not constitute an alphabet or a compact syllabary. Rather, the writing system is roughly logosyllabic; that is, each character generally represents either a complete one-syllable word (see logogram) or a single-syllable part of a word. Kanji themselves are often composed of parts that may represent physical objects or abstract notions. Written Chinese is one of the world's oldest active, continuously used writing systems. Many current Chinese characters have been traced back to the Shang dynasty about 1200–1050 BC, but the process of creating characters is thought to have begun some centuries earlier. After a period of variation and evolution, Chinese characters were standardized under the Qin dynasty (221–206 BC).

Kanji were first introduced into ancient Japan in the first half of the first millennium AD. At the time, Japanese had no native written system, and kanji were used for the most part to represent Japanese words with the corresponding meanings, rather than similar pronunciations. A notable exception to this rule was the system of man'yōgana, which used a small set of Chinese characters to help indicate pronunciation. The man'yōgana later developed into the phonetic alphabets, hiragana and katakana.

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Extermination of Evil Tenkeisei.jpg
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Shinto has its roots in ancient Japan. Here, the God of Heavenly Punishment is shown consuming the ox-headed deity Gozu Tennō, the god of pestilence.


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Heishi Rock is an attraction at Kamome Island.

  • ...that in Shinto, yorishiro, such as sacred trees, attract spirits, give them a physical space to occupy and make them accessible to people for religious ceremonies?
  • ...that according to a legend, the Heishi rock (pictured) represents the God of the Sea of Japan?
  • ...that the stone "lions" seen at the gates of Shinto shrines are actually Chinese dogs?


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This inscription on a granite monument bears a calligraphic inscription which is influenced by the Northern Wei robust style.

The term "National Treasure" has been used in Japan to denote cultural properties since 1897. The definition and the criteria have changed since the inception of the term. The writings in this list of documents designated as National Treasures of Japan contains items of various type such as letters, diaries, records or catalogues, certificates, imperial decrees, testaments and maps. Writing was physically introduced to Japan from China in the form of inscribed artefacts around the year 1 BC. Examples, some of which have been designated as archaeological national treasures, include coins of the reign of Wang Mang (AD 8–25), a 1st century gold seal from Shikanoshima, a late 2nd century iron sword from the Tōdaijiyama burial mound, the Seven-Branched Sword with inscription from 369 and a large number of bronze mirrors—the oldest dating to the 3rd century. All of these artifacts originated on the continent, most likely in China. The concept of writing came to Japan from the Korean kingdom of Baekje in the form of classical Chinese books likely written on paper and in the form of manuscript rolls. The oldest texts of Japanese origin, which show a clear understanding of the concept of writing, date to the 5th century and are inscriptions on stone or metal.

Examples include three archaeological National Treasures: Suda Hachiman Shrine Mirror from about the 5th century, which is a poor copy of a Chinese original, the Inariyama Sword from 471 or 531 and the Eta Funayama burial mound sword from about the 5th century. The abrupt transition from an unfamiliarity with writing to reading and writing complicated works in a foreign language required the earliest Japanese texts be composed and read by people from the continent such as Wani. The Inariyama Sword is also the oldest example of man'yōgana use, a writing system that employs Chinese characters to represent the Japanese language. Soon after the introduction of writing, scribes were appointed to the provinces to "record events and report conditions".

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In the news

November 2010: A 35,000 year old stone tool with a ground edge is found in Australia, predating the earliest ancient Japanese example by at least 5,000 years. (1)


August 2010: Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan promised to return a “small portion” of the estimated 61,000 artifacts that were taken from Korea during colonial rule. (2)


March 2009: For the first time since World War II, a complete set of ancient Japanese dolls was displayed at the week-long "Session Road in Bloom" to celebrate the 14th Panagbenga Festival. (3)


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