Ancient mysteries in Japan

(Posted on June 15, 2022)


Here, I would like to look into two well -known, in fact household, ancient mysteries: one is related to the location of an ancient kingdom and another is the possible invasion of Japan by a horse-riding nation.


During the 2nd -3rd Centuries AD, a powerful federation of countries in Japan existed and was called “Yamatai-koku,” according to the Chinese historical document, “Sanguo Zhi” or the History of the Three Kingdoms. The Chinese document mentions that Yamatai-koku was ruled by a queen and paid tribute to one of the Chinese kingdoms in 239 AD.  It also says the location of Yamatai-koku in terms of direction and distance by boat and on foot from northern Korea; but you will end up in the middle of the ocean if you follow these bearings in reality. 


           Sanguo Zhi is a Chinese history book written about the Three

           Kingdoms from 184 to 280 AD. The book consists of 65 volumes

           and Yamatai-kokku is mentioned in the 30th volume as shown in

           these photos above. 


There is a big debate as to the location of Yamatai-koku. Some scholars argue that it was located in northern Kyushu, which is the southern most of the four main islands, because of its proximity to Korea, the window for importing Chinese and Korean goods and culture. Another group of pundits advocate that Yamatai-koku was in the Kinki area, around today’s Kyoto and Nara which became ancient capitals of Japan. 












This is the life-size doll of Himiko, the queen of Yamatai-koku on display at the Museum of Yayoi Culture in Osaka. The Yayoi Culture (from the 4th Century BC to the 3rd Century AD) is characterized by the introduction of rice planting.  


Now, turning to the second mystery. It is proclaimed that a horse-riding nation in today’s northern China and beyond invaded Japan and established a dynasty in the 4th to 5th Centuries AD. Under the theory, horses in great numbers came into Japan in a relatively short span of time citing some archeological findings. Clothes, farming tools, weapons, tombs were found to be similar to those of a horse-riding culture. So, the theory goes on that there was an abrupt change in culture and way of life from predominantly farming lives to that of horse-riding culture. Opponents to this theory argue that there are no historical documents in China or Korea substantiating the mass movement of a horse-riding nation and its culture. They also mention that there were no abrupt discontinuities in ancient history.  















A clay image of an ancient soldier 









A clay image of a horse


So, the arguments for these mysteries continue. We have to wait for some definitive evidence, be them new documents or archeological findings, to finalize the debate. Or do we want to keep these mysteries as they are? 




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