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Notes on early Japanese history, with a particular emphasis on the enigmatic figure of Himiko and her possible identification in Japanese sources.

Model of Queen Himiko at Osaka Prefectural Museum of Yayoi Culture.

A number of Chinese texts provide interesting insights into the early history of Japan. Though of a sporadic nature, suggesting that recognition from the great power beyond the sea was not of pressing concern throughout much of the Yayoi and Kofun periods, they do nevertheless shine a valuable light on the formulation of the central Japanese state, as well as some tantalising connections with cultures from outside Japan.

Among these records, there are a number of notices appertaining to the career of a certain Bēimíhū or Bìmíhū, who reigned as a queen over a land called Yémǎyīguó (Yamaichi-koku) or Yémǎtáiguó (Yamadai-koku), the precise location of which and its connection with the Japanese term Yamato is still something of a mystery. Nonetheless, the queen has a perfectly acceptable Japanese name: in modern fimes, it is rendered Himiko.


The earliest extant record appertaining to the land of Wō appears in the Shanhaijing ("Classic of the Mountains & Seas"), which is widely regarded as dating from between 300 and 250 BC. Wō is mentioned among other regions "within the North Seas": -

Kai is south of Chü Yen (i.e. Yan state) and north of Wō. Wō belongs to Yan. Ch’ao-hsien is east of Lieh Yang, south of Hai Pei Mountain. Lieh Yang belongs to Yan.

During this early period, according to Endymion Wilkinson, referred both to Japan (specifically the southern island of Kyūshū) and southern parts of the Korean peninsula. The Ch’ao-hsien of the text is a Sinicisation of the Korean name Chosŏn and must surely refer to the state of Gojoseon, which covered the northern part of the peninsula during the period in question. The notion that the term was applicable to southern Korea is interesting in light of subsequent Japanese interest in the region, the nature and extent of which remains a contentious topic. Nakagawa identifies the Kai of the text with the mountain Kaemal, located in the Korean state of Koguryŏ.

In the 1st century AD, Wang Chong composed his Lunheng ("Discourses Weighed in the Balance"), which records Wōrén sending herbs to the Zhou court during the pre-Imperial phase of Chinese history. By that century, though, there is further evidence of contact between China and Japan. A golden seal was discovered on Shika-no-shima on Hakata Bay in 1784 which is believed to have been bestowed upon the king of the Japanese state of Na, named Suishō, by the Han emperor Guangwu in AD 57. The events which led to this remarkable discovery being place in situ is related in the Hou Han Shu ("Book of the Later Han"): -

[T]he Wa country Nu sent an envoy with tribute who called himself ta-fu. This country is located in the southern extremity of the Wa country. Guangwu bestowed on him a seal.

The document elaborates further on contact between Wa and Han China, explaining that, in 107, at the beginning of the reign of Emperor Andi, Wa presented 160 slaves and requested an imperial audience. It is also stated that, from the overthrow of Gojoseon by the Emperor Wu (108 BC), "nearly thirty" of the "more than one hundred communities" of Wa had dispatched envoys to the Chinese court.


By the third century AD, Nu appears to have lost any supremacy it had enjoyed. Instead, the primary Japanese state in Chinese records is called Yamaichi. The name is often corrected to Yamatai, under the reasoning that there is a naming taboo on the tai character (臺). Wontack Hong however disagrees, regarding Yamaichi as the correct name. The primary source for Himiko's reign in Yamatai is the Wei Zhi ("Record of Wei") portion of the San Guo Zhi ("Records of the Three Kingdoms"), which is nearly contemporary with the events depicted and is a primary source for the Hou Han Shu - the number of communities which comprise Wa and the amount engaging in diplomatic relations with China are identical in both sources (though the earlier source does not mention Wu's conquest of Gojoseon).

Nu (Núguó) still exists during the period: -

A hundred lĭ to the south, one reaches the country of Nu, the official of which is called "shimako," his assistant being termed "hinumori." Here there are more than twenty thousand households.

Tsunoda translates the name as "slave country," which accords with the statement in the Hou Han Shu about the 107 envoys sending slaves to China, though it does not chime well with Nu's earlier glory if meant as a pejorative. The source continues (emphasis mine) : -

Going south by water for twenty days, one comes to the country of Toma, where the official is called mimi and his lieutenant, miminari. Here there are about fifty thousand households. Then going toward the south, one arrives at the country of Yamadai, where a Queen holds her court. [This journey] takes ten days by water and one month by land. Among the officials there are the "ikima" and, next in rank, the "mimasho;" then the "mimagushi," then the "nakato." There are probably more than seventy thousands households.

Both Toma and Yamatai comprise more households than Nu and it is from Yamatai that the most significant diplomatic missions come to China.

Additionally, a brief history of the reign of Himiko is afforded in the text: -

The country formerly had a man as ruler. For some seventy or eighty years after that there were disturbances and warfare. Thereupon the people agreed upon a woman for their ruler. Her name was Himiko. She occupied herself with magic and sorcery, bewitching the people. Though mature in age, she remained unmarried. She had a younger brother who assisted her in ruling the country. After she became the ruler, there were few who saw her. She had one thousand women as attendants, but only one man. He served her food and drink and acted as a medium of communication. She resided in a palace surrounded by towers and stockades, with armed guards in a state of constant vigilance.

The decades of turmoil most likely refer to a civil war within Yamatai, though it is tempting to see in this reference a series of battles for supremacy over the land, during which time the power of Nu was curtailed, with Himiko emerging as the leader of a new regional hegemon, perhaps during the final decades of the 2nd century. Certainly, there was no intercourse with China during that century after the embassy to Andi in 107. Himiko's first communique to China occured in 238 and the emperor Cao Rui responded amicably: -

Herein we address Himiko, Queen of Wa, whom we now officially call a friend of Wei. The Governor of Daifang, Liu Xia, has sent a messenger to accompany your vassal, Nashonmi, and his lieutenant, Tsushi Gori. They have arrived here with your tribute, consisting of four male slaves and six female slaves, together with two pieces of cloth with designs, each twenty feet in length. You live very far away across the sea; yet you have sent an embassy with tribute. Your loyalty and filial piety we appreciate exceedingly. We confer upon you, therefore, the title "Queen of Wa Friendly to Wei," together with the decoration of the gold seal with purple ribbon. The latter, properly encased, is to be sent to you through the Governor. We expect you, O Queen, to rule your people in peace and to endeavor to be devoted and obedient.

A Chinese mission led by Ti Zhun, a commandant of the Imperial Guard stationed at Daifang under Liu Xia, visited Yamatai in in 240 and had an audience with the queen. Wa again sent emissaries in 243. Himiko was, by now, an old woman and enemies began circling: in 247, she opined via her messenger Saishi Uwo to the new Chinese commander at Daifang, Wang Qi, of conflict with a certain Himikuku, the king of Kunakoku (Gǒunúguó), a country described as being "12,000 lĭ to the south of Wa," emended in the Hou Han Shu to "one thousand lĭ" to the east of "the queen's country." The Hou Han Shu further states that the denizens of Kunu (i.e. Kunakoku) "are of the same race as that of the Wa. They are not the queen's subjects, however." The name of the country means "dog-slave-land," and has been associated with the Kumaso tribe (who take their name from Japanese kuma, meaning "bear"), an animal totem which remain of considerable importance to the Ainu. Wang dispatched Chang Chêng, who was the acting secretary of the Border Guard, to seek reconciliation. One year later, Himiko was dead: -

When Himiko passed away, a great mound was raised, more than a hundred paces in diameter. Over a hundred male and female attendants followed her to the grave. Then a king was placed on the throne, but the people would not obey him. Assassination and murder followed; more than one thousand were thus slain. A relative of Himiko named Iyo, a girl of thirteen, was [then] made queen and order was restored. Chêng issued a proclamation to the effect that Iyo was the ruler.

Himiko passed away in 248 after a reign of indeterminate length. The notification of her already being of advanced age need not refer to the beginning of her reign as much as to the commencement of relations with China. Chinese sources suggest that the tumult preceeding her accession occurred during the reigns of Huandi (147-168) & Lingdi (168-189), with a long interregunum, before Himiko's rise to power. Against this, the Korean Samguk Sagi, which admittedly dates to 1145 and is thus far removed from the time of Himiko - though conversely contains much earlier material, some of which perhaps served as a pattern for Japanese histories - records diplomatic missions from Japan to the court of Adalla of Silla in 158 and May 173, the latter of which is ascribed to Himiko. This would afford Himiko a reign of at least 65 years, which seems quite extraordinary, though it is not unprecedented: the Egyptian pharaoh Pepi II enjoyed a 64 year reign (94 in some sources), whilst his distant successor Ramsses II was terrorising his neighbours for 66. Himiko's successor Iyo (sometimes given as Toyo for reasons outlined above associated with the character 臺) is described as being a thirteen-year-old girl. If Himiko was a similar age when she was made queen, she would've been around 70 at the time of her first contact with China and 80 at her death. The mission to Silla could perhaps be understood as a quest for powerful allies in the internicene conflicts raging in Japan at that time.


Neither of the two major sources on Japanese history, the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, mentions Himiko by name. However, attempts have been made to connect her with various figures including the empress Jingū-kōgō or the slightly earlier Yamato-totohi-momoso-hime-no-mikoto or Yamatohime-no-mikoto. Yamato-totohi-momoso-hime-no-mikoto was the aunt of the emperor Sujin, whilst Yamatohime-no-mikoto was the daughter of his son and successor Suinin, so perhaps Himiko and Iyo are the historical personages behind these two figures. Hong meanwhile identifies her with Jingū (Okinaga-Tarashi-hime-no-mikoto), who is, incidentally, regarded in the Nihon Shoki as a friend of Silla (which is depicted as part of an almost certainly spurious Japanese empire in Korea). Wong also associates her with the wife of Ame-No-Pi-Poko from the Kojiki, who fled Silla to Japan followed by her husband and whose descendents are specifically said to include Okinaga-Tarashi-hime-no-mikoto. He suggests that this is instead an invasion of Kyūshū (appearing under the cipher of Kumaso) perpetrated from Korean territory, which chimes well with the notion of a culture of Asiatic horsemen migrating to Japan, where they would create the Yamato culture. However, Chinese sources such as the Wei Zhi specifically state that horses were unknown in Wa during Himiko's time.


the Emperor's aunt by the father's side, a shrewd and intelligent person, who could foresee the future
- Nihon Shoki.

The above description of Yamato-totohi-momoso-hime-no-mikoto does seem to share parallels with Himiko, the great sorcerer-queen. Yamato-totohi-momoso-hime-no-mikoto was, however, recorded as having married, unlike Himiko, though it transpired that her husband was a snake god, whose true appearance so horrified her that he fled, leaving her filled with remorse, whereupon she committed suicide: -

She flopped down on a seat and with a chopstick stabbed herself in the pudenda so that she died.

Her burial place is given as Hashihaka ("Chopstick Tomb," appropriately enough), a large kofun near Nara in the heartland of Yamato (which was, it seems, originally based in Kansai and parts of Kyūshū).


Yamatohime-no-mikoto meanwhile is regarded as the founder of the shrine of Ise, which was inaugurated on the orders of the sun goddess Amaterasu Ōmikami. Ise is in today's Mie Prefecture, east of Nara. Interestingly, Yamatohime-no-mikoto appears in the tale of the exiled prince of Yamato, Yamato-takeru (Ōsu-no-mikoto), who came to the shrine at Ise having killed Torishi-Kaya, a leader of the Kumaso people. Another member of the tribe, Ichi-fukaya, had married Yamato-takeru's father Keikō but was executed a year later for her part in her father's assassination.

Yamato-no-hime may herself be a doublet, but first, a digression.

Kibi no kuni was another state during the 4th century AD, located in today's Okayama Prefecture. Its end can be associated with the legendary feat of Kibitsuhiko-no-mikoto, a son of Kōrei-tennō, in defeating one Ura, a monstrous fellow who dwelt in Kibi's putative capital, Ki no jō. There is an element of wordplay inherent here, in that the name ki can also be read as oni, a Japanese term for a demonic entity. Kibitsuhiko-no-mikoto would thus be the great-uncle of the first emperor regarded as potentially historical, namely Sujin, who would date to some time in the immediate aftermath of Himiko's demise.

Sujin's daughters included Toyosukiiri-hime (emphasis mine), who was ensconsed at Kasanui as first priestess of Amaterasu Ōmikami, the tutelary deity of Miwa-yama, at the heart of his kingdom. Another daughter, named Nunakiiri-hime, was made priestess of Yamato-ōkunitama, but her health soon began to fail. The sources place the blame for these ills upon Ōmononushi - the husband of Yamato-totohi-momoso-hime-no-mikoto.

Amaterasu Ōmikami was eventually moved to the new Ise Jingū during the reign of Sujin's son Suinin, who placed his daughter Yamatohime-no-mikoto as high priestess. This account starts with Amaterasu ensconsed in the palace, apparently forgetting the earlier move to Kasanui.

Thus, Yamato-no-hime would appear to serve a similar aetiological function as her putative aunt Toyosuriiki-hime, whose name, of course, evokes the variant form of that of Himiko's successor Iyo. Iyo would have been active during the mid-3rd century AD, probably (given her age) into the latter part of that era, suggesting (as with Robert Elwood) that Sujin and Suinin would straddle the period around AD 300.


Jingū is traditionally dated to between AD 201 and 269, roughly coinciding with the attested dates for Himiko, though slightly late (the lengths of reigns are also grossly overestimated in the earlier portion of the chronology, so this is most likely a coincidence). She was the wife of Chūai and mother of Ōjin, for whom she acted as regent. Jingū is credited with the invasion and subjugation of Korea (before Ōjin's birth), though Japanese designs on the peninsula appear to date from a later time rendering such a claim anachronistic. Hong - ever the Korean patriot - however suggests that this claim can be interpreted as evidence of a migration from Korea into Japan, as noted above. In his scheme, Ōjin is an emigrant from the Korean state of Paekche who founds the state of Yamato and whose floruit sees the beginning of the great Kofun period in Japanese history.


Another alternative is to seek to find the influence of Himiko's career elsewhere. One figure of some importance in the period before the beginning of the Empire is Ninigi-no-Mikoto. He is the son of Ame-no-Oshihomimi-no-Mikoto and grandson of Amaterasu Ōmikami and an ancestor of the first emperor, Jimmu. His son was Hoori (also Hohodemi or Yamasachihiko), who married the tragic Toyotama-hime (emphasis mine) or Otohime, the daughter of the sea god Ryūjin who died shortly after giving birth to Jimmu's father Ugayafukiaezub. In a marked similarity with the account of Yamato-totohi-momoso-hime-no-mikoto, Hoori gazed into the birthing chamber, against Otohime's counsel, and saw his wife in her natural form (a type of dragon known as a wani, which could indicate some type of shark), whereupon she is said to have vanished back to the domain of her father. Hoori had previously lived with her under the sea in Ryūjin's palace at Ryūgū-jō before becoming homesick, whereupon his pregnant wife agreed to live with him on land.

Ōjin appears to have led a large group of people from western Kyūshū to the Kansai region which is similar to the account of Jimmu's migration from Hyūga (the land of the Kumaso in south-eastern Kyūshū, to the south of Toyo) to conquer Yamato (probably understood as the Kansai area). The connection with Kumaso and the recurrence of the name Toyo as a land to the north may suggest that Himikuku's battles against Yamatai met with some success, though the Kunu also perhaps represent vestiges of the ancient Jōmon culture if the connection between them and Ainu-type groups such as the Emishi are accepted as valid, which is a leap of faith and imagination.

Though folk say that one Yemishi is a match for one hundred men they do not so much as resist.
- Nihon Shoki.


If we identify Toyotama-hime as a potential duplicate of Toyo or Iyo, the perhaps Himiko is Ninigi-no-Mikoto's wife Konohanasakuya-hime. She was the daughter of Amaterasu Ōmikami's older brother Ōyamatsumi, and encountered Ninigi-no-Mikoto beside the sea. They marry and she immediately falls pregnant, causing Ninigi-no-Mikoto to suspect the child is not his but has been sired by some kami or other, which causes the wrathful Konohanasakuya-hime to retire to a doorless hut which she fires, claiming in her ire that, should the child be Ninigi-no-Mikoto's, it would not be harmed. The pair have three children including Hoori. This scenario is admittedly rather fanciful and, given that the name is given as Iyo and not Toyo, that is very likely the original.

Oddly enough, there was also a province called Iyo (modern name: Ehime), to the north east of Toyo province in the west of Shikōkū. This area boasts a number of kofun tombs, predominantly from the fifth and sixth centuries, including that ascribed to Kinashi no Karu, namely the Toguzan kofun. Kinaishi no Karu was banished to Iyo by Ankō, ostensibly due to Kinaishi no Karu's incest, though more likely due to his defeat in the conflict over the succession.


Another alternative is that Himiko has influenced the portrayal of Amaterasu Ōmikami in the texts. In any case, no easy answers are forthcoming, though there are some tantalising clues with which to work.



Nothing is known about what became of Queen Iyo and her country. The next notices of Chinese contact from Japan appear in sources of the fifth century, among which the Song Shu ("Book of Song"), which records the dealings of the Liu Song dynasty, is predominant. These sources depict intercourse with five successive kings of Wōguó, who are identified with proto-historical rulers from the list of Japanese emperors (emphasis mine): -

  • In [421], the first Emperor said in a rescript: "Ts'an of Wa sends tribute from a distance of tens of thousands of lĭ. The fact that he is loyal, though so far away, deserves appreciation. Let him, therefore, be granted rank and title." [...]
  • When Ts'an died and his brother, Chen, came to the throne, the latter sent an envoy to the Court with tribute. Signing himself as King of Wa and General Who Maintains Peace in the East Commanding with Battle-Ax All Military Affairs in the Six Countries of Wa, Paekche, Silla, Imna, Chin-han and Mok-han, he presented a memorial requesting that his titles be formally confirmed. An imperial edict confirmed his title of King of Wa and General Who Maintains Peace in the East. [...]
  • In the twentieth year [443], Sai, King of Wa, sent an envoy with tribute and was again confirmed as King of Wa and General Who Maintains Peace.
  • In the twenty-eighth year [451], the additional title was granted of General Who Maintains Peace in the East Commanding with Battle-Ax All Military Affairs in the Six Countries of Wa, Silla, Imna, Kala, Chin-han and Mok-han.

Ts'an (or San), Chen (or Chin) and Sai are the first three of the so-called "five kings of Wa" mentioned in the sources. Ts'an ruled until AD 438 and Chen enjoyed only a short reign, given that Sai was in power by AD 443. He seems to have died by AD 462 when the Emperor Xiaowu appointed his son as ruler. Kō was succeeded by his brother Bu late in AD 477 and Bu remained in power at the time that records of contact cease, likely due to the repeated crises in China.

The titles claimed by - and eventually granted to - these kings betray a considerable interest in southern Korea (Bakeje, Silla, Imna, Chin-han and Mok-han; Silla, Imna, Kala, Chin-han and Mok-han) which would appear to corroborate many aspects of the Gwanggaeto Stele, which covers events between 395 and 410 (four years before the stela's erection) about which debate still rages. Chin-han is Jinhan and Mok-han is Mahan. Imna is merely a duplicate of Mimana, signifying Gaya. Chen already claims military command in southern Korea and asks for his claims to be recognised. The recognition eventually comes during Sai's reign (where Kala - a.k.a. Gaya, known in Japanese sources as Mimana - replaces Paekche). The last of the five kings, Bu, is normally associated with the Japanese emperor Yūryaku and Kō can then be associated with Ankō (or perhaps Kinashi no Karu, as Kō is not specified as having been awarded kingly titles). Sai would be Ingyō, whilst Ts'an and Chen are associated with two of the three preceeding emperors: Nintoku, Richū and Hanzei. These three are traditionally dated much earlier in the 5th century, with the emperor Ingyō enjoying a far longer reign than the Chinese records would appear to allow, though the relationships between the final three kings reflect those of Ingyō and his two sons who reigned after him. Similarly, Richū and Hanzei are brothers, a trait they share with Ts'an and Chen. Sai's relationship to Chen is unknown, though Ingyō was the brother of Richū and Hanzei.

Imaginary portrait of Suiko-tennō.


The Sui Shu ("Book of Sui") records a rather presumptuous later missive from Japan, dated to AD 607: -

"The Son of Heaven (Tiānzǐ) in the land where the sun rises addresses a letter to the Son of Heaven in the land where the sun sets. We hope you are in good health." When the Emperor saw this letter, he was displeased and told the chief official of foreign affairs that this letter from the barbarians was discourteous, and that such a letter should not again be brought to his attention.

The sender of the missive claiming to be on a par with the Chinese emperor is named Tarishihoko, who is identified with the Japanese empress Suiko. Suiko's 607 letter was followed by the arrival of Pei Ching as envoy to Wa a year later. These events are also recorded in the Nihon Shoki.


After this, the Xin Tang Shu ("Second Book of Tang") states that the name had been changed from Wa to Nippon in accordance with the request of a Japanese embassy in AD 670.

Thus, from the emperor Sujin, we can attempt the following reconstruction: -

NumberEmperorBirth nameTraditional datesChinese/Korean identity
Legendary: Yayoi period
10SujinMimaki-Irihiko-Inie-no-mikoto97-30 BC
11SuininIkume-Irihiko-Isachi-no-mikotoAD 29 BC-70 
12KeikōOho-Tarasihiko-Osirowake-no-mikotoAD 71-130 
13SeimuWaka-TarasihikoAD 131-191 
14ChūaiTarashi-Nakatsuhiko-no-mikotoAD 192-200 
  JingūOkinaga-Tarashi-hime-no-mikotoAD 201-269 ADHimiko?
2nd century-AD 248
Kofun period
15ŌjinHonda-no-Sumera-mikoto/Ōtomowake-no-mikoto/Homutawake-no-mikotoAD 270-310Korean sources suggest he reigned from AD 390
16NintokuŌ-Sazaki-no-mikotoAD 313-399Enemy of Gwanggaeto?
17RichūIsaho-Wake-no-mikotoAD 400-405Ts'an
possibly before AD 413-438
18HanzeiTajihi-Mizuha-Wake-no-mikotoAD 406-410Chen
AD 438-c.440
19IngyōWo-Asazuma-Wakugo-no-sukuneAD 411-453Sai
c.AD 440-462
20AnkōAnaho-no-mikotoAD 453-456
AD 462-477
21YūryakuOho-Hatsuse-Wakatakeru-no-mikotoAD 456-479Bu
477-after AD 502
22SeineiSiraka-Takehiro-Kuni-Osi-Waka-Yamato-Neko-no-mikotoAD 480-484 
23KenzōOhoke-no-mikotoAD 485-487 
24NinkenOhosi (Ohosu)-no-mikoto/Simano-IratsukoAD 488-498 
25BuretsuWohatsuse-WakasazakiAD 498-506 
26KeitaiŌto-no-Sumera-mikoto/Hikofuto-no-mikotoAD 507-531 
27AnkanHirokuni-Oshitake-Kanahi-no-mikotoAD 531-535 
28SenkaTakeo-Hirokuni-Oshitate-no-mikotoAD 535-539 
Asuka period
29KimmeiAmekuni-Oshiharuki-Hironiwa-no-Sumera-mikotoAD 539-571 
30BidatsuOsada-no-Nunakura-no-Futotamashiki-no-mikotoAD 572-585 
31YōmeiŌe/Tachibana-no-Toyohi-no-Sumera-mikotoAD 585-587 
32SushunHatsusebe-no-(Wakasasagi)-MikotoAD 587-592 
33SuikoNukatabe/Toyomike-KashikiyahimeAD 592-628Tarishihoko
fl. AD 607-608


If the "great mound" in which Himiko was buried represents the transition between the Yayoi and Kofun eras, then the use of Haniwa, assemblages of clay figurines deposited around tombs, should be seen as a development from the previous use of actual human sacrifices, such as those evidenced in the account of Himiko's internment: "over a hundred male and female attendants followed her to the grave." Prototypical Haniwa first appear in the territory of the later Kibi kingdom during the latter part of the Yayoi period and come to be among the defining aspects of Japanese culture during the succeeding Kofun period. Given the evidence of linguistic and cultural continuity, it is necessary to explain the prevalent position of horses among the haniwa, whereas the San Guo Zhi and Hou Han Shu suggest these animals were not present in Japan during Himiko's floruit.

In fact, Japanese records do indicate that there was an influx of foreign elements, termed Toraijin, during the Kofun era. The Shinsen Shōjiroku, a record of the origins of noble families in Japan during the Nara period, provides genealogical data for some 1182 families, of whom 326 had foreign origins (163 from China, 104 from Baekje, 41 from Goguryeo, nine from Silla and - tellingly - nine from Gaya).

Various clans rose and fell as the Yamato era (comprised of the Kofun and Asuka periods) wore on. During the era of the "five kings," the Katsuragi clan was of considerable importance. Richū's first empress was Kurohime, daughter of Katsuragi no Ashita no Sukune. Their son, Iwasaka no itinohe no Oshiha, is somewhat improbably given as the father of the emperors Kenzō and Ninken. Kenzō and Ninken were alleged grandsons of Richū, with Buretsu the son of Ninken. Keitai is made only a descendent of Ōjin. Yūryaku also had among his secondary wives one Katsuragi no Karahime, daughter of Katsuragi no Tsubura no Ōomi (as well as Kibi no Wakahime, daughter of Kibi no Kamitsumichi no omi, suggesting that the previously independent rival state of Kibi was now under Yamato control). Katsuragi no Karahime was the mother of his successor Seinei.

The Katsuragi were succeeded in precedence by the Ōtomo clan, one of whose number, Ōtomo no Kanamura, was vital in the accession of Keitai to the imperial throne (possibly beginning a new dynasty).

Soon, though, Kanamura was gone due to policy failures and, by the Asuka period, the rival Mononobe and Soga clans were of the greatest importance. The emperor Ankan married Yakahime, a daughter of Mononobe no Itabi no Ōomuraji, whilst Suiko's sesshō ("regent"), Prince Shôtoku, was a scion of the Soga. All of the latter three clans provided advisors to Kinmei (Soga no Iname no Sukune or Soga no Iname; Mononobe Okoshi no Muraji or Mononobe no Okoshi; and Ōtomo Kanamura Maro or Nakatomi no Kanamura), whilst Kinmei's minor wives include Soga no Kitashi. Suiko's other two regents were also members of the Soga clan: Soga no Umako and Soga no Emishi. The Soga claimed descent from those Katsuragi who survived a purge during the reign of Yūryaku and were instrumental in introducing Buddhist philosophy to Japan, which led to the clash with their Shinto traditionalist Mononobe rivals and another powerful clan, the Nakatomi. The Soga were eventually ousted from power during the Isshi no Hen in AD 645, during which Soga no Emishi and his son Soga no Iruka - who had, a year prior, declared themselves "sovereigns" and built opulent palaces for their own use - were eliminated, Iruka by assassination (the initial attack being witnessed by Kōgyoku-tennō) and Soga no Emishi by his own hand the following day, 11th July.


The seventh century also saw the development of new administrative and military measures in Japan, which gave rise to a new type of warrior: the ferocious and brilliant samurai. The Sogas' ephemeral hold on government also preempts later developments, which reduced the figure of the Tennō to a figurehead throughout much of Japan's subsequent history: in turn, the Fujiwara (9th-11th centuries - between 858 and 1155, they dominated the high offices of sesshō and kampaku) and Taira (mid-to-late 12th century) would gain the ascendency, before the Tairas' rivals the Minamoto instituted the first bakufu (a form of government more commonly known in English as a "shogunate"), which lasted from 1192 to 1333. Two further shogunates followed: the Ashikaga or Muromachi (1336-1565) and, after a period of bloody civil strife, the Tokugawa or Edo (1603–1867), which moved the capital to Edo - modern Tokyo - in the Kantō region. The empire struck back with the Meiji Restoration in 1868, subsequent to the United States' Perry Expedition of 1853, opening Japan up once more to foreigners and leading to the country's dazzling and often brutal expansion, curtailed again by the USA in the wake of the Second World War.


The Wa are recorded as having presented themselves as descendents of Tàibó, a member of the family ancestral to the Zhou dynasty, who is said to have departed from his homeland and founded the state of Wú (Gōu Wú) in eastern China. The San Guo Zhi quotes the lost Weilüe ("Brief account of Wei"): -

Wō people call themselves posterity of Tàibó.

A figurine from the Chinese state of Yuè & a Haniwa statuette. Both display evidence of tattooing as part of the customs of the respective peoples.
A figurine from the Chinese state of Yuè (left) and a Haniwa statuette (right). Both display evidence of tattooing as part of the customs of the respective peoples.

Though this could easily be seen as a somewhat spurious claim to prestigious ancestry as a means to gain favour with China, there may well be some truth to this aspersion. The Liang Shu goes further, adding that "according to custom, the [Wa] people are all tattooed." This is interesting as this represents a cultural similarity with Wú, the state alleged to have been founded by Tàibó.

The present-day Japan is also said to be posterity of Tàibó of Wú; perhaps when Wú was destroyed, a collateral branch of the royal family disappeared at sea and became Wō.
- Sima Guang et al, Zizhi Tongjian.

Wú and its neighbour, nemesis and eventual conqueror Yuè (Yú Yuè) shared a non-Sinitic culture whose affiliation is not precisely know, but appears to have been Austronesian or, if part of a larger Yuè complex, proto-Tai. The extent of their divergent nature from the "civilised" norms of early China can be evidenced by the following quote: -

Their language was so different from surrounding ones that not even people from Chǔ could understand it.
- Eric Henry, The Submerged History of Yuè.

Chǔ was another southern state whose history is intermingled with those of Wú and Yuè whose culture was also markedly different from those of the northern states. Though it originated as a predominantly-Sinitic state, Chǔ came to incorporate elements of Bǎiyuè culture and eventually possessed a very different culture to its more northerly peers. The form of Chinese spoken in Chǔ was also said to be quite odd and it is possible that the vernacular in the state was a non-Sinitic language, perhaps similar to proto-Tai. Before being conquered, Chǔ had been the agent of Yuè's demise, annexing it in 334 BC. Wú had fallen to Yuè in 473 BC.

Photo of models from a 2005 event focussing on the Jōmon and Yayoi cultures.
Jōmon vs. Yayoi: you decide, dear reader...

The Yayoi culture emerged in around 300 BC, probably originally on northern Kyūshū, though later spreading throughout Kyūshū and Honshū. Based on skeletal remains, the bearers of this culture appear to have constituted a different ethnicity to the people of the preceding Jōmon culture and DNA evidence suggests links with the population of the lower Yangtze basin in Chinae - the area where the state of Wú had existed. Cultural continuity between the "early Han" population of the area and the people of Wú and Yuè is evidenced archaeologically by a common use of tooth pulling, also shared with both the Yayoi and Jōmon. Thus, there are some clues which suggest that Wa claims of descent from Tàibó may have some basis in fact, similar to Sima's scenario outlined above.

It must be borne in mind, however, that shared features such as tattooing and tooth pulling do not categorically signify a shared culture. Many groups throughout eastern and south-eastern Asia share such customs. Tattooing fell out of favour as Wa evolved into Nippon, whilst the Emishi of Hitakami in Honshū maintained the practice, as do the Ainu - despite the best efforts of the Japanese authorities to curtail the practice.

Another area which shares traits with the Yayoi culture is the southernmost portion of Korea, from where it is a mere case of island-hopping to reach Kyūshū.


As has been noted above, the controvertial Gwanggaeto Stele records the activities of an entity called Wae in southern Korea between AD 391 and 404. The blame for instigating these invasions is placed squarely at the door of Baekje, which had, along with Silla, sought aid from that quarter during the same timeframe according to the Samguk Sagi, which records that Asin of Baekje sent his son Jeonji to Japan in 397, while Silseong of Silla sent his son Misaheun to Japan in 402

These events were part of a series of transactions between Korea and Japan which date back well into the prehistoric period. As Wilson suggests, originally, in all probability, denoted southern portions of Korea as well as the Japanese island of Kyūshū. Artifacts of the Korean bronze dagger culture have been discovered in Yayoi contexts which - at the very least - suggests trade between Japan and the state of Jin, which is identified with the Korean bronze dagger culture, in the final centuries of the pre-Christian era. There is also DNA evidence suggestive of Korean influence on the Japanese gene pool during the emergence of the Yayoi culture, as well as the possibility that refugees from Wú moved overland through Korea before moving to Japan. The statement in the Shanhaijing that "Wō belongs to Yan" is interesting in light of the slightly later career of Wiman (Wei Man in Chinese sources), a general with connections to Yan who founded a dynasty in Gojoseon. Jin's founding legend suggested that the first ruler, Jun, was the unfortunate unseated by Wiman, who fled south to found a successor kingdom deeper in the Korean peninsula.

Jin was succeeded by the Samhan ("three-Han"), a group of three states - Mahan, Jinhan and Byeonhan/Byeonjin - the latter of which morphed into Gaya during the period between Himiko and the five kings. Gaya's traditional founding date of AD 42 perhaps reflects the incorporation of the constituent settlements of Byeonhan or the Samhan as a whole. Jinhan would fall prey to Silla and Mahan to Baekje during the same period, whilst the conquerors' rival Koguryŏ would also emerge. The continued existence of Jinhan and Mahan into the mid-5th century is implied by the military titles claimed, then afforded, to Chen and Sai of Wa according to the Song Shu. It is very likely that the alleged and unlikely Japanese colony of Mimana (Korean: Imna) refers to this state (or a barely-attested constituent), which was Japan's most important trading partner during the later Yayoi and into the Kofun period.

If "Imna/Mimana" did enjoy a separate existence as a state within the Gaya Confederacy (they are treated as separate in the titles granted to Sai, where Gaya replaces Chen's Baekje), it could have been as a entrepôt or proto-free trade zone, enabling merchants from Wa to access trade throughout the Korean peninsula and elsewhere on the mainland. Alternatively, the notion of such a colony could simply be a memory of Japanese forces being dispatched to Gaya to assist Gaya and Baekje in their wars against Silla and Koguryŏ. In one case, the substate of Ara Gaya conducted a joint operation with Japan in AD 540 which was staffed by Japanese officers.

Various ancient Korean artworks and arms.
Left to right: hunting scene from a Koguryŏ tomb; moon goddess from the Koguryŏ-era Ohoe Tomb 4; Seoksu from the tomb of King Muryeong of Baekje; Seosan Buddha displaying "Baekje smile"; Cheonmado or Cheonmadojangni from the Silla-era Cheonmacheong; modern depiction of a soldier from Gaya.

Baekje had been on the ascendency during the middle of the 4th century, under the successful military kings Geunchogo (346-375) and his son Geungusu (375-384), the latter of whom captured Pyongyang in AD 377 from Koguryŏ. Koguryŏ would, however, have its own expansionist period under Gwanggaeto the Great (391-415), whose policies necessitated Baekje and Silla's appeals for Japanese assistance. Subsequently, Wae allied with Baekje and the Gwanggaeto Stele records that this took place in 399, whereupon Koguryŏ came into conflict with the Japanese force in 400 (which precipitates the Japanese retreat into "a castle in Imna Gaya," with the subsequent passage also mentioning Alla, i.e. Ara Gaya) and 404. The controversy about the Stele is a reference to the Japanese incursion of 391, mentioned previously. One proposed (by the Japanese) reading is thus: -

And in the sinmyo (a specific designation within a 60-year cycle) year the Wa (Japanese) came and crossed the sea and defeated Baekje, [unknown], and [Sil]la and made them subjects.

Whilst an alternative (Korean) rendition goes something like this: -

And in the sinmyo year Goguryeo came and crossed the sea and defeated Wa. Baekje made [unknown] and [Sil]la its subjects.

In the latter case, a similar theory makes Imna/Mimana a location on Japanese soil and sees similarities with the toraijin immigration which brought the horse to Japan. Obviously, these issues are highly emotive, particularly in Korea, as the Japanese version, which is highly unlikely to say the least, was developed during the period in which Japan occupied the peninsula. Given the cruelties imposed upon the Korean people, such suggestions - apologias for hegemony - are anathema. Certainly, though, during Gwanggaeto's reign, Yamato Wa proved a valuable ally coveted by the southern Korean polities, though the two expeditions mentioned on the Stele were unsuccessful.

Linguistically, the probability that languages more closely related to the modern Japonic group (Japanese and the Ryukyuan languages) to Koreanic (Korean and, depending on definition, the Jeju language) - themselves posited to share a genetic relationship - were spoken in some of the kingdoms of Korea has been extensively researched and there is much debate despite the relative paucity of evidence. The ancient Koreanic languages are generally placed in two groups. The earliest of these to branch off is termed the Han group, of which the Silla language (the likely ancestor of modern Korean[ic]) is commonly regarded as a member, whilst the remainder formed the Buyeo group, comprised of Buyeo, Koguryŏic, "Buyeo-Baekje" (the reigning family of Baekje claimed Koguryŏic ancestry) and others such as Dongye, Okjeo and potentially Gojoseon, with Ye-Maek possibly representing an ancestral form. Christopher Beckwith proposed a disputed theory that the Koguryŏic language was a relative of Japanese. However, the Balhae language, a probable descendent of Koguryŏic, is regarded as being similar to Sillan by Japanese sources. Additionally, Beckwith proposes a connection between Japonic & a "pre-Kaya" substratum in southernmost Korea ("peninsular Wa"). The notion that Baekje was similar to Koguryŏic has also been brought into question. Toh Soo-Hee suggests that words listed as being Koguryŏic were actually early Baekje. It has been posited that there were two different languages in Baekje: Buyeo-Baekje was, as noted above, Buyeo and came to Baekje with the émigrés from Koguryŏ, whilst Han-Baekje represents the language of Mahan and, potentially, other Han states. This could be related to Gaya and Japanese and any possibly relationship between Gaya and Japonic may have also influenced the development of the Mimana concept.



Among the people listed in Chinese sources as inhabiting the Amur River region to the north east of China, one finds a group known as the Sushen. The Sushen first emerge in the area of modern Shanghai - a region formerly occupied by the Wa's putative Wú ancestors - before moving northwards. From around Himiko's time up until the 6th century, the Sushen come to be known as the Yilou of eastern Manchuria, who seem to have been replaced by the Mohe, a people who are believed to have been their descendents. It is widely suspected that these groups spoke Tungusic languages similar to the later Manchus and other peoples of the same region.

Tungusic people are also regarded as having lived in Japan and to have come into contact with Yamato as the latter state expanded into Honshū and later Hokkaidō. The Nihon Shoki records that, during the reign of Kinmei, a group known as the Mishihase or Ashihase arrived on the island of Sado, whilst an expedition of 660, led by Abe no Hirafu at the request of the Emishi people, engaged a group of Mishihase at Watarishima, possibly the mouth of the Ishikari River in Hokkaidō.

The term Mishihase can also be read as Shukushin and is a Japanese version of Sushen, suggesting that the origins of these people lay in the same region. Other groups of possible Tungusic origins lived on the west coast of Japan (Shukushin) and perhaps even penetrated as far as the Kantō region (Saeki).

Various other tribes would likely have figured earlier in the story of the birth of Japan. Among these, various groups are reported in Kyūshū. The Kumaso, who have been mentioned earlier, are among them and, if the identification with Kunu is tenable, could represent a further influx of people through the Ryūkyū islands. They may also be identical with the Yamato period group known as the Hayato ("falcon men") of southern Kyūshū and probably the Gotō Islands, who persisted into the Nara period. Hayato personnel were in service to the emperor during the period of the five kings, and are mentioned in relation to Nintoku and Yūryaku. A Haya polity is mentioned in the Xin Tang Shu, which may refer to a Hayato state at that time.

In terms of their origins, Kakubayashi Fumio suggests an Austronesian affinity, whilst they may also be represented in the archaeological record by two groups, one resembling the Yayoi remains, whilst the other, who are located inland, sharing some characteristics with the preceding Jōmon.

Various other tribes were likely Japonic. These include the Kumamoto of western Kyūshū (who could be associates of the Kumaso) and the Azumi, who originated in northern Kyūshū and eventually migrated to the Azumi basin in the region of Nagano.

In the Kansai region, legends feature a race termed Tsuchigumo, a term which originally, in all likelihood, designated groups of restless indigenous tribes who fought against the early Yamato polity. In particular, they are associated with the Kanzaki area - where Jimmu buried various parts of one or more of their number - and in the Nara region - where they are reported to possess tails! The term is now applied to a spider monster, which may suggest a connection between the Tsuchigumo and Jimmu's enemy Nagasunehiko ("the long-legged one"), who resisted Jimmu's attempts to settle in the Ōsaka and Nara regions. However, Nagasunehiko is also reported as having been the protector of a certain Nigihayahi-no-mikoto, who claimed a common origin with Jimmu but eventually submitted to him. An ally of Jimmu during the period was Sao Netsuhiko, described as another local chieftian.


Until quite recently, a hirsute people known to the Japanese as the Emishi continued to live in the Tōhoku region of northern Honshū. Culturally, they have been associated with "epi-Jōmon" sites and Satsumon culture (which succeeded the epi-Jōmon or Zoku-Jōmon in around AD 700), which has been suggested as a potential connection between the Emishi and the extant Ainu of Hokkaidō, Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands (both groups speaking "Ainoid" languages). The Ainu are believed to represent a merger between the Satsumon people and elements of the Okhotsk culture bearers, who have been connected with the aforementioned Mishihase.

In terms of their origins, the Mishihase were, like the Yayoi, migrants - and their descendents may still live alongside the Ainu: both the Tungusic Uilta or Orok people and the Nivkh or Gilyak people still live on Sakhalin (the former predominantly in the east, with the latter in the north).

Both the Emishi (from artistic evidence) and Ainu have, based upon physical appearance and their tendency to be more hirsute that most East Asian people, been suggested as a "lost white tribe" which is, obviously, nonsense. Nevertheless, they do appear to be carriers of some very early DNA - and, with reference to tattooing, maintain traditions which the Yamato Japanese have long since forsaken.

Sir Graham