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April 27, 2009

Kofun Culture

by Charles T. Keally

The Kofun Period takes its name from the large mound tombs (kofun) that characterize and define the period. This period sees the full development of the early Japanese state, and it is a time of close contacts with the continent, especially with the Korean kingdoms. In one sense, the Kofun Period marks the end of Japanese prehistory -- it lacks any significant contemporary written records. But in another sense, the Kofun Period is the beginning of Japanese history -- for there are many records compiled just after the period closed, and these records are based on older, contemporary documents that were destroyed or on oral histories still circulating at that time. The Kofun Period is Japan's protohistoric period.

Archaeologists place the beginning of the Kofun Period at the time the first keyhole-shaped mound tombs appeared. Mounds on burials began several centuries earlier in the Yayoi Period. Similar round and square mounds with moats continued all through the Kofun Period, although the Kofun burial was placed in the top of the mound instead of under it, as in the Yayoi Period. But the keyhole shape is thought to mark imperial mounds and hence to mark a transition in cultural evolution worthy of a new name for the subsequent period.

The date of the first keyhole-shaped mound tomb generally has been given as about 300 A.D. Recent discoveries, however, push that date back 25-50 years, almost to the time of Queen Himeko's death. The date for the end of the Kofun Period is placed variously at 552 (the official date for the introduction of Buddhism) or 710 (the date of the move to the Heijo-kyo capital).

Early Kofun end 3rd c.-4th c. Silla
57 B.C.-A.D. 935
A.D. 42-562
18 B.C.-A.D. 663
37 B.C.-A.D. 668
108 B.C.-A.D. 313
Eastern Chin 317-420
Middle Kofun end 4th c.-5th c. Six Dynasties 420-589
Late Kofun
  Asuka (552-646)
  Hakuho (646-710)
6th c.-7th c. Sui Dynasty
T'ang Dynasty
618-ca. 907

During the Early Kofun Period, China was badly divided and apparently of no significance to the developments in Japan. To a large extent this remained true also during the Middle Kofun Period and the early part of the Late Kofun Period. But the 5th-century Chinese records that do exist tell of regular visits by emissaries from the "mysterious" five kings of Wa. Then, with the reunification of China under the Sui Dynasty in the late 6th century, and particularly with the florescence of culture during the T'ang Dynasty from the 7th century, Chinese influence on developments in Japan became quite strong.

The Korean kingdoms, on the other hand, were significant in the developments in Japan throughout most of the Kofun Period. These kingdoms fought with Wa (Japan) alone and in varying alliances with each other or with China. And they fought among themselves in varying alliances with each other and with Wa and/or China. Their territories were always in flux. The three major kingdoms -- Koguryo in the north, Paekche in the southwest, and Silla in the southeast -- evolved out of the preceding "Three Han" cultures, mostly in the 2nd to 4th centuries, around the beginning of the Kofun Period in Japan. The kingdom of Kaya, in the south between Paekche and Silla, certainly existed, but what exactly this entity was is still controversial. The unification of Korea under Silla in 676 followed the conquest of Paekche in 663 and Koguryo in 668, near the close of the Kofun Period in Japan.

The "history" of the Kofun Period depends on outside sources, first Korean records, then both Chinese records and the early Japanese writings from the Nara Period in the early 8th century. There are no Chinese records on Japan from 266-413. The 4th-century Korean records, though, tell of considerable interaction between the Korean kingdoms and Wa, and of Wa's military intervention on the peninsula. The Chinese records of the 5th century show that the developing Yamato Government was again in close contact with China. This is probably the time when writing was first introduced to Japan. The Japanese Kojiki (712), the various Fudoki (713), and the Nihon Shoki (720) pick up the story, in hindsight, from the 6th century. Buddhism was introduced into the country at that time, the Korean-related Soga and the native Mononobe clans struggled over the primacy of Buddhism or the native religion, the Yamato forces conducted battles in Korea, and many temples were built. In the 7th century, Shotoku Taishi and Soga Umako edited the Tennoki and the Kokki, but these documents, and others of that time, were burned in the Taika Reforms of 646. The Yamato Government continued to interfere in Korea, until its major defeat at Paekchon River in 663. And a few decades after that, true history dawned in Japan.

Early Kofun 266-413 no Chinese documents on events in Japan
300 mound tombs common in Kinki and coastal Seto Naikai
391 Wa defeats Paekche and Silla, and battles with Koguryo
Middle Kofun 413-502 the "mysterious" five kings of Wa -- San, Chin, Sei, Kou and Bu -- send regular emissaries to China
430s massive kofun being built everywhere
471 writing on iron sword in the Inariyama Kofun in Saitama Pref., saying that the nation was already unified
470s groups of small kofun appear in Kinki
Late Kofun 540 the first register of immigrants was made
Asuka 552 Buddhism introduced to Japan (also said to be 538)
late 500s struggles between Soga Umako and Mononobe Moriya
587 Soga defeats Mononobe
588-596 craftsmen from Paekche build Hoko-ji (Asuka-dera)
592 Soga Umako kills Sushun Tenno and installs Suiko
593 Shotoku Taishi (Prince Shotoku) becomes active in Japanese history (d. 622 at age 49)
594 Buddhism becomes the official religion
607 Shotoku Taishi builds Horyu-ji temple
620 Shotoku Taishi and Soga Umako edit the first major documents produced in Japan
645 the first use of the nengo (reign date) dating system (the first nengo is Taika)
Hakuho 646 the Taika Reforms begin; these reforms discourage the building of large mound tombs
658 Abe-no-Hirafu battles the Emishi and the Mishihase; 659 he pacifies the Emishi; 660 he battles the Mishihase again
663 Wa and Paekche forces are defeated at the Paekchon River (Hakusukinoe in Japanese) by the T'ang and Silla forces
681 compilation of the Ritsuryo Laws begins
685 Buddhism becomes the mandatory religion
694 capital moved to Fujiwara-kyo, the first "permanent" capital
708 Horyu-ji rebuilt
710 the capital moved to Heijo-kyo (Nara)

The Yamato Government was centered on a Kimi (King), and from the 5th century an Ohkimi (Great King). The title Tenno (Emperor) was used from the time of Temmu (673-686). The government was a coalition of Great Clans. These were the Soga, Kazuraki, Hekuri, Wada and Koze clans in the Nara Basin, and the Izumo and Kibi clans in the Izumo-Hyogo area. The Ohtomo and Mononobe clans were the military leaders, and the Nakatomi and Inbe clans handled rituals. The Soga clan provided the highest minister in the government, while the Ohtomo and Mononobe clans provided the second highest ministers. The heads of provinces were called Kuni-no-miyatsuko. The crafts were organized into guilds. But this whole organization evolved throughout the period; the details are in most history books.

Archaeology focuses strongly on the mound tombs that mark the period. It also deals with the pottery, buildings, villages and towns, and production and trade. The tombs are studied from every angle -- structure and size, burial goods, haniwa, funeral rituals, implications for social structure, role of Imperial Family, and so on. The pottery is studied largely for production techniques and as time markers. The buildings and the villages and towns are studied to learn about the lifeways of the people. And production and trade are studied to learn about the economy of the time. Rice farming was established as the economic base in the previous period, and no significant new items are known to have been added during the Kofun Period, so the Kofun diet gets relatively little attention from archaeologists.

Kofun Mound Tombs:

The origins of the Kofun Period mound tombs is clearly in the Yayoi Period, although ultimately continental influence might well be a factor, too. The most common Yayoi burials were in the ground in a square area delimited by a ditch or moat. The burial in the middle had a low mound over it. Toward the end of Yayoi, some of these ditches or moats became round. With higher mounds, these were the most common kofun tomb in the Kofun Period, but the burial was on top of the mound instead of under it. The square mounds, too, continued from Yayoi into Kofun, but these later ones also had the burial in the top of the mound instead of under it.

Numbers of Tombs:
There are about 30,000 kofun mound tombs in Japan. These date from the 3rd century to the 7th century. Of these, 188 are designated as ryo, the tombs of emperors and empresses, and another 552 are designated as bo, the tombs of other members of the royal family. There are 46 more designated as ryobo sankochi, or possibly the tombs of members of the imperial family, and 110 other types of "burials" that are treated the same way as imperial mound tombs. These 896 tombs and "burials" are centered on the Kinki District. They were officially designated at the end of the Edo Period and the Meiji Period, based on the Kojiki, Nihon Shoki, Engishiki and other ancient documents. About 600 decortated tombs are known, from Kyushu in the south to the southern part of Tohoku in the north. These date to the 5th and 6th centuries. They are about 1% of the total known mound tombs.

The most distinctive mounds of the Kofun Period are the keyhole-shaped mounds, zenpo-koen (square front, round back) and zenpo-koho (square front, square back). These are thought to be associated with the Imperial Family. This shape is uniquely Japanese and its origins are unknown. But Korean archaeologists recently have identified a few contemporary mound tombs in southeastern Korea that they say are also keyhole-shaped. Some people try to use these recent Korean finds to argue for a Korean origin of the keyhole-shaped mound tombs. But this fails to explain why this shape is rare in Korea and only recently recognized there through excavation, whereas this shape is common in Japan, obvious without excavation, and has been known for centuries.

There are a number of other shapes, and some mounds are covered with stones. The most common of these non-keyhole shapes are round and square mounds. But there are 11 or 12 eight-sided mound tombs on square bases, and eight that are round on top and square on bottom.

In the Kinai district, the eight-sided mound tombs are thought to be Imperial tombs, and there they are dated to the middle 7th century and the beginning of the 8th century. But there are five such tombs in Yamanashi, Tokyo and Gumma prerfectures in eastern Japan, where they are dated to the early 7th century. One of these is the Inarizuka Kofun in Tama City in Tokyo. This mound is 38 m on a side. It has a platform-like lower layer. A stone-lined side-entrance chamber sits on this platform, and the chamber is covered by the mound making up the second tier. The lower sides of this upper tier are covered with rocks. A recent report on the excavation of an eight-side mound tomb at the Kuwahara site in Ibaraki City, Osaka, suggests that tomb might belong to a member of the Nakatomi clan. This tomb dates to the middle 7th century.

The excavation of the Kumano Jinja Kofun in Fuchu City, Tokyo, in 2003 and 2004 has sparked a lot of discussion of the mound tombs with round tops and square bottoms. This tomb had a thin square base 32 m on a side, and a thicker second square tier 23 m on a side. The round top was 16 m in diameter. The tomb, as it remains today, is 5 m high. The sides of the round top and middle square tier were covered with stones. A large side-entrance stone burial chamber was set in the middle tier and covered with the round upper tier. The tomb is thought most likely to date to the early half of the 7th century. The Kumano Jinja Kofun sits alone about 500 m from the nearest bluff. Along this bluff are two clusters of smaller round mound tombs dated to the 6th to mid 7th centuries.

The other seven mound tombs in Japan with round tops and square bottoms are located in Nara (2), Osaka (1), Gifu (1), Shizuoka (1), and Saitama (2) prefectures. One of the two tombs in Nara is the Ishibutai Kofun, thought to be the grave of Soga Umako (d. 626). These mound tombs with round top and square bottom seem to date from the beginning of the 7th century to the beginning of the 8th century.

Late Kofun Emperors and Tomb Shapes
EmperorDatesTomb Shape
EmperorDatesTomb Shape
Saimei*655-661see Kogyoku
  • * marks female emperor
  • emperors Kogyoku and Saimei are the same person
  • based on: Fuchu-shi Kyodo no Mori Hakubutsukan (ed.). 2006. Asuka Jidai no Kofun: Kensho! Fuchu Hakken no Joen Kaho Fun (Mound Tombs of the Asuka Period: Verification! The Round-Top-Square-Bottom Mound Tomb Found in Fuchu). Fuchu-shi Kyodo no Mori Hakubutsukan Bukkuretto 8. Fuchu City, Tokyo: Fuchu-shi Kyodo no Mori Hakubutsukan.

The early mound tombs took advantage of natural topography, and they are located mostly in hilly areas. But Middle Kofun mounds were built on the plains. By the Late Kofun Period, keyhole-shaped mounds had also appeared in the mountainous areas and on some islands, and there were clusters of small round mounds in many regions.

The burials in the Early and Middle Kofun mounds were place in the top of the mounds, usually in stone-lined chambers entered from the top. Some burials had coffins of various types and others have no trace of a coffin. Late Kofun chambers were usually set on the ground under the mound and entered from the side through a passageway (yokoana chambers). Some of these yokoana chambers were set in the mound. A few such chambers have paintings on the walls, such as the long-famous Takamatsuzuka Kofun near Nara, or the recently discovered Kitora Kofun in the same area. Both these tombs are thought to date to the very end of the 7th century.

Burial Goods:
Burial goods are commonly mirrors and beads (magical items) and various other things, including weapons, in the Early Kofun Period. But weapons and horse gear are the distictive burial goods in the Middle and Late Kofun Period. Sue ware of Korean origin also appears in the burials from the Middle Kofun Period on. This "sudden" appearance of continental and warrior burial goods around the middle of the 5th century is the basis for Egami Namio's famous "horse-rider" theory of the origins of the Japanese nation. This theory is controversial, but the burial goods do suggest at least that the leader changed from a magician to a warrior. One of the most famous tombs yielding warrior-related goods is the end 6th century Fujinoki Kofun near Nara.


Haniwa clay figures are found on most mounds of this period. Their origins and purpose are unknown. The earliest haniwa are large clay cylinders, and these remained the most common type throughout the Kofun Period. Figure haniwa appeared later and are more common in eastern Japan than in western Japan. These included various animals, humans of all social standings, buildings, armor, weapons, shields and other things.

Two important facts for understanding haniwa are their quantities -- total and of each type -- and their arrangements on the tombs. Perusal of several hundred pages of archaeological books dealing solely with haniwa or mound tombs turned up detailed discussions of the types, the evolution of the types, and speculation on the meanings of the haniwa, but only vague, sketchy mentions of the quantities and arrangements, with no hint of regional and temporal variations in the quantites and arrangements of the haniwa.

The quantities of haniwa seem to range from a few to a few thousand on any one kofun, with cylindrical haniwa always by far the most common. The basic arrangement is one, two or three rows of cylindrical haniwa set around the flanks of the mound. A few figure haniwa were sometimes included among these. But most figure haniwa apparently were set in square or rectangular enclosures made of cylindrical haniwa and several figure haniwa. These enclosures appear to have been located both on top of the mound and near the bottom, or nearby but outside the mound area itself. The rows of cylindrical haniwa minimally served to reduce erosion of the mound. What other purpose they might have served is not known. The enclosurse with figure haniwa seem to represent various aspects of the funeral rites or of beliefs about life after death.

Tomb Sizes:
The most outstanding characteristic of these mound tombs are the sizes of some of the ones dated to the 5th century. There are well over 10,000 mound tombs in Japan, and these range from 5 m in diameter up to the collossal Daisenryo Kofun (Emperor Nintoku's tomb) dated 443 A.D. This keyhole-shaped tomb is 486 m long, 305 m wide at the widest point, and 35 m high at its highest point. This compares to the Great Pyramid of Giza, which is 230 m square at its base and 144 m high. The Konda Gohyoyama Kofun (Emperor Ojin's tomb) is the second largest at 415 m length. In the traditional geneology, Emperor Nintoku succeeded Emperor Ojin. Their huge mound tombs manifest the power of Wa in the early 5th century. But already by the late 4th century and early 5th century there were quite a few tombs that exceeded 200 m length. However, the largest keyhole-shaped tomb in the 6th century is the Mise Maruyama Kofun (probably Emperor Kinmei's tomb, d. 570), which is 318 m long. After that, the tombs continue to become smaller and disappear altogether in the early 8th century.

April 27, 2009
Additional Information on Tomb Sizes
It is estimated that Emperor Ojin's mound tomb has 1,400,000 m3 of dirt, or about 170,000 large dump-trucks of dirt, and that it would have taken 1,000 laborers a full 4 years to build. Emperor Nintoku's tomb is larger.

  • Imao, Keisuke. (2009). Imao Keisuke no Chizu o Aruku: Kodai to Shigai Pitchiri [Imao Keisuke's Walking Maps: Exact Fit of the Ancient and Modern Streets]. Yukan Yomiuri Shinbun [Evening Yomiuri Newspaper], (Uikuendo Bunka [Weekend Culture]), April 25, p. 13. (in Japanese)

Mound tombs, especially the larger ones, tend to be located in clearly defined regions. Mound tombs are common in Kyushu only in the northwest, especially in the Chikugo River plain in Saga and southern Fukuoka prefectures. There is another such concentration of tombs in the eastern part of the Inland Sea in Okayama Prefecture on Honshu island and just across the water in Kagawa and Tokushima prefectures on Shikoku island. Similar concentrations are found in eastern Shimane Prefecture from Izumo to Matsue City on the Sea of Japan, in Nara and Kyoto prefectures, along the shores of Ise Bay from Nagoya to Ise, in Ishikawa Prefecture on the Sea of Japan, on the Kanto Plain in eastern Japan (especially in North Kanto), and on the Sendai Plain in northern Japan. There are smaller concentrations of tombs in Shizuoka Prefecture, and in the intermontane basins around Nagano, Yamagata and Kofu cities.

Archaeologists identify these concentrations with regional power centers, and they identify small clusters of tombs within these concentrations with the various clans known from later documents. In the north, keyhole-shaped mounds appeared in the Sendai Plain as early as the 5th century; the northern-most such tomb is in southern Iwate Prefecture. But most tombs in the northern regions are later. This northern region was the frontier with the Emishi barbarians who lived in northern Tohoku. Keyhole-shaped mound tombs are extremely rare in southern Kyushu, the home of the Hayato barbarians.

Imperial Tombs:
The mound tombs designated as the burials of early emperors are the focus of considerable controversy. Archaeologists want to excavate them, of course, but the Imperial Household Agency refuses to let any outsiders onto the grounds of these tombs. There is a myth around that this refusal is because the Imperial Household Agency, and thus the emperor and his family, will discover that the Japanese imperial line is Korean in origin. But the fact that some of the Great Clans around the imperial line and providing wives and mothers for the emperors were descendent from Korean immigrants is clear in the Nihon Shoki and has never been censored from the history books. And there are a lot of people in Japan and in the world who would refuse to let archaeologists or anyone else dig up the graves of their ancestors, especially in a country where none of the archaeological organizations has a code of ethics.

However, the facts are much more complicated that this. The Imperial Household Agency has been doing some excavation work on the designated tombs, in conjunction with maintenance work, and recently they have let a select few archaeologists join in the work. And some tombs designated as imperial tombs have been excavated in the past. Nintoku's tomb is one of these. There also are major problems with the designation of kofun mound tombs as imperial tombs. During the period of mound tomb building, no one kept records of who was buried in which tombs. When the first histories of Japan were compiled in the early 8th century, the memory of these tombs was already lost and the writers had to guess. Then nothing more was done for over 1,000 years, until efforts were made in the late Edo and early Meiji periods to determine which mounds were imperial tombs. Some of these designations are now known to be wrong and a large portion of the others are suspect. If archaeologists have not already accidently excavated an imperial tomb, sooner or later they will, unless all kofun mound tombs are investigated and far more reliable designations of the imperial tombs are made. In fact, only 2 of the mound tombs are generally agreed to be designated correctly, the tombs of Emperor Temmu and Tenji.

March 14, 2008

On-the-Ground Research on an Imperial Tomb

On February 22, 2008, at 1 p.m., 16 "outsiders," the representatives of 16 academic organizations, entered the grounds of an imperial mound tomb for the first time in 130 years.1, 2 This "on-the-ground research" was the culmination of over 30 years of almost annual requests by the Japanese Archaeological Association and other academic organizations for permission to investigate the imperial tombs.

The Imperial Household Agency had refused permission for outsiders to enter the grounds of these tombs on the need for tranquility and dignity. I have considerable sympathy for this stance. Among other reasons: most academic organizations do not (or until recently, did not) have codes of ethics. The Japanese Archaeological Association only recently approved a code of ethics for that organization, in the aftermath of a massive archaeological hoax exposed in 2000.

The tomb investigated this time is the Gosashi Kofun, said to be the tomb of Empress Jingu. The investigation was 2 1/2 hours walking around the lower terrace of the mound, and noting haniwa and other features visible along the way. The Gosashi Kofun is located in Misasagi-cho in Nara City. It is a keyhole-shaped mound tomb 270 m long and presently thought to date to the mid 4th century, the middle of the Early Kofun Period. (Empress Jingu's dates are generally given as A.D. 201-269.) But haniwa sherds discovered during the February investigation suggest the angular front part of the mound spread wider than apparent today, indicating this tomb dates to the end of the Early Kofun Period or the beginning of the Middle Kofun Period (ca. A.D. 400).


  1. Imao, Fumiaki. (2008). Jingu Kogoryo Hatsu no Tachiiri: Chikuzo 4 Seiki Matsu Zengo ka [First On-the-Ground (Investigation) of Empress Jingu's Tomb: Built about the End of the 4th Century?]. Yomiuri Shinbun, March 3, p. 19. (in Japanese)
  2. Kataoka, Masato. (2008). Ryobo ga "Seiiki" ni Naru mae wa [Before the Imperial Mound Tombs Became "Sacred Territory"]. Kofun Ko 2008 [Consideration of the Kofun], part 3. Yomiuri Shinbun, March 18, p. 5. (in Japanese). Kataoka notes that the external forms of the tombs of emperors Ojin, Nintoku and Richu were investigated in fiscal years 1949 and 1950, a bit less than 60 years ago, although a proposed excavation was cancelled due to opposition from other academics.

EmperorNihon ShokiActual
Jimmu660-585 B.C. mythological
Suizei581-549 largely fiction
Suinin29 B.C.-A.D.70
Keiko71-130 might be real
4th c.(?)
*Jingu Regent201-269 for Empress Himeko
mid. 3rd c.
Ojin270-310 probably real
ca. 370-390
or early 5th c.
Nintoku313-399 early 5th c.
Anko453-456 mid 5th c.
EmperorNihon ShokiActual
Yuryaku456-479 probably correct
  * female/empress


The pottery of the Kofun Period is divided into two large categories: haji ware and sue ware. The haji ware is a reddish yellow, low-fired utilitarian ware of local origins. The sue ware is a grey, high-fired expensive or ritual ware made with technology imported from Korea. Both categories are subdivided into numerous regional and temporal types. These types in most regions of the country are now dated to calendar intervals approaching 50 years.

in Kanto, Eastern Japan
GoryoEarly Kofun
Izumiearly Middle Kofun
Onitaka Ilate 5th century-
Onitaka IIto
Onitaka III-late 7th century
MamaNara Period
KokubuHeian Period

Haji ware is abundant in all sites throughout the Kofun Period. It is an everyday utilitarian ware, commonly found around the "kitchen" area of dwellings or in trash heaps. This pottery evolves directly out of the preceding Yayoi pottery. Archaeologists differ on just which micro-characteristics should identify a pot as final Yayoi or as beginning haji. A non-specialist could not see a difference, the transition from Yayoi ware to haji ware is so gradual. Haji ware continued as the main pottery all the way through the Kofun Period and on to the end of the Heian Period.

The Early Kofun Goryo type haji has many forms -- bulbous pots with short or long flaring rims, bowls with round bottoms, bulbous pots with short flaring rims and long pedestals, and pedestals with only a small cup on top used for setting other pots. The surface of most pots is roughened with a fine-toothed comb-like tool. The lips often have small notch-like indentations. And some vessels are painted with red and look very much like Yayoi vessels of the same shape and decoration. The general shapes of the preceding Late Yayoi Maenocho pottery were the same as the Goryo shapes. But more of them appear to have had smooth surfaces, much like the Korea Plain Pottery ware of the same age.

The Middle Kofun Izumi type pottery continued the bulbous pots and bowls with round bottoms common in the Goryo type. But fewer of the vessels had roughened surfaces; many were smoothed with a spatula-like instrument. But most pots had short flaring rims, with few having the long flaring rims common on Goryo type pottery. Also, pots with pedestals faded and were replaced by bowls with pedestals.

The Late Kofun Onitaka type pottery has lots of bowls, bowls with pedestals, and long-bodied pots with only short flaring rims. The long-bodied pots are rounded in the early stages, becoming more cylindrical in later stages. Although Onitaka haji ware is divided into stages I, II and III, there really is not much change through the roughly two centuries of this type, nor even through the next three centuries of the Nara-Heian Period Mama and Kokubu haji ware. And, although archaeologists recognize many regional types, from Kanto to Kyushu, these are hard for the beginner to distinguish. But the haji ware found in sites in Tohoku is much easier to distinguish, especially in the northernmost sites in Aomori Prefecture.

Sue ware begins to appear in sites, especially mound tombs, that are dated sometime after about 400 A.D. This ware was fired at about 1,200 degrees centigrade, and it is sometimes referred to as stoneware in English. Although few if any sue vessels came directly from Korea, the technology was a direct import, and many if not most of the potters were Korean. Most sue ware in Japan is indistinguishable from its parent in Korea. Sue ware was more expensive to produce than haji, so it is found mostly in the houses of richer people or in tombs. In the houses of poorer people there is frequently one sue vessel, probably used in household rituals.

Dwellings and Settlements:

Kofun Period dwellings are almost universally square pits. These range in size from about 3 m on a side up to 8 m or 10 m on a side. The largest yet reported was recently excavated at the Miyagayato site in Akiruno City in western Tokyo -- it was 11.6 m by 13.8 m, and is dated to the later half of the Kofun Period. Most are about 50 cm deep. Many do not have recognizable postholes, but 4 postholes is common. Some of the larger dwellings have 6 postholes. These upright posts were set about 50 cm to 1 m in from the earth wall. Entrances are thought to have been generally on the south side, or opposite the oven in dwellings from the Middle Kofun Period on. These dwellings evolved directly from the preceding Yayoi dwellings, but, with the oven, they are almost identical to contemporary dwellings in Korea.

Reconstructions of the roof vary, but the many houses that burned down in this period provide good evidence of the superstructure. The roof was thatched. There was a peak covering the top of the roof, with smoke vents on both ends. The thatch came down to the ground, or almost to the ground if the dwelling had wooden walls inside the pit.

Early Kofun dwellings had a hearth in the middle of the floor. This appears archaeologically as a patch of burnt earth. But with the influx of Korean ideas, technologies and people in the 5th century, clay ovens were built on one wall, with flues extending out beyond the thatch. These were usually on the wall opposite the entrance, where evidence of the entranceway can be detected, and they are frequently on the north wall of the dwelling. There are some dwellings that appear to have had the entrance next to the oven. The oven had a horizontal hole at floor level for feeding firewood, and a vertical hole on top for setting the pots for cooking or boiling water. A clay cylinder, or "leg", was usually set directly in the fire under the pot to keep the heat uniformly over the lower half. These Kofun period ovens were quite similar to ovens used in Japanese farm houses until quite recently. In fact, some old farm houses still use them.

Some dwellings had storage pits next to the ovens. These were located directly beside the oven on the left or right side, or in one of the corners of the house near the oven. They are often filled with kitchen ware. A few larger dwellings had large storage pits under the entranceway opposite the oven. These pits usually protrude out a bit beyond the wall. Studies suggest a board walkway was placed over the pit for entering the house. Some dwelling pits also have a small ditch all around the inside of the pit wall. Archaeologists generally interpret this ditch as the setting for boards used to hold up the earth wall.

The most common objects found in Kofun Period dwelling pits are the various haji ware pots and bowls. Many dwelling pits also have a number of sausage-shaped natural stones that are interpreted as weaving weights. These stones are usually found in a cluster in the corner on the right side of the entrance, but sometimes they are found strung out across the middle of the floor from side to side. Occasionally, clay spindle whorls, iron knives, iron sickles, iron blades for shovels, and other such objects are also found in or near the dwelling pits.

Sociological interpretation of these dwellings is only a guess. The whole inner end of the dwelling seems to be the kitchen -- a woman's area. Weaving apparently was done in the middle of the floor across the whole center of the dwelling -- again, a woman's area. And the weaving tools were stored in the corner by the entranceway -- another woman's area. That leaves just a bit of the left side of the dwelling, when entering, for the males. Sleeping is thought to have taken place near the left and right walls, behind the posts. But there is no clear evidence that this sexual and activity division actually existed.

In the Kanto area, this type of dwelling continued in general use until around the end of the Heian Period, when the ground-level dwelling came into common use.

Some of the "dwelling" pits are quite small, only about 3 m in length, but they have an oven on one end. These might have served only as a kitchen building. Sets of four or six postholes in a square or rectangle are thought to be the remains of raised-floor storehouses like those of the preceding Yayoi Period, or ground-level buildings, possibly sheds or even houses. These various buildings form clusters that appear to represent the property of individual households. In most large settlements, at least one building can be recognized as being a smithy. This building will have a lot of burnt earth and slag, and the clay mouth pieces for bellows.

The Three Imperial Regalia:

The Japanese Imperial Family is identified with three sacred objects -- the mirror, sword and curved jewel, or magatama -- the Three Imperial Regalia. When exactly these three objects became a set of symbols of the Imperial Line is not clear. But they were already important religious symbols by the Middle Yayoi Period, and are abundant in the tombs of the Kofun Period.

The roots of the mirror are unknown. Han Chinese mirrors were common in northwestern Kyushu by Middle Yayoi, and these were preceded by a few mirrors brought from Korea a bit earlier. The third-century Wei mirrors of Late Yayoi were common in both northwestern Kyushu and in Kinai. Mirrors were a major burial object in Kofun Period tombs, especially the earlier ones, but they are not always -- or even mostly -- associated with the other three symbols.

The mirror from the beginning was perhaps a representation of the Sun Goddess, the ancestor of the Imperial Line. But it might also have been a talisman to ward off evil. It is not known whether the ideas surrounding the mirror were imported from the continent together with the mirror, or whether the Yayoi people simply saw the mirror as a useful symbol of ideas they already had.

The sword (or weapon) might be a symbol of male virility and have its roots in the Jomon stone phallic symbols, thought to represent male fertility. By Latest Jomon, however, these stone phallic symbols looked more like stone swords than phalluses. Bronze swords and spears were originally imported from Korea beginning about the end of Early Yayoi. Later, obviously ritual forms of these weapons were manufactured in Japan and are common in Yayoi sites -- spears in northwestern Kyushu and swords in western Honshu and Shikoku. Swords are common in Kofun Period burials, especially the later ones.

The magatama's origins are more controversial. These curved jewels of jadeite are common in Kofun Period burials, and they are common also in Korean sites of the same age. This fact seems to have led most archaeologists to conclude that the magatama originated in Korea. But magatama are found in Yayoi sites, too, and unquestionable true magatama are reported also in Jomon sites in Tohoku as early as about 1000 B.C., long before true magatama appeared in Korea.

The magatama apparently represents the soul. Tama in Japanese means jewel (ball, bullet) and is also part of tamashi, the Japanese word for soul or spirit. I am no linguist, so I can only guess that this similarity is not a coincidence but rather a relationship that has ancient roots.

The following are useful references in English on the Kofun Period.

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