(The ANCIENT JAPANESE – continued)

home | 1000 BCE to 500 CE


previous | next

Rise of the Yamato family

Prince Yamoto Takeru

Prince Yamato Takeru, of the 300s CE.   (Notice the sword)

Similar to other peoples, among the Japanese territorial conflicts arose between local rulers. Some rulers gained in territory and some lost. Greater territory among the winners meant more wealth, more available manpower, bigger armies and more military strength. Competition among the kingdoms created insecurity, which inspired the belief in growth for the sake of power. A ruler had to keep growing or he would be swallowed by one who had. So among the rulers were attempts to expand, which produced more war.

One of the more successful ruling families was the Yamato. The Yamato family came to dominate the agriculturally productive plain in the southwest of what today is Japan. As elsewhere in the world of civilization and empire, those rulers whom the Yamato conquered remained as local lords and paid tribute to the Yamato ruler. The local lords were watched by territorial administrators, technical experts and scribes. A hierarchy of authority had developed, with the local lords remaining proud of their family.

A Yamato ruler called himself Tenno, heavenly ruler, and Yamato family members believed they were directly descended from Jimmu and the gods and that they ruled by divine right. The Yamato spread their rule northward onto the Kanto plain and to most other areas populated by the Yayoi-Japanese.

According to Japanese legend, during the 300s CE, the Yamato spread their rule to the southern coast of Korea, to an enclave they called Mimana. And legend claims that the Korean kingdoms of Paekche (Baekche) and Silla were soon paying the Yamato tribute – a claim Koreans scholars do not accept. [READER COMMENT]

Also in the 300s, it is claimed, more Koreans were moving to Japan: weavers, smiths, irrigation experts, and teachers of Chinese writing and Chinese arts. And the Koreans brought with them to Japan more ideas on Chinese law, medicine, science and social and political organization.

In the 400s, Japan built more complex irrigation systems, and Yamato emperors elevated various families to positions of responsibility for specific matters, such as the military, supervision of religion, technological projects and territorial administration. Yamato rule was developing toward a Chinese-style bureaucratic state. And in the mid-500s would come the Buddhism that had recently been adopted by Goguryeo (Koguryo) and Paekche.


The Cambridge History of Japan, Volume I, Ancient Japan, 1993

The Sources of Japanese Tradition, by Ryusaku Tsunoda and William Theodore de Bary, Volume I, 1965

Japan, from Prehistory to Modern Times, by John Whitney Hall, 1991

Blog from Japan

Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.