Uji clans, titles and the organization of production and trade

In and around the Yamato area, archaeologists have found large manufacturing sites for the production of stone beads, salt and pottery. The Yamato area was also the center for producing and distributing bronze mirrors, prestige goods for local leaders. 

Formation of clan groups: be and uji

From the earlier rice-farming communities,  groups of clans emerged who were charged with specialized tasks (e.g. building and maintaining dikes and canals) and specific areas of control emerged.  The head of these clan groups performed the rites that honored and placated the community’s kami (local deity) … an important job for kofun people. 

Clans of the 5th century located in and around the Nara plain formed groups, thought to have been called uji by a Yamato king,  and these uji groups became hereditary and the roles of the uji clans were passed down through families from generation to generation. Uji likely evolved from the earlier be occupational groups.Occupational groups (be) attached to court and the supporting clans helped to generate much of Yamato’s economic and military might. Be was a word of Paekche (Korean) origin.

Both be and uji are considered by some historians to be units for the control of the Yamato society.

Hereditary titles: omi and kabane

The highest kabane titles were awarded to men who headed powerful and strategic clans who were bound to one Yamato king after another by family ties. The most prestigious kabane were bestowed as a hereditary right on clan leaders at the court with the lowest going to clan leaders in local areas. The highest two omi and muraji were granted only to the heads of powerful clans who served the Yamato kings directly and who resided in the neighborhood of the capital. Great omi or great muraji was bestowed only on the head of the strongest clan. 

Inscriptions on a bronze mirror from the Suda Hachiman Shrine in Wakayama Prefecture, bearing the date AD 443, has Chinese characters on it including of a clan “Kawachi” and “Atai” the kabane title bestowed by a Yamato king. Another inscription on a 5th century Inariyama sword also included the name of a clan and title kabane. The inscription revealed that the sword’s owner Owake no Omi had served King Yuryaku and his predecessors generation after generation. Owake was the name of the clan and Omi was the kabane title bestowed.

A web of court and clan relations

Although the accuracy of the Nihon Shoki chronicles had been doubted earlier by historians, experts have come recently come to regard the reports after the year 400 as surprisingly accurate accounts of dates and events, as well as of the relationships between the Yamato king’s court and the clans.

Title appointments changed often along with new lines of Yamato kings. Historians study these appointments carefully – when the appointments of great omi changed (locally or regionally), they sometimes suggested a shift or break in the Yamato king’s line of descent.

King Yuryaku in the 5th century expanded the use of kabane appointments as a way to strengthen his court’s control of the country. Kabane titles were given out to clan leaders in outlying regions to obtain the chieftains’ allegiance to the Yamato court and to incorporate clan groups from beyond the Nara plain into the Yamato state system.    

The Yamato leaders jealously guarded the right and responsibility for organizing the trade of goods, for the Yamato court especially during the late Kofun period. Struggles and conflicts often took place over those rights between the clan groups.

One response to “Uji clans, titles and the organization of production and trade

  1. Great site, I will be back. Well done

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