In the news: Discovery of 4th century Sueki ceramics at Uji, Kyoto

Clues lead to a shared past / Newly discovered 4th-century ceramics show Korean influence
Kazuya Sekiguchi and Hiroshi Tanaka / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers
Daily Yomiuri
April 3, 2006

The archaeological site in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture, where late fourth-century Sueki ceramics have been excavated.

The archaeological site in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture, where late fourth-century Sueki ceramics have been excavated.

The recent discovery of Sueki unglazed ceramics at an archaeological site in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture, has experts rethinking the chronology of early exchanges between Japan and the Korean Peninsula.

The discovery revealed that the production of Sueki wares began in Japan in the late fourth century, 20 to 30 years earlier than archaeologists had believed, indicating that people from the Korean Peninsula who produced the ceramics arrived in Japan around the same time.

Horseback riding and iron weaponry were also introduced from the peninsula around the same period, bringing a wave of technical innovation to the country.

The ceramics were excavated from the archaeological site along with a cypress board that was dated back to 389 through dendrochronology, the science of dating events through the comparative study of growth rings in trees and aged wood.

Some of the excavated Sueki ceramics. A cypress board, inset, determined the date the ceramics were made.

Some of the excavated Sueki ceramics. A cypress board, inset, determined the date the ceramics were made.

The late fourth century was an era of great instability on the Korean Peninsula. Powerful warriors on horseback from Koguryo in the north advanced south to dominate Paekche and Kaya.

The upheaval also had repercussions for Japan, known in that period as “Wa.”

An inscription on a stone monument of Kwanggaeto (391-412), the 19th king of the Koguryo dynasty, says that the king defeated Wa warriors in battle on the peninsula. The monument is located in what is now Julin Province in China.


A sword preserved at Isonokami Shrine in Tenri, Nara Prefecture, was given to the king of Wa by the king of Paekche in 369, indicating that Paekche, which was at war with Koguyro, tried to establish an amicable relationship with Japan.

The recent discovery has confirmed how a number of advancements in civilization were brought to Japan.

For example, Sueki ceramics are baked in kilns at 1,200 degrees C., an advanced technique unknown in Japan at the time. Sueki ceramics are thin, hard and with high water retentivity–unlike the unglazed reddish earthenware of Japan’s traditional haji ceramics–and were used to preserve sake, for burial ceremonies and on festive occasions.

The ceramics undoubtedly had an impact on festivals and on the way was served in Japan.

Wataru Kinoshita, a curator of the museum attached to the Archaeological Institute of Kashihara, Nara Prefecture, said: “The production technology for high-temperature Sueki ceramics formed the basis of industrial technology for refining iron, casting and other methods. The ceramics would have have played an important role in technical innovation.”

The methods for manufacturing harnesses and weapons were also introduced to Japan around the same period.

Evidence that horses were raised in the mid-fifth century has been discovered from the Shitomiya Kita remains in Shijonawate, Osaka Prefecture.

Many researchers agree that an ancient industrial revolution occurred when various new technologies and cultures were introduced to Japan.

Yukihisa Yamao, prfessor emeritus at Ritsumeikan University, said many immigrants arrived in Japan, probably influencing the country’s culture and characteristics.

“Thanks to this recent discovery, we have learned that the period they arrived in Japan is earlier [than we initially thought],” he said.

Sparking debate

Sueki ceramics were produced continuously at the Suemura kiln sites in southern Osaka Prefecture, including Sakai, from the Kofun period (ca 300-710) to the early Heian period (794-1192). The obvious changes in the shape of the ceramics and how they were made have played a crucial role in dating other ancient tombs and village remains where Sueki wares were excavated.

Based on the knowledge that Sueki ceramic production began in the late fourth century, archaeologists are expected to reconsider the dates attributed to some remains.

The production of Sueki ceramics was thought to have begun in the early fifth century. However, after a piece of wood dated to 412 by means of dendrochronology was excavated from the lower stratum runs of Heijo Palce in Nara along with the ceramics, archaeologists began to think that they could have been produced at an earlier date.

However, the recent discovery has put an end to the argument.

Prof. Shin Kyung Cheol of Pusan National University said the new findings were hard to believe.

However, Prof. Ushio Azuma of Tokushima University was not surprised, pointing out that Japanese had lived in the southern part of South Korea before the Koguryo invasion, and that there might have been mutual exchanges between the countries at the time.


Fujiwara researchers surprised by findings

Near the archaeological site in Uji stands Byodoin temple, a designated national treasure and a relic of the halcyon days of the Fuiwara clan in the Heian period.

The temple was built by Fujiwara no Yorimichi, the eldest son of Fujiwara no Michinaga, an Imperial court official of the Heian period.

Officials of the Uji Municipal Board of Education who have studied the family were surprised by the findings, which indicate Sueki wares might have been first produced at Uji.

It was recently discovered that people from the Korean Peninsula had lived in Uji in the late fourth century.

The discovery also showed evidence that the people of the time rode horses and used iron weapons. — Hiroshi Tanaka

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