The Kofun era was a time of great turmoil on the mainland Asian continent. The chaotic situation triggered the outflow of displaced Chinese and Korean migrants into the Korean peninsula and in turn into Japan. These migrants brought with them a great deal of Chinese technology, skills and knowledge. These Korean and Chinese immigrants who eventually settled and became naturalized in Japan are known as “Torai-jin“.
As migrants and wet rice agricultural technology made their way from the continent into Japan, interaction and exchanges increased between the continent and Japan. There came to be established a regional exchange and trade network that extended south to the Ryukyu Islands, north to Hokkaido, and westward into China and northeast Asia.
The most important goods exchanged were metal, in the form of ingots; weapons; tools; and ceremonial items. Other finished goods, including wooden and stone tools, cloth, body ornaments, coins, jewellery were imported into Japan. But the most coveted of all — were the Chinese bronze mirrors — either from China or the Korean peninsula were prized goods for the privileged.
There were two waves of migration of people into Japan. Archaeological evidence show that the first migrant imports were clearly Chinese in origin and character.
However, from the 3rd century onwards, Yamato kingdom was expanding under rulers who built massive mounds or tumuli. The tumuli erected in Japan, and in Korean kingdoms of Paekche and Silla, and the treasures within, during the 4th century shared common features. These similarities suggested a parallel process of political centralization and a continuous and direct flow of cultural imports from Korea to central Japan.
Many archaeological artefacts of Korean origin were items received as tribute, but experts believe that much more flowed into Japan as articles of trade or loot. Immigrant technicians and craftsmen may have arrived along with the tributes, but it is thought that many of them were prisoners of war or immigrants who may not have migrated voluntarily. The Shinsenshojiroku compiled in 815 recorded that a total of 154 out of 1,182 noble families in the Kinai region of Honshu island were recorded as of Korean ancestry. The register specifically mentions that 104 families are from Paekche, 41 from Kokuryo, 6 from Silla and 3 from Kaya. The families likely formed a migration wave that is thought to have taken place between the years AD 356-645.
During the 4th century, the transformations to the upper layers of Japanese society , are thought to have been influenced by Koguryo forms of Chinese learning and control (Buddhism, Confucianism, and Chinese penal and administrative law).
Relations with China
The Han empire collapsed in AD 220. China became politically divided, with many short-lived kingdoms arising in different regions of the continent. And upon the fall of the Chin dynasty, the invasions of nomadic tribes from the north resulted in political dislocation of many clans and ethnic groups. This triggered the outflow of displaced migrants into Korea and very likely at some point, Japan, bringing with them Chinese techniques and knowledge.
Burial artefacts and Chinese historical documents indicate that powerful tribal leaders in Kyushu during the 1st century A.D. were sending diplomatic delegations or mission teams offering tribute to the Han dynasty outpost of Lolang in northern Korea. Similar tribute delegations were also sent 200 years later just before 250 A.D.
In the year 238, Queen Himiko (who, according to the Chinese chronicle Wei Zhi, was ruler of one the Wa countries based in the capital of Yamatai) sent a delegation to Tai-fang to request an audience at court in Lo-yang, one of the Wei dynasty Chinese colonies in Korea. Several diplomatic exchanges followed. In 240, a Wei representative dispatched from the Tai-fang commandery, presented the queen with an imperial script and a seal with a ribbon, along with gifts of gold brocade, tapestry, swords and mirrors. 3 years later an eight-member Wa delegation to Wei presented the emperor with slaves, native silk brocade, red and blue silk, a fabric robe, cloth, cinnabar, and a wooden bow with short arrows. In 245, the Wei court awarded Nanshomai a yellow pennant to be presented from the Tai-fang commandery.
The next point of contact between the Chinese court and Japan was when Queen Himiko sent an envoy to the prefect of Tai-fang to request for Chinese support, as she was facing conflict with the rival king of Kunu.
When a female 13 year old ruler succeeded the throne of Himiko (following one failed male successor), diplomatic contact was once again made with the Wei court, offering gifts of slaves, pearls, jade magatama beads and brocade. But Chinese diplomatic relations appeared to have ended with this last diplomatic envoy…for a while to come.
China fell into civil war so that the Chinese empire which had dominated much of East Asia disintegrated. During the middle of the 3rd century. China’s Three Kingdoms (the Shu Han, the Wei and the Wu were unified under the Western Chin (265-316) dynasty briefly after which the Chin dynasty fell in 316 to nomadic invaders from the north.
The Hata clan which arrived in 403 (during the reign of Emperor Ojin) in Yamato, according to Nihongi, were Chinese descendants of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. These Chinese immigrants according to Shinsen-Shoujiroku (A New Compilation of Clan Register), undertook the tasks of sericulture and the manufacturing of silk for the court during the reign of Emperor Nintoku. When the Yamato Court set up its finance ministry, Hata Otsuchichi was appointed minister in charge of accounts.
In 409 during the reign of Emperor Ojin, Achi-no-Omi ancestor of the Yamato-Aya clan arrived from the mainland and obtained permission to establish the Province of Imaki. Descendants of the Gaozu of Han Chinese were known to form the Kawachi-no-Fumi clan, introducing aspects of Chinese writing to the Yamato court.
163 Chinese clans came to be registered in the Shinsen-Joujouroku, the directory of aristocrats, which was edited in 815.
As the Western Chin dynasty declined, the northern Korean state of Koguryo conquered the Tai-fang and Lo-lang colonies. As a result, the Chinese living in these commanderies were stranded and many intermarried with Koreans.
During the following years of disintegration, Korea took steps in the 4th century towards consolidation forming 3 major kingdoms and a separate league of smaller states. In southern Korea emerged the two kingdoms Silla and Paekche. Small states dominated by tribes formed the Kaya federation which maintained close relations with the Japanese.
With the confused situation in China, Japan was soon forced to turn to Korea as a source of high culture, technology and luxury items. As China’s power went on the pale, and Korea’s went on the ascendancy, Kofun era Japan comes into greater contact with the Korean continent, interacting with the different kingdoms at different times.
Rocky relations with Koguryo: borrowed tomb mural painting techniques
The kingdom of Koguryo emerged sometime in the 1st century BC. The Koguryo people were horse-riders and warriors who, according to Chinese Han shu records, originated from the Puyo people from the Songhua river area in China. (Alternatively they may have originated from the Liaoning area.) There was constant conflict between Koguryo and China, as well as trade between the two.
Until the middle of the 4th century, Koguryo was the strongest of the 3 Korean kingdoms. But Koguryo became engaged in bitter battles with the Paekche kingdom to the south. During the reign of King Kwanggaeto (AD 391-413), Koguryo advanced into the Chinese Liao river basin to the west. King Kwanggaeto’s military campaigns were recorded as including the capture of the Chinese colony of Lolang (or Lelang) in AD 313, an attack on Paekche to the south and at the same time, the subjugation of a Japanese Wa force that had attacked Silla in the southeast.
About 2 years after the Paekche king had presented the seven-pronged sword to the Yamato king in 369 in Japan, Paekche soldiers (according to the Samguk sagi) actually invaded the Koguryo capital. But by the end of the century, Koguryo bounced back, achieving sufficient military might to repel Japanese invaders in 391 to win battles against Paekche in 394 and even to attack northern China in 395.
Yamato became at odds with Koguryo after Yamato invaded Silla at the turn of the 5th century. The lines of alliances on the Korean peninsula hardened: Koguryo allied with Silla, sent tributary missions and sought support from the courts of north China. Paekche and Yamato allied themselves with the courts of south China.
Between 421 and 478, Yamato Japan is reported in the Southern Sung history to have sent ten tributary missions to the Southern Sung court of China. Koguryo invaded invaded Paekche in 475 defeating Paekche’s troops and killing its king. According to Nihon shoki, the Koguryo king rejected a proposal to have Paekche destroyed allegedly because he thought “we have heard that Paekche has long been a royal estate of Japan and, is well known by neighboring states, its king serves the Japanese emperor”. Since two missions from Yamato arrived in 477 and 478 at the Chinese Sung court, it seems the Yamato court was determined to do something about the defeat of Paekche and to contain the aggressiveness of Koguryo. This was revealed clearly in the memorial of that Yuryaku sent to the Sung court in 478:
“In order to [send this mission] by way of Paekche, we have prepared ships and boats. But Koguryo has defied law and schemed to capture them. Moreover, Koguryo has made border raids and committed murder repeatedly. So we have been forced to delay our mission and missed favorable winds…. My deceased father (Ingyo) became indignant with this marauding foe that had blocked our route to Your Majesty’s court and, motivated by a sense of justice, mobilized a million archers in preparing to launch a great campaign [against Koguryo]. But before plans for the campaign could be fully developed and implemented, my father and brother (Anko) died, and during the period of mourning a cessation of military activity was required. But inaction does not produce victory. So we are again making preparations for carrying out the wishes of my predecessors. The troops are in high spirits; civil and military officials are prepared for action; and no one is afraid to fight. Your Sovereign virtue extends over heaven and earth. If we can crush this [Koguryo] foe and put an end to our troubles, we will continue to be loyal [subjects]. I therefore implore Your Majesty to appoint me supreme commander of the expedition, give me the status of minister, and award persons under me with [appropriate] ranks and titles. Thus we will be encouraged to remain loyal.”
Unfortunately, Yuryaku (according to the Sung account) only obtained the titles and offices that had been awarded to his predecessors: “King of Yamato, and Pacifying General of the East who is in Charge of the Military Affairs of Six Kingdoms (Yamato, Silla, Mimana, Chinhan and Mahan).” His requests to be appointed supreme commander of the expedition against Koguryo and to be put in charge of Paekche were not granted.
The Koguryo people built many tombs, of which ten thousand are known. Mounded tombs with stone-built chambers sometimes with mural paintings developed in the Pyongyang area to which Koguryo had relocated its capital in AD 427. Seventy-six of the tombs are decorated with mural paintings in the inner chambers.
484 decorated tombs have been found in Japan with colored interiors and engravings throughout Japan, 122 are concentrated in the Kikuchi River basin in northern Kyushu. Experts believe that emigrants had taken the techniques of constructing the Koguryo-type stone chamber tomb and the practice of painting murals inside tombs, from Koguryo to Japan. Refugees are thought to have fled and sought refuge in Japan around the fall of Koguryo in 668.
Evidence of Chinese and Korean influences can be seen from the late 6th century Korean-style Fujinoki tomb in Ikaruga that yielded gilt bronze ornaments and horse harness (a Korean import) along with a stone coffin, and from the Takamatsuzuka tomb in Nara dated to AD 700. Mural paintings of animals of the four directions in the Takamatsuzuka tomb resemble those of the Koguryo tombs. Paintings of the female attendants on the west wall wear long jackets over pleated skirts, showing similarity of fashions displayed in the Koguryo tombs.
Another of the more famous of these tombs with painted geometric designs on its walls, is the Chibusan Tomb in Yamaga City.
Other Koguryo influences are believed to be seen in the 5th century long lamellar suits of warrior armour that resembled those made by Koguryo.
Relations with Paekche: culture and Buddhism
Of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, Paekche was known for its culture of possessing the greatest artistic refinement and sophistication. Jar-coffins were still used in some areas in the south, some concentrated in square or keyhole-shaped mounds usually thought to be unique to Kofun Japan. There were horizontal chamber tombs as well as stepped pyramid chamber tombs, some where gold earrings and gold crown ornaments with the same sort of giltwork found in Japanese burial mounds have been found.
What was the nature of the relations between Paekche and Japan?
Historians suggest that the greatest influx of immigrants came to Yamato Japan by boat from Paekche Korea from the latter half of the 4th century onwards, and proceeded to bear many influences upon the ruling elite of Kofun Japan. Kofun Japanese burials of elite showed burials in Korean-style gold crowns and shoes, corridor-type painted chambers, burial with warrior and horse trappings, Korean stoneware pottery.
A seven-branched iron sword was according to Nihongi given by Paekche to Yamato Japan in AD 372. The sword preserved in the Isonokami shrine is thought to be this sword. The sword is evidence of Paekche iron-manufacture and its incised inscription is the subject of controversy about the nature of relations between Paekche and “Wa” (as Japan was known at the time). Japanese say the inscriptions indicate that Paekche was a vassal of Japan, while the Koreans say the opposite is true. The Nihongi also records that a a mirror described as a “seven-little-one-mirror” was sent together with the sword. A mirror decorated with human figures preserved in Suda Hachiman shrine in Wakayama is thought to be this mirror, although the dates of the mirror are variously dated to AD 383, 443 or 503.
In the face of Koguryo’s rising strength during the last decade of the 4th century, Paekche had turned desperately to Yamato for support, sending its crown prince to Yamato as hostage in 397. From 391 to 399 Japanese armies supported Paekche during the attack by the combined forces of Silla and Koguryo.
Paekche helped the Japanese establish diplomatic contact with the southern Chinese courts in the 5th century. Relations between Paekche and Japan were described as peaceful and cooperative, according to Nihonshoki. During Emperor Ojin’s reign, Geunchogo of Paekche granted a large number of gifts and scholar to the Japanese emperor.
After Koguryo invaded and defeated Paekche in 475 and killing its king, Emperor Yuryaku sent a mission in 478 to the southern Chinese Sung court seeking support for his intention to mount a military campaign to “crush this Koguryo foe” and to be put in charge of Paekche. (HIs father Ingyo had earlier attempted to do the same by having “mobilized a million archers in preparing to launch a great campaign against Koguryo” but had died before he could implement his plans.)
King Yuryaku, upon hearing the death of Paekche king in the summer of 479, proceeded to place a Paekche prince on the Paekche throne (apparently the son or grandson of the queen mother who had been sent to Yamato as a hostage in 461). Unfortunately, before Yuryaku could mount his military campaign, he became ill in 479 and died shortly afterward. Upon the deathbed of Yuryaku, the Yamato court became divided over the issue of succession, so derailing Yamato’s further expansion into Korea during this period.
In 512, the Paekche King Muryong sent an envoy with tribute to the Yamato court. The envoy also bore a message requesting Yamato to cede four districts of Mimana (i.e. Kaya) to Paekche.
Paekche-Koguryo’s relations were strained at the time and Paekche was also worried about Silla’s aggressiveness. In 548 Koguryo’s armies crossed its northern borders, Paekche must have been in dire straits four years later when it requested military assistance from Japan saying that it was besieged by Silla to the east and Koguryo to the north. Shortly afterward, Japan received from Paekche’s Buddhist gifts, being the official introduction of Buddhism to Japan.
Historians infer from the Buddhist gifts must have been tied to the requests for military assistance, based on King Kinmei’s two statements: that troops were sent to help Paekche in return for his wanting to obtain books on divination, calendars and drugs of varous kinds. In 554, King Kinmei’s response was to dispatch one thousand men, one hundred horses and forty ships. One month later, King Paekche reciprocated with Korean replacements for specialists in Confuciansim, divination, calendars, herbs, music and Buddhism.
From King Muryong’s tomb, two silver bracelets found beside the queen were dated to AD 520 were inscribed with the name of the silversmith … the name “ri” of the maker’s name is a Paekche name which uses the same character as that in the name of the Korean craftsman who made the Sakyamuni triad in the Horyu-ji Temple at Nara in Japan. Paekche craftsmen are thought to have been been actively contributing their skills to Japan during the Kofun era.
Some open-work crowns and shoes that were burial goods excavated from Juzen no mori Kofun in Fukui prefecture were found to have motifs similar to those from the Popcheonri and other mounded tombs in Paekche. Experts thus believe that the people of Wa around turn of the 6th century adopted the Paekche styles of gilt-bronze ornamentation.
During the reign of King Song, Paekche doctors, astrological and calendrical experts, monks and artisans were sent to Japan to found Buddhist temples, which in layout resemble those of Paekche’s. Because the Horyu-ji’s pagoda is the oldest wooden building in the world, Paekche and Asuka period architecture can only be understood by viewing the temple sites and the wooden buildings in Japan that may have been built by Paekche technicians.
The bracket system of the 7th century five-story wooden pagoda at the Horyu-ji temple in Nara has been compared with Paekche work. Its silhouette shows great similarity to that of the Chongnim-sa pagoda in Puyo, suggesting that it was the work of Paekche craftsmen.
Wikicommons: Replica of the Kudara Kannon, British Museum
The Kudara Kannon statue in the Horyu-ji shows Paekche features. Paekche features include the gently smiling face, the flowing lines of drapery, the flaming mandala, the openwork crown and the double-veined lotus petals at the base. The openwork flowers and coiled vines on the crown are similar to those seen on items from King Muryong’s tomb. It is thought that the Kudara Kannon is the work of a craftsman of Paekche origin although there are no extant Paekche wooden sculptures in Korea today for comparison.
It is known that Buddhism experienced great growth in Paekche under King Song (523-54) who carried on diplomatic relations with Japan. The rare 7th century triad stone sculpture of Buddha at Sosan carved out of a cliff face suggests influences that spread to Japan. The figure on the left of the triad, is a standing Bodhisattva holding a jewel in both hands is a popular type with Paekche sculptors, that was probably taken to Japan by Paekche artists when they introduce Buddhism to Japan in 552, as the same depiction of the bodhisattva holding a jewel in both hands also became popular in Japan in the 7th century.
A low-fired grey cylindrical pottery found at Mongchon fortress is thought to be similar to the cylindrical haniwa of early Kofun-period Japan that were placed on top of the tomb mound. Like Japanese 5th century haniwa the Paekche Mongchon pottery stand had horizontal ridges, circular holes and flaring mouth, suggesting a relationship between the two cultures.
The most magnificent regalia or jewellery and ornaments worn by royalty was found in the tombs of Silla kings and queens, and Kyongju city of Silla was called the “city of gold”. Gold crowns, belts, shoes, earrings with dangling leaf-shaped gold and curved jade ornaments similar to Silla styled giltworking have turned up in Japanese tombs. Leaf-motif earring techniques are thought to have come to Silla via Paekche, however. Sheet-gold working jewellery techniques may have been introduced to Kofun Japan from Silla.
Why were relations with Paekche so close?
It has been noted that members of the Yamato imperial family came from Paekche, that the Nihongi records that Emperor Kanmu’s (781-806) mother was an offspring of the Paekche King Mu-nyung (501-23). The record also states that Kanmu’s mother was a descendant of Chu-mong (the founder of Koguryeo).
Relations with Kaya: imported horse warfare technology
Six states along the lower reaches of Naktong river in Korea had merged into Kaya. Kaya carried on maritime trade with the Wa people in Japan, trading particularly in iron that was produced in Kaya. Kaya was a society where horse-riding warfare was central to its culture.
Relations between Kaya and Wa Japan were motivated by the Japanese need for iron for use in farming and warfare. The exact relationship between Kaya and Kofun Japan is not known.
Many historians claim, based on Nihongi, that Kaya was a Japanese colony. Koreans, on the other hand, believe that the Yamato state was founded in Kofun era Japan by horse-riding invaders from the Eurasian steppe who had swept through the Korean peninsula including Kaya, to Japan in the fourth century, conquering lands they passed through. In support of this theory, Korean historians cite evidence of iron armour for both warriors and horses excavated at several Kaya tomb sites, as well as other artefacts such as horse-trappings, gilt-bronze crown and jewellery.
Armoury artefacts from AD 300 onwards, include iron armour with riveted cuirass, helmets, horse-masks and iron weapons. It is thought that the riveting technique used on armour may have spread from 4th century Korea to 5th century Japan possibly via Kaya. The iron armour include Mongolian-styled helmets which are also seen on Koguryo tomb wall murals, suggesting to experts that Kaya armour may have developed from a Koguryo prototype. Korean historians think that the horse riders crossed over to Japan via Kaya bringing with them a great change in burial customs by introducing tumulus building techniques.
By the 5th century, Kofun Japan was producing its own gilt-bronze ornaments, but the work was limited to simple ornamentation of weaspons and defensive equipment. Many of the metalwork items excavated in the second half of the 5th century share characteristics with those of Kaya. Experts thus believe Japan had an intimate relationship with Kaya during this time.
Kaya pottery styles may have influenced Yamato Japan. The most common type of pottery found in Kaya was the stem cup, a pottery style that is also seen in Japan.
Elaborate Kaya tomb pots were made in shapes such as ducks, shoes, boats, houses and mounted armed warriors. Sloping kilns which could produce stoneware pottery at high temperatures were innovations probably the result of contacts with China through the Han commanderies in the north. Kaya stoneware with characteristic shapes and incised, pierced and combed decoration was found in an early 5th century Yamato tomb, which suggests that the technique for producing Japanese high-fired sueki ware was exported to Japan in the fourth-fifth century.
Relations with Silla, “land of treasure”
Many Korean immigrants settled in Japan beginning in the 4th century. According to Nihongi, the oldest recorded immigrant from Silla was Amenohiboko, a legendary prince of Silla who was according to legend, settled in Japan during the era of Emperor Suinin. The Nihongi also records that Amenohiboko was the maternal predecessor of Empress Jingu. The dates for the arrival of Amenohiboko either during the 3rd or 4th century are highly controversial because Empress Jingu is supposed to have died in AD 269. Japanese myths speak of Empress Jingu’s victorious military expeditions against Silla.
Yamato invaded Silla at the turn of the 5th century. What we know of Silla-Yamato Japan’s interactions comes from the Nihon shoki’s recorded Jingu myths. The myths refer to Silla as a “land of treasure” as a country yielding “precious treasure”, “maps and registers”, “gold and silver” and figured gauzes and silks” and as a kingdom that periodically sends “eighty ships of tribute”.
When Yamato invaded Silla at the turn of the 5th century, that served to harden the divisions and alliances on the Korean peninsula. Koguryo allied with Silla, sent tributary missions and sought support from the courts of north China. Paekche and Yamato allied themselves with the courts of south China.
Between 421 and 478, Yamato Japan is reported in the Southern Sung history to have sent ten tributary missions to the Southern Sung court of China. The ten missions were reportedly sent by five Yamato kings. Scholars generally agree that the first three missions were despatched by either Ojin or Richu, the fourth by Hanzei, the next three (in 443, 451 and 460) were by Ingyo, the eighth (462) by Anko and the last two (477 and 478) by King Yuryaku.
With the last of the missions by King Yuryaku, Japan ceased its expansions into Korea, with Yuryaku falling ill and dying, succession issues turned the country’s focus inward. During the following 6th century, kings of Yamato, Emperor Keitai and Kimmei are both noted for their military failures in Korea. By 562, the whole Mimana federation of small states had been absorbed by Silla.
Right after Yamato had sent an army against Silla, Koguryo and Silla standing allied together faced Paekche and Yamato. Yamato seems to have offered weak military resistance to Silla’s advances at the time.
Silla had made an alliance with Emperor Ganzong of Tang China, with the strategy of defeating Paekche and then attacking Koguryo simultaneously from both north and south in order to unify the Korean peninsula. Paekche was defeated in 660 by a combination of Chinese forces and Silla forces despite a strong last minute resistance by Paekche Prince Pung, who had returned from Japan.
In 667, Tang China supported by Silla successfully invaded Koguryo. Silla then met the Chinese army in a series of battles in the region of the Han river basis and eventually drove back the Chinese in 676. The success of Silla against the Chinese allowed the independent development of the unified Korean kingdoms.
Both Japanese chronicles and Korean sources suggest that Yamato’s maritime contacts with Silla continued, reporting of items of tribute being sent for Mimana districts after 750.
After independence from China, Silla established peaceful diplomatic relations with the Tang period Chinese bringing an end to armed conflict so that many monks and students were able to travel to Tang China to study Buddhism or Confucian scholarship. The Silla capital, the layout of which was based on Tang Dynasty Changan grew in splendor after unification. Many new temples and pleasure grounds for aristocrats and courtiers were built. These developments had a deep impact on Japan.
Artefacts from the tomb mound No. 126 at Niizawa Senzuka Kofun in Nara prefecture (including exotic Persian glass items thought to be of Parthian or Sassanian manufacture) are said to show the strong influence of Silla. View photos of the artefacts at e-Kokuhou Museum website.
Genetics research shows close affinities between the Japanese people and ancient Xiongnu populations of the Eiigin Gol site, who are incidentally also closely related to the ancient Xianbei, Mongolian populations and Liaoning populations of Northeast China.