Daily Life during the Kofun Period

There are no written records to tell us how the people of the Kofun Period lived, but from the many haniwa clay figurines and earthenware, as well as tumuli paintings, historians and archaeologists have been able to piece together details about how people of the Kofun Period lived.

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Clay figurines suggest that in higher society, the men wore vest-like garments and trousers that resemble the modern-day Japanese hakama, and that the women wore vest-like garments and a skirt (called a “mo“).

Reconstruction of what the royals, may have looked like from tumuli terracotta

Reconstruction of what the royals, may have looked like from tumuli terracotta

Many of the common people still lived in thatched pit houses, little changed from the prehistoric Jomon times, with one improvement, the kamado stove.

Most houses had one built along the wall, that helped improve air quality within the home. Some of the homes were no longer pit houses or subterranean, but were built above ground and others had wooden walls and wooden boarding over the floors.

4th c. haniwa figurines of a house with a magnificent hipped gable roof, Sakurai city, Nara

4th c. haniwa figurines of a house with a magnificent hipped gable roof, Sakurai city, Nara

Houses of powerful clansmen and village leaders were considerably grander and were sometimes constructed using architectural techniques for building raised storehouses.

Pile building style of rice granaries expanded for more buildings

Pile building style of rice granaries expanded for more buildings

They also began to set their homes apart from those of the commonfolk, surrounded them with ditches and fences. Their homes had ritual altars within them.

High walled structures and compounds for elite members of society

High walled structures, ancestral shrines and compounds for elite members of society

Kings and chiefs began to live in buildings with grand palatial features, showing off their status.

Haniwa of a luxurious palace with three pavilions, all with saddle-shaped roofs

Haniwa of a luxurious palace with three pavilions, all with saddle-shaped roofs

People made their living by cultivating rice but to elevate the lean times during late winter, they planted other crops and also hunted and fished.

They worked rice fields with good drainage and with immigrant technology, built irrigation facilities that had become the norm. During the period, the Kofun people also extensively reclaimed wasteland or developed wet marshes as agricultural land. Due to the keen cooperation required to construct irrigation ditches and to work the fields and bring in the harvests, relationships, ranks, and rules within the community became established.

Throughout the land of Japan, as close-knit communities, people of the Kofun Period held and attended agricultural ceremonies such as festivals (Toshigoi) to pray for good harvests and thanksgiving festivals (Niname festival) which are thought to have been introduced by the toraijin immigrants. Ritual life and magic governed their lives.

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They worshipped solar and weather deities and venerated various kami spirits,  mountain, sea and water deities, and continued the shamanistic practices and divination rituals from earlier Yayoi times. Rituals, for example, where deer bones were heated and burnt, and fortunes read and told from the cracks were practised all over Kofun Japan.

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