Interesting details of life in Yayoi Japan are given in the Chinese account Wajinden or “the Commentary on the People of Wa” written around 280 to 297 A.D.
“The land of Wa is warm and mild. In winter as in summer the people live on vegetables and go about barefooted. Their houses have rooms; father and mother, elder and younger, sleep separately. They smear their bodies with pink and scarlet, just as the Chinese use powder. They serve meat on bamboo and wooden trays, helping themselves with their fingers.” Archaeologists have confirmed that the Yayoi people ate with their fingers since no chopsticks have ever been found from any excavated Yayoi settlements.
According to Wajinden, the people of Wa, were also “fond of diving into the water to get fish and shells.” They ate raw fish, hunted deer and wild boar for meat. They ate out of graceful and elegant pottery ware including new forms such as pedestaled dishes and bowls.
The men wear a band of cloth around their heads, exposing the top. Their clothing is fastened around the body with little sewing. The women wear their hair in loops. Their clothing is like an unlined coverlet and is worn by slipping the head through an opening in the center.”
Weaving is an ancient textile art and craft that involves placing two sets of threads or yarn called the warp and weft of the loom and turning them into cloth. (The earliest evidence of weaving in the world comes from the Czech Republic – impressions of textiles and basketry and nets on little pieces of hard clay, dating from 27,000 years ago but weaving was already known and practised by the Jomon people before the Yayoi era)
Wajinden mentioned that the Yayoi people cultivated “grains, rice, hemp, and mulberry trees for sericulture. They spin and weave and produce fine linen and silk fabrics.” They wove cloth 20-30 cm wide on looms. Scientists have been able to examine fragments of cloth wrapped around human bones and bronze mirrors from excavations. The Yayoi farmers grew the plants and trees from which they made their silk, linen, cotton and hemp. They also made fibre from wild ramie that had an S-twisted warp of 6-10 threads and a woof of 24 threads.
From excavating ancient Yayoi settlements, archaeologists get the picture that the Yayoi people lived in permanent farming villages, and that they constructed buildings of wood, thatch and stone. They accumulated wealth through land ownership and the storage of grain, traded in various goods, including rice, cloth, metals, salt, wooden tools and crafts, stone tools, ceremonial bronze mirrors, weapons and other commodities.
Those who were able to control the resources in Yayoi society became members of society with an elite status. They maintained their position and showed off their status by acquiring ceremonial goods that they considered prestigious like bronze mirrors and bronze weapons, the metal raw materials for which were hard to come by, and could only be got from the mainland.
“There are no oxen, horses or sheep … Taxes are collected. There are granaries as well as markets in each province, where necessaries are exchanged under the supervision of Wa officials”… it was also recorded in the Wajinden account.
The Wei-Zhi (History of Wei) records that “Men, young and old, all tattoo their faces and decorate their bodies with designs”, and that “A son of the ruler of Shao-k’ang of Hsia when he was offered as lord of K’uai-chi, cut his hair and decorated his body with designs in order to avoid the attack of serpents and dragons.” From this account, it would appear that the practice of tattooing was not merely decorative but had a protective and spiritual function as well.
The Yayoi people buried their dead, after a mourning period and purification rituals, in burial pits with wooden coffins or in burial jars. They were a religious and superstitious people, practising divination using baked deer bones or tortoise shells.