Lifestyle and Society of the land of Wa

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.

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2 responses to “Lifestyle and Society of the land of Wa

  1. Why the chinese people do not recognize familiar people or people with the same language or the same writing system at the Yayoi people or even Korean styles at 297 AD?
    Who were the Yayoi? Why they have different habbits from their ancestors if they came from China or Korea?
    If they were chinese or korean they would know the kanjis. We are at the year 297 AD. Why they know the rise and they do not know the chinese writing system?

    • First of all, during the Yayoi period as for the Jomon period, by examining the burial artefacts, archaeologists tell us that they find there weren’t just one single kind of Yayoi people but people of many origins. Immigrants came in small groups at a time, and from diverse places in China and Korea and possibly elsewhere. The greatest number of burial types are found in Northern Kyushu which is to be expected as it was the most convenient point of entry from the continent. Thus a picture emerging regional tribes of people emerges, the Yayoi “culture” however is used to refer to the common characteristics such as the rice-growing agricultural techniques and implements, potteries associated with culture, etc. Many of these agricultural tools are very specific in shape and form and hence can be traced to similar finds in various locations of early rice-growing belts in China in the Yangtze region, also the types of rice grains, DNA can be compared with those from Korea or China. These were fairly uniform and spread from the west to the east of Japan along the Inland Sea along identifiable route and over a fairly short time. Historians also look at the structures they built, particularly ditch and palisade defences, walls – some of these can be traced to the continent. Yoshinogari structures were said to resemble those found in China. DNA or cranial measurements of skeletons and skulls of Tottori Yayoi match those in Jiangsu, China. Other places like Karako offer evidence that is very clearly of Korean origins. As for writing, clearly the elite of Yayoi tribes who had contact with the continent through trade knew of it, there is only however one Chinese writing artefact ever found in Yayoi Japan so far, perhaps collected as a curiosity. I can only guess at this stage, the interchanges were at trade level, the immigrants were farmers and refugees from continental civil wars, and were probably uneducated…or that the value of writing was not seen. Queen Himiko however possessed a Chinese royal seal so we know from late Yayoi, the elite leaders weren’t totally ignorant of Chinese court matters. We certainly have a lot of evidence of upper class immigrants whether Han Chinese refugees from Lolang or Paekche princes and royalty entering Japan from the Kofun and Asuka eras, which is also when evidence of writing shows up…the first being Chinese character inscriptions on a sword by Paekche craftsman. As for the Chinese attitude, much has been written on this subject elsewhere, every history student knows the Chinese court regarded everyone outside its boundaries as barbarians and only entertained them as tribute-bearers, and only if they were deemed fit to come into contact with. Extensive trade relations at the lower populace level and networks however have existed since Jomon times. You’ll have to read the other pages to find your answers.

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