Ties to China unearthed from Yoshinogari ruins

Wednesday, March 17, 1999   Japan Times

KANZAKI, Saga Pref. — Ever since their discovery was first announced in 1989, the Yoshinogari ruins, widely recognized in Japan as one of the oldest-known communities surrounded by moats, have been providing visitors information about ancient Japanese society.

“I think we can say from the findings so far that whoever reigned here had enormous power and attracted people and commodities,” said Tadaaki Shichida, 47, a Saga Prefectural Board of Education official and chief researcher of the ruins. “Some may even have come here to be protected from enemies.”

Yoshinogari is considered one of the ministates that prospered during the Yayoi Period (B.C. 250-250). It was discovered in 1986 when the area was being surveyed for a housing development.

Archaeological digs uncovered numerous holes from pillars of pit dwellings as well as what are believed to be watchtowers, ritual and storage sites, plus moats surrounding the village and burial mounds.

About 2,500 burial pots of different sizes were also found, including 400 with human bones and some with jewelry, pieces of silk or hemp cloth and arrows, Shichida said.

The Yayoi Period is generally considered to be the time when ancient Japanese took up rice farming, brought over from the Korean Peninsula. Findings from the Yoshinogari site indicate that a class society already existed at that time, he added.

Yoshinogari was designated by the government as nationally protected historical remains in 1990 and special remains the following year.

With exhibitions of the findings and replicas of pit dwellings, watchtowers and storage areas with raised floors, the site attracts more than 900,000 visitors annually. “There is so much to this place. It really has historical interest. I wish I could spend more time here,” said Reiko Hishikawa, 52, who came from Nagoya as part of a three-day trip with her colleagues from work.

One of Yoshinogari’s charms is its resemblance to Queen Himiko’s legendary state of Yamatai that dominated Japan in the late second and early third centuries, as described in “Account of Wa People,” a sixth-century Chinese chronicle.

Whether the Yoshinogari ruins were the state described in the book has sparked controversy among experts and the media, and has made the site even more attractive to history buffs. Shichida admits many Yoshinogari findings have their origins in China and Korea.

The circular settlements surrounded by moats at Yoshinogari are similar in structure to ancient Chinese castle walls, he said. Such structures with moats during this era are found at only 12 sites in Japan, and nine are from ancient ruins in Saga Prefecture including Yoshinogari.

“This could be one indication that the area was closer to Chinese culture than anywhere else in this country,” he said. Some findings from Yoshinogari also indicate the connections between this state and other parts of Japan.

Last year, a type of bronze bell found in other parts of Japan was found in Kyushu for the first time at Yoshinogari. Other findings include moats that date back to a century before the beginning of the Yayoi Period.

While the excavation continues, Yoshinogari is currently preparing to become a national historical park. Along with the replicas and exhibition areas, Yoshinogari Historical Park — scheduled to open in 2001 — will feature some restored excavation sites for visitors to appreciate.

Visitors will also be able to experience Yayoi lifestyles at the park. “It’s nothing fancy, but I hope that the historical park will be a place for visitors to really feel the atmosphere of the Yayoi Period,” Shichida said.

Excavations will continue even after the site is designated as a park. “We don’t know how long the dig will last, but we will keep on doing it.”

Historians and archaeologists from China and Korea occasionally visit the ruins, giving Shichida and his colleagues the opportunity to exchange information and opinions. Shichida also visits these countries to research the relationship between Yoshinogari and the two cultures. “Archaeology is the history of people’s communication,” Shichida said.

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