From Hobson's Choice
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A nation of East Asia with a civilization and recorded history dating back over 15 centuries. The territory of Japan consists of four large islands, Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu, and Hokkaido, plus Okinawa, the Ryukyu island chanin, and some other small islands.
Initially, Japan was an empire with an explicit and challenging campaign of ecological redemption, which resulted in the 700-year dominance of the samurai class. After the Yamato state secured the four islands, it was distracted by the world's longest civil war (1338-1639). The Tokugawa shogunate imposed many of the distinctive features of modern Japanese culture, including the unique pre-industrial urban capitalism that allowed the nation's spectacular economic development. The response to Western imperialism and racism caused many shocks to Japanese culture, including the rise of totalitarianism and militarism.
Ethnic & Cultural Origins of the Japanese
One version is that the majority Japanese population are descended from the practitioners of the aeneolithic Yayoi culture, who conquered the archipelago from the practitioners of the indigenous neolithic Jōmon culture. The latter were pushed northward and eastward, and today are known as the Ainu. Today, Ainu political organizations seek to be identified as an indigenous people. Interestingly, this is consistent with Japanese legends about the founder of the Yamato dynasty, Jimmu Tenno. It has fallen from favor since it depicts the majority Japanese as displacers of the indigenous people.
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Any split of opinion such as the "displacement-versus-fusion" controversy over Wajin origins tends to fray under intense scrutiny. In the case of linked studies of Japanese origins, for example, the precise meaning of "displacement" and "fusion" became quite murky. Another controversy was over the cultures of the Jōmon and the Yayoi. In the early postwar Japanese anthropological studies, for example, the Yayoi were represented as peaceful, matrilineal taro farmers. After 1980, this faded. Likewise, encyclopedia entries of a warlike Yayoi overrunning Honshu natives like so many European invaders in North America have also become less common.
Additionally, there remains considerable flux in theories about the cultural origins in Japan. Perhaps the most important technical development in Japanese history was wet rice cultivation. Several competing theories exist. One is that the rice culture is from Northern China and arrived in Kyūshū via the Korean peninsula. Another is that rice originated in coastal China and spread across the East China Sea to Kyūshū. Another is that in arrived in a northerly direction from the Ryūkyū Islands. The "Korean rice" theory is supported by bronze artifacts, and suggests that rice cultivation and metal working arrived in Japan together about 2300 years ago. The arrivals were, much like the English in North America, already equipped with the tools for planning and executing ecological redemption. In contrast, the "Coastal rice" theory implies that metal working still arrived from Korea, but rice cultivation arrived separately. This would logically push back the date of Yayoi arrival in Japan by several centuries, since it would have been necessary for them to assimilate the technologies separately (when both had been coexistent in southern Korea).
The incipient Yayoi culture was augmented by vast immigration. Astonishingly, available population data suggests that some 3 million people immigrated from the Asian mainland to Japan between 300 BCE and AD 700, or about 3,000 per year.
At the time of this writing, there seems to be a preference for the "Korean rice" theory, with all its implications. It's traditionally been surmised that the Jōmon society was a hunter-gather society without any social hierarchy; its artifacts (as with the Yayoi culture) have been overwhelmingly pots or ceramic statuettes. Without a system of food production, and non-nomadic, the Jōmon were fated to remain a small population in Japan. But more recent information suggests that the Jōmon civilization had evolved into highly differentiated lifestyles, some of which adapted to the "booming" Yayoi culture. It is not at all implausible that this occurred as part of a tribal-band matrix, in which Jōmon settlements clashed with, or allied with, particular Yayoi settlements.
The Yamato State and Ecological Redemption
Examples of Yamato-era Kofun
The Yamato civilization is also identified with the "Kofun period" (300-710 CE). At this point, the focal point of Wajin civilization was the Kansai Plain (today the location of the industrial cities of Kōbe and Ōsaka, but also the ancient capital city of Nara, Heian, and Kyōtō). The Kofun were immense burial mounds shaped like keyholes.
Around the end of the 3rd century, the Yayoi civilization began to form into a loose confederation of elites; most of what is known about these elites is the archaeological evidence of a gift economy. Elites exchanged totemic objects in order to confer status and prestidge. The most prominent such objects were mirrors. During this time, Japanese culture developed extensively and autochthonously, while Korea and China suffered a period of political fragmentation and violence.
During this period the politics of Yamato strikingly resembles that depicted in King Lear. The Soga had arrived from Japan's ally, Baejke (Paechke) in Korea. The Soga successfully launched Buddhism as the state religion, but suffered a feud with the Nakatomi clan; in 654 this culminated in the massacre of the Soga family at the peak of their power; the new winners, the Nakatomi, actually accelerated the Soga endeavor of centralizing and professionalizing power under a permanent capital, Naniwa. The Nakatomi changed their name to Fujiwara and made a renewed effort to rescue the dwindling Baejke kingdom (663). Instead, the Sui Dynasty intervened, destroying Baejke and the Japanese expeditionary force. In response to this, the Japanese undertook to learn as much as possible from their victorious opponents. A Japanese intelligentsia now appeared. So did a grand imperial mission—to conquer the Kanto Plain to the east, and redeem the remainder of Honshu for the Wajin civilization. The office of shōgun was created to subdue the Emishi.
It is important to distinguish this war from the more familiar wars of conquest; the Yamato emperors already had political control over the territory, but were determined to transform it into a source of revenue. Another important development, usually attributed to the philosophical change caused by Buddhism, was the decline of the kofun-building. Actually, kofun had peaked with that for Nintoku (early 5th cent. CE), whose Daisenryo Kofun is 486 meters long and 35 meters tall. After that, the kofun get smaller and smaller.  A plausible alternative explanation is that, as the management of power became more professional, massive earth-shaping methods were applied to rice cultivation on royal lands—and state revenues. One can imagine that, in the early phase of the imperial cult, the growing mass of tenant-retainers of royal lands were obligated to sculpt a hill to create these things; they may have indulged in the massive grief-rituals seen in China with the death of Mao Zedong and in Korea with Kim Il-sung. But as the number of tumuli grew, the ritual lost its sincerity and draw. Overseers tried to hard to capitalize on it and the ersatz cults of personality declined.
Around 710 the court was moved to Nara, and the Yamato period ended. Hereafter the capital would become a center of urban life and economy.
- ↑ Aeneolithic (AKA Chalcolithic, "copper age") implies use of, or knowledge of, copper implements. The aenolithic period for the Yayoi is believed to have begun about 2700-2300 years ago. See Michael Weiner Race, Ethnicity and Migration in Modern Japan, Routledge (2004). For mainstream non-Japanese theories, see Dienekes, "Dual origins of the Japanese" (December 2005)
- ↑ Ibid., p.134; Yuji Mizoguchi "Contributions of Prehistoric Far East Populations to the Population of Modern Japan…", Physical Anthropology: The People of Japan Past And Present.
- ↑ Weiner, p.141
- ↑ I am thinking in particular of the 1973 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. The 1911 version online includes an allusion to the Manchu-Korean type of the upper classes, the Malaysian type of the great majority, and the "aboriginal" Ainu.
- ↑ Yoko Williams, Tsumi - Offence and Retribution in Early Japan, Routledge (2003), p.176.
- ↑ Junko Habu, Ancient Jōmon of Japan, Cambridge University Press (2004), pp.51-53. Habu cites the paper of Kazuo Hanihara, "The Origin of the Japanese in Relation to other ethnic groups in East Asia" (1986), from Windows on the Past edited by Pearson, Barnes, & Hutterer, University of Michigan. The diagram above appears in Habu's book.
- ↑ Ibid., 243; Weiner, p. 144
- ↑ Gina L. Barnes, State Formation in Japan: emergence of a 4th-century ruling elite, Taylor & Francis Group, (2007), chapter 7
- ↑ Dorothy Perkins Samurai of Japan: A Chronology From Their Origin in the Heian Era, DIANE Publishing (1998), p.11-13
- ↑ Charles T. Keally, "[ http://www.t-net.ne.jp/%7Ekeally/kofun.html Kofun Culture]", T-Net (9 June 2006)
- BBC Country Profile
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News & Analysis
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- SIPRI Arms Transfer Databases (not country specific)
- Mark J . Hudson, "Rice, Bronze, and Chieftains -An Archaeology of Yayoi Ritual" , Japanese Journal of Religious Studies (1992)
- Eiko Ikegami The Taming of the Samurai: Honorific Individualism and the Making of Modern Japan, Harvard University Press (1995)
- Charles T. Keally, "Kofun Culture", T-Net (9 June 2006); see also the rest of his site
- Library of Congress: Japan Country Study
- Yamagata Mariko, "The shakadō figurines and middle Jōmon ritual in the Kōfu Basin" , Japanese Journal of Religious Studies (1992)
- Dorothy Perkins Samurai of Japan: A Chronology From Their Origin in the Heian Era, DIANE Publishing (1998)
- Joseph Ryan, Ancient Japan weblog
- Frank Smith World History Pages France search results
- Michael Weiner Race, Ethnicity and Migration in Modern Japan, Routledge (2004).
- Joel [?] Mound Tombs in Northern Japan, Far Outliers (14 April 2006)
- Wikipedia: History of Japan
- World Statesmen listing
James R MacLean (18:07, 1 October 2007 (PDT))