Yamato, Eta-funayama Kofun and Iwai-no-ran

Priming questions:
1. When and where was the Yamato court? Who were some of its leaders?
2. What was the relationship between Japan and Korea during the Kofun and Asuka eras?

The Yamato court (大和朝廷) comprises the two eras of Kofun (250-538) and Asuka (538-710). It was a time of close connection between Japan and at least some parts of Korea. It was also a time of consolidation of the various 国 of the Yamataikoku. The Kofun era is based on archeology, while the Asuka era begins when the Yamato Court moved from Nara to Asuka.

A kofun 古墳is a burial mound or tomb, commonly found in both Korea and Japan. In Korea, the ancient silla capital of Gyeongju is filled with royal mounds, and the Joseon era royal tombs are now a world heritage site. In Japan, they have been found all over the country, with the top five prefectures being Hyogo, Chiba, Tottori, Fukuoka and Kyoto. The keyhole shape kofun (前方後円) is common in Japan, and the largest one is in Osaka.

Although much of Japan was united under the Yamato Court, most of present-day Kumamoto was not. In Fukuoka and northern Kumamoto, a special culture can be seen in its kofun with decorated walls and stone men and horses. (装飾古墳、石人、石馬). This “sekijin” culture effectively ended with the unsuccessful Iwai-no-ran (Iwai rebellion) in 527 in Chikushi (筑紫now, Chikuzen 筑前 and Chikugo 筑後) Fukuoka, against Yamato.

Meanwhile, in Korea, the three-kingdoms period lasted from 57 BC to 668 AD, encompassing Yayoi as well as Yamato. The three kingdoms were Shilla (新羅)、Goguryeo and Baekche or Paekche (百済, pronounced Kudara in Japanese). Of these, Shilla and Baekche were both friendly with Wa or Yamato. Shilla, Baekche and Gaya (a confederation of states that were also closely connected to Yamato) formed most of what is south Korea today in the 5th century.
We can see evidence of this friendship in the remains found in Eta-Funayama Kofun in Nagomi, Kumamoto, which were recently exhibited in the Tokyo National Museum. These include one of the oldest engraved swords in Japan. The kofun is dated to the 5th-6th century, but there is no consensus as to who was buried there or why so many Korean-like relics were found.

Eventually, Shilla unified Korea by conquering Gaya (562), Baekche (660) and finally Goguryeo (668). The effect of this unification, backed by Han China, was devastating on the allies of Yamato. Many people fled to Kyushu and Honshu first from Gaya and then from Baekche. Yamato sent a fleet of ships and warriors to help Baekche in 663, but these were defeated at sea in the battle of Baekgang-gu, also known as Battle of Hakusukinoe (白村江の戦い Hakusuki-no-e no Tatakai or Hakusonkō no Tatakai).

The southern reaches of the Yamato Court at this time may have ended near Kikuchi Castle, a fortress which was built in the late 600s after the fall of Baekche to protect against invasion from the new Shilla and Han alliance. Other castles built at the same time are Onojo and Mizukijo in Fukuoka. Yamato sent armies of men to man the castles from Tohoku as “sakimori”.

Meanwhile, the capital of the Yamato court changed from Asuka to Fujiwara (694-710), then to Nara (710-784), Nagaoka (784-794), and finally Heian (794-1185), the center of present-day Kyoto. Both the Kojiki or “Record of Ancient Matters” (古事記 711-12) and the Nihon Shoki “Chronicles of Japan” (日本書紀720) were written in the Nara era, and the name Higo 肥後for Kumamoto first appears in the Nihon Shoki. This era also saw a great increase in the influence of Buddhism, which effectively ended the building of kofun burial mounds in Japan. Interestingly, the kofun tradition has continued in Korea until quite recently.

For further information:
“sekijin” movie at Soshoku-kofunkan,
“Sakimori no uta” movie at Kikuchi Castle