Keyhole-shaped Tombs and Political Structure in Fifth-century Japan
by SASAKI Ken’ichi
Conference talk given December 8, 2010
In this paper I discuss the political structure of the central polity and its relationship with local polities in the fifth century, from the standpoint of keyhole-shaped tombs. By the fifth century the political structure of the central polity grew to be more complex to the extent that it had a rudimentary form of bureaucracy, which was reflected in mortuary patterns, most notably the presence of baicho 陪冢, small square and circular tombs that surrounded giant keyhole-shaped tombs. In addition to the presence of baicho and the giant size of the keyhole-shaped tombs, the central polity located in Kawachi and Yamato distinguished itself from other local polities by various means, such as the adoption of special stone coffins and a monopoly over iron armor. However it seems that the power of the central polity was not strong enough to control all local polities, and the central polity gave out extra iron armor to “lure” local polities into its orbit.