Doi Shôhei: The Process of Regional Unification in Eastern Peripheral Japan in the Third Century A.D.

1:00-1:30 Doi Shôhei, Meiji University

“The Process of Regional Unification in Eastern Peripheral Japan in the Third Century A.D.”

Presentation Abstract: It was during the Kofun Period that various regions of Japan came to be unified through the sharing of sets of mortuary rituals associated with the construction of keyhole-shaped mounded tombs. Japanese archaeologists interpret these keyhole-shaped mounded tombs as elite burials because of their very rich goods deposited with the dead and because of their large mounds and burial chambers.  Furthermore,  Japanese archaeologists have previously considered that local regions came to be unified under the leadership of the highest- and higher-ranking chiefs residing in the central Kinki region, historically referred to as the Kinai. In recent years, however, Japanese archaeologists have recognized that the processes involved in changing and unifying sets of mortuary rituals were regionally distinctive in peripheral regions of Japan, such as Kyushu, Hokuriku on the Sea of Japan coastal region of central Japan, and northeastern Honshu.  Accordingly, it is important to understand regional variations of the transformation processes of mortuary rituals. In this presentation I examine the unification process in the Kanto region of eastern Japan, at the time when Kofun culture was penetrating the region from the west. That process was distinct from the unification processes of western Japan.  To demonstrate that, I consider the following: 1) holes drilled through the bottom of pottery vessels after they were fired; 2) large storage jars offered at mortuary rituals; and 3) pottery vessels placed as if to enclose a tomb.  I trace how these attributes diffused and were accepted locally.

As a result of my analysis, I have discovered that in the middle stage of the Early Kofun Period (early fourth century A.D.), mortuary customs of different local regions came to be mixed. Prior to this stage, each local region maintained locally unique mortuary customs.  In the middle stage, however, local regions adopted different mortuary customs originating from other local regions, thereby transforming their own mortuary customs. This phenomenon can be interpreted as an element of the regional unification process from the standpoint of mortuary archaeology. It is very important to note, however, that the direction of diffusion was not one way.  Already in the Late Yayoi Period (the first to early third centuries A.D.) local regions interacted with one another, and this phenomenon of the middle stage of the Early Kofun Period was, I believe, the continuation of inter-regional interaction among local regions since the Late Yayoi Period.  Furthermore, tombs that had incorporated different styles of mortuary rituals originating from different regions were keyhole-shaped with a square rear mound, or they were larger than other neighboring tombs. It is likely that locally influential people were buried in these tombs. I conclude that diffusion of different mortuary customs, their local adoption, and subsequent transformation of mortuary customs at small- and medium-sized tombs at the time of the construction of large mounded tombs was a result of the unification of local regions that had existed since the Late Yayoi Period.