Friday, February 20, 2015

Yoshinogari Ruins -From village to Yamato dynasty-

Yoshinogari Ruins

-From village to Yamato dynasty-



Name: Yoshinogari Ruins (Yoshinogari-iseki)
Place: Tate Yoshinogari town, Saga
Type: Ancient Ruins
Built: 2nd century?
Remaining remnants: Clay walls and moats 
Title: 100 famous Japanese castles

Brief History

Yoshinogari ruins (吉野ヶ里遺跡) is an ancient ruins locate in Yoshinogari town, about 10 kilometer northeast of Saga city. This ruin stands at a long and narrow height continued from north side mountains, surrounded by two rivers flow toward southward into Chikugogawa river. 

Currently the place of ruin is inland area, but in ancient era the coast line of Ariake sea was much closer to the ruin. In addition to rice cultivation, it was a convenient place for fishery and sea and river transportation, and a suitable place to have a village. Other than Yoshinogari ruins, there are many ancient villages at neighbor heights.

Origin of Japan

Ancient time of Japan is roughly divided into three period, it mean “Sekki Jidai”era (Stone age), “Jyomon Jidai”era (Rope pattern earthenware period”, and “Yayoi Jidai”era (Yayoi period). Stone age of Japan was until around BC 10,000, and “Jyomon Jidai” was from BC 10,000 to BC 200. “Yayoi Jidai” was between BC 300 to AD 300, and continued to Yamato dynasty after 4th century. “Jyomon Jidai” and “Yayoi Jidai” is roughly equivalent to Western idea of Neolithic period.

At Sekki Jidai, like other nations, under cold weather people lived in the cave and acquired their food by animal hunting, river fishery, or pick of wild plant or nuts. Subsequent to BC 10,000, the ice age has ended and climate became warmer, and people started to build a village and settle down. Along with the settlement people tried to keep foods in containers, and earthenwares with rope pattern decoration which was the origin of “Jyomon Jidai” era.

People of “Jyomon Jidai” usually lived with several families at the top of the hill near the river or sea. They captured animals and fishes, and picked nuts. They still did not farm grains, but sometimes grew nut trees or wild plans used as a food. Weapons has improved for hunting, but unlike other civilization but due to low population density and diversified villages, conflicts might not happen frequently. People moved their village to another place if necessary.  

Rice farming and fortified village

Yayoi Jidai is a period of permanent rice farming. The origin of this name was advanced earthenware excavated at Yayoi area at Bunkyo ward of Tokyo metropolis, which was harder and thinner than the one of Jyomon era. In Yayoi period, rice cultivation was  imported from foreign counties and large size rice farming started. To grow rice in water rice field irrigation is necessary, and people further gathered and consisted nations same as Egypt or Orient area. 

Rice farming required large size developed area, but because of immature engineering and river engineering suitable land was limited. Grown up nations started to fight with each other over lands, and people started to live together in the fortified area. Around AD 200 is thought as a time of crisis, and large sizes village at the hill protected by walls and moats such as Yoshinogari ruins , Mugibanda ruins (Tottori prefecture) or Karako Kagi ruins (Nara prefecture) emerged. They are thought as a center of such nations.

Structure of Yoshinogari Ruins

Yoshinogari Ruins is a large fortified village spread over 1,000 meter long and 400 meter wide area. It might be originally built in 2nd century, and at first there were small villages surrounded by fences here and there, then gradually they emerged into a large one. 

Outer fence protected whole part of the hill, and two inner areas surrounded by inner moats were built. Southern inner area might be used as a residence of political leader, and in northern inner area securely protected by two layer walls there might be large religious building dedicated to god and religious leaders. 

South part of hilltop area there were a residential area where tens of pit dwelling house covered by straw reef and high floor warehouses still at seen southeast Asian counties existed. In the lower area locates at the west of central area, there were many warehouses which kept foods and materials, and also a market exchanged good such as bronze goods, hemp cloths, or processed foods with neighbor areas. Considering its size and function, Yoshinogari Ruin was surely the capital of primitive nation.

Yoshinogari village was protected by fences and dry moats over one kilometer. In both Western world and Eastern world, generally moats are built outside of the fences or walls at castles, and defense side shoots enemy obstructed by the moat inside the wall. But at Yoshinogari ruin, dry moats were built inside fences, and defense side can’t shoot outside from inside of the fence except for the top of watchtowers. 

It seems quite unreasonable and the reason is unknown, but considering small size enemy force and not so strong bow at that time, it was built to kill the limited number of enemy who climbed and passed the fence by close combat. Anyway Yoshinogari ruin is one of the oldest fortress of Japan, and an ancestor of Japanese castles. 

Period of Yamataikoku kingdom

Among the conflict alliance of nations were organized here and there, and leader of such alliance communicated to Chinese Empire to acquire authority or advanced technology.
According to “Gishi Wajinden” (Tale of Japanese people in Wei chronicle), a part of formal chronicle of Chinese Wei dynasty, stated ancient Japan at mid of 3rd century as follows;
・Japanese lived in the island at the southeast of Korean peninsula
・After passing several nations, visitors could arrive Yamataikoku kingdom governed by a queen. It is about 1,000 kilometer away from current Seoul area
・Ancient Japan was originally governed by kings for 70 or 80 years, but after severe internal conflict a queen named Himiko enthroned the queen of Yamataikoku kingdom and leader of nations. Himiko was a good Sherman and not married, and supported by her younger brother.
・In 238 Himiko tributed to Wei dynasty, and Wei dynasty gave the name of “Shingi Wao” (King of “Wa” (name of ancient Japan) who is the friend of Wei) and various gifts.
・After the death of Himiko a king succeeded her position, but internal conflict occured again. Due to this, people placed Toyo, the daughter of Himiko, and conflict has ceased.
・Wei sent a delegation to Japan in 247, and Toyo tributed to Wei dynasty again

This chronicle detailedly dictated direction and distance of Yamataikoku kingdom from current Seoul area, but actual point traced from this description is Pacific Ocean far south of Japan. If we assume the direction is right and distance is wrong, expected place of Yamataikoku nation is north Kyushu island. On the other and, if direction is wrong but distance is right, the place of Yamataikoku kingdom might be Kinki region. 

If Yamataikoku placed at Kinki region, it might have relationship with Yamato dynasty, the predecessor of current Japan and Imperial household, and on contrary if placed at Kyushu region, there might be another strong kingdom and this kingdom might be ruined by Yamato kindom or conquered Kinki region and built Yamato kingdom. 

Relating the origin of Yamato dynasty, the place still calls intense debates. Recently a ruin of large village at 3rd century named Makimuku Ruin, and some people think this ruin being surrounded by large ancient tombs as a capital of Yamataikoku kingdom.  

Establishment of Yamato dynasty

Around 4th century, growth of nations proceeded further, and large regional power such as Izumonokuni (Shimane prefecture), Kibinokuni (Okayama prefecture), Tsukushinokuni (Fukuoka prefecture), Koshinokuni (Niigata prefecture) or Kenokuni (Gunma prefecture) emerged. 

Especially Yamato kingdom at Nara basin achieved supreme power, and tied up these regional power. Around this time a common style large tomb named “Zenpo Kouenfun” (Tomb of front side square and back side circle like a keyhole shape) spread from Nara basin to central part of Japan, and some kind of authority might have been established.

In 5th century, Yamato dynasty proceeded its centralization. Successive five emperors of Yamato dynasty sent a delegation to Southern dynasties of China, to enhance their authority. Internally the dynasty conquered local powers as seen in the legend of Yamato Takeru, and built huge tombs such as Daisen Tomb (said as a tomb of Emperor Nintoku) or Kondayama Tomb (said as a tomb of Emperor Ojin) exceeded 400 meter. After twist and turns, Emperor Keitai at the beginning of 6th century finally established a firm central government, and the bloodline of Emperor Keitai firmly continues to the current Emperor over 1,500 years.    

Afterward of Yoshinogari Ruins

Yoshinogari Ruins might prospered over 100 years and became it peak at the former half of 3rd century, but later became extinct at the latter half of 3rd century. Around 7th century the site of the ruin were used as a tomb or administrative offices, but finally abandoned. 

After World War 2 the ruin was found in the development of industrial park, then this site was nominated as a special historical site and turned to the historical park. Now many buildings and fences are restored in the site, and shows the atmosphere at the time of  “Gishi Wajinden” well. 


20 minutes walk from JR Kyushu Nagasaki-Honsen line Kanzaki station. 15 minutes drive from Nagasaki-Jidoshado Expressway Higashi-Seburi interchange.

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Pictures (click to enlarge)