The remains of Japanese antiquity fall naturally into two classes, which it is in most cases easy to distinguish from each other. The first consists of objects connected with that early race of which only a small remnant now lingers in the Ainos of Yezo, but which at one time probably occupied all the Japanese islands. The second comprises the relics of the immigrants from the neighbouring continent of Asia, whose descendants constitute the bulk of the present Japanese nation.
To the former class belong various objects familiar to us in Europe, such as stone implements and weapons. Some of these are peculiar to Japan, though on the whole the resemblance to those found in more Western lands is very striking. Flint celts are perhaps the most common type; and it is curious to note that in Japan, as in the British Isles, the popular imagination has given them the name of "thunder-bolts." Stone clubs, plain or adorned with carvings, have been found in considerable numbers. One of these, described by the late Baron Kanda, measures five feet in length and nearly five inches in diameter, and must have been a truly formidable weapon when wielded by adequate hands. There are also stone swords, pestles, daggers, and a variety of miscellaneous objects, some of unknown use. The material of all these is polished stone. Chipped flints are not unknown, but occur chiefly in the form of arrow or spear-heads for which a high degree of workmanship was less necessary.
An interesting discovery was made in 1878 by Professor Morse near the Ōmori station of the Tōkyō-Yokohama railway. He found that the railway cutting at this place passed through mounds identical in character with the "kitchen-middens" of Denmark, which have attracted so much attention in Europe. They con tained shells in large quantities, fragments of broken bones, implements of stone and horn, and pottery of a special type, which differed from the ancient Japanese earthenware in being hand-made instead of turned on a wheel, and also in shape and ornamentation. Human bones were among those found, and Professor Morse considers the way in which they had been broken to be indicative of cannibalism.
We know from history that the ancient Japanese were to some extent pit-dwellers; but no remains of such dwellings are now known to exist. In Yezo, however, and the adjacent islands, large numbers of pits which have been used as human habitations are still to be seen. The are rectangular in shape, measuring about twenty feet by fifteen feet, and having a depth of three or four feet. In these were planted posts, over which a roofing of thatch was placed. They were probably occupied chiefly as winter habitations. Professor Milne thinks that they were made by a race who inhabited Yezo and the northern parts of Japan before the Ainos, and who were driven northwards by the encroachments of the latter. The present inhabitants of the Kurile Islands he believes to be their modern representatives. Both they and the ancestors of the Ainos must have had a low type of civilisation. They had no iron or even copper or bronze implements, and were probably entirely unacquainted with the art of agriculture.
The early history of the continental race which has peopled Japan is wrapped in obscurity. Whence and when they came, and what was the character of their civilisation at the period of their arrival, are questions to which only the vaguest answers can be given. The earliest notices of them, in Chinese literature, date from the first and second centuries of the Christian era. It would appear that the Japanese were then a much more advanced race than the Ainos ever became. They were agriculturists, not merely hunters and fishers, and were acquainted with the arts of weaving, brewing, and the building of junks. They had a sovereign who lived in a fortified palace of some architectural pretensions, and their laws and customs are described as strict. The earlier notices speak of their having arrow-heads of bone, but two centuries later iron arrow-heads are mentioned. It is uncertain whether the Japanese brought with them from their continental home the art of working in iron and other metals. It is possible that all the metallurgical knowledge of which we find them possessed at a later period was really derived from China, and in that case there must have been an interval during which the used stone implements; but of this we have no certain knowledge. There is little or no evidence of a bronze age in Japan.
The archæological remains of the ancient Japanese may be taken to date from a few centuries before the Christian era. The most remarkable of these are sepulchral monuments of their sovereigns and grandees, great numbers of which still exist everywhere except in the more northern part of the Main Island. They are most numerous in the Gokinai, i.e., the five provinces near the ancient capitals of Nara and Kyōto. The plain of Kawachi, in particular, is one vast cemetery dotted over with huge tumuli.
These mounds vary in shape and character. The largest are those known as misasagi, the Japanese word for the tombs of emperors, empresses, and princes of the blood. In the most ancient times, say the Japanese antiquarians, the tombs of the Mikados were simple mounds. At some unknown period, however-perhaps a few centuries before the Christian era-a highly specialised form of tumulus came into use for this purpose, and continued for several hundreds of years without much change. It consists of two mounds-one conical, and the other of a triangular shape-merging into each other in this form , the whole being surrounded by a moat, and sometimes by two concentric moats with a narrow strip of land between. The interment took place in the conical part, the other probably serving as a platform on which were performed the rites in honour of the deceased. Seen from the side, the appearance is that of a saddle-hill, the conical part being slightly higher than the other. There are sometimes two smaller mounds at the base of the larger ones, filling up the angles where they meet. The slope of the tumulus is not regular, but is broken up by terraces, on which are placed in rows, at intervals of a few inches, curious cylinders coarsely made of baked clay shaped in a mould, and measuring from one to two feet in height and from six to fourteen inches in diameter. They are buried in the earth, their upper rims being just level with the surface. The number of these cylinders is enormous, amounting in the case of some of the larger misasagi to many thousands. Their object can scarcely yet be said to have been definitely ascertained. One purpose was no doubt to prevent the earth of the mounds from being washed away by rain; but the Japanese tradition which connects them with an ancient custom of burying alive a number of the servants of a deceased monarch in a ring around his grave, is probably founded in fact.
It is related that in the 28th year of the Emperor Suinin (B.C. 2 of the popular chronology), his brother died. All his attendants were buried alive round the tumulus in a standing position. For many days they died not, but day and night wept and cried. The Mikado, hearing the sound of their weeping, was sad and sorry in his heart, and commanded all his ministers to devise some plan by which this custom, ancient though it was, should be discontinued for the future. Accordingly, when the Mikado himself died in A.D. 3, workers in clay were sent for to the province of Izumo, and made images of men, horses, and various other things, which were set up around the grave instead of living beings. This precedent was followed in later times, and some of the figures still exist. The Ueno Museum in Tōkyō contains several specimens, and one (of a man) has been secured for the Gowland collection now in the British Museum. The cylinders above described are similar to these images in material and workmanship, and it is probable that they served as pedestals on which the images were placed, though in view of their immense number, this can hardly have been their only use.
The misasagi vary greatly in size. One in Kōzuke, measured by Sir Ernest Satow, was 36 feet in height, 372 feet long, and 284 feet broad. But this is a comparatively small one. That of the Emperor Ōjin near Nara measures 2,312 yards round the outer moat, and is some 60 feet in height. The Emperor Nintoku's tomb near Sakai is still larger, and there is a tumulus in Kawachi, known as the Ō-tsuka, or "Big Mound," on the flank of which a good-sized village has been built.
The misasagi are at present generally clothed with trees, and form a favourite nesting resort for the paddy-bird or white egret, and other birds. Of late years these interesting relics have been well-cared for by the Government, at least those which are recognised as Imperial tombs. They have been fenced round, and provided with honorary gateways. Embassies are despatched once or twice a year to worship at them. In former times, however, they were much neglected, and there is reason to fear that few have escaped desecration. A road has been run through the misasagi of the Emperor Yūryaku, and on other double mounds promising cabbage plantations have been seen growing.
In some, perhaps in most, cases the misasagi contains a large vault built of great unhewn stones without mortar. The walls of the vault converge gradually towards the top, which is then roofed in by enormous slabs of stone weighing many tons each. The entrance was by means of a long, low gallery, roofed with similar stones, and so constructed that its right wall is in a line with the right wall of the vault. During the later period of moundbuilding, the entrance to this gallery always faced south,-a practice which had its origin in the Chinese notion that the north is the most honourable quarter, and that the deceased should therefore occupy that position in relation to the worshippers. Sarcophagi of stone and pottery have been found in some of the misasagi.
Nobles and high officials were buried in simple conical mounds ten or fifteen feet high, containing a vault similar to those above described, but of smaller dimensions. An average specimen of a group of thirty or forty situated near the western shore of Lake Biwa, a few miles north of the town of Ōtsu, measured as follows:-
|Length-from 11 feet 8 inches below to 10 feet above.|
|Breadth-from 6 feet 6 inches below to 4 feet at top.|
|Height-8 feet 9 inches.|
|Breadth-2 feet 9 inches.|
The roof of the chamber consisted in this instance of three large stones.
These tombs sometimes stand singly, but are more commonly found in groups of ten to forty or fifty. The lower slope of a hill, just where it touches the plain, is a favourite position for them. When the earth of these mounds has been washed away, so that the massive blocks of stone which form the roof protrude from the surface, they present a striking resemblance to the dolmens of Europe, and more especially to those megalithic monuments known in France as allées couvertes. The peasantry call them iwa-ya, or "rock-houses," and imagine that they were the dwellings of their remote ancestors, or that they were used as refuges from a fiery rain which fell in ancient times. They are little cared for by the Japanese, and in too many cases have been used as quarries for the building materials which they contain. Nearly all have been rifled at some period or other.
During the eighth century of the Christian era, this style of sepulture fell gradually into disuse under the influence of Buddhist ideas. In the eyes of a Buddhist, vast costly structures were not only a burden to the people, but were objectionable as tending to foster false notions of the real value of these mortal frames of ours. Many of the Mikados were earnest devotees of Buddhism. Beginning with Gemmyō Tennō in A.D. 715, a long series of them abdicated the throne in order to spend the remainder of their lives in pious seclusion. In several cases, by their express desire, no misasagi were erected over their remains, and some even directed that their bodies should be cremated and the ashes scattered to the winds.
It is remarkable that no inscriptions should be found in connection with the tombs of this period, although the Japanese became acquainted with Chinese writing early in the fifth century, if not sooner. The tombs have, however, yielded a large quantity of objects of antiquarian interest. Among these, pottery perhaps stands first. The clay cylinders, the figures of men and horses, and earthenware sarcophagi have been already noticed; but numerous vases, pots, dishes, and other utensils have also been found. They are usually turned on a wheel; but there is no trace of glaze or colouring, and they are of rather rude workmanship. The ornamentation is simple, consisting of wavy lines round the vessel, -similar to those seen round Egyptian water-bottles at the present day,-of circular grooves, or of parallel scorings, all made with a wooden comb or pointed stick when the clay was in a wet state. Many have "mat-markings," and the interior of the larger articles is usually adorned with a pattern known as the "Korean wheel." This consists of discs containing a number of concentric circles overlapping one another. They were produced by a wooden stamp one or two inches in diameter, and the object may have been to render the clay less liable to crack in baking. A stamp of this kind is actually used in Korea at the present time. Fragments of pottery with this mark may always be found in the vicinity of a Japanese dolmen. There are vases of a more pretentious character, having groups of rude figures round the upper part, and pedestals pierced with curious triangular openings. These were probably sacrificial vases. The Japanese pottery of this period is identical in shape, pattern, and material with the more ancient earthenware of Korea, from which country there is no doubt that the ceramic art of Japan was derived. Representative examples of it may be seen in the Gowland collection in the British Museum; the Ueno Museum in Tōkyō is rich in fine specimens. Other antiquarian objects of this period are iron swords (straight and one-edged), iron spear-heads, articles of armour often adorned with gold and silver, mirrors of a mixed metal, horse-gear,-such as stirrups, bits, etc.,-ornaments, among which are thick rings of gold, silver, or bronze, besides glass beads, etc. All these are of good workmanship, and it is probable that some of the articles are of Chinese origin.
The maga-tama, or comma-shaped ornaments made of stone, probably belong to a very early period of Japanese history. They formed part, no doubt, of the necklaces of polished stone and clay beads which we know to have been worn by Japanese sovereigns and nobles in ancient times.
Books recommended - Dolmens and Burial Mounds in Japan, by Wm. Gowland, published by the Society of Antiquaries (London). See also papers by Romyn Hitchcock, published by the Smithsonian Institution, and others by Prof. E. Morse (in the Memoirs of the Science Department of the University of Tōkyō) and by Sir Ernest Satow (in the "Asiatic Transactions"). Aston's annotated translation of the Nihongi, published by the Japan Society in 1896, is a mine of information on prehistoric and proto-historic Japan. The greatest native archæologist of the old school was Ninagawa, who died several years ago. Of living archæologists who have formed themselves on European critical methods, the most eminent is Professor S. Tsuboi.