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Japan: Yayoi period (about 300 BC - AD 300)

The Yayoi period takes its name from the Yayoi district of Tokyo where simple pottery differing significantly in style from earlier Jōmon wares, was first discovered in 1884. The Yayoi period was a time of significant change, from hunting and gathering to a settled, agricultural way of life. Wet-rice agriculture and bronze and iron were introduced from the continent (Korea and China), probably by individual peaceful settlement, rather than hostile invasion. With the establishment of small kuni (farming settlements) came the beginnings of complex regional politics and a simple class system. There was a systemization of animist religious beliefs. Armed conflict over territory dates from about the third century AD.

Most of our knowledge of this period comes through archaeology, but written Chinese documents also give valuable insights. The Han shu (late first century AD) describes Japan as a land of about 100 small kuni which sent tribute to the Han court. A gold seal found in Japan in 1784 was probably the one presented to a local ruler in northern Kyūshū by Emperor Guangwu (Kuang-wu) in AD 57. The third-century Wei zhi describes Japanese culture and mentions the kuni of Yamatai which became dominant during the Kofun period.

Most of the pottery of the period, with its characteristic combed designs, was used for cooking, eating and storage of grain. However, burial urns up to 76 cm in height have also been found. Rice, millet, beans and gourds were grown around settlements of thatched pit houses, granaries and wells. The technology of stone implements developed significantly alongside progress in the working of bronze (for ritual objects) and iron (for tools and weapons). Cloth was woven from flax and paper-mulberry fibres while personal ornaments were made from glass, minerals, shell and bronze.

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