Yayoi Period in Japan: Government, Weapons & Revolution

Instructor: Joanna Harris

Joanna has taught high school social studies both online and in a traditional classroom since 2009, and has a doctorate in Educational Leadership

Have you ever heard of a civilization that completed the transition from the Stone Age through the Bronze and Iron Ages in 50 years? Well the Yayoi People of Japan did all this and more. Give this lesson a read to learn more.

Yayoi Period of Japan

The period of Japanese history called the Yayoi Period spanned from 300 BC through 250 BC, and was a truly remarkable 50 years. In the Jomon Period that took place prior to the Yayoi Period, the Japanese learned how to smelt iron. However, when the Yayoi Period began, for a brief time they went back to using stone tools.

Then suddenly, in an explosion of technology and advancement, the Japanese went from using stone tools and weapons to using both iron and bronze tools and weapons simultaneously. Imagine making that much progress as a civilization in the span of 50 years.

As if this weren't enough progress for the Japanese, they also entered their period of agriculture. That's right - in half a century the Japanese left the Stone Age, entered the Iron and Bronze Ages at the same time, and then had a full blown agricultural revolution. How's that for progress?

It may seem hard to believe, but during the Yayoi Period the Japanese really did make leaps and bounds in their advancement in what took other civilizations hundreds, or even thousands, of years to accomplish.

Depiction of Japanese People of the Yayoi Period

Yayoi Government

Large family groups who are led by an elder, also known as clans, all developed during the Yayoi Period in Japan. Clans like the Yamato, Mononobe, and the Soga can all trace their beginnings back to this era, when they began their long struggle of warfare in their quest for dominance over each other.

During the Yayoi Period, clans began the early stages of building alliances with each other based on mutual needs, like defense against other, stronger clans. Though these alliances were short lived, they did form the building blocks for the confederations the clans would eventually form during the Kofun Period.

Clans also began establishing their wealth through the resources Japan had to offer, which were at times limited. Iron ore was not abundant in Japan during this period, so as in all economies, those who could afford scare resources were afforded higher status and rank. Those clans who could afford iron tools not only did well financially, usually through rice farming, they also had the best weapons and the strongest ability to defend themselves.

Also clearly seen during the Yayoi Period was the pending greatness of the Yamato Clan. Even in these years of warfare between the clans, Japan had a ruling queen, named Queen Himiko, who hailed from the Yamato line. Japan had competing clans who also had their own rulers, but none as powerful as Queen Himiko.

But don't take my word for it - ask the Chinese, who in 238 BC were met by envoys from Queen Himiko and marveled at the riches she sent in homage, setting her apart from any other ruler in Japan during the period.

Yayoi Technological Revolutions

There were two revolutions that took place in Japan during the Yayoi Period. One was in weaponry and tool making, and the other was in agriculture. Both of these booms in technology are the reasons why the relatively brief 50 year Yayoi Period cannot be included within the Jomon Period that preceded it, or with the Kofun Period that followed it. The Yayoi Period in Japanese history, albeit short, stands alone with its remarkable advancements.

Weaponry and Tool Making

The agricultural revolution that took place during the Yayoi Period couldn't have happened without the simultaneous leap the Japanese took in their transition from stone tools and weapons to those made of iron and bronze. Once the Japanese decided to use their understanding of smelting iron to make stronger tools than those made of stone, they entered a period of innovation that travelled at light speed.

The Japanese started making tools from iron to enhance their farming of rice, but they also began to make weapons as well, first from iron and then from bronze. The warring clans were the only Japanese wealthy enough to afford not only iron and bronze, but also the blacksmiths who could work metal.

The clan with the best weapons and blacksmiths would have an advantage over the other clans. The need to dominate each other actually contributed to the explosion of new weaponry, like armor and swords made from iron and bronze. When you consider this fact, it is no wonder the Japanese experienced their Iron and Bronze Ages concurrently.

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