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Himiko and Japan's Elusive Chiefdom of Yamatai

J. Edward Kidder, Jr.

Publication Year: 2007

The third-century Chinese chronicle Wei zhi (Record of Wei) is responsible for Japan’s most enduring ancient mystery. This early history tells of a group of islands off the China coast that were dominated by a female shaman named Himiko. Himiko ruled for more than half a century as head of the largest chiefdom, traditionally known as Yamatai, until her death in 248. Yet no such person appears in the old Japanese literature. Who was Himiko and where was the Yamatai she governed? In this, the most comprehensive treatment in English to date, a senior scholar of early Japan turns to three sources—historical, archaeological, and mythological—to provide a multifaceted study of Himiko and ancient Japanese society.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. v

Illustrations and Tables

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Whether the faculty and graduate students in the Department of Archaeology of Kyoto University realized it or not, my year as a Fulbright scholar in that department in 1952–1953 made me a convert to the Kyoto position—if I was not fully persuaded before. ...

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pp. xi-xiii

Chinese historians, in meeting their obligations to document the activities of their dynasties or the debt they believed they owed to their predecessors, collected and eventually recorded information on their neighbors. This material became a store of useful data for managing political relations, trading guides, and military strategy. ...

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Chapter 1 Ancient Texts and Sources

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pp. 1-7

As already mentioned, Chinese historians dealt with early Japan primarily in two works that concern these events: Hou Han shu and in a section of the Sanguo zhi called Wei zhi. The Han history is a collection of records pieced together, chiefly by Pan Ye (398–445), and first printed between 994 and 1004.1 ...

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Chapter 2 The Wei Zhi and the Wa People

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pp. 8-20

Much discussion regarding the origin and meaning of the term “Wa”1 cannot evade the Chinese intention: it identified little people or dwarfs, and from the Chinese vantage point in north China doubtless had some implications for the relative stature of the people to China’s south and east. ...

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Chapter 3 The Initial Problem and Three Centuries of Compounding It

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pp. 21-35

The Chinese historian described the location of Yamatai as beyond the koku of Toma to the south another ten days by water, one month by land, but if a naive traveler were to follow these directions going south—as we know the geography today—he may well have found himself floating aimlessly in the middle of the ocean. ...

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Chapter 4 Travel by Land and Water to Neighboring Countries

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pp. 36-52

Even a quick glance at the Chinese record gives the impression of sophisticated politicians surrounding Himiko. The Wa behaved in a statesman-like manner, exchanged envoys with China, and presented gifts of notable variety and quality.On the other hand, if one takes the Japanese texts literally, ...

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Chapter 5 Han Commanderies, Korean Kingdoms, and Wei China

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pp. 53-58

Himiko would not be known if the Chinese had not had their historians and if the Wei had not been successful in putting down rebellions in north Korea and requiring all subdued people to show their respect and pay tribute. Those who were one step removed, like the Japanese Wa, were sufficiently intimidated ...

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Chapter 6 Japan in Transition from Yayoi to Kofun

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pp. 59-113

Since Himiko was dead before AD 250 and Nara archaeologists are pushing the earliest mounded tombs back several decades, as will be discussed later, the first major evidence of a center of authority with the power to build large tumuli occurs in the first half of the third century. Social grading, a feature initiated by Yayoi immigrants ...

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Chapter 7 The Izumo-Yamato Contention

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pp. 114-126

The obsession Yamato had with Izumo, as described by the writers of the Nihon shoki, was a mystery until the discovery of the 358 Kanba-k

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Chapter 8 Himiko, Shamans, Divination, and Other Magic

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pp. 127-159

The roster of magic practitioners, pre-Buddhist magicians and diviners—using the term “magic” (majinai) in the general sense of trying to achieve a natural occurrence through nonnatural means that includes through the medium of occult forces in nature—is led by the diviners, geomancers, and soothsayers, formally known as urabe. ...

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Chapter 9 Mirrors and Himiko's Allotment

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pp. 160-185

Before looking at mirrors normally associated with Himiko, it is worth noting that small bronze mirrors were already being cast in Japan well before her time. These have been found as far north, south, east, and west as Gumma, Kumamoto, Chiba, and Ishikawa prefectures. Takakura estimates that about two hundred are known today.1 ...

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Chapter 10 The Japanese View of the Wei Zhi Years

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pp. 186-228

Many of the stories in the Kojiki and Nihon shoki are obviously space fillers that could be used at any time, but the style of storytelling and the content reveal the inner workings of a culture the Chinese knew only through a female ruler. It is as though the Chinese looked at the face of an old pocket watch and saw the hands go round, ...

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Chapter 11 The Endless Search for Yamatai

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pp. 229-238

The relatively successful efforts before World War II to move Yamatai and Himiko out of the mainstream of Japanese history have been sketched, but there remained those who believed that the description of Yamatai applied to the Yamato area and that the directions and distances did not prove otherwise. ...

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Chapter 12 Makimuku and the Location of Yamatai

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pp. 239-282

Early in his reign Emperor Sujin is said to have taken up residence in a palace called Mizugaki in Shiki.This is today’s Kanaya in Sakurai city in Nara prefecture, an area southwest of Mt. Miwa. Hikers would know Kanaya as the first little community the Yamanobe hiking course goes through when the route is entered ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. 283-284


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pp. 285-338

Wei Zhi Text

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pp. 339-342

Select Glossary

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pp. 343-358


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pp. 359-390


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pp. 391-401

E-ISBN-13: 9780824862848
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824830359

Publication Year: 2007