restricted access Chapter 4 Travel by Land and Water to Neighboring Countries
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36 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, when the Wa first became involved with a foreign region they were being told by their kami to plunder the Korean coast.It was as though the Wa were playing two games:kowtow to the powerful Chinese and attack the weak south Koreans. In fact, something of this sort was probably going on, quite likely with Chinese encouragement. If one looks only at the Japanese accounts, it was a protracted process of recognizing the value of foreign missions and occurred only after the Chinese had withdrawn from their commanderies and the increasing strength of the south Korean kingdoms forced the Japanese to treat them civilly. The problems these later missions encountered are important for any understanding of the coastal and ocean conditions Himiko’s representatives faced. In the case of the first mission,sent in 238,the envoys went all the way to the Chinese capital , as apparently did the mission sent by her successor in about 248. Later descriptions inform on sailing times, weather, and other concerns, factors that led the Wa to require the services of a man with a supposed special relationship to the spirits responsible for the caprices of nature. Throughout the old Chinese texts land and offshore water distances were measured in li, a linear unit today about one-third of a mile. But the li was not then a fixed unit. It fluctuated over the centuries and apparently regionally, leaving a legacy of greatly divergent opinions on its length during Wei times. It is little help that the li are noted only in round numbers, often as obviously very rough estimates. To make matters worse, the Wei zhi writer shifted from li to travel days when he set out from north Kyushu for Yamatai.Yet for some scholars, finding the length of the Wei li was seen as crucial to the success of their theories. For Furuta, for instance, it was all-essential, as it contributed immeasurably to his thesis of a Kyushu-based Yamaichi.1 However, the very fact that only round numbers were given (such as 1,000, 500, and 100) is enough to show that long distances were only abstractions to the Chinese writer, and when the same distance is listed between Tsushima and Iki and Iki and the north Kyushu coast (1,000 li)— CHAPTER 4 Travel by Land and Water to Neighboring Countries which any veteran sailor would know was not the case—even a casual observer should realize that these estimates were far from realistic. Another point: the water distances all appear to be proportionally longer than the land distances. Why the designation was changed from li to number of travel days can be conjectured from a remark in the Sui shu. This seventh-century text says, “These barbarians do not know how to measure distance by li and estimate it by days.”2 In other words, one was from Chinese sources, the other from Japanese sources.3 The Chinese thought they had relinquished their responsibility for any imprecision at that point, but there are, in fact, instances of Chinese references to water travel in number of months. Chinese tradition has it that a pedestrian can cover a hundred li in a day, a figure apparently derived from, among other things, the long distances traveled toward the northwest frontier.The length of the li varied according to the length of a pace (bu), which tended to get longer over the centuries, perhaps owing to some increase in the stature and stride of the north Chinese people.The length of the pace is the key unit. Tsunoda and Goodrich say the Han li was just over one-fourth of an English mile (therefore about 410 m);4 Ishida says a Wei li was roughly 415 m;5 Yamao says it was about 435 m6 (the figure Edwards used), and a pace was 1.45 m.7 Young refers to the reports by explorers and archaeologists of the recovery of Han foot rules in Central Asia measuring close to 9 English inches, and quotes two measurements for an inch, one for 22.9 mm, the other for 22.7 mm.The information is then passed on that, unless the length of the...