2:the Kofun period


About the administrative districts in the 8th century

The whole country was divided into 8 administrative districts, Kinai and seven Do. Kinai was composed of the 5 provinces around Kyoto, such as Yamashiro, Yamato, Kawachi, Izumi and Settsu. The seven Do were Tokai-do, Tosan-do, Hokuriku-do, Sanyo-do, Sanin-do, Nankai-do, Saikai-do.

In addition, each Do was divided into Koku. There were 60 Koku in the nation. Each Koku was composed of Gun.

Each Gun consists of 2 to 20 Ri and each Ri was composed of about 50 Ko. Ko was composed of about 25 members which included not only the family’s members but also servants of the family.

Each Koku was governed by Koku-shi who was an officer of the Imperial Court. The Koku-shi's office was called Koku-fu. Each Gun was governed by Gun-ji who was appointed from local lords in the region. Gun-ji's office was called Gun-ke. Each Ri was governed by Satoosa who was appointed from the leaders of the area.

There were several special administrative organizations to govern especially important areas. The capital was governed at the office called Kyoshiki. Naniwa which was important for transportation and foreign diplomacy was governed by the office called Settushiki. The northern Kyusyu area, which was important for foreign diplomacy and military affairs, was governed by the office called Dazai-fu.

Many officers worked at these offices. These officers were ranked and given jobs depending on their ranking. They received taxes from people allocated by the Imperial Court. The offices were also given land and salary from the Imperial Court. These officers didn't have to pay taxes and were exempted from labor duties.

The justice system had 5 punishments, Chi, Jo, Zu, Ru, Shi. Chi was a whipping and Jo was a beating with a wooden stick. Zu was to be detained and forced to labor. Ru was transportation to an island and Shi was the death penalty. Crimes against the Imperial Court, the Emperor or against one’s own parents of grandparents were considered serious offenses.

Taiho Ritsu-Ryo and the bureaucracy system

In 701, Taiho-Ritsu-Ryo was completed. Taiho is the era name and Ritsu meant today's criminal law and Ryo provided the regulations about the governmental organization, the rules for regulating the duties of the staff and the regulations about people's tax and work service.
There were two senior departments in the central governmental organization. One of them was the Department of Divinities and the other was the Department of State. Under the Department of State, eight ministries took charge of government business. The Department of State was composed of ministers appointed by the Emperor from the powerful local lords and the department was managed by consensus.


About the first political era

"Taika" the name of is the first political era in the Japanese history. The first year of Taika was 645 AD.
Since the Meiji era, an era name is not changed until the emperor died because of “the each emperor one era system”.
Before the Meiji era, era names were often changed. For example when big earthquakes or big fires occurred, the era names were changed, because it was believed that the changes helped break the bad fortune.


The Yamato Imperial Court’s political system in the Kofun period

From the 5th century to the 6th century, the Yamato Imperial Court led by Okimi, later Emperor, formed a ruling system that subdued regional ruling families from the Kanto, around today’s Tokyo, area to the middle of Kyusyu area, which is a western island of the Japanese archipelago.


The system was called Shisei-system. (氏姓制度) This was composed of Uji and Kabane . First, the Court established Uji that was an organization of local lords classified by blood relationship. Then each Uji was given some role and Okimi gave Kabane to Uji depending on the role. Later, Kabane showed the Uji's rank in the Imperial Court.


↑Takamatsuzuka-Kofun in Nara prefecture

This photo is from AC



※the Kofun period ranged from the later third century to the seventh century.


The religious services related to agriculture in the Kofun period

The religious services related to agriculture were very significant for people in the Kofun period as well as people in the Yayoi period. There were two especially important services for them, one of these was Toshigoi-no-matsuri in spring praying for good harvest and the other was Niiname-no-matsuri in autumn to appreciate the harvest of the year. Even now, these services are still being held at many Shinto shrines.

In addition, people in the Kofun period worshiped various things in nature, such as beautifully shaped mountains, big trees, huge rocks and solitary islands. Some of them still exist and people established Shinto shrines for them, for instance, Okami Shinto shrine in Nara prefecture which honors Mt. Miwa and Okitsumiya at Munekata-Taisha-shrine in Fukuoka prefecture which honors a solitary island Okinoshima. At these shrines, there are historical remains of the religious services in the Kofun period and the shrines continue to hold the rituals regularly even now.

Huge_tree big tree

There are other shrines that came from old faiths, such as Ise-Jingu-shrine that honors Amaterasu-Omikami who is considered an ancestor of the Imperial family, Izumo-Taisya that honors Okuninushi-no-Mikoto and Osaka-Sumiyoshi-Taisya that honors the ocean god.


↑at an approach to Izumo Taisya shrine

People in the Kofun period used copper mirrors, copper arms and farming tools in the religious rituals and buried these around Kofun burial mounds as funeral accessories, though people in the Yayoi period buried bronze ritual objects. In the 5th century, people created stone imitations of these items, which were used in the rituals.

Various magical-religious practices began in the Kofun period, for example, Misogi and Harae for evading troubles, Futomani-no-Ho which is fortunetelling by baking deer bones and Kukatachi which was used for judging genuineness

※ the Yayoi period ranged over from around 400 B.C. to around 300 A.D.

※the Kofun period ranged over from the later third century to the seventh century.


the change of styles of Kofun in the Kofun period

Though many large keyhole-shaped Kofun, ancient burial mound, had been built in the Kibi area, today's Okayama and Hiroshima, such Kofun were no longer built from the late 5th century. On the other hand, keyhole-shaped Kofun were often still built in the Kinki, around today's Kyoto area in those days. This change interpreted to that powerful families in the Kibi area obeyed the Yamato Imperial Court.

↓keyhole -shaped Kofun in Osaka


↑this photo is from Wiki

But then, a vast amount of small Kofun were built in those days. These small Kofun are called “clustered tumuli” and these were Kofun for powerful farmers. It means that the Yamato Imperial Court integrated powerful farmers into their system to directly control them.

※the Kofun period ranged  from the later third century to the seventh century.


New types of Kofun in the late Kofun period

From the late Kofun period ※1 in the 6th century, new types of Kofun, ancient burial mound, started to be built. For example, several Kofun that had a horizontal stone chamber were often built, although the pit lock chamber remained common.  In addition, caves for tomb chambers were often dug in hills and mountains.

Until the late Kofun period, cylindrical clay images and tool-shaped clay images had been buried in some of Kofun, but people also started burying human-shaped and animal-shaped clay figurines in the late Kofun period.

Moreover, many Kofun having regional characteristics were built, for instance, there are stone statues of people and horses on Kofun in the northern Kyusyu area. Kyusyu is a western island of Japanese archipelago.

↓This photo is a stone statue of horse which was found on a Kofun in Kyusyu. This photo is from Wiki.


In addition, many tomb chambers of Kofun were painted or carved in Kyusyu as well as Fukushima prefecture and Ibaraki prefecture.

Fukushima prefecture is in the northern part of the main island of Japan and Ibaraki prefecture is suburb of Tokyo.


※the Kofun period ranged from the later third century to the seventh century.


About the story on a stone monument of King -Kotai in the Kofun period

In the late fourth century, the Yamato Imperial Court fought against Kokuri and Shiragi in today's Korean peninsula. The story was carved on a stone monument of King-Kotai who was a king of Kokuri.

↑This photo is from Wikipedia

It is said that Japan's five kings visited So, which governed a part of China in those days. It is believed that the Japanese kings paid tribute to So because Japan needed So's support to have the advantage over opponents in the Korean peninsula.

People say that those five kings were Emperors, but it's not clear which Emperors they were.

In those days, people from the Eurasian continent came to Japan and introduced various skills such as civil engineering and weaving.

※the Kofun period ranged from the later third century to the seventh century.


Big tombs called Kofun in the Kofun period

In the later third century, many big tombs called Kofun were created in Kinai centering around Yamato, old Nara prefecture. Therefore, the period is called the Kofun period※1.

There are four different styles of Kofun, a round tomb, a square tomb, a tomb with a dome-shaped mound on a square base, and a tomb with a large keyhole shape. The large keyhole shaped tomb is peculiar to Japan. One of the most famous large keyhole-shaped tombs is Daisen-Kofun at Sakai-city in Osaka-fu. The Kofun's length is 486 meters and the outer-moat is about 3 kilometers long.

↓keyhole shape Kofun


Pottery dolls called "Haniwa" were excavated around those tombs. There were various types of Haniwa, such as soldier, horse, shaman, and house. It's not clear why these dolls were set around the tombs, but it is believed that these dolls were substitutes for servants of the kings, because in the early Kofun period, when their kings passed away, kings' servants were buried alive with their kings. 



These big Kofuns tell us that Japan had a powerful government in those days. The government in Yamato region, today’s Nara prefecture, was called the Yamato Imperial Court. It is believed that the Imperial Court was originally established as a coalition government of provincial lords, but in the fifth century, the Emperor governed from southern Tohoku to Kyusyu.

The Emperor was called Okimi, the great king, in those days.


※1 the Kofun period ranged from the later third century to the seventh century.


This page's photos are from AC


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