Before writing systems arrived in Japan, the only references we have about ancient Japan is from the Chinese. There is a series of scrolls that documents the history of the Three Kingdoms of ancient China. In the 30th scroll we come across the people of Wa, meaning people of Japan. Gishi Wajinden can be translated as ‘People of Wa in the Chronicle of the Kingdom of Wei’. The scrolls were written by Chen Shou who lived from 233 to 297AD.
In the scroll, it mentions the following kingdoms. Geumgwan Gaya (Southern Korea), Tsushima, Iki, Matsuro (Karatsu), Ito (Itoshima), Na (Fukuoka city), Fumi (Umi or Iizuka), Toma (Not confirmed) and Yamatai (this is the great unknown ancient capital often thought to be Yoshinogari in Saga Prefecture, or central Kansai region.
There are many ancient ruins and wonderful museums in Kyushu where you can learn about ancient Japan. I’m going to cover a few in this blog post.
Tsushima – Tonokubi archaeology site and Tsushima Museum of History.
Iki – Harunotsuji and Iki City Museum.
Matsuro Kingdom – Kurisozui Burial Mound, Matsurokan, Nakabaru Archaeology Site.
Ito Kingdom – Hirabaru Historical Site, Itokoku History Museum,
Na Kingdom – Suku-Okamoto Archaeology Site, Fukuoka City Museum, Itazuke Yayoi Ruins, Fukuoka City Archaeology Center, Kyushu Historical Museum.
Fumi Kingdom – Koshoji Burial Mound, Umi Museum, Hiratsuka-kawa Archaeology Site, Amagi History Museum
Yamatai Kingdom (?) – Yoshinogari Yayoi Settlement.
Above- Yoshinogari, Yayoi Settlement, Kanzaki, Saga, Kyushu. My photos.
The scrolls also mention the Yamatai capital, however there is still much speculation as to the exact location. Yoshinogari (above) is one of the suspected locations.
Excerpt text from the scroll below describing the envoy trip to the Yamatai capital.
After crossing the sea for the first time for more than 1000 Li (1 Li is about 415m) , we arrived at the Kingdom of Tsushima. The governor is called Hiko. His second in command is called Hinamori. We are on an island in the middle of nowhere, about 400 Li in every direction. The land is mountainous and heavily wooded, and the roads are like the paths of birds and deer. There are more than 1,000 dwellings. There are no good rice fields, so people live by eating marine products and trading by sea.
We travel over the Kankai sea once more and arrived at a large island named Iki. The distance in all directions was about 300 Li. There are many bamboo groves and thickets, and more than 3,000 dwellings. There is a little rice field, and even after cultivating the field, there is not enough to eat so they live by trading.
After crossing the sea for more than 1,000 Li, we arrived at the Kingdom of Matsuro. There are more than 4,000 dwellings. They live on the coastline between the mountains and the sea. The vegetation is so thick that they cannot see the people in front of them as they walk. They like to catch fish and abalone whether the water is deep or shallow, they all dive for them.
Travel 500 Li on land to the southeast, and you will arrive at Ito . The governor is called Negi. The second in command was called Emoko and Hegoko. It has more than 1,000 dwellings. There were kings here for generations but now they all serve a queen.
Another 100 Li to the southeast is the Kingdom of Na. The official is called Shimako. The second in command is called Hinamori. There are more than 20,000 dwellings. He went eastward for another 100 Li to the Kingdom of Fumi. The governor is called Tama. The second-in-command is called Hinomori. There are more than 1,000 dwellings.
It took 20 days of water travel to get to the southern province of Toma. The governor was called Mimi. The second in command was called Miminari. There are about 50,000 houses.
If you go south, you will reach the Kingdom of Yamatai. It is the capital of the Queen, and took 10 days by sea and one month by land. The governor is called Ikima, second in charge is Mimato, Mimawake and Nakade. There are about 70,000 houses.
So there you go, a first hand guide to travel from the Korean Peninsula to the Japanese capital of Yamato.
Images of envoys from China and Korea around the 5th-6th century.
Written by Stuart
Photos by Stuart and online sources.
Information from the Kingdoms of Gishi Wajiden – Fukuoka Prefectural Board of Education.