Unlike most of the countries in the world, it is unclear "when" Japan was founded, because Japan neither became independent from a colonial power, nor was it founded as a result of revolution. So far as we know Japan is Japan since the beginning and it is ruled by Emperor or Empress as symbolic head of the state. According to the oldest official history book "Nihon Shoki", the first Emperor ascent the throne on 11 February 660 BC. However, such a story clearly belongs to the myth which was created under the political circumstances existent at the time of its compilation in 720 AD.
As no reliable contemporary documents fail in Japan, we have to resort to the Chinese sources in order to discover the reality. In China it was the duty of a dynasty to write the history of its preceding dynasty. According to one of those Chinese official history books Japan was not a unified country in the first century AD. However, another book referred to Queen Himiko of Yamatai(1) who was ruling "Wa" (2) in the first half of the third century AD. Therefore, it is presumed that "Wa", by that time a federation of numerous regional entities, was established by the first half of the third century AD.
|(1)||Nowadays we usually say "Yamatai", but it is proven that "Yamato" is the correct pronunciation of the Chinese characters used to describe the name of this political entity. But, it is disputed whether Himiko's Yamatai was Japan in its earlier form or there was a regime change after the death of Himiko.|
|(2)||"Wa" was the term to refer to Japan or the Japanese people. The Chinese character which was used by Chinese people did not necessarily have a positive meaning. Japanese people later substituted the original Chinese character with another character with better meaning "harmony" and continue to use it till now.|
"Yamato" is in fact a traditional way of calling Japan. However, we are not sure whether Himiko's "Yamatai" or "Yamato" was the origin of Japan which continues till today. One big question arises from the fact that the compilers of the first history books "Nihon Shoki" (720 AD) and "Kojiki" (712 AD) did not mention the shaman queen Himiko in their books, though they must have read about Himiko in the Chinese history book. This obviously means that the people of the Imperial house at the time did not possess any memory of a shaman queen as their ancestor. This should not happen if Himiko was really a direct ancestor of Emperors, as she lived only less than 500 years before the compilations of those two history books.
Critical analysis of Japanese, Chinese and Korean history books and some of the scripts originating form contemporary relics, researchers have come to a plausible theory that Emperor Sujin, the 10th emperor mentioned by "Nihon Shoki", must have been the real founder of Japan. A monumental burial mound of Emperor Sujin(3) still exists in Yanagimoto in the south-east area of Nara Basin or Yamato Basin. It was built in the first half of the fourth century AD.
|(3)||"Andonyama" corresponds to the description of Emperor Sujin's burial mound in Nihon Shoki, though it is not sure whether Emperor Sujin really existed and this grave belonged to him.|
Scholars share the view that "zenpou-kouen-fun"(4) belongs to the Yamato state under the first Emperors. But, in the south of the Emperor Sujin's grave, Makimuku area, there are several older graves of the same shape, the oldest of them was built already in the second century AD, but with a particular design common only to those old mounds, and many people wonder whether the largest of those graves might belong to Himiko.
|(4)||"Zenpou-kouen-fun" is a special type of "kofun" (tumulus) with front-square and rear-round shape. Zenpou-kouen-fun is believed to have originated in Makimuku.|
Anyhow, latest discoveries in Makimuku, the neighborhood of those old graves, indicate that there was a large settlement with monumental constructions in the third century. Many people believe that the long lasting discussion, whether Himiko's "Yamatai" existed in North Kyushu or in Kinki District, came to an end with the conclusion that Himiko lived in Nara Basin and not in North Kyushu.
Reconstruction image of a part of Makimuku ruins
I presume, debates won't be able to come to an end, till a decisive evidence, for example the gold seal given to Himiko by a Chinese Emperor in 240 AD, will be found.
However, it is clear that Japan started to exist in the fourth century with its power center on the Eastern fringe of Nara Basin. There are at least four huge tumuli around here and they must belong to the kings at the time. They are "Hashihaka", "Nishi-Tonozuka", "Andon-Yama" (Grave of the first Emperor Sujin) and "Shibuya-Mukaiyama" (Grave of the third (or second) Emperor Keikou).
|Name||Time of construction||Length||Height||Burried person|
|Hashihaka||Second half of 3C||278||30||Himiko?|
|Nishi-Tonozuka||Late 3C or early 4C||234|
|Andon-Yama||First half of 4C||242||23||Emperor Sujin|
|Shibuya-Mukaiyama||Second half of 4C||310||23||Emperor Keikou|
If we agree that Emperors Sujin and Keikou were buried in the two newer tumuli, the question remains as to which kings were buried in the other two older tumuli. Maybe we still have fundamental misunderstandings.
Along those great grave mounds on the feet of eastern mountains of Nara Basin winds the "oldest" road of Japan "Yamanobe-no-Michi". Thanks to the endeavor of the municipality and the residents of this area, the historical landscape is kept as much as possible along the road, though the houses and fields can by no means be identical with those which existed here when the grave mounds were built 1600 or 1700 years ago. But, here I can feel that I am at the cross section of myths and history.
Miwayama(Mt. Miwa), the nearby and most sacred mountain in Yamato, is the place where Omononushi-no-mikoto is worshiped. Omononushi was the god who constructed Japan and handed it over to the First Emperor of Yamato, according to "Nihon-Shoki". Omononushi or Okuninushi is the deity originating from Izumo, present Shimane Prefecture. It is strange that the most sacred mountain of Yamato is related to the god who originates from Yamato’s arch enemy Izumo. Myth is apparently not simply a fairy tale, but it might include historical facts. I like to wander the winding old road, fancying about the time of the origin of my fatherland. Yamato is indeed a very special place for us.