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Unformatted text preview: s accession to the emperorship
to be 660 b.c.;7 and the authors of Kojiki and Nihon Shoki established, as
part of the mythology, the genealogy of an “unbroken line of sovereigns”
which, if accepted, would make the present emperor, Akihito, the 125th
in lineal descent from Jimmu. Archaeological evidence, however, suggests
that the historical ruling dynasty of Japan dates back only to the early
sixth century a.d. and was probably preceded by at least two other “imperial dynasties.”
This evidence about earlier dynasties dates from approximately a.d.
300, when Japan entered what scholars call the tomb period because
of the earth and stone burial mounds (kofun) that were constructed
throughout much of the country from this time until the early seventh
century. Some of these burial mounds are simply converted hills or knolls
of land, but others are truly stupendous in size and must have required
great concentrations of labor. The larger tombs, many of them in a keyhole shape possibly taken from similarly constructed tombs on the Asian
continent, are in the central provinces and are generally thought to be the
graves of rulers—possibly the successors to Queen Himiko of Yamatai—
who presided over a hegemony that included much, if not all, of central
and western Japan.
From the standpoint of art, the most important objects from the
tomb period are terra cotta figurines, usually several feet in height, known
as haniwa. Implanted on the slopes and tops of the burial mounds, the
haniwa represent a great variety of things, including people, animals,
houses, and boats (fig. 6). The mythology informs us that an emperor in
early times was so moved by the agonies of attendants and others buried
alive with deceased members of the imperial family that he inaugurated
the practice of using clay images in place of people on the occasion of
royal funerals. Although often cited to explain the origin of the haniwa,
this tale seems to have little basis in truth. No evidence has been found
that the Japanese actually engaged in this gruesome practice of live burial,
even though it was com...
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- Spring '13