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Ancient Japan

The Ancient World and Fashion > Peoples of the South and East

The earliest people in Japan lived as hunter-gatherers, hunting, fishing, and collecting nuts and berries.Then, around 500 BCE, settlers arrived from China and Korea. They brought new skills, such as metalworking and farming, and people began to live in tribes, ruled by chieftains. One tribe, called the Yamato, became more powerful than all the others, and around 500 CE they took control, becoming the first emperors of a united Japan.

Miniature terracotta soldier
 

Yamato Emperors and Warriors

The Yamato emperors ruled until around 700 CE. During their rule, many new ideas, such as writing and silk-making were brought over from China. People in ancient Japan probably dressed in the same way as the ancient Chinese, with farmers wearing simple tunics and pants, while richer people wore fine robes made from silk.
The best evidence for ancient Japanese costumes comes from the burial mounds of the Yamato emperors. Here, archaeologists have found bronze mirrors, bells, swords, and spears. They have also discovered clay models of warriors, placed around the burial mound to protect the emperor’s body. These miniature figures are dressed completely in armor that seems to be made from metal strips. The armor consists of: a helmet with long side flaps meeting under the chin; a long, waisted jacket tied at the front with laces; and wide pants.The warriors wear gauntlets and have swords in scabbards on their belts.

Swords, Jewels, and Mirrors

An ancient Japanese creation myth provides some insight into the things that were considered important in early Japanese society. According to this myth, the sun goddess Amaterasu sent her grandson Ninigi to rule over Japan, giving him a sword, a jewel, and a mirror. These three gifts became symbols of the emperor's authority. They are said to be still owned by Japan's ruling family.

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