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Ancient Japan

The Wedded Rocks, on the southern coast of Japan The Wedded Rocks, on the southern coast of Japan The people of ancient Japan believed their islands were created by the goddess Izanami and her brother and husband Izanagi. According to legend, Jimmu, a descendant of the Sun goddess Amaterasu, united the people under his rule and became the first emperor of Japan. The legends say Jimmu’s rule began in 660 BC. Modern historians think Jimmu may actually have lived hundreds of years later, from about 40 BC to 10 BC.  

A modern reconstruction of a Jomon dwellingA modern reconstruction of a Jomon dwelling

The Yayoi

The first people settled in Japan in about 30,000 BC. The islands remained sparsely populated until the 3rd century BC. People of this time, called the Jomon period, still used stone tools and living by hunting, fishing and gathering nuts and berries. Then, on the island of Kyushu in about 300 BC, a people called the Yayoi learned to make metal tools and more complex pottery, raise livestock and cultivate rice. This way of life spread across Japan's main island, Honshu.

Queen HimikoQueen HimikoThe population of Yayoi people grew rapidly, forcing the native inhabitants of Honshu, the Ainu, to move to northeastern Honshu. The Yayoi began to trade with Korea, and built a fleet of ships to move goods to and from the Asian mainland. Warriors, equipped with horses and weapons imported from overseas, became a powerful force.

Ruling families, or clans, emerged. These were sometimes headed by a woman. One such leader was Queen Himiko, who ruled over much of Kyushu between AD 183 and 248. Himiko meant "Sun Daughter": her people believed she was descended from the Sun goddess. She is said to have come to power after decades of warfare between rival clans.

The first settlers in Japan migrated to the islands through two natural land bridges. These bridges are now covered by water.

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