The Japan Times
October 5, 2001

Tawayama find hints kanji introduced in Yayoi Period

MATSUE, Shimane Pref. (Kyodo) Two pieces of slate unearthed here — the oldest ever found in Japan — are from an ink stone imported from a Chinese colony set up in 108 B.C. on the Korean Peninsula, archaeologists said Thursday.

The ink stone pieces are the first product of Lolang Province to be discovered in Japan, they said. The province was established by Emperor Wudi of China's first Han Dynasty (202 B.C. to A.D. 8) near present day Pyongyang.

The pieces were unearthed in 1998 at the Tawayama site in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, where moats dating back to the Yayoi Period (about 300 B.C. to A.D. 300) were discovered, according to the Matsue Board of Education. Although no examples of writing from the Yayoi Period have been discovered at the site, the finding of the Chinese ink stone parts suggests articles related to writing were introduced to Japan via the Korean Peninsula much earlier than previously thought.

The Chinese writing system is generally believed to have been introduced to Japan between A.D. 300 and 710 during the Kofun Period.

The two fragments were found in layers dating back to between 200 B.C. and A.D. 100, board officials said.

Tadashi Nishitani, an East Asia archaeology professor at the graduate school of Kyushu University, examined the objects and speculated that those in power in the Izumo region at the time imported the articles from areas of advanced culture to give themselves authority.