The Japan Times
November 4, 2000

Archaeologists unearth settlement mentioned in Wei Chronicle

NAGASAKI (Kyodo) The recently unearthed remains of a Yayoi Period settlement on Tsushima Island, Nagasaki Prefecture, suggest it was the ancient capital of the Tsushimakoku kingdom mentioned in the third-century Wei Chronicle on the history of the Chinese Wei dynasty.

The remains of a pair of pit houses — semi-subterranean single-room dwellings — were discovered in the Yambe area during an archaeological excavation organized by the town government of Mine.

Tsushima Island faces both the Tsushima Strait and the Korea Strait, which separate South Korea from Japan.

The diggings have been proceeding in a section of the 40,000-sq.-meter Yambe area in the uplands of the mountainous island since September 1999.

The archaeological team has so far unearthed 100 pits believed to have housed the pillars that supported the superstructures of raised-floor warehouses, as well as some 10,000 pot shards dating from the Yayoi era.

After inspecting the ruins of the settlement, Fujio Oda, a Fukuoka University professor and archaeologist, said "There is a possibility that these remains originated from the pivotal community of the country of Tsushimakoku that is mentioned in the 'Gishi wajinden' section of the Wei Chronicle."

The Wei Chronicle was written in the late third century by Chen Shou, a bureaucrat of the Western Chin dynasty (265-317). Its section dealing with the Japanese people documents information on Japan in the second and third centuries. This section is commonly known here as the "Gishi wajinden."

The chronicle states that Japan was divided into some 30 "kuni," or regional political units centering on local chieftains who ruled the common people. It says these chieftains vowed allegiance to Himiko, a female ruler who ruled a kingdom called Yamatai.

Archaeologists and historians have thus far identified the locations of five of the 30 kuni.

Of the 30, they have discovered the remains of the capital of only one, in the Haru no Tsuji area of Iki Island, also in Nagasaki Prefecture.

The Mine site on Tsushima Island may be the second where the presence of an ancient pivotal settlement of one of the 30 kuni mentioned in the Wei Chronicle has been confirmed by archaeologists.

Archaeologists have unearthed on Tsushima Island some tombs dating from the Yayoi Period, which lasted from 300 B.C. through 300.

But October's discovery marked the first time archaeologists have unearthed on Tsushima the ruins of a pivotal settlement where a ruler and commoners might have lived in a community, Oda said.

Archaeologists have also found pot shards that originated in the Rakuro area of the Korean Peninsula in the years that correspond to the late Yayoi Period.

The discovery of these fragments and other items in Yambe suggests that Tsushima used to have active trading relations with continental Asia, they said.

Hironobu Ishino, an archaeologist at Tokushima Bunri University, said: "Unlike pit houses found on Honshu, many of the remains of the pit houses on Tsushima Island have the structures of surface houses or raised-floor buildings, so they give the impression that Tsushima has been strongly influenced by continental Asia.

"It appears that foreigners had come to reside together with the inhabitants indigenous to Tsushima."

The 2,000-character section of the Wei Chronicle relating to Japan reads: "One arrives at Tsushima by crossing the sea from the southern part of the Korean Peninsula. The island has steep mountains, many forests, as well as some 1,000 households."

It goes on to say, "The islanders earn their living through trade and eat much marine products, as they do not have good paddy fields."