Researchers uncover deeper Japan-Korea history on weapons, letters

February 01, 2013

By YUKI OGAWA/ Staff Writer

While Japanese and Koreans continue to argue about events from last century, researchers have looked much further back, finding more intricately intertwined relations than previously thought.

Two recent events suggest that stone tool culture from the Korean Peninsula spread much further north in Japan, and that the two areas even shared the same pronunciation for certain kanji characters.

An exhibition of stoneware in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, in December displayed similarly-shaped tanged points--stone tools resembling a hunting knife—establishing a link between northeastern Japan and the Korean Peninsula 25,000-20,000 years ago.

One was uncovered in the KaminoA ruins in Shinjo, Yamagata Prefecture, in northeastern Japan. The other was unearthed at the Jingeuneul site near Gwangju, South Korea.

Both had sharp edges like those on a spear and were hollow at their bases.

Many tanged points have been found in Japan, mostly in Kyushu, the main Japanese island closest to the Korean Peninsula. Tanged points and stone tools made of volcanic glass from Kyushu have been excavated at the Sinbuk site in South Korea.

Archaeologists believe such tools are proof of exchanges between Japanese and Koreans in ancient times, when the northern part of Kyushu and the Korean Peninsula were either contiguous or separated by a strip of water much narrower than now.

The recent exhibition raised the possibility that stone tool culture could have spread far beyond Kyushu.

“These (tanged points) alone do not serve as evidence of a migration of people from the Korean Peninsula (to northeastern Japan),” said Toshio Yanagida, director at the Tohoku University Museum. “But waves of cultural exchanges could have reached northeastern Japan.”

Masao Anbiru, professor of East Asia in the Old Stone Age at Meiji University, said large numbers of Koreans might have migrated to Japan 25,000-20,000 years ago.

One indication was the steep rise in the number of settlement ruins discovered in Kyushu. Tanged points were also dug up in Nagano Prefecture in central Japan and Kanagawa Prefecture, near Tokyo.

But it has yet to be determined if Koreans traveled as far as northeastern Japan.

“We should study the movement of people and goods in all of East Asia, including the migration of Japanese to other parts of Asia,” Anbiru said.

Another discovery showed a close association between Japanese and Koreans on a subject long connected to ties between Japan and China.

A National Museum of Japanese History symposium in December showed that ancient Korea also left an unmistakable footprint in the development of Japanese culture surrounding kanji and other types of letters.

At the symposium in Tokyo, Japanese researchers announced the results of more than a decade of joint studies with their South Korean peers.

Wooden plates bearing kanji previously considered unique to Japan-- “hatake” (fields) and “awabi” (abalone)–had been already uncovered in South Korea. Letters written on wooden strips indicated that Baekje, a kingdom that existed from the fourth century to the seventh century, had an arrangement similar to Japan of charging interest payments for loans of rice.

The recent symposium said material has been found showing that a certain kanji was pronounced the same in Japan and in ancient Korea.

The kanji in question is “ru.” That is part of the name of a prince, Wakatakeru, inscribed on an iron sword unearthed at the Inariyama ancient tomb in Saitama Prefecture.

The same kanji--with the same pronunciation--also appears as part of the name of an individual written on a wooden plate dating to the mid-seventh century in Baekje.

“The same kanji was assigned the same sound because Japan and Baekje might have shared part of their cultures,” said Minami Hirakawa, director-general at the National Museum of Japanese History.

He also said many Korean migrants were involved in literary activities in ancient Japan.

“There were many ruins related to letters in areas known as home to a large population of ‘toraijin,’ such as Gunma Prefecture, where the Tago monument is located,” Hirakawa said, referring to migrants from the Korean Peninsula and China who settled in Japan in the fourth to seventh centuries.

The Tago monument, with its inscriptions, is considered one of the three most important ancient monuments in Japan in terms of calligraphy. Gunma Prefecture is located north of Tokyo.

Sungsi Lee, professor of Korean culture at Waseda University, said at the symposium that Buddhist monks and students from ancient Korean kingdoms played a big part in the development of Japan’s letter culture by having audiences with Prince Shotoku (574-622) and other key Japanese figures.

The museum plans to hold exhibitions in Japan and South Korea in 2015 to display the results of the joint research.

By YUKI OGAWA/ Staff Writer
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A tanged point uncovered at the KaminoA ruins in Shinjo, Yamagata Prefecture (Provided by Tohoku University)

A tanged point uncovered at the KaminoA ruins in Shinjo, Yamagata Prefecture (Provided by Tohoku University)

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  • A tanged point uncovered at the KaminoA ruins in Shinjo, Yamagata Prefecture (Provided by Tohoku University)
  • A replica of a tanged point excavated at the Jingeuneul site near Gwangju, South Korea (Provided by Chosun University Museum)
  • The Asahi Shimbun

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