May 07, 2012

Japan's wicked witch

Japan's Empress Himiko can be compared to King Arthur, a historical character that exists more firmly in folklore than in actual history. Unlike Arthur, Himiko is depicted as more of a Merlin, less the tragic hero than the dissolute villainess.

Himiko ruled the Yamatai Kingdom during the second and third centuries. She was erased from the earliest Japanese histories, Kojiki (712) and Nihon Shoki (720), but is repeatedly mentioned in contemporary Chinese dynastic records.

The Chinese histories suggest why later regimes wanted to pretend she didn't exist or greatly downplay her standing:

Then a woman named Himiko appeared. Remaining unmarried, she occupied herself with magic and sorcery and bewitched the populace. Thereupon they placed her on the throne. She kept one thousand female attendants, but few people saw her.

The "keyhole" (kofun) burial mounds associated with the era also reflect Korean influences on the Yamatai court that the Nara and Heian courts might have wanted to expunge for political reasons (she does seem the King John sort).

Like Camelot, the geographical location of the Yamatai Kingdom is hotly debated in Japanese archeology, with new theories cropping up on a regular basis.

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