Jomon (縄文) period 9000 B.C.
Jomon period goes back to 9000 B.C. This is the time of Paleolithic and Neolithic times. The characteristic of the time was the rope design (Jomon 縄文) on their earthenwares. We found a stone sword made during this time. They are one piece stone swords, about 27 to 31 inches (70 to 80cm) long, not the Neolithic type scrapers. They were made for the ceremonial purpose
Yayoi (弥生) period 300B.C —300A.D (approximately)
Around 300B.C. Yayoi culture replaced Jomon culture. Yayoi characteristics show on their earthen wares. They are rounder, smoother, simpler design, and the techniques were greatly improved. They were named Yayoi culture because of the location they were found was Yayoi-cho (name of the place) area near Tokyo University. They found bronze items such as a bronze sword (銅剣), bronze pike(銅矛), bronze mirror(銅鏡), bronze musical instrument(銅鐸). Those were imported from China and Korea but Japanese started to make their own later part of Yayoi period. Iron wares were seldom excavated but they have the evidence of the existence of Iron wares.
According to the Chinese history book, “Gishi wajinden” (魏志倭人伝), around 300 A.D., there was a country called Yamataikoku (邪馬台国) that controlled about 30 small countries in Japan. The head of the country was a female called Himiko (卑弥呼) who served God (shamanism). She sent a messenger to China at 239 A.D. and received a title as a head of Japan (親魏倭王), a bronze mirror, and a long sword (5 feet long). Today, we still don’t know exactly where Yamataikoku was located. This Chinese history book “Gishi wajinden” (魏志倭人伝) explains how to get to Yamataikoku, but if we follow the book’s directions exactly, we end up in the middle of the ocean, south of Kyushu (九州). We are still debating where Yamataikoku was located.
Yamato (大和) period 300 A.D. — 593 A.D
At the end of the Yayoi period, there were many small countries called Go-zoku (豪族). Around 400 A.D. most powerful Go-zoku united the country and called it Yamato-chotei (大和朝廷). This is the imperial court, the Emperor’s ancestor. They had the power to build an enormous size tomb, called Kofun (古墳). Inside of the one of the famous kofun, Ougonzuka kofun (黄金塚古墳) in Osaka, we found swords. Its hilt was made in Japan and blade was made in Chine. On the surface of the hilt, they depicted the design of a house. Also, we found many items like armor, mirror, iron tools, jewelry inside of the Kofun. Outside of Kofun, they placed Haniwa (clay figurine). Those Haniwa are smiling people, animals, houses, and soldiers wearing swords. Also, they placed tube shape haniwa (埴輪) outside of Kofun as a retaining wall. Judging from the writings on the back of mirrors and swords, they were using Kanji (Japanese characters) in 5 to 6th century.
Asuka (飛鳥) period 593 —710
At the end of Yamato period, after a long power struggle, Shotoku Taishi (聖徳太子) became a regent in 593 (beginning of Asuka period). Shotoku Taishi established the political system and set up the first Japanese constitution (憲法17条). Shotoku Taishi protected and encouraged Buddhism and built Horyuji temple(法隆寺) in Nara. His face had been on 10,000 yen bill for a long time. During Asuka time, we see Kanto Tachi (環頭太刀). The shape of the hilt is a ring shape. Kan (環) means ring and To (頭) means head. Also, on the ring shape hilt, we see some inscriptions. Such as the name of the Emperor, location and numbers were written. The number indicates a number of years a particular emperor was enthroned. Those were all straight shape swords
Nara (奈良) period 710 —794
In 710, The capital city was moved to Nara, called Heijokyo (平城京). The shape of Joko-to was straight, usually 25 inches (60 –70 cm) long. They were suspended from the waist belt. Some swords came from China and others were made in Japan. Many swords were found from Kofun and Shoso-in(正倉院) during the Nara period. Shoso-in is a storage place where articles of Shoumu Emperor (聖武天皇）were placed. Among other items, 55 swords were found from there. Those swords were called Warabite tachi. Warabi is a name of a Japanese vegetable, its stem grows circle at the top. They were called Warabite- Tachi because the hilt shows warabi shape.