Himiko 卑弥呼 (c. 175 – 248), also read as Pimiku, was a legendary female ruler of the kingdom of Yamataikoku, Japan, during the third century C.E. Few historical records are available and little is known about her. The Three Kingdoms Wei Chronicles (Wei zhi), written in China by Chen Shou, contains accounts of Himiko, based on reports made by Chinese envoys sent to the northern parts of Kyushu between 239 and 248 C.E. They described a shaman queen who controlled a fragmented political structure of more than a hundred separate tribes in over a hundred communities and “occupied herself with magic and sorcery bewitching the people.” Wei zhi also contains acknowledgment of tribute sent to China by Himiko. It is said that Himiko never married, and lived with one thousand female attendants in a fortress guarded by one hundred men. She never appeared in public and communicated through a single male attendant. Himiko occupied herself mostly with spiritual matters, relying on her younger brother to take care of day-to-day business. After her death in 248 C.E., the region fell into chaos.
Some Japanese traditions connect Himiko with Yamatohime-no-mikoto, the legendary daughter of Emperor Suinin and founder of Ise Shrine, still regarded as the most important Shinto sanctuary in Japan. The location of her kingdom, Yamataikoku, is the subject of a debate that has been ongoing since the late Edo period. Historical evidence suggests that Yamataikoku may have been located either in the Yamato region in the south-central region of Japan's main island, Honshū; or in northern Kyūshū of present-day Japan.
The precise pronunciation of Himiko’s real name is unknown. The Himiko reading derives from her name as represented in kanji, which was written 卑彌呼 prior to mid-twentieth century kanji reforms. Himiko may have been a Chinese corruption of himemiko, princess-priestess, or lady shaman. The name literally means "Sun Child."
Historical references: Ancient China and Korea
The Three Kingdoms Wei Chronicles (Wei zhi), was written in China by Chen Shou between 280–297 C.E. and later used in the Three Kingdoms history, Sanguozhi. It is based on reports made by Chinese envoys sent to the northern parts of Kyushu between 239 and 248 C.E., and contains accounts of Himiko, a shaman queen who controlled a fragmented political structure of more than a hundred separate tribes, and “occupied herself with magic and sorcery bewitching the people.” The Chinese envoys maintained contact with over thirty of these communities, and referred to the inhabitants by the name Wa, literally, "The Little People." The Three Kingdoms Wei Chronicles reads:
…the people agreed upon a woman for their ruler. Her name was Pimiko. She occupied herself with magic and sorcery, bewitching the people. Though mature in age, she remained unmarried. She had a younger brother who assisted her in ruling the country. After she became ruler, there were few who saw her. She had one thousand women as attendants, but only one man. He served her food and drink and acted as a medium of communication. She resided in a palace surrounded by towers and stockades, with armed guards in a state of constant vigilance (Wei zhi, a Chinese historical account of circa 280–297)
Response to gift of tribute by Himiko to the Emperor of China, also from Wei zhi:
Herein we address Pimiko, Queen of Wa, whom we now officially call a friend of Wei…[Your ambassadors] have arrived here with your tribute, consisting of four male slaves and six female slaves, together with two pieces of cloth with designs, each twenty feet in length. You live very far away across the sea; yet you have sent an embassy with tribute. Your loyalty and filial piety we appreciate exceedingly. We confer upon you, therefore, the title "Queen of Wa Friendly to Wei,"…we expect you, O Queen, to rule your people in peace and to endeavor to be devoted and obedient.
According to an ancient Korean history book, Samguk Sagi, Himiko, as queen of Japan, sent an emissary to King Adalla of Silla in May of 172.
Life and rule
Himiko never married, and it is recorded that her younger brother assisted her as a political adviser. She is said to have had one thousand female servants and to have never appeared in public, communicating with her people through a single male attendant. She lived in a fortress guarded by one hundred men, and occupied herself mostly with spiritual matters, relying on her younger brother to take care of day-to-day business.
From Japanese archaeological evidence it has been surmised that Himiko probably wore a kan-style re-osode (wide-sleeved garment), taishikando-like striped-textile over-kosode (narrow-sleeved garment) of ashiginu, a striped shizuri belt at her waist, mo (skirt) with a diamond-pattern, ramie with patterns dyed with red mud, and a sash with a continuous triangular pattern (Uroko-pattern) which revealed her status. Her hair would have been bundled on her head and topped with a gold-plated copper crown. She also wore shoes, earrings, and a bead necklace with tiny bells, all gold-plated.
Himiko ascended to power around 188 C.E., and, according to Chinese historians, died in 248 C.E. at the age of sixty-five. One hundred sacrificed slaves accompanied her into the afterlife, and after her death, her dominion fell into chaos.
There are indications that a tribal king, posthumously known as Emperor Shujin, raised a military host against Queen Himiko or her successor (reportedly another shaman, her niece, or another relative), ultimately doing away with her position and establishing male rule with headquarters in central Japan.
Identity of “Queen Himiko”
There are a number of theories about the identity of Queen Himiko, and controversies over exactly when she lived and the geographical location of her kingdom.
- Some have intuitively proposed that Himiko would have been a ruler during the Jomon period, an archaeological age characterized by a goddess religion, as indicated by figurine evidence, and a population of today's Ainu people. However, that timing is patently incorrect, as the latest discoveries of Jomon remnants date from ca. 300 B.C.E., five centuries earlier than Himiko's lifetime according to the Chinese records. Moreover, much of the other evidence, including her name, links Himiko to proto-Yamato people who had just migrated to Japan in the late Jomon era and in the early Yayoi period, and into which Himiko and her people are tentatively classified. Traditions of Jomon culture, such as reverence for female godheads and a society led by priestesses, as well as large villages and small, tribal groups functioning as units of political power in a proto-agricultural economic setting, may have influenced the societies of Yayoi settlers and the cultural structure of Himiko's society.
- Some sources also link Himiko to Yamatohime-no-mikoto, the legendary daughter of Emperor Suinin and founder of Ise Shrine, still regarded as the most important Shinto sanctuary in Japan. According to Japanese legend, Himiko was the daughter of the emperor Suinin (fl. first century B.C.E.–first century C.E.), who gave her custody of a sacred mirror, symbol of the sun goddess. In 5 B.C.E. she is said to have enshrined this mirror at Ise, in present-day Mie Prefecture.
- Another deep-rooted Japanese historical tradition, which is referred to even in an official Chinese history book, suggests that Himiko was the Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu, founder of the Shinto religion. The character "hi" in “Himiko” means "sun," and “miko" means priestess.
- The Nihonshoki, an ancient Japanese history book, notes that Himiko was actually Empress Jingū Kogo, the mother of Emperor Ōjin, but historians disagree.
Location of Yamataikoku
During the Yayoi period in the late second and early third century, numerous small kingdoms existed in Japan. Ancient Chinese texts relate that the strongest of these kingdoms was Yamataikoku （邪馬台国 or Yamatai). The location of Yamataikoku (translation: “Mountain-country”) is the subject of an often emotionally-charged debate that has been ongoing since the late Edo period. Historical evidence suggests that Yamataikoku may have been located either in the Yamato region in the south-central region of Japan's main island, Honshū; or in northern Kyūshū of present-day Japan.
The accounts of Himiko found in the Chinese Wei zhi (Three Kingdoms Wei Chronicles) were based on reports made by Chinese envoys sent to the northern parts of Kyushu between 239 and 248 C.E. The historians who connect Himiko with Amaterasu, the Japanese sun-goddess who founded the Shinto religion, believe her kingdom was located in south-central Honshu, in the area of the Ise shrine.
Media coverage about the discovery of Nara tomb
The Nara tomb discovery, in 2000, stirred debate over the location of Yamataikoku. The discovery was a hot topic both in media and among historians of Japanese ancient history. The Japan Times, for example, reported about the discovery and possible debates over the location of Yamataikoku.:
The Hokenoyama tomb in Nara Prefecture, found to be the oldest-known keyhole shaped burial mound, may be evidence that the legendary state of Yamatai ruled by Queen Himiko around the early third century was located in the area. Two conflicting theories over the location of the legendary kingdom — one suggesting a site in the Kinai region and another an area in northern Kyushu—have long been topics of debate in academic circles.
Researchers here said burial chambers dating back to the mid-third century have been found at the Hokenoyama tomb in the city of Sakurai, and the raised burial area is one of the largest discovered from that time period. The keyhole-shaped tomb, which has a rectangular area at one end and a raised area at the other, is typical of tombs in which high-ranking people were buried in primitive Japan.
According to Takayasu Higuchi, head of the prefectural Archaeological Institute of Kashihara, wooden beams surrounding a coffin in the 80-meter-long Hokenoyama tomb apparently date from the third century… The "gamontai shinjukyo" mirror, which was also found in the tomb, could be one of the 100 bronze mirrors described in "Account of Wa People," a sixth century Chinese chronicle, according to Higuchi.
The chronicle, which describes Queen Himiko's legendary state of Yamatai that dominated Japan in the late second and early third centuries, says Wei Kingdom in China sent the mirrors as gifts to Himiko after she sent a friendly mission to China in 239. Similar mirrors have been excavated from tombs in the Kansai and eastern Shikoku regions. The discovery of the mirror in the Hokenoyama tomb suggests the possibility that Himiko's Yamatai Kingdom was located in the prefecture. There has been a long dispute over, whether the kingdom was based in Kyushu or in an area covering Nara, Kyoto and Osaka prefectures.
Kunihiko Kawakami, a senior researcher at the institute, said he believes the occupant of the coffin was a powerful local leader belonging to the generation of the father or grandfather of Himiko. He said the tomb was completed between 220 and 230.
Meanwhile, Masao Okuno, a professor at Kiyazaki Municipal University who supports the theory that the historical site rests in northern Kyushu, said his rivals are forcefully trying to connect the tomb and the Yamatai Kingdom.
- ↑ "Nara tomb discovery may stir debate over site of Queen Himiko's realm," Japan Times, March 29, 2000 Kashihara, Nara Pref. (Kyodo)
- Kidder, J. Edward. 2007. Himiko and Japan's Elusive Chiefdom of Yamatai: Archaeology, History, and Mythology. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 9780824830359
- Ishihara, Fujio. 2001. Himiko to Nihon Shoki. Tōkyō: Eikō Shuppansha. ISBN 4754100417
- Lu, David John. 1974. Sources of Japanese History. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0070389020
- Tsutsui, William M. 2007. A Companion to Japanese History. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub. ISBN 1405116900
- Yasumoto, Biten. 2003. Waō Himiko to Amaterasu Ōmikami denshō: shinwa no naka ni, shijitsu no kaku ga aru. Suiri Yamataikoku to Nihon shinwa no nazo. Tōkyō: Bensei Shuppan. ISBN 4585051236
- Himiko, Kongming’s Archives. Retrieved April 3, 2007.
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