by Robert E. Haynes (1993)

One cannot subdivide the history of the warrior and his sword. In Japan the edge of the blade is to be seen during the entire history of these islands. This means we must start at the Kofun bunka jidai, if we are to see the complete history of the warrior.

What has to be explained is how such a military force grew so large and so fast. Those who think that the archaeological period is unrelated to the historical period are much mistaken. This relationship has to be fully explored if we are to write a true history of the Japanese warrior.

The root of this relationship is to be found in the artifacts taken from the Kofun period tombs. The published material on the subject show many of these weapons in their various forms and the haniwa figures to show how they were worn. What these books do not show us is the extant quantity of this militaria.

Those kofun tombs that have been opened in various parts of Japan have had there contents placed in the nearest temple in most cases. The opening and removal of the contents of the tombs was not under any kind of controlled archaeological dig. In fact, plunder would be a better word. What we find in these temples are the huge quantity of artifacts these tombs contained.

I visited a few of the kofun tombs on the mountain tops above the city of Okayama in 1960. At that time the temple I was at had one large room devoted to some of the contents of the nearest tombs. Around the walls were wood slat bins to contain the swords, both bare blades and mounted swords. There were several hundred swords in this one room alone. Not all the tombs in the area had been opened at that time. In fact only a few. Yet here were several hundred swords from a few tombs. This can be multiplied by many other tombs in many other parts of Japan. What we find is that there are many thousands of Kofun period swords extant. This does not even count the many unopened tombs or the great zenpo koen fun (key-hole-shaped) that should contain the finest examples of all the military artifacts so far discovered. But since these are thought to be "emperors" tombs we will probably never know what they contain.

The next important fact in the history of the sword is the quality of the workmanship. These were not just bars of iron the soldiers were fighting with. The were forged and laminated blades, about three feet long straight edge and back with a chisel point. The mountings were of superb workmanship. In fact this metal work will compare with that found on the fighting swords of the next thousand years.

What all this tells us is that there was a very large military force at work in the Kofun period. Who did they fight? I shall leave that question to the historians. We should not ignore this chain of history in the development of the eventual samurai.


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