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Himiko

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  • Reign: c. 240s?
  • Japanese: 卑弥呼 (Himiko, Pimiko)

Himiko was a semi-mythical ruler of Yamatai, or Wa (i.e. Japan). The key source of information about her is the official history of China's Wei Dynasty, the Wei zhi, which describes her reign with dates corresponding to the 240s CE.

According to the Wei zhi, Himiko was a powerful shamaness, who came to power after a period of seventy or eighty years of men's rule, characterized by warfare and other disturbances. The text relates that after this lengthy period, the people sought a change, and so supported a woman's rule. Even as an adult, during her reign, Himiko was unmarried, and was aided somewhat by her younger brother; however, she surrounded herself with a thousand maidservants, and only one manservant. Himiko's palace is said to have been extensively fortified.

The Chinese document relates that in 239, Himiko sent her steward Nashomi to Taifang prefecture (a Chinese colony on the Korean peninsula), seeking an Imperial audience and an opportunity to present tribute. This led to the kingdom of Wei officially recognizing Wa (and Himiko as its leader), and sending an investiture mission in reply in 242. Two years later, the governor of Taifang, Wang Qi, was informed that Himiko was at war with Himikoko, king of Kuna (another polity in southern Japan), and was having difficulties. However, by the time the Chinese envoy arrived in Japan in response to this call for aid, Himiko had died, and was buried in a massive tomb, along with hundreds of her servants and followers.

A man came to power after Himiko's death, but was not widely accepted, leading to assassinations, murders, and general disturbances in which as many as a thousand were killed, according to the Wei zhi. Eventually, however, Iyo, a 13-year-old girl, and a relative of Himiko's, was made queen, and peace and order were restored.

Himiko and her kingdom of Yamatai remain a point of considerable contention both within and outside of formal scholarship. Much about her life and reign remain unclear.

References

  • David Lu, Sources of Japanese History, New York: McGraw Hill (1973), 13-14.
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