While conventionally assigned to the period 250–710 (including both the Kofun period (c 250-538) and the Asuka period (538-710)), the actual start of Yamato rule is disputed. The Yamato court's supremacy was challenged during the Kofun period by other polities centered in various parts of Japan. At least it is certain that Yamato clans had major advantages over their neighbouring clans at the 6th century.
This period is divided by the relocation of the capital to Asuka, in modern Nara Prefecture, into the Kofun and Asuka periods. However, the kofun period is an archaeological period while the Asuka period is an historical period. Therefore, many think this is an old division and this concept of period division is not popular in Japan now.
At the era of Prince Shotoku in the early 7th century, a new constitution was prescribed for Japan based on the Chinese model. After the fall of Baekje (660 CE), the Yamato government sent envoys directly to the Chinese court, from which they obtained a great wealth of philosophical and social structure. In addition to ethics and government, they also adopted the Chinese calendar and many of its religious practices, including Confucianism and Taoism (Japanese: Onmyo).
A millennium earlier, the Japanese Archipelago had been inhabited by the Jōmon people. In centuries prior to the beginning of the Yamato period, elements of the Northeast Asian, Chinese, and Korean civilizations had been introduced to the Japanese Archipelago in waves of migration. The Chinese Book of Sui of the Sui Dynasty says " Silla and Baekje take Wa (Japan) to be a big country, many rare and precious things; also [Silla and Baekje] respect and look up to this, regularly send emissary there" .Archaeological evidence indicates contacts between China, Korea, and Japan since prehistory of the Neolithic period, and its continuation also at least in the Kofun period.
The rice-growing, politically fragmented Yayoi culture either evolved into the culture characterized by the more centralized, patriarchal, militaristic Kofun period, or came to be dominated and eventually overrun by Yamato society.
The Yamato period, which incorporates the Kofun and Asuka periods, is the period of Japanese history when the Japanese Imperial court ruled from modern-day Nara Prefecture, then known as Yamato Province. While conventionally assigned to the period AD 250-710, the actual beginning date of Yamato rule is disputed.
By this time proto-Japonic languages had also spread to Ryukyuan islands such as Okinawa. The Ryukyuan languages and Japanese most likely diverged during this period .
During the Kofun period, elements of Northeast Asian, Chinese civilization, and Korean civilization continued to influence the culture in the Japanese archipelago, both through waves of migration and through trade, travel and cultural change. Archaeological evidence indicates contacts between the mainland and Japan also during this period. Most scholars believe that there were massive transmissions of technology and culture from China and Korea via Korea to Japan which is evidenced by material artifacts in tombs of both states in the Proto-Three Kingdoms of Korea and Kofun eras, and the later wave of Baekje immigrants to Yamato.
The archaeological record and ancient Chinese and Korean sources indicate that the various tribes and chiefdoms of the Japanese Archipelago did not begin to coalesce into more centralized and hierarchical polities until 300 (well into the Kofun period), when large tombs begin to appear while there were no contacts between the Wa and China. Some describe the "mysterious century" as a time of internecine warfare as various local monarchies competed for hegemony on Kyūshū and Honshū.
Japan of the Kofun age was positive in the introduction of Chinese culture. Several kinds of apparatus were imported. Books from China were one of the most important trade goods. Chinese philosophy that had been introduced in this era, had a big influence on the history of Japan. Decorated bronze mirrors (神獣鏡) were imported from China. Japan was importing iron from Korea until the latter half of the 6th century.
In this period,The archaeological record indicate that Japanese military were strong moderately.According to the Samguk Sagi, King Asin of Baekje sent his son Jeonji to Japan in 397 and King Silseong of Silla sent his son Misaheun to Japan in 402.Because Baekje and Silla receive military support from Japan.
Kofun came in many shapes, with round and square being the simplest. A distinct style is the keyhole kofun (前方後円墳 zenpō kōen fun), with its square front and round back. Many kofun were natural hills, which might have been sculpted to their final shape. Kofun range in size from several meters to over 400 meters in length.
By the late Kofun period, the distinctive burial chambers, originally used by the ruling elite, also were built for commoners.
The biggest kofun are believed to be the tombs of emperors like Emperor Ōjin (応神天皇 Ōjin Tennō) and Emperor Nintoku (仁徳天皇 Nintoku Tennō). Kofun are also classified according to whether the entrance to the stone burial chamber is vertical (縦穴 tate-ana) or horizontal (横穴 yoko-ana).
Many important figures were immigrants from East Asia. The "Shinsen-Joujouroku" (新撰姓氏録), which was used as a directory of aristocrats, lists a number of clans from the Han China, Silla, Baekche, and Goguryeo. When the Yamato Imperial Court officially edited the directory in 815, 290 Korean clans and 163 Chinese clans were registered.
The Kofun period was a critical stage in Japan's evolution toward a more cohesive and recognized state. This society was most developed in the Kinai Region and the easternmost part of the Inland Sea. Japan's rulers of the time even petitioned the Chinese court for confirmation of royal titles. The Yamato polity, which emerged by the late 5th century, was distinguished by powerful great clans or extended families, including their dependants. Each clan was headed by a patriarch who performed sacred rites to the clan's kami to ensure the long-term welfare of the clan. Clan members were the aristocracy, and the kingly line that controlled the Yamato court was at its pinnacle. The Kofun period of Japanese culture is also sometimes called the Yamato period by some Western scholars, since this local chieftainship arose to become the Imperial dynasty at the end of the Kofun period.
The Yamato state evolved much during the Asuka period, which is named after the Asuka region, south of modern Nara, the site of numerous temporary imperial capitals established during the period. The Asuka period is known for its significant artistic, social, and political transformations, which had their origins in the late Kofun period.
Artistically, the term Tori Style is often used for the Asuka period. This is from the sculptor Kuratsukuri Tori, grandson of Chinese immigrant Shiba Tatto. Tori Style inherits Chinese Northern Wei style.
The arts during the Asuka and Nara periods are similar to contemporaneous art in China and Korea. One example of this is Tori Busshi's Shaka triad which reflects the style of early to mid-sixth century Chinese style.
According to Nihon Shoki, was officially introduced to the Yamato court through Baekje in 552, while it is widely recognized Buddhism was introduced in 538 based on the biography of Prince Shōtoku (Jōgū Shōtoku Hōō Teisetsu) and the record of Gangō-ji (Gangō-ji Garan Engi, kanji:元興寺伽藍縁起).
Initial uptake of Buddhism was slow. Nihon Shoki records that when Emperor Kimmei discussed about the acceptance of this new foreign religion, Soga no Iname expressed his support while Mononobe no Okoshi and Nakatomi no Kamako (later the Fujiwara clan) opposed not on religious grounds, but more so as the results of feelings of nationalism and a degree of xenophobia.
With the dawn of the Asuka period the use of elaborate kofun tombs by the imperial family and other elite fell out of use because of prevailing new Buddhist beliefs, which put greater emphasis on the transience of human life. Commoners and the elite in outlying regions, however, continued to use kofun until the late seventh century, and simpler but distinctive tombs continued in use throughout the following period.
Buddhism only started to spread after Mononobe no Moriya lost in the Battle of Shigisen in 587 where the Mononobe clan was defeated and crushed, and Empress Suiko openly encouraged the acceptance of Buddhism among all Japanese people. In 607, in order to obtain copies of Sutras, an imperial embassy was dispatched to Sui dynasty China.
The Yamato court, concentrated in the Asuka region, exercised power over clans in Kyūshū and Honshū, bestowing titles, some hereditary, on clan chieftains. The Yamato name became synonymous with all of Japan as the Yamato rulers suppressed the clans and acquired agricultural lands. Based on Chinese models (including the adoption of the Chinese written language), they developed a central administration and an imperial court attended by subordinate clan chieftains but with no permanent capital. By the mid-seventh century, the agricultural lands had grown to a substantial public domain, subject to central policy. The basic administrative unit of the Gokishichido system was the county, and society was organized into occupation groups. Most people were farmers; other were fishers, weavers, potters, artisans, armorers, and ritual specialists.