Sample History Essay Paper on The Horserider Thesis: The History of Japan


The history of Japan and its culture has been influenced by several interactions between the people of Japan and those of other nationalities and other cultures. In particular, the Korean people’s cultural identities, politics and traditional technologies have to some extent been merged into the culture of Japan, bringing out the perspective that Japan’s culture borrowed more from the Koreans. This is particularly evident in the periods of the Yamato State and the Kofun historic period during which significant changes occurred both among the Japanese and the Korean cultures.[1] The ensuing essay provides a background to the early relations between the Yamato State in Japan and early Korea. Egami’s “Horserider Thesis” is used as one of the premises for explaining the implications of the Korean culture on the Japanese cultural growth. From the theory and also from independent judgment, it would not be exactly realistic to deduce that there was a period of distinct cross-over in the Japanese culture, during which Japan adopted the cultures of the horse rider Koreans.

Relations between Early Korea and the Yamato State

Some of the earliest interactions between the Japanese culture and the early Korean culture occurred in the early to late fourth century. The cultural changes that occurred particularly among the Japanese during the same period have been studied extensively using various forms of archaeological evidence. For instance, Farris avers that “written sources alone can never solve the riddle of ancient archipelagic-peninsular relations.”[2] This is a confirmation that besides historic writings, other artifacts have to be used to provide confirmatory details about the relations between early Korea and the Yamato State Japan. An archaeological record of “all materials, technologies, and religious and political systems,”[3] which were transferred from the early Korea to Japan between 300 and 700 AD has been further provided by Farris as part of the evidence of the interactions between the two cultures. Some of these include iron products, “pond and ditch-digging technology”,[4] aristocratic accouterments, and keyhole-shaped tumuli. While most of the materials mentioned were used extensively in early Korea and later on in the Yamato State Japan, they still come with challenges in deciphering to what extent each material was an invention of the Korean. This implies that while it is possible to pin down some of these elements as having been introduced to Japan by Korea, it is impossible to determine how much of an influence Koreans were in ensuring that those elements were used sustainably in Japan.

The findings made by various authors regarding the different archaeological pieces of evidence that link Korea to the Yamato State Japan have provided strong evidence of the intercultural interactions that occurred between the two countries. However, the same archeological evidences have proven that Japan had interactions with several other cultures in the period prior to the eighth century. This could be an indication that while there was a lot of cultural borrowing from Korea during the early periods, it is also possible that the Koreans also borrowed from the other cultures that were domiciled in Japan at that time.

Influences of Korean Peoples, Politics and Technologies

One of the extensively mentioned aspects of Korean technology that is reported to have been transferred to Japan during the early state formation years is the technology of iron working. Similarly, there are other elements of the Korean culture in which the Korean imprint had to be existent for the exchange to be possible. According to Kim, the state of Japan was formed much later when the state of Korea had already been in place.[5] The young Japanese state began to grow under the Jomon culture until the latter was replaced by the Yayoi culture from the Korean people. Korea provided Japan with new waves of political, economic and military foundations which paved way for the development of the new Japan. For instance, “the small Kaya kingdoms provided Japan with people and a new civilization”,[6] implying that through the introduction of the Korean culture into Japan, human capital was made available for engagement in the newly introduced roles occasioned by technological changes. Again, “Paekche emerged as Japan’s main source of new people, scholarship, technology, and arts, and introduced Confucian classics and Buddhism to the Japanese people.”[7] Through the introduction of all these, Paekche, which was annexed to Korea, created an impact not only on the Japanese culture but also on the people, religion, politics, and technology of Japan.

The introduction of new technologies to Japan began through the introduction of new people from Korea. Korean influx into Japan was the starting point of new human capital, who came with their own economic practices through either technology or introduction of new products. These same people trained the native Japanese into the adoption of those technologies, not really with an original intention to drive change among the Japanese but to foster their consideration as leaders in technology.

Horserider Thesis: Egami Namio

The horserider thesis was proposed by Egami Namio in a bid to explain the cultural transfer that occurred between Korea and Japan in the early days of the state of Japan. The theory deviates from the conventional approach to Japanese study in which the history of Japan is segmented into three phases namely the early phase, the middle phase and the late phase. According to the thesis, Japan is distinguished only into the early phase and the late phase; the middle phase is merged into either the early phase or the late phase. Egami, in his proposition of the horserider theory, posits that Japanese history underwent a period of clear cut transition from the traditional Japanese culture to the adopted Korean horserider culture. In support of this argument, Egami explores archeological evidence, particularly tomb histories, and uses them to explain that there is no observable transition from one history period to another. As such, it appears that the traditional Japanese cultures were substituted with the Korean cultures distinctively. To confirm this, Edwards argues that the “magical, ceremonial, peaceful, southeast Asian, in a word, agricultural”,[8] had been replaced by a “practical, militaristic, aristocratic, north Asian”[9] culture. The latter is described to be more indicative of the Korean horserider attributes.

While the key proponent of this argument may seem to be convinced about the clear cut transition of cultures, most historical studies indicate that cultural transition is never a spontaneous activity. Even in Japan, the introduction of the Korean technologies may not have reached everyone at the same time, resulting in a smooth and phased off transmission. It is therefore quite difficult to find a situation in which all cultural practices with regards to a particular activity change at once.

Critiques to the Horserider Thesis

While the horserider thesis relies to a large extent on the archeological evidence found within tombs to confirm its authenticity, various critiques have been presented that counter the arguments of the thesis. For instance, Farris, through a combination of various methods, takes a middle ground between the proponents of the horserider thesis and its opponents. In particular, the available archeological evidence based on tombs, technologies and various items of trade have been used to explain the influence of Korea on Japan. At the same time, Farris has also provided written records that show a conflict between the purported timelines for the cultural transfer between Korea and Japan, and the timelines within which the different pieces of archeological evidence were suppose to have been collected. Farris concludes that the “work seeks a middle position consistent with all the evidence.” On the other hand, Walter Edwards points out the fallacy in the horserider thesis through the arguments about conflicting timelines. According to Edwards, one of the strongholds of the thesis is its proposition of an attack by the Japanese at a time when the Japanese army could not possibly be strong enough to wage war against a more established state. Edwards further argues against Ledyard’s attempt to justify the thesis by “suggesting that the military activities related by the Nihon Shoki are not the work of the Japanese but of the Puyo.” From the critiques presented particularly by these two authors, the horserider thesis has a lot of loopholes not only related to the timelines but also in relation to the actual archeological evidences that have been used in its support. Edward’s critique has been instrumental in creating a deeper perspective regarding the theory.

The Horserider Thesis Debate

From the arguments presented by different parties on the horserider thesis, it is possible to be in support of either side of the debate depending on the point of consideration made. For instance, the theory is dependent on the availability of various archeological artifacts, most of which provide clear indications of what was happening at a particular time in history. When looking at the artifacts from a limited perspective, considering them as the most reliable sources of historical evidence, the horserider thesis seems accurate. However, historical data should not be viewed from a single perspective due to the probability of distortion as a result of the time value of information. For instance, fixation on the gap between the early and the late phases of Japanese history can only mean that there is a period during which the Japanese did not conduct any tomb burials or engage in any activities that would be translated into historic information. It would imply that the shift from traditional Japanese to the adopted Korean culture occurred overnight. This could only happen if the Korean horseriders completely replaced the Japanese on their land. At no time in history was this recorded to have happened. For this reason, the horserider thesis is most likely a fallacy, which returns a positive value accidentally for specific periods of time.


The horserider thesis has been used as one of the most probable explanations for the relations that occurred between early Korea and Japan. However, various studies and examinations of historical writings and archeological data have revealed that the thesis could only be valid to some extent. The focus of the thesis is that Japan’s history can be distinguished into the early and the late phases of history, differentiated by the fact that the early phase was characterized by traditional Japanese culture while the late phases was characterized by Korean cultures. Through a combination of methods, it is quite possible that the horserider theory if fallacious.


Walter Edwards, “Event and Process in the Founding of Japan: The Horserider Theory in Archeological Perspective,” The Journal of Japanese Studies 9 no.2 (Summer, 1983): 265- 295.

William Wayne Farris, “Ancient Japan’s Korean Connection,” Korean Studies 20 (1996): 1-22.

Jinwung Kim, A History of Korea: From “Land of the Morning Calm” to States in Conflict. (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press: 2012.) Pp. 73-77. Online access, University of Manitoba Library.

[1] Edwards, Walter. “Event and Process in the Founding of Japan: The Horserider Theory in Archeological Perspective,” The Journal of Japanese Studies 9 no.2 (Summer, 1983), p. 265.

[2] Farris, William Wayne. “Ancient Japan’s Korean Connection,” Korean Studies 20 (1996), p. 2.

[3] Ibid., p. 3.

[4] Ibid., p. 3.

[5] Kim, Jinwung, A History of Korea: From “Land of the Morning Calm” to States in Conflict. (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press: 2012.) Pp. 73.