Early Japan's Clan System

Emperor Jimmu descended from the Yamato Clan
Before the emperors, Japan had a system of clans, each made up of people that were related to each other by either blood or marriage, and a common ancestor.  Every clan was ruled by a few powerful nobles, who were also the religious leaders for the clan.  They were the only people who were known by both their family name, and a personal name.

Shinto, was practiced by the people of Japan, and is based on love for the beauty of nature and ancestors.  The people of the clans believed that the spirit of their ancient ancestor still resided in their village, and protected them.  They also believed that their ancestor listened to their prayers, so they had many rituals and ceremonies, which the clan nobles led.

The first emperors came from the Yamato clan, who, in the 300s, claimed themselves the most powerful clan in Japan, and believed themselves to be the descendants of the sun goddess.  They had amazing fighting skill and strategy, and were brave when in battle.  So, the first emperor of Japan came from the Yamato clan.  He was called Emperor Jimmu.  The other clans would still keep their land, but would have to abide by the emperor’s rules.  By the 400s, he had become extremely powerful.

The ancient emperors are believed to have been human, but the Japanese treated them as almost godlike, or divine.  Even so, instead of the emperor, the military leader held the real power.  Many in the Yamato clans fought over this immense power.  Japan very rarely changed emperors. Because of this, Japan seemed to be very peaceful.

Before the emperors, Japan many clans, of which the Yamato clan was most powerful.  The clan chief became the first emperor of Japan, and his descendants have ruled Japan until today.

Yamato Court