The individual people in a ‘Be’ were known as ‘bumin.’ All of these groups had to give a part of their production or supply to those there were subjects of. Generally the ‘be‘ was added as a suffix to their craft. Also at times they were known as tomo (companion).1
The term itself appears to be of Korean origin with Be being created by the courts to make items specifically for court usage. The exact relationship between Be and the Uji they served is not quite clear. During the reign of Emperor Yūryaku, a man known as Ake is said to have presented ‘private Be members,’ to the court. Some have taken this to mean they were actually slaves, with others feeling it signified they were subordinates.4
- Imube – Shinto Ritualists.1
- Kamibe – Shinto Priests.1
- Kanuchi – Smiths.2
- Kinunuibe – Tailors.1
- Kuratsukuribe – Saddle Makers.1
- Nishigoribe – Silk Weavers.1
- Tomobe – General Workers.1
- Umakaibe – Horse and Cattle Breeders.1
- Ya – Arrows2
- Yamabe – Forestry Workers.1
- Yumi – Bow makers.2
The Asobibe (遊部) were those originally charged with funerary rites in Japan. These consisted of songs, dances and food offerings which were designed to placate the ghosts of departed or even bring the dead back to life. As time passed continental beliefs from Korea made the former obsolete, though the practises were maintained to some extent; their original purpose was forgotten. Eventually they lost their position and the Haji Clan seem to have taken over with this occupation.4
The Haji/Hanishi Be (土師部) were a group incharge of pottery and funerary rites, according to the Kojiki founded in the reign of Emperor Suinin. They were overseen by the Haji Clan which had been founded by Nomi no Sukune after he created the first haniwa (though this claim may be dubious). Though they were specialised craftsmen, they likely still performed farming to support themselves.
As potters they made pottery specifically for court usage and so would not have held a monopoly on ceramic production. It is though a pottery type known as haji ware was presumably made by the Haji Be; this pottery growing out from older Yayoi traditions. The haniwa are also a outgrowth of it.
When the Taiho Code was enacted an ‘Office of Mausolea’ was created and ten Haji Be members served there with senior members of the Haji Clan taking charge of prince and noble funerals of the third rank or above.
After the dissolution of the Haji Clan and their connections to funerary rites, it is not sure what became of the Haji Be. In the Edo Period a village in Kawachi was said to have been headed by the Haji family who made pottery part time, claiming descent from the Haji Be. Some scholars believe they became outcasts living in shuku villages as these villages made pottery and maintained shrines to Nomi no Sukune.4
The Kambe/Kami Be were those charged with the caring of Shinto Shrines. One version of the Nihongi states this group was given the sword Orochi no Karasabi into its care when the God Susano-o was finished with it.2
The Katari Be were the hereditary corporation of reciters.
The Nihongi states they were tasked to make arrows for Emperor Suizei so he may kill his brother.2
1. Kodansha. (1993) ”Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia”. Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd.
2. Aston. W.G. (1896) “Nihongi Volume 1: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to AD697”. Tuttle Publishing.
3. Yasumaro. O, translated by Gustav Heldt. (2014) “Kojiki. An Account of Ancient Matters”. New York: Columbia University Press.
4. Borgen, R. (1975) “The Origins of the Sugawara. A History of the Haji Family”. Monumenta Nipponica. Vol.30 No.4 pp.405-422
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