The Legend of Sanai-Isoba, heroine of Yonaguni Island

Excerpted from Ryukyu Survey 1960 ~51~ By Naioichi Kokubu and Erika Kaneko

Sanai-Isoba is said to have lived on top of the rocky hill top

Sanai-Isoba is said to have lived on top of the rocky hill top

“Yonaguni history is shrouded in complete mystery. Neither local traditions, nor outside sources provide reliable data for a reconstruction. Official written sources like the course gazette of the ‘Shuri ofu’ (AD 1707) offer no detailed information on the outlying Yayeyama islands, let alone isolated Yonaguni. The Yaeyama to Yurai ki and other locally compiled documents , originally in 7 volumes, was lost in the tidal wave of AD 1771; and it was subsequently reconstructed by order of the officials Miyara, Ishigaki and Ohama.

Sanai-Isoba. In local tradition the key figure is the female chieftain Sanai-Isoba.
Ikema and Arazato (1957:46) explain the name as a combination of the given female name Isoba with the place-name Sanai which in turn denotes ‘the place of the gajumaru’ (ficus retusa, small-leafed banyan).

Sanai-Isoba is a female of superhuman stature and strength; she performed astonishing feats and taught the islanders agriculture and improved ways of life. She also established her four brothers as village heads of Donanbaru, Dateg, Dannu, and Tebaru. She is said to have gone abroad to Ishigaki and Iriomote, thereby initiating a cultural pattern, whereby the less advanced must learn from their superiors, viz. the Okinawans from the Chinese, the Miyakoans from the Okinawans and so forth, isolated, marginal Yonaguni was the lowest rung on the ladder.

Is Sanai-Isoba a historical person and if so when did she live? Every Yonaguni child can point out the field ‘where her house once stood’ and knows the location of her grave where under a large tree village trials were held until quite recently.

Sannai Isoba is worshiped in a ritual which takes place once a year. The high ranking Chimafuka family consider er their ancestor and until a generation ago reckoned from her its matrilineal descent.”

Note: Details from the story check out with written histories from the Shuri court in Ryukyu or Okinawa, and put Sanai-Isoba’s rule at 1500 AD, but the extent of her powers are seriously questioned, given that Yonaguni and Yaeyama were recorded to have been taken in an invasion by Nakayama Kanemaru who conquered Lord Oyake Akahachi in that year. As Sanai-Isoba’s name is not recorded anywhere else, the authors surmize that Sanai-Isoba is a tradition that comes from other Yonaguni. Since all ships from Yonaguni putting out to sea first pay a visit to the Ohaketa site on Sonai, Iriomote Island, the authors believe that this is the ancestral grave of Sonaito Otakegisha, of the Yonagunians.

Himeji Castle dazzles and startles with new all-white roofing

Restoration of all-white tiled roofing

Restoration of all-white tiled roofing Photo courtesy: Brian Ashcraft

 
The visual impact of the recent renovation works of the Himeji Castle is startling – it used to be thought that the white-plastered walls were the reason why the structure earned it the name Shirasagi-jo or White Heron Castle (aka Egret Castle) – but now that the roofs have been restored to its original gleaming white-tiled roofing, the effect is even more complete, and shows how the regal, elegant and graceful structure must have mesmerized the ancient medieval world.

From the UNESCO World Heritage organization, this is their assessment of the value of Himeji Castle as a World Heritage site …paraphrased below:

Combining an effective functional defense role with great aesthetic appeal, both in the use of white-painted plaster and in the subtle design in the layering of multiple roofs, Himeji castle represents the culmination of Japanese castle architecture in wood.

The look BEFORE restoration Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The look BEFORE restoration Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Himeji-jo is a masterpiece of wooden construction, and the finest surviving example of early 17th-century Japanese castle architecture, preserving all its significant features intact.

The castle is also a powerful and evocative symbol of the feudalism that prevailed for almost three centuries, until the events of 1868 Meiji restoration when the Shogun fell.

The castle property, situated on a hill summit in the central part of the Harima Plain, covers 107 hectares and comprises eighty-two buildings. It is centred on the Tenshu-gun, a complex made up of the donjon, keeps and connecting structures that are part of a highly developed system of defence and ingenious protection devices dating from the beginning of the Shogun period.

Himeji Castle at the centre of the feudal domain prevailed for three centuries

Himeji Castle at the centre of the feudal domain prevailed for three centuries. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Himeji Castle is the largest castle in Japan. It serves as an excellent example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture, containing many of the defensive and architectural features (such as the concentric circular moats, and maze-like approach designed to confound and stall attackers) associated with Japanese castles. Himeji Castle sits ensconsced within concentric moats and walls, and today within extensive grounds that, in its heyday would have contained barracks, stabling, and residences for the lord of the castle’s samurai.

The curved walls of Himeji Castle are sometimes said to resemble giant fans (扇子 sensu), but the principal materials used in the structures are stone and wood. Feudal family crests (紋 mon) are installed throughout the architecture of the building, signifying the various lords that inhabited the castle throughout its history.

By the way, the Himeji Castle is commonly contrasted with Matsumoto Castle, another authentic and non-ferro-concrete structure, which is nick-named the Black Crow Castle(see: Japan Visitor)

Further readings:

Himeji Castle: Design and meaning of its roof By Dr Adrianna Piccinini Nagashino

Himeji Castle

R&D: Japanese gold leaf artists worked on the nanoscale

Photographs of the two pairs of screens belonging to the Momoyama period a. MNAA-Naizen; b. MNAA-Domi

Photographs of the two pairs of screens belonging to the Momoyama period a. MNAA-Naizen; b. MNAA-Domi

“Even though the ancient Egyptians were probably the first to gild artwork with it, the Japanese have long been credited as being able to produce the thinnest gold leaf in the world.”

Via R&D 7/02/2014

Ancient Japanese gold leaf artists were truly masters of their craft. An analysis of six ancient Namban paper screens show that these artifacts are gilded with gold leaf that was hand-beaten to the nanometer scale. Study leader Sofia Pessanha of the Atomic Physics Center of the University of Lisbon in Portugal believes that the x-ray fluorescence technique her team used in the analysis could also be used to date other artworks without causing any damage to them. The results are published in Springer’s journal Applied Physics A: Material Science and Processing.

Photographs of the two screens belonging to the Edo period a MO; b private

Photographs of the two screens belonging to the Edo period a MO; b private

Gold leaf refers to a very thin sheet made from a combination of gold and other metals. It has almost no weight and can only be handled by specially designed tools. Even though the ancient Egyptians were probably the first to gild artwork with it, the Japanese have long been credited as being able to produce the thinnest gold leaf in the world. In Japanese traditional painting, decorating with gold leaf is named Kin-haku, and the finest examples of this craft are the Namban folding screens, or byobu. These were made during the late Momoyama (around 1573 to 1603) and early Edo (around 1603 to 1868) periods.

南蛮美術 - Namban Culture and First European Contacts with Japan

南蛮美術 – Namban Culture and First European Contacts with Japan

Pessanha’s team examined six screens that are currently either part of a museum collection or in a private collection in Portugal. Four screens belong to the Momoyama period, and two others were decorated during the early Edo period. The researchers used various x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy techniques to test the thickness and characteristics of the gold layers. The method is completely non-invasive, no samples needed to be taken, and therefore the artwork was not damaged in any way. Also, the apparatus needed to perform these tests is portable and can be done outside of a laboratory.

The gilding was evaluated by taking the attenuation or weakening of the different characteristic lines of gold leaf layers into account. The methodology was tested to be suitable for high grade gold alloys with a maximum of 5% influence of silver, which is considered negligible.

The two screens from the early Edo period were initially thought to be of the same age. However, Pessanha’s team found that gold leaf on a screen kept at Museu Oriente in Lisbon was thinner, hence was made more recently. This is in line with the continued development of the gold beating techniques carried out in an effort to obtain ever thinner gold leaf.

“This simple comparison allowed establishing a timeline between the manufacture of two pieces attributed to the same period, proving that X-ray fluorescence techniques can be an important asset in the dating of artworks,” says Pessanha.

Read the full article at Springer: Comparison of gold leaf thickness in Namban folding screens using X-ray fluorescence Pessanha, S. Et al., (2014) DOI 10.1007/s00339-014-8531-z Excerpts follow:

“In this work, the thickness of the gold leaf applied in six Japanese folding screens is compared using a nondestructive approach. Four screens belonging to the Momoyama period (~1573–1603) and two screens belonging to the early Edo period (~1603–1868) were analyzed in situ using energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence, and the thickness of the applied gold leaf was evaluated using a methodology based on the attenuation of the different characteristic lines of gold in the gold leaf layer. Considering that the leaf may well not be made of pure gold, we established that, for the purpose of comparing the intensity ratios of the Au lines, layers made with gold leaf of high grade can be considered identical. The gold leaf applied in one of the screens from the Edo period was found to be thinner than the gold leaf applied in the other ones. This is consistent with the development of the beating technology to obtain ever more thin gold leafs. …

Gold was one of the first metals manipulated by men Because of its remarkable malleability, which makes it easily beaten to form the desirable shape [1]. Its noble metal stability and resistance to tarnish gives durability to The objects on which it is applied to. Its suitability to adorn small or larger areas renders it an excellent material and the finest among metals for use in the decoration of artworks.

Two different terms have been employed to define metal sheets of varying thickness: foil and leaf. The former is generally used to describe a sufficiently thick sheet that can support its own weight while the latter, which mainly
applies to gold, refers to a very thin sheet that has almost no weight and that can only be handled by specially designed tools.
With modern technology, the gold leaf can be obtained as thin as 0.1 lm [2]; however, the thickness of the leaf used in ancient artworks could be as thick as the 5–10 lm applied in an Egyptian 50 BC ceramic masque, or as thin as
0.2–0.5 lm used in the gilding of medieval Islamic glazed ceramics [3]. According to Koyano [4], the Japanese gold Leaf is said to be the thinnest in the world. …

The gold leaf applied to six Nanban screens was compared, and the leaf applied to the screen kept at Museu Oriente was found to be the thinnest. … Considering that the thickness of the gold leaf tends to decrease significantly with the advent of gold beating technological development, these results are indicative that this specimen from Museu Oriente is the most recent. This comparison allowed establishing a timeline between the manufacture of two pieces attributed to the same period–from 1603 to 1868, proving to be an important asset in the dating of artworks.” End of excerpt.

 

 

 

Asahi Shimbun reports: Tens of thousands of coins from Muromachi Period unearthed in Kyoto

The pot containing more than 40,000 coins dating back to around the 15th century that was recently unearthed in Kyoto (Tsuyoshi Sato)

The pot containing more than 40,000 coins dating back to around the 15th century that was recently unearthed in Kyoto (Tsuyoshi Sato)

The Asahi Shimbun, July 09, 2014

By TSUYOSHI SATO/ Staff Writer
KYOTO–Construction workers in the city’s central Kawaramachi shopping district unearthed a huge earthenware pot containing more than 40,000 coins from the 15th century.

The discovery, made during work for an apartment complex, was announced July 8 by Gifu-based archaeological research company Ibisoku Co.’s Kansai branch.

The 66-centimeter-tall Bizen ware pot was found 50 cm below the surface in the city’s Shimogyo Ward. The site lies toward the southern side of Takashimaya Kyoto Store.

The coins, each drilled through the center, are tied together in bundles of 97 by thongs. It was customary during the Muromachi Period (1338-1573) to count a bundle of 97 coins as 100, Ibisoku officials said.

The coins are estimated to be worth 4 million yen ($39,400) in today’s value. The company is considering exhibiting the pot filled to the brim with coins.

By TSUYOSHI SATO/ Staff Writer

The Legend of how Lake Titicaca got its name from Japanese (Jomon period) settlers

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca

Photo: Wikipedia

A Japanese documentary recently broadcasted on NHK terrestrial TV, featured the theory of the origin of the name Lake Titicaca, and various lines of evidence supporting the theory that Japanese settlers arrived to populate the Americas (forming one of several waves of Asian migrants). The article “Establishing Japanese Ancestry” by Ariel Takada sums up the same points examined and made in the documentary:

- Waves of migration from Asian Siberia to the American Alaska occurred approximately 14,000 years ago. From then on, a slow movement southward began to take place all the way to Chile itself.

- In a substantial Brazilian project of ethnic research, for instance, researcher Heinz Budweg affirms that across the ocean “the Japanese, Chinese and even Indians traveled constantly to South America between 2,000 and 3,000 B.C.”

- Some of these migrants arrived via the land bridge, others by sea. The Japanese are thought to be later arrivals on the American continent

- Traces have been found demonstrating their presence have become increasingly more significant. Of these, here are a few examples:

1) Japanese vases of the Mid-Jomon period (1,600 B.C.), excavated at Napo, Ecuador. [Much earlier work focused on the similarity of Valdivian pottery to the Jomon period pottery of Japan]

2) The use of Japanese words for place names in the Americas. Here are two examples: “water” in Japanese is “mizu,” and it is suggested that it may have been the root basis for naming the Missouri River. The name of Mount Suyama in Bolivia is thought to have been derived from “yama,” which means “mountain.”

3) At the end of the ’70s, archaeologist Charlotte Emerich lived with a tribe of the Upper Xingu, proved that they communicated by way of an ancient Japanese dialect.

4) In December 1999, a team of Japanese scientists led by Kazuo Yajima of the Center of Cancer Research of Nagoya discovered Chilean mummies, buried more than 1,500 years ago, that were infected with the HTLV-1 virus (a leukemia variant), which is particular to certain regions of Japan and a few other spots in Asia. (The Chilean mummy — “Miss Chile” — infected with the virus can be found at the Museo San Pedro de Atacama in Arica.)

The Legend of the Japanese naming of Lake Titicaca

Excerpted from “Establishing Japanese Ancestry: “A Japanese myth that we grew up with and that mentions Chile talks about one of those possible currents. Additionally, the story brings to light a number of geographical names that remain in use, as well as the possible realization of a dream that may have given grounds for genetic and cultural influences over the Amerindian peoples:

“It is said that the oldest son of a great Japanese lord, obsessed with a prophecy foretelling that he was destined to be the founder of an empire across the ocean, set sail, accompanied by several faithful followers, around the year 1,100 B.C. The ocean current ‘kuro-shiö’ brought them to a beach they called ‘Arika’ (Arica), which can be translated as ‘here it is.’

Later, they traveled south while looking for the promised land, but they came to a halt at “Asaban” (“morning and night” – Azapa [in Spanish] to us) after surmising that they were on the wrong track. They retraced their steps and traveled northwest from the ‘Yutoo’ (Lluta) River, which means ‘something better’ or ‘better than the other.’ They crossed desert and mountain ranges, finally arriving at a great lake they called ‘Chichi-haha’ (‘Dad and Mom’ — Lake Titicaca), which was supposed to have been the divine sign that would lead them down the final route to the place where the prophecy would be fulfilled.”

Chichi means “father” and haha means “mother” in Japanese. Lake Titicaca a.k.a. Titiqaqa (Quechua) is a lake in the Andes on the border of Peru and Bolivia. By volume of water, it is the largest lake in South America.

Further reading:

Presence of D1 haplogroup (mtDNA) is direct evidence of genetic affinity between the Hokkaido Jomon and Native American populations

In An Historical and Philosophical View of the Chinese Empire
by William Winterbotham, at p. 126, we are alerted to the existence of a district called Tcitcicar [also known as Jijihar] that extends over the Merguen and the Saghalien-ou-hotan, City of the Black River, located on the southern banks of the River Sakhalin, another possible cognate and indication that the use of the word may have been more widespread in ancient times.

Mural paintings of ‘Asuka beauties’ to be conserved outside burial mound

Mural paintings of 'Auka beauties', a group of female figures found on the mural wall of the stone chamber in the Takamatsuzuka burial mound in Asuka Nara Prefecture, are shown in this photo taken in August 2013 after being cleaned (Provided by the Agency for Cultural Affairs)

Mural paintings of ‘Auka beauties’, a group of female figures found on the mural wall of the stone chamber in the Takamatsuzuka burial mound in Asuka Nara Prefecture, are shown in this photo taken in August 2013 after being cleaned (Provided by the Agency for Cultural Affairs)

Mar 28, 2014 Asahi Shimbun

Stunning murals painted 1,300 years ago in the stone chamber of the Takamatsuzuka burial mound, currently under repair, will continue to be preserved in an outside facility.

The government panel that made the decision March 27 said the colorful wall paintings can stay “for the time being” outside the stone chamber even after the decade-long repair process winds up.

A key reason for this is the lack of established technology to prevent mold from re-emerging and destroying what is left of the paintings.

The murals created a huge buzz when they were discovered in 1972 at the burial mound in Asuka, Nara Prefecture.

“Given existing technologies, it would be difficult to return the mural paintings to the burial mound, although we will continue our research for doing so,” said Yorikuni Nagai, an adjunct professor of education policy with the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, who chairs the 17-member panel, which reports to the Agency for Cultural Affairs. “We will have to build a solid preservation facility if the process is going to take 20 to 30 years to complete.”

The Agency for Cultural Affairs initially envisaged returning the mural paintings to the Takamatsuzuka burial mound once the repair work was finished.

The panel’s decision represents a departure from established policy, which is based on the notion that archaeological finds should in principle be conserved on site.

“It would be appropriate to preserve, maintain and display the mural paintings at an appropriate location outside the burial mound for the time being,” said part of a draft plan the agency presented to the panel, which subsequently approved it.

The Takamatsuzuka paintings, designated a national treasure, include the famous “Asuka beauties,” or a group of female figures originally found on the west wall of the stone chamber. The entire stone chamber was removed in 2007 from the tumulus, which dates from the late seventh or the early eighth century and is designated a special historic site by the government.

A similar decision had earlier been reached on colorful mural paintings from the Kitora burial mound, another government-designated special historic site in Asuka. They are being preserved outside the tumulus, which also dates from the late seventh or the early eighth century.

By KAZUTO TSUKAMOTO/ Staff Writer

Evidence of Japan’s oldest human tools uncovered in Okinawa

These 20,000 -year-old shell artifacts on display in Naha, have chips at their tops and are believed to have served as blades (Shunsuke Makamura)

These 20,000 -year-old shell artifacts on display in Naha, have chips at their tops and are believed to have served as blades (Shunsuke Nakamura)

 

Oldest signs of Japanese using tools uncovered in Okinawa

Feb 15, 2014 Asahi Shimbun

NAHA, Okinawa Prefecture–Archaeologists have unearthed shell tools around 20,000 years old that could help clear up mysteries surrounding the ancestors of modern Japanese people, a museum said Feb. 15.

The Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum said the shell tools–the first uncovered in Japan from the Paleolithic Age–were dug up at the Sakitari-do cave site in Nanjo, Okinawa Prefecture, near the site where the country’s oldest whole skeletons were found.

It was Japan’s oldest concurrent discovery of both human bones and artifacts.

Around 40 fragments of shells of the Veneridae family, ledge mussels and other species were found that are believed to have been used as tools by humans.

A human tooth and a foot bone were also found in the same geological formation. Carbon dating of charcoal from the same formation indicated the remains were 20,000 to 23,000 years old.

Also unearthed were two tusk shell fragments believed to have been used as beads, museum officials said.

The Minatogawa Man, the only known group of whole skeleton remains in Japan, was found only 1.5 kilometers south of the Sakitari-do cave site in the town of Yaese. The shell artifacts from the cave site are about as old as the Minatogawa Man.

Recent studies by the Okinawa museum have turned out 8,000-year-old earthenware–Okinawa’s oldest–and human bones and stone tools at the Sakitari-do cave site that are more than 12,000 years old.

Bones are preserved better in the typically calcareous soil of Okinawa than in the acidic soil of mainland Japan. This accounts for the large number of human bones from the Paleolithic Age found in these southern islands, while such finds are rare in the rest of the country.

Anthropologists and archaeologists had long been puzzled by the absence of artifacts accompanying Paleolithic human bones from Okinawa.

If any implements were to be found, experts had expected them to be made of stone, like those unearthed on the Japanese mainland. The shells from the cave site dramatically countered that accepted theory.

“The discovery of tools other than stone implements indicates there was cultural diversity in the Paleolithic Age,” said Shinji Yamasaki, a curator with the museum.

The latest finds also help prove the adaptive ability of prehistoric humans, who relied on a variety of readily available materials depending on their environment.

Experts have held high hopes for studies on shell artifacts used as tools to provide clues on the cultural genealogy of the ancestors of modern Japanese people. Such tools could show the influence of marine cultures of islands to the south, where the use of shells has a long tradition.

In fact, a dominant anthropological theory says the ancestors of the Japanese had southern traits in their skeletal builds, such as well-defined facial features. Some argue that Paleolithic humans traveled north by way of the sea via the Okinawa islands before arriving on Japan’s mainland and creating the Jomon culture about 12,000 years ago.

While that theory has little material evidence for support, the latest discovery could provide a push to revisit that hypothesis.

By SHUNSUKE NAKAMURA/ Senior Staff Writer

NHK news: Lost paintings of Horyuji digitally restored

NHK — Mar 29

Digitally restored Horyuji painting

Digitally restored Horyuji painting

A group of experts has recreated Japan’s oldest Buddhist wall paintings with cutting-edge digital technology. The paintings were lost in a fire 65 years ago.

The group led by Professor Masaaki Miyasako at the graduate school of Tokyo University of the Arts reconstructed 12 murals at Horyuji Temple’s Kondo, or main hall, in Nara Prefecture.

The paintings dated back to the late seventh century, but a fire destroyed most of them in 1949.

The group used photos taken before the fire and the salvaged murals to produce the digital images. They were printed on sheets of paper whose surface is made uneven with fine seashell powder.

One of the paintings measures three meters long and two and a half meters wide.

It shows the Amitabha Buddha and various images in bright red and green.

Professor Miyasako says the group hopes to use the technology to preserve other cultural assets.

The reimaged paintings will be on display at the university from April 26th.

Watch this video on YouTube:

http://youtu.be/yICnEqLFj8g

6th c. terracotta figurine find from major silk manufuring region of Japan shows roots of silk weaving from ancient times

Japan archaeological find shows 1,400-year-old roots of silk weaving.

City of Shimotsuke education board A terracotta image of a person weaving silk with a loom. The figurine was found in a sixth-century burial mound in Shimotsuke, 50 miles north of Tokyo.

City of Shimotsuke education board A terracotta image of a person weaving silk with a loom. The figurine was found in a sixth-century burial mound in Shimotsuke, 50 miles north of Tokyo.

by Mitsuru Obe, AWSJ Mar 6, 2014

Japan’s prewar economic development depended in significant part on exports of one item–silk. Young girls recruited from poor farm families worked day and night to make Japan the world’s biggest silk exporter, allowing it to purchase raw materials, warships and other Western industrial technology.

Now an archaeological find is showing the industry’s ancient roots. In the first such discovery in Japan, researchers unearthed a terracotta figure depicting a woman weaving silk on a loom. The find came from a sixth-century burial mound, or kofun, in Shimotsuke, some 50 miles north of Tokyo.

The unglazed pottery figure, known as haniwa, provides evidence that techniques of silk weaving already existed in the sixth century and that women played a central role in the manufacturing of silk at that early date.

Shimotsuke used to be a major silk manufacturing region, with the local silk industry designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as an example of intangible cultural heritage.

Immigrants from China are believed to have brought sericulture and silk weaving to Japan around the fifth century. Rice farmers grew mulberry trees and wove silk during the off-season.

The figure of a weaving woman, 69 centimeters high, was found near the burial chamber of an 80-meter-long tomb mound, where a local chieftain or a prominent weaver was apparently buried, said Tomonori Kimura, a official in charge of cultural affairs for the city of Shimotsuke. The city unveiled the find this week.

Silk was apparently used to make kimonos and may have been offered as a gift to the court, according to the researchers.

They also discovered a clay figure depicting a more primitive loom, 22 other clay figures and some 360 unglazed pots.

Such grave mounds were built between the third and the seventh century by the ruling clan that went on to establish Japan’s present-day imperial household. The practice was also widely adopted by local chieftains.

Various kinds of terracotta figures were buried with the dead, including horses, birds, swords, shields and soldiers. The exact reason for such clay offerings is not known, but Mr. Kimura speculated that they may have been meant to honor the achievements of the deceased during his or her lifetime.

City of Shimotsuke education board This reconstruction shows what a sixth-century figurine of a woman weaving silk might have originally looked like.

City of Shimotsuke education board This reconstruction shows what a sixth-century figurine of a woman weaving silk might have originally looked like.

Study finds ancient Han Chinese ancestors of the Hakka and Minnam peoples carried the ADLH2 genetic marker into Japan during the Yayoi period

A 2009 study found that the Japanese in Central Japan and Chiba share a genetic trait with the Han Chinese Hakka and Minnam populations (with origins in Central China) – high frequencies of their ALDH2*504Lys allele marker and concluded that migrants likely carried the gene marker from ancient populations in East China to Japan During the Yayoi period. The marker is associated with high incidence rates of oesophageal cancer. See excerpts from the study below:

image

 Figure 1. The geographic distribution of ALDH2*504Lys allele frequency. The grey scale refers to the interpolated allele frequency and correspondences are on the right, e.g. 0.12 means an allele frequency of 12% in the region. The open red triangles represent the locations of the population samples. The encircling black lines are the 0.12 and 0.24 frequency borders.

“In total, the map shows a pattern of a single center of expansion within East Asia. The highest frequencies appear in a restricted area in Southeast China, among the Han Chinese in south Fujian province and east Guangdong province (the Hakka and Minnam populations), decreasing gradually to the north and west. Hakka from Changting County in Fujian have the highest frequency, 40.9%. The Hakka population samples from Taiwan and Sichuan also exhibit high frequencies, indicating that Hakka have maintained a high frequency during their migrations. The allele frequencies in other Han Chinese populations range from 9% to 40%, exhibiting a cline clearly decreasing from southeast to northwest, except for two small peaks in Shanghai in East China and Shandong in Central China.

Another high frequency area for the ALDH2*504Lys allele is Central Japan with 34.1% in Chiba. However, this high frequency area seems to be an extension from East China. The frequency decreases from around 30% in Honshu to around 10% in Ryukyu and Hokkaido, corresponding well to the migration history of modern Japanese (the descendants of Yayoi People, Hammer et al., 2006). Therefore, it is most probable that the ALDH2*504Lys allele in Japan was brought by the early Yayoi migrants from mainland East Asia.”

The researchers also “hypothesize that the oriental ALDH2*504Lys variant might have originated in the ancient Han Chinese population in Central China and spread to most areas of East Asia with the expansion of Han Chinese and their genetic influences on neighboring populations over the past few thousand years.”

Source of study: Hui Li, et al., Refined Geographic Distribution of the Oriental ALDH2*504Lys (nee 487Lys) Variant, Annals of Human Genetics, Volume 73, Issue 3, pages 335–345, May 2009 doi: 10.1111/j.1469-1809.2009.00517.x

Origin of the Japanese number system

The system of Japanese numerals is the system of number names used in the Japanese language, and its forms evolved as the language evolved.

There are two sets of counter words and two sets of pronunciations for the numerals exist in Japanese: one is based on Sino-Japanese (on’yomi) readings of the Chinese characters and the other on the Japanese yamato kotoba (native words, kun’yomi readings). The older is the native Japanese reading and is appended with “〜つ” when counting things without counters.
From around 1,300 years ago, as an increasingly larger number of Chinese words were adopted and integrated into Japanese, came the Chinese numbers. Their reading is called onyomi (音読み, おんよみ) and they are used for numbering most things, such as time, months, and counting. There are still four numbers where the native kunyomi pops up: ひ, ふ, よん and なな(see Wikipedia entry on Japanese numbers and numerals).
Some insights into the introduction and evolution of the Chinese numeral system are to be found in Bjarke Frellesvig’s “A history of the Japanese language”, at P.289-291

“The native system of numerals is simple and partly based on vowel alterations to show doubling: pito ’1′~puta ’2′; mi ’3′ ~ mu ’6′; yo ’4′ ~ ya ’8′.

However, the system does not provide easily for formation of higher numbers … Some SJ numbers were used in OJ … But the intake of SJ numerals is usually thought not to have taken place until EMJ.

Sino-Japanese loanwords in Late Middle Japanese
During the LMJ period the use of SJ loanwords in the texts increased. This is probably in part related to the genres represented in the sources, including more kanji-kana majjribun, but the establishment of SJ was a major factor… It should have be noted that most SJ loanwords from the EMJ period which were in everyday use derive from the pre-kan-on(that is, go-on) norm of J-Ch (and is often corresponding to the SJ go-on readings), showing the persistence of the J-Ch go-on also after the decrees promoting the use of the kan-on * making use of originally Ch words more freely available in Japanese and thereby facilitating both intake and use of SJ loanwords. …
In addition to the increased intake and use of loanwords taken in from kan-on and go-on SJ, a new layer of J-Ch came to Japan during the first half of the period, used especially in some Zen Buddhist sects. Thus is the To-on variety of J-Ch …which also gave use to loanwords, and also eventually to the to-on SJ… J-Ch to-on is said to be based on Southern Chinese varieties, but the loanwords taken during the LMJ period also include words deriving from contacts between Japanese fishers and traders with their continental colleagues. In that sense, some of the words characterised as To-on are direct loans from Chinese rather than SJ loanwords (which are based on J-Ch or SJ). Also a number of everyday SJ loanwords still in common use today, such as niku …’meat’, netsu…’fever’, or ‘konnichi’ …’today’ are based on go-on, as are the SJ numerals, except kiu(kyuu) ’9′ numbers.
Most SJ loanwords taken in during the LMJ period on the other hand, are reading loans based SJ go-on and kan-on. The establishment of SJ made vocalization of original Chinese words far more freely available in Japan.”

The Japanese numerals in writing are almost entirely based on the Chinese numerals and the grouping of large numbers follow the Chinese tradition of grouping by 10,000.  For most purposes today, the Chinese number system is used, rather than native numbers. However, native numbers are often used for counting numbers of items up to 10 – as in hitotsu, futatsu, mittsu (one item, two items, three items), notably days on the calendar, and with other Japanese counter words – and for various exceptions (fossils). These exceptions include 20 years old (hatachi), the 20th day of a month (hatsuka), 八百屋 (yaoya, greengrocer, literally “800 store”), and 大晦日 (ōmisoka – last day of the year, literally “big 30th day”)…see The Number System of the Ancient Japanese.

Origin of the number systems

The origin of the earlier ‘native ‘ number system is obscure, scholars attribute it to various Uralic-Altaic/Finno-Ugric/Melanesian sources, but so far clear evidence and proof is lacking. See Stefan Tanaka’s summary of earlier theories on the origins of the native counting system, including Shiratori’s that:

“…placed them within the Ural-Altaic family. the Ainu language, though monosyllabic like the languages of Southeast Asian cultures, provided, he said, objective proof of a Ural Altai affinity, for it exhibited agglutination like some Ural-Altaic affinity, for it exhibited agglutination like some Ural-Altaic languages, particularly Finn-Ugri and Samoyed, and also a similarity in the basic construction of some numbers, especially six through nine.”

“…The original numerical system, he suggested was based on a reduplicative scheme that was in turn reflected in the counting system. ancient Japanese used two hands to count: two (puto) was formed by adding one (pito) finger on one hand to the identical one on the other hand; three (mi) doubled to six (mu); four(yo) doubled to eight (ya); and five (it) doubled to ten(to)..”–Japan’s Orient: Rendering Pasts Into History by Stefan Tanaka

The task of tracing the origin of the Chinese number system, however, is more productive, and strong similarities can be seen in the number system adopted in ancient Japan with those used by the earliest Sino-Tibetan tribes…see the closest cognates charted below:

Japanese   English Proto-Sino-Tibetan         Written Tibetan/ Tibetan /Kannauri

ichi     ONE*ʔit / *kat / *tjak ~g-t(j)ik.                       geig   / cheek.     / id

ni       TWO*g/s-ni-s                                                       gnis   / nyee         / nis

san      THREE*g-sum                                                      gsum/ soom       / sum

yon/shi  FOUR*b-ləj                                                            bzi  / zhee           / pu

go       FIVE*l/b-ŋa                                                         lgna / nga            /ga

roku     SIX*d-(k-)ruk                                                      drug/ drook       / kuk

shichi   SEVEN*s-ni-s                                                         bdun / dun        / stif

hachi    EIGHT*b-r-gjat ~ b-g-rjat                              brgyad / gyay        / rai

ku1/kyū2  NINE*d/s-kəw                                                      dgu / goo         / zgui

1) From Early Middle Chinese Goon, the initial reading when first borrowed into Japanese

2) From Middle Chinese Kan’on, a later reading. Borrowed after palatalisation occurred in Middle Chinese.

juu      TEN*gip / *tsi(j)i(j) ~ tsjaj                                   bcu / choo        / sai

ni-juu   TWENTY*(m-)kul

hyaku    HUNDRED*b-r-gja

sen      THOUSAND*s-toŋ

Further comparative sources and references:

Korean counting system (non-native, Sino-Korean):

1-Il  2-i  3-sam  4-sa  5-o  6-yuk  7-chil  8-pal  9-gu  10-ship

The above system is close to the Hakka counting system (below)

1-jit 2-ngi 3-sam 4-si 5-ng 6-liuk 7-cit  8-bat. 9-giu  10-siip

Ainu counting system:

1-sirep 2-tup 3-rep 4-inep 5-asiknep 6-iwanpe 7-arwampe 8-tupesanpe 9-sinepesanpe 10-wanpe 20-hotnep 100-asikne hotnep
Source: Systems of the world

Mongolian counting system:

1 – neg. 2 – hoyor. 3 – guraw. 4 – doruw. 5 – tav. 6 – zurgaa 7 – doloo. 8 – naym. 9 – yes. 10 – araw

Buryat counting system:

1-Nigen 2-Qoyar 3-rurban 4- Dorben 5 -Tabun 6-Jiryuyan 7-Doloyan 8-Naiman 9-Yisun 10-Arban

Hmong counting system:

1-Ib  2-ob  3-Peb  4-Plaub  5-Tsib  6-Rau  7-Xya  8 – Yim 9-Cuaj  10 – Kaum

Chinese numerals

Wu Chinese numerals

Cantonese

Sino-Tibetan numerals and the play of prefixes

Systems of the world

Japan’s Orient: Rendering Pasts Into History By Stefan Tanaka, P. 164

Kurakichi Shiratori, “The Japanese Numerals”, Memoirs of the Research Department

 “A history of the Japanese language”, by Bjarke Frellesvig, P.289-291

The number system of the Ancient Japanese

Volume 86 1977 > Volume 86, No. 1 > Kapauku numeration: reckoning, racism, scholarship, and Melanesian counting systems, by Nancy Bowers, p 105-116

Indo-European Numerals by Jadranka Gvozdanović

The Tang Dynasty cosmic worldview that Nara Japan inherited

Layout of cosmically heaven-aligned city, Changan of the Tang Dynasty, Shaanxi History Museum: "Scenes of Flourishing Tang", P27. Zhejiang People's Fine Arts Publishing House, 1999.

Layout of cosmically heaven-aligned city, Changan of the Tang Dynasty, Shaanxi History Museum: “Scenes of Flourishing Tang”, P27. Zhejiang People’s Fine Arts Publishing House, 1999.

During the Nara period, the Japanese court actively sought to absorb the body of advanced ideas and knowledge of astronomy, engineering and city-building, medicine, technology, arts and music and governmental organization, that were coming out of the Chinese Tang Dynasty’s capital city Changan (Cho-an to the Japanese).  These ideas were transmitted via two-way diplomatic missions between Nara and the Changan capital, and for the most part, the incoming corpus of knowledge and ideas, studied, embraced and adopted enthusiastically, including its fashions — much of which almost wholesale. More details and background on this here.

Plan of Nara (image source: wiki college notes by Angelo di Franco http://classconnection.s3.amazonaws.com/382/flashcards/676284/jpg/7.jpg)

Plan of Nara (image open source: Wiki College Study Blue notes by Ornello di Franco)

The city of Changan,

“continued to be the principal capital of the empire and entered the greatest period of its development under the Tang Dynasty (618-907). “At the height of its glory in the mid-eighth century, Chang’an was the most populous, cosmopolitan, and civilized city in the world” (Richard B. Mather, foreword to Xiong, p. ix), occupying some 84 sq. km. with around one million inhabitants. It suffered major damage during the An Lushan rebellion in the mid-8th century, but even toward the end of the Tang period, when the empire was in disarray, the “enormous size” of the city impressed an Arab visitor.

Under the Tang, the city was a major religious center, not only for Buddhism and Taoism but also for several religions which were relatively recent arrivals in China: Zoroastrianism, Nestorianism and Manichaeism… a Japanese pilgrim noted in 844 that there were over 300 Buddhist temples in Chang’an.” – “Chang’an (Xian)” (a University of Washington’s resource)

The writer Anthony Aveni in “Bringing sky to earth” gives us a good account and concise summary of the Tang Empire-Son of Heaven’s worldview that would have been transmitted to Japanese during the Nara period.

“…cities with long written histories – like Beijing – provide us with some unanticipated connections.

The written legacy helps us understand the reasons behind the desire to orientate one’s capital to the stars. A strong bond existed between astrology and good government: a mandate from heaven underlay all Chinese dynastic ideology.

Chinese society has always been bureaucratically organized. Family histories contain lengthy chapters on astronomy, with data such as where and when celestial objects appeared or disappeared, their colour, brightness, direction of motion and their gathering together in one place. These histories also suggest implications that such data might have on family affairs: thus one Chinese historian and court astrologer explains that when planets gather, either there is great fortune or there is great calamity. He knows this because when they gathered in Roon (Scorpio), the Zhou dynasty flourished, but when they gathered in Winnowing Basket (Sagittarius), Qi became the emperor.

The Chinese called their constellations the ‘heavenly minions’. But when they looked among them in the north they saw not a pair of wheeling bears flanked by a dragon as we do, but rather a celestial empire. Which constellations did they recognize and what do the Chinese stars tell us about their ideas concerning rulership and the orientation of the city? Confucius compared the emperor’s rule with Polaris, the north star: just as the emperor was the axis of the earthly state, so his celestial pivot was the polar constellation. The economy revolved around the fixed emperor the way the stars turn about the immoveable pole. According to one legend, the Divine King was born out of the light radiated upon his mother by the Pole Star. Four of the seven stars in what we know as the Little Dipper, plus two others, constituted the Kou Chen or ‘Angular Arranger’ of the Chin Shu dynasty. These stars made up the great ‘Purple Palace’ and each of their celestial functionaries had its terrestrial social counterpart. One member of the group was the crown prince who governed the moon while another, the great emperor, ruled the sun. A third, son of the imperial concubine, governed the five planets, while a fourth was the empress, and a fifth the heavenly palace itself. When the emperor’s star lost its brightness, his earthly counterpart would sacrifice his authority, while the crown prince would become anxious when his star appeared dim, especially when it lay to the right of the emperor.

The four surrounding stars of the palace proper are Pei Chi, the ‘Four Supporters’. On Chinese star maps they appear well situated to perform their task, which is to issue orders to the rest of the state. The ‘Golden Canopy’ is made up of seven stars, most of them corresponding to the pole-centred stars of our constellation Draco. It covered the palatial inhabitants and emissaries. Beyond them lay the stars of the Northern Dipper. More concerned with realizing celestial principles in the earthly realm, these ‘Seven Regulators’ are aptly situated to possess the manoeuvrability to come down close to Earth so that they can inspect the four quarters of the empire. According to one version, the Big Dipper is the carriage of the great theocrat who periodically wheels around the central palace to review conditions. Its stars are the source of Yin and Yang, the two-fold way of knowing what resolves the tension between opposing polarities: male and female, light and dark, active and passive. Yin and Yang wax and wane with cosmic time and make up the potentiality of the human condition. For every affair of state the starry winds of good and bad fortune blow across the sky.

Why this royal fixation with the stars of the north? Like the power invested in royalty, they were eternally visible, never obscured by the horizon. Indeed in temperate latitudes the stars that turn about the pole are raised quite high in the sky. The fixity of the polar axis is a cosmic metaphor for the constant power of the state.

Given the close parallel between the events surrounding the palace economy and the celestial arrangement, it seems logical to enquire whether Chinese royal architecture, like that of Stonehenge and Teotihuacan, is also situated in perfect harmony with the land- and skyscape.

To harmonize the arrangement of the royal capital with the local contours of cosmic energy, the king would call in a geomancer to perform the art of feng shui. This expert would decide where to select and how to arrange a site. His sources of cosmic knowledge were the local magnetic field, the paths of streams and the land forms; he might also consult oracle bones, engraved pieces of bone and shell used in divination. Sometimes workers would need to remove vast quantities of boulders or plant forests of trees to regulate the disposition of Yin and Yang energies passing in and out of the site.

There is an account of the foundation ritual associated with the city of Lo-yang of the Zhou dynasty at the close of the second millennium bc. On the second day of the third month:

Diog-Kung, Duke of Zhou, began to lay the foundations and establish a new and important city at Glak (Lo) in the eastern state. The people of the four quarters concurred strongly and assembled for the corvée … In the second month, the third quarter, on the sixth day in the morning the King walked from the capital of Diog (Chou) and reached P’iong (Feng). The Great Protector preceded Diog-Kung to inspect the site. When it came to the third month … on the third day the Great Protector arrived at Glak in the morning and took the tortoise oracle as bearing on the site. When he had obtained the oracle, he planned and laid out the city. On the third day the Great Protector and all the people of Yin began work on the public emplacements in the loop of the Glak river.

The attention to detail regarding place and time suggests that acquiring proper urban form depended on getting things right with nature – especially the cardinal axes. If it were to function properly, the city needed to be accurately partitioned into its quarters.

Beijing still preserves its ancient cosmic plan. If you stand in Tiananmen Square you can line up the Bell and Drum Towers, the Monument to the People’s Heroes, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong on a perfect north-south axis. Continue that line and you’ll discover that it runs through the gates of the old city. Today the cosmic axis is defined by a marble pavement that marks the imperial meridian. The Hall of Supreme Harmony, which houses the emperor’s throne, lies at its northern terminus; this symbolizes the circumpolar region where the earth meets the sky.

Beijing offers a lasting reminder of the cosmically ordained duties of the emperor. He had to perform a specific task at the beginning of the first month of each season, these being determined by the court astronomers who followed the course of the moon and sun and the five planets across the lunar mansions of the Chinese zodiac. The emperor would go to the eastern quarter ouf his domain to start the new year every spring equinox to pray for a sound harvest; then, followed by his ministers, he would plough a ceremonial furrow in a field. At the other seasonal pivots he would visit the other quarters of his city.

This calendar would have been familiar to any farmer, for it was based on what he could see in the sky. At the beginning of summer Antares lay due south at sunset, while on the first of winter the Tristar of Orion’s Belt took its place. Of course, farmers knew well when they could plant, but they needed to be aware that the official time to do so occurred when the handle of the Dipper pointed straight down, for then was it the first day of spring – the time for the king to come forth and speak to the people about the new year’s harvest.

The keeping of the observations and the preparation of the calendar resided in the state observatory. This institution lay hidden within the bowels of the Purple Palace. The importance of astronomical observing in the world of politics made secrecy a necessity. One directive issued by a ninth-century Tang Dynasty king reads:

If we hear of any intercourse between the astronomical officials or of their subordinates, and officials of any other government departments, or miscellaneous common people, it will be regarded as a violation of security relations which should be strictly adhered to. From now on, therefore, the astronomical officials are on no account to mix with civil servants and common people in general. Let the Censorate see to it.

And so the astronomers, spurred on by their government, performed their appointed task: to give the correct time so that the affairs of state might be properly conducted. “

Source of article excerpt: Bringing the Sky Down to Earth by Anthony Aveni | Published in History Today Volume: 58 Issue 6 2008 (retrieved online Jan 25, 2014: http://www.historytoday.com/anthony-aveni/bringing-sky-down-earth)

Anthony F. Aveni is the Russell Colgate Distinguished Professor of Astronomy and Anthropology and Native American Studies at Colgate University. He is the author of People and the Sky: Our Ancestors and the Cosmos (Thames & Hudson).

Further recommended sources and readings:

Nara capital built in the shadow of the Chinese empire & under the influences of the Silk Road  (Heritage of Japan wordpress blog)

C. Cullen, Astronomy and Mathematics in Ancient China (Needham Resarch Institute, 2007)

Victor Cunrui Xiong, Sui-Tang Chang’an: A Study in the Urban History of Medieval China (Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, The University of Michigan, 2000).

In the news: Ancient rice uncovered at archaeological site

Yayoi period rice grains unearthed from the Akitsu archaeological site Courtesy of Nara Prefectural Archeological Institute of Kashihara

Yayoi period rice grains unearthed from the Akitsu archaeological site Courtesy of Nara Prefectural Archeological Institute of Kashihara

January 21, 2014  The Yomiuri Shimbun (Retrieved on the dame date

http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0000957239

NARA—Eleven grains of brown rice believed to date back to the early Yayoi period, around 2,600 to 2,400 years ago, were found at the location of a former paddy in the Akitsu archaeological site in Goze, Nara Prefecture.

Due to the well-preserved condition of the grains, they were expected to provide clues about the rice cultivated by ancient people of the period, according to experts.

Kyoto University Prof. Tatsuya Inamura, an expert on plant production systems, revealed the discovery at a research meeting of Nara Prefecture’s Archaeological Institute of Kashihara on Jan. 12.

The rice grains, which were first excavated in November, were brown and about four millimeters in length. The rice did not have husks. The grains are believed to have been so well-preserved because they were sealed in mud with high water content and were not exposed to air. It is rare to discover rice from the Yayoi period that has not undergone carbonization, according to Inamura.

Inamura intends to work in cooperation with the institute, using DNA analysis and radiocarbon dating to identify the ancient rice’s variety and gather other information.

In the news: Modern technology gives new look at ancient military ruins

An image of the recreation of the gilt-bronze decorative fitting (Provided by Kyushu Historical Museum)

 An image of the recreation of the gilt-bronze decorative fitting (Provided by Kyushu Historical Museum)

Asahi Shimbun, December 04, 2013

By Shunsuke Nakamura

KOGA, Fukuoka Prefecture–Even after being buried for more than 1,300 years, horse armor and military equipment found at a site close to the Funabaru burial mound could be brought to life through advanced industrial technology.

The use of X-ray CT fluoroscopy and computer technology has led to the creation of images that reproduce what the ancient military artifacts, which date to the late sixth century to seventh century, may have originally looked like.

The site stirred major interest among archaeology buffs after its discovery this spring. The equipment was part of items buried in holes dug around the burial mound. Among the more than 200 items that have been unearthed are a wide range of types of armor and armaments.

A rare helmet used to protect a horse's head from the late sixth to early seventh century (Shunsuke Nakamura)

Above image: A rare helmet used to protect a horse’s head from the late sixth to early seventh century (Shunsuke Nakamura)

The artifacts include such rare finds as a helmet to protect a horse’s head, other horse adornments, a number of lacquered bows and other items that likely came from abroad.

The variety and high quality of the artifacts have led some experts to suggest that the find is on the same level as those found at the Fujinoki burial mound in Nara Prefecture, which have been designated as national treasures.

A major reason for the large variety of items uncovered is the close cooperation from the very beginning of the dig between experts in conservation science and archaeology. That cooperation led to accurate measurement of the dimensions of the items found, early discovery of the detailed patterns and structure of the artifacts, as well as the discovery of the cloth attached to a horse adornment.

Normally in archaeological studies, drawings are made after artifacts are unearthed and cleaned. However, in that process, many important pieces of information also tend to become lost or damaged.

For the latest dig, the items were left in the large clumps of dirt when they were dug up. CT scanning was conducted of the items at the Kyushu Historical Museum in Ogori, Fukuoka Prefecture.

A museum official said the CT scanning allowed for the undisturbed collection of information, such as small fragments, which normally would have been lost.

Computer technology was also used to reproduce what the items originally looked like.

A gilt-bronze decorative fitting had a rare design not commonly found in Japan. A number of small columns were placed on top of a hexagonal metal sheet, with the distance between opposing points about 11 centimeters. A CT scan led researchers to determine that the item was a remnant of a decorative fitting for a horse. [it was reproduced in the TV programme, commented upon below]

A CT image of a gilt-bronze decorative fitting for a horse (Provided by Kyushu Historical Museum)

Researchers at the Kyushu National Museum in Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture, cooperated in reproducing what the fitting may have originally looked like. Work is now continuing to reproduce the item by using a 3-D printer.

Officials of the Koga municipal board of education said the methods used in studying the items could serve as a model for other archaeological projects if certain conditions are met.

By SHUNSUKE NAKAMURA/ Senior Staff Writer

::::

horseoutfittedphoto

During the broadcasted NHK programme “CLOSEUP” (Dec 2, 2013), the feature showed the above and following images, asserted that researchers concluded unequivocally that the find of gilt bronze horse fittings were made in the Yamato kingdom(called Wa in the Chinese historical records), calling for a reversal of the popular view that Japan was a backwater colony of Korea.

horseheadphoto

phoenixfittingsphoto

finialexcavatedphoto

With the help of 3D printer, the above excavated find was successfully reconstructed as seen below:

finialsgiltbronze

photo1

excavationphoto

harnessphoto

That hundreds of keyhole mounds are found in Japan (with a sizably large population existed on the island of Kyushu that was capable of producing horse fittings), while only a few related ones are found in South Korea, supports the view that the Yamato kingdom was no backwater province but a powerful independent kingdom in its own right.

mapphoto

popnchartphoto

mapwork2photo

photo

Above: These are the few keyhole mounds actually found in South Korea.

:::

Related article: More rare ancient finds uncovered in Fukuoka Source: The Asahi Shimbun [June 08, 2013] via the Archaeology News Network

Well-preserved lacquered bows and farm tools from at least 14 centuries ago were discovered in a site here that had already earlier uncovered a complete set of trappings and ornaments from a war horse … see additional excerpted material:

“The bows were uncovered at a site about 5 meters from the Funabaru burial mound, which dates to the late sixth century to early seventh century. The lacquered bows were between 2.2 to 2.3 meters long. At least six bows were discovered buried in a row in the northern part of the site.

Metal ornaments used on the bows were also found at equal distances to each other. Parts attached to the tips of the bows to tie the bowstring were also found. The parts were made of metal and antlers.

It is apparently the first time that so many bows have been found in a single location during excavations of sites from the “burial mounds age,” which ran from the third through seventh centuries. The set will likely exceed the bows found at the Doboyama burial mound in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture.

Several dozen arrowhead were also found together in the southern part of the site. Among the farm tools found were a spade head and sickle made from iron.

Researchers also confirmed that there were at least four sets of horse armor at the site, which extended for about 5.3 meters in a north-south direction. A short extension was found at a right angle to the southern part of the site, forming a reverse L-shape.”

In the news: Researchers confirm work by Kamakura Period sculptor Kaikei; could be oldest

A stone sculpture of Yakushi Nyorai kept at Jishoin temple is believed to be the work of acclaimed sculptor Kaikei. (Provided by Sango town research group)

A stone sculpture of Yakushi Nyorai kept at Jishoin temple is believed to be the work of acclaimed sculptor Kaikei. (Provided by Sango town research group)

September 02, 2013, The Asahi Shimbun

By NAOKI MATSUYAMA/ Staff Writer

SANGO, Nara Prefecture–Researchers say they have discovered what may be the oldest work by acclaimed sculptor Kaikei, who was active in the Kamakura Period (1192-1333).

A stone sculpture of Yakushi Nyorai (the Buddhist deity of healing) that was kept at Jishoin temple in Sango, Nara Prefecture, was confirmed to be a work by Kaikei, and could date more than six months before the oldest existing work by the redoubtable “Busshi” (sculptor who specializes in Buddha statues).

The temple is affiliated with another believed to have been established by the Buddhist monk Jokei (1155-1213), who was also known as Gedatsu Shonin.

The research group established by the Sango board of education began looking into the stone sculpture in May because it was in danger of falling over. The sculpture was kept in a hilly area toward the back of Jishoin temple. The researchers took apart the granite sculpture measuring 2.2 meters high, 2 meters wide and between 25 to 30 centimeters thick.

A stone cap was placed on the sculpture and on the underside of the cap were markings that said the sculpture was created based on the “original vow” of Gedatsu Shonin. Markings also bore a close resemblance to a signature mark often used by Kaikei in identifying his other works.

The research group was able to determine that the stone sculpture was the work of Kaikei based on a passage from a biography of a Buddhist priest who was close to Jokei, which said a stone sculpture of Yakushi was created by Kaikei based on a request made by Jokei.

The sculpture originally had an image of Yakushi carved into the stone along with bodhisattvas and other deities, but the faces have faded due to exposure to the weather as well as being touched for centuries by believers.

An illustration shows what the Yakushi Nyorai stone sculpture might have looked like when it was first created. (Provided by Sango town research group)

An illustration shows what the Yakushi Nyorai stone sculpture might have looked like when it was first created. (Provided by Sango town research group)

There are also other markings on the sculpture that could be interpreted to mean it was completed in February 1189, on the first anniversary of the death of the oldest son of an aristocrat who was a follower of Jokei.

Until now, the oldest confirmed existing work by Kaikei was created in September 1189. It is in the possession of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Members of the research group said the stone sculpture would shed new light on Kaikei because it was created before he became one of the representative artists of the Kamakura Period.

“We do not know of any other stone sculpture connected to Kaikei,” said Hisao Miyake, a professor of Buddhist art history at Nara University. “It is very valuable because we can learn about a new side to Kaikei.”

The research group will announce its findings at a symposium scheduled in November at Shujitsu University in Okayama city.

In the news: Mystery dagger molds imply ancient links to northern China

 

These molds for daggers with a double-ringed pommel were unearthed from the Kami-Goten archaeological site in Takashima, Shiga Prefecture. (Ryo Kato)An artist's rendition of daggers the molds would have produced (Provided by the Shiga Prefectural Board of Education)

August 09, 2013 The Asahi Shimbun

TAKASHIMA, Shiga Prefecture–Ancient molds for daggers with a double-ringed pommel and a straight blade, which have no precedent in Japan or even the nearby Korean Peninsula, have been unearthed at an archaeological site in this western city, cultural property officials said.

The Shiga Prefectural Association for Cultural Heritage said Aug. 8 the finds from the Kami-Goten site likely date from between 350 B.C. and A.D. 300.

Japanese archaeologists were astonished by the discovery as the artifacts bear a striking resemblance to finds in far-flung areas of northern China.

The two siltstone molds, each 30 centimeters long, 9 cm wide and 4 cm thick, were found overlapping each other. The designs allowed bladesmiths to cast both the handle and the blade as a single piece.

Each mold has two rings, each measuring 2.3 cm across, at the end of the handle that is decorated with saw-tooth and herringbone patterns. Both of those geometrical patterns are commonly seen on the surface of bronze bells unearthed in Japan.

The daggers would have had a straight blade and no guard.

The saw-tooth patterns on the handle led Harutaro Odagi, an associate professor of archaeology at Tenri University, to suggest the molds must have been fashioned in Japan.

“The artifacts, likely modeled after bronze daggers of northern China, were probably made in Japan, although how the design got here is a mystery,” Odagi said.

According to the prefectural cultural heritage association and other archaeologists, Japan in the distant past specialized in one type of dagger: the “slender bronze dagger,” introduced from Korea, although some of them were much larger and intended for ritual use.

Slender bronze daggers trace their origins to weapons called Liaoning bronze daggers and made during China’s Spring and Autumn and Warring States Period (770 B.C.-221 B.C.) in areas covering today’s Korea and northeast China.

Bronze daggers of that type have been unearthed in Japan, most notably in northern Kyushu and areas around the Inland Sea. A characteristic of those weapons is a narrow part in the middle of the blade. The blades and handles were cast separately.

These molds for daggers with a double-ringed pommel were unearthed from the Kami-Goten archaeological site in Takashima, Shiga Prefecture. (Ryo Kato)

These molds for daggers with a double-ringed pommel were unearthed from the Kami-Goten archaeological site in Takashima, Shiga Prefecture. (Ryo Kato)

By contrast, the latest finds resemble “Ordos daggers,” or bronze artifacts manufactured and used during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Period by equestrian nomads in areas to the north of China, which cover today’s northern Hebei province, northern Beijing and central and southern Inner Mongolia.

Ordos daggers have straight blades, are cast as a single piece, and have two pommel rings that imitate a pair of birds facing each other.

Hiroshi Yoshida, an Ehime University associate professor who is an expert on ancient bronze daggers, noted that the archaeological site is close to the sixth-century Kamo Inariyama burial mound, which has produced a multitude of gilded-bronze ornaments in a style that is clearly from Korea.

An artist's rendition of daggers the molds would have produced (Provided by the Shiga Prefectural Board of Education)

An artist’s rendition of daggers the molds would have produced (Provided by the Shiga Prefectural Board of Education)

“The forces governing that area may have had Korean and Chinese connections since Japan’s earliest days,” Yoshida said.

Kazuo Miyamoto, a professor of East Asian archaeology at Kyushu University, noted that a slender bronze dagger influenced by Ordos design, cast as a whole and with a double-ringed pommel, has been unearthed in Karatsu, Saga Prefecture.

“People probably learned from the overall design and attempted to make similar things on their own,” Miyamoto said.

The molds show no trace of having been used. Also, no daggers have been unearthed there.

“The artifacts were probably not for practical use or were flops,” said Yoshinori Tajiri, an associate professor of archaeology at Kyushu University.

(This article was written by Tatsuya Gunji and Senior Staff Writer Kunihiko Imai.)

 

 

In the news: Oldest ‘suizo’ shogi piece found sheds new light on game’s evolution

The Asahi Shimbun October 25, 2013

Kanji characters for a “suizo” (drunk elephant) are written on the face of a wooden shogi piece found in the remains of a well in Nara. (Kazunori Takahashi)

Kanji characters for a “suizo” (drunk elephant) are written on the face of a wooden shogi piece found in the remains of a well in Nara. (Kazunori Takahashi)

By KAZUTO TSUKAMOTO/ Staff Writer

KASHIHARA, Nara Prefecture–Believed to have originated in India and then passed through China, shogi may have begun to evolve into its Japanese variant even earlier than believed, with the discovery of a wooden “suizo” (drunk elephant) piece, in the remains of a well from the Heian Period (794-1185) in the city of Nara.

A prefectural research institute on archaeology said on Oct. 24 the suizo from the ancient board game is believed to be the oldest of its kind found in Japan.

“Suizo is a piece unique to Japan. In the temples of the Heian Period, people could have transformed this form of overseas culture into a Japanese style by adding new pieces to conventional shogi,” said Noboru Kosaku, a senior researcher at the Institute of Amusement Industry Studies at the Osaka University of Commerce.

The suizo piece, which is 2.5 centimeters long, 1.5 cm wide and 0.2 cm thick, is apparently several hundred years older than one previously believed to be the oldest, said researchers at the Archaeological Institute of Kashihara, Nara Prefecture.

The remains of the well are located in the city’s Noboriojicho district, which was a former compound of Kofukuji temple, they added.

Suizo pieces are used in some variations of shogi, a traditional board game also known as Japanese chess. One of those forms is chu-shogi, which literally means “mid-sized shogi.”

Kanji characters for suizo were confirmed on the face of the piece found in the well. No characters were found on the back.

Along with the suizo piece, three other shogi pieces were also discovered in the same remains. One of the three was a “keima” (knight), and another was a “fuhyo” (pawn). However, it was impossible to determine the identity of the remaining piece from the kanji written on it.

The remains of the well are located on the site where Kofukuji’s branch temple Kanzenin used to stand. A wooden strip bearing “Jotoku ni-nen” (the second year of Jotoku, which means 1098) was also found in the same remnants.

In chu-shogi, a suizo can be moved adjacently to any square except backward. If it advances into the enemy’s position, it can be promoted to a “taishi” (crown prince) piece, which can move adjacently to all squares in any direction like a “gyokusho” (challenging king) piece.

Taka-ma-HARA, or High HARA — the celestial shining mountain peak; the Japanese elixir field; the navel-belly of the earth finds cognates elsewhere (Comparative etymology)

Takamagahara, Shigakogen, Japan

Takamagahara, Shigakogen, Japan  Photo: A. Kawagoe

The etymology and meaning of “hara” and the possible origins of the Takamahara (or Takagamahara) cosmology

The concept of “hara” is such a fundamental concept that it is part of Japanese common parlance, children yell “hara heta” or “I’m famished” when they come home, literally, “empty centre”.

The concept of “hara” is now best known and associated with Tantric healing and kundalini concepts, and though the Japanese version of it appears to be derived from a Sinicized form of Indo(Sakka?)-Tibetan Bon belief system or tantras of Kashmir Shaivism as some call it, we may need to consider that the true origins of the “hara” concept may in fact lie elsewhere (Anatolia, Greece or Iran).

Tantra and Taoism explains that the Japanese “hara” concept is derived directly from the Taoist and Qi Gong belief systems, and quoting Karlfried Dürckheim’s Hara, The Vital Centre of Man, also distinguishes it from the Hindu chakra systems:

“What could therefore be called ‘The Taoist Body’ has its spiritual and physical centre not in the head or heart but in the hara – specifically in the tan tien (Chinese) or tanden (Japanese), a centre that that has no central place in any Indian anatomy of the ‘chakras’. For though it can be identified with the svadhisthana chakra – which is sometimes described as a few inches below the navel – this chakra is also often falsely associated with sexual feeling and the sexual organs, whereas the tan tien is understood as both the physical and spiritual centre of gravity of the human being – hence the point of ultimate balance of rest and movement. This reflects the literal meaning of svadhisthana as “the seat of the Self”.

Yet there remains a stark contrast between the heart-centred ‘Tantric Body’ and the hara-centred ‘Taoist Body’, one nowhere more strikingly enunciated than in the words of Laozi himself:

“Empty the heart, fill the abdomen.” 

The message is echoed by Zhuangzi:

“Rather than listen with the ear, listen with the heart. Rather than listen with the heart, listen with the Qi.  [ie. the ensouled breath with its centre in the hara - the tan tien]

“The Way … is the fasting of the heart.”

Deacon writes also that “…in Japan there are also several disciplines – either of Chinese origin or alternatively heavily influenced by Chinese Qi Gong philosophy – which speak of three tandens …

This basic practice of centering both breathing and awareness in the warm and womb-like interiority of the hara is also the key to the ‘belly thinking acknowledged and so much valued in traditional Japanese culture. For it is from the ocean of awareness that expands within the hara that all thoughts are first conceived and germinate, only to rise as ‘steam’ or ‘air’ into the space of the head where they take form as mental words. This is reflected in the ideogram for Qi – steam rising from a rice bowl…”

Hara, as a Japanese concept, is deep and fundamental, governing much of Japanese thinking, for hara  deeply interlinked with the word, tanden “is translated from the Japanese to mean cinnabar field and is also known as the elixir field. It can therefore be understood as a place in the body where the elixir of life is created” (Source: The deeper meaning of hara” Since prehistoric times, coffins and grave goods and sometimes human bones were painted with cinnabar or such symbolic substitutes).

This rocky hara-belly meaning of the Japanese (and the idea that Raiju thunderbeast, companion to Raijin the thunder deity, is attracted to the navels of children) is similar to the idea of the Omphalos-Navel of the Earth idea of the Greeks, which are often egg-shaped religious stones or baetylus, which is thought to be connected via a cord to the Sky god. In Greek, the word omphalos means “navel” (compare the name of Queen Omphale). According to the ancient Greeks, Zeus sent out two eagles to fly across the world to meet at its center, the “navel” of the world. In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem there is also an omphalos. The existence of this stone is based upon the medieval cosmology which saw Jerusalem as the spiritual if not geographical center of the world (see T and O map). This tradition is likely based on an ancient Jewish tradition that saw Jerusalem as the navel of the world.[1] In the Jewish tradition, the Ark in the Temple in Jerusalem, through which God revealed himself to His people, rested on the Foundation stone marking the “navel of world”. (According to Midrash Tanhuma to Ezekial 38,12, based on the phrase “the nations…that dwell in the middle of the earth”  in the Jewish tradition, the Ark in the Temple in Jerusalem, through which God revealed himself to His people, rested on the Foundation stone marking the “navel of world”.  This Jewish tradition is known to have begun in Hellenistic times, when Jews were already quite familiar with Greek culture—and thus might be a deliberate emulation of and competition with the above tradition regarding Delphi. See Wikipedia article Omphalos). Thus for the Japanese, the idea of protecting their mid-waists and navels (and their children’s) has to do with the metaphysical concepts and ancient cosmological worldviews of a connection between the birthing navel and the Other World, see Why thunder deities and thunder-beasts are attracted to Japanese children’s navels

In The Tantric Womb, we are told that Hara is analogous to or interchangeable with the womb and in Hinduism, also equated with ‘Shiva’:

“For a man, the Hara is an analogous access point as the womb. Different of course, but with many similarities. ‘Hara’ in Hinduism is an earlier word for ‘Shiva’. In Japan the word is closely interlinked to the Chinese word ‘Dantian’ – the place in the body where the elixir of life is created. In the martial arts it is a known center of a man’s power where he also has direct access to Source via the non-gender specific, interdimensional, transformational Source Point. It is located a couple of inches below the navel, inside the body, closer to the spine than the navel.
At the point of hara the mind has no place to stay still for it is everywhere, completely in union with the universe, no beginning and no end. It is open and at ease. This is hara – the realization of your true nature”.

The Hara line, according to the Hindu metaphysical tradition and chakra belief system, quoting Barbara Brennan’s book, Light Emerging is explained thus:

This is the Hara line which stretches from our crown right up to our source in the “heavens”, and also right down into the Earth, connecting us to our physical source. [Note: The newborn baby is considered, according to Japanese as well as Native Amerindian tradition, to be connected via its umbilical cord to the stars and the Otherworld, see Cord-ceremony] It is a sound, or a vibration, a frequency, that keeps us in our human bodies and it is intimately connected to our integrity or ability to live in truth.

“The Hara line exists on a dimension deeper than the auric field [Ka body]. It exists on the level of intentionality. It is an area of power within the physical body that contains the tan tien*. It is the one [musical] note [or vibration] with which you have drawn up your physical body from your mother, the Earth. It is this one note that holds your body in physical manifestation. Without the one note, you would not have a body. When you change this one note, your entire body will change. Your body is a gelatinous form held together by this one note [or vibration]. This note is the sound that the centre of the Earth makes.”

Source: The Sex Rites II: The Hara Line and the Aura (Istargate)

We can in fact trace this idea of aligning one’s  Hara as a sort of metaphysical plumbline concept to the ancient Cosmic Pillar World View, possibly originating with or at least developed by the Indo-Iranians. (The concept also reminds us of the Biblical scripture, Amos 7:7-9 in the third of the prophet Amos’ five visions, he sees the Lord standing on a wall – with a plumbline in His hand, … and the imagery of “The God of the Plumbline” is a metaphor for the Almighty as the ultimate Judge of Israel.) 

Mt. Damavand, highest peak in the Alborz/Elborz/Elburz mountain range of the Iran (known in ancient times as Hara_Berezaiti). 

The origin of Hara as a physical (or metaphysical / symbolic) World Mountain

The Hindu scriptures, the Vedas, refer to the Mount Hara as Mount Meru or Sumeru (the Great Meru), and describe the Himalayas as stemming from Mount Meru which itself stands at the centre of the known world. The Vedas also refer to Arya Varta as Paradesha, the original country. In the Vedas, Bharatavarsha, Ancient India, lay to the south of the Himalayas.

Mary Boyce, the British scholar of Iranian languages and authority on Zoroastrianism, said that when the Khotanese Saka became Buddhists, they referred to Mt. Sumeru of Buddhist legends as Ttaira Haraysa, the peak of Hara. Mt. Sumeru in Buddhist mythology lies at the centre of the earth and according to Anklesaria’s translation of GB 5B.1, “Mount Tera is in the middle of the earth.”

Hara Berezaiti and Alburz or Alborz

To the Iranians, Mount Hara appears to have been both a physical mountain as well as a metaphysical one.

“The Mehr Yasht at 10.118 talks about the Sun riding rising above the peaks (tara) of the Hara Berezaiti. Tara (also spelt Tera, Terak or Taera) is sometime taken to mean a specific mountain in the Hara. E. W. West translates the Lesser Bundahishn (LB) at 12.2 as “Terak of Alburz” i.e. Tera of the Hara Berezaiti. When West translates 12.4 as “The Terak of Alburz is that through which the stars, moon and sun pass in, and through it they come back”, but when B. T. Anklesaria translates 9.6 of the Greater Bundahishn (GB) as “The Tera of Alburz is that through which the Stars, Moon and Sun revolve and through which they come back”, it makes more sense to read Tera(k) as the peaks or the space between peaks through which the stars, moon and sun rise and set. Indeed, at LB 5.4. we have “As it is said that it is the Terak of Alburz from behind which my sun and moon and stars return again” and at LB 5.5, “For there are a hundred and eighty apertures (rojin) in the east, and a hundred and eighty in the west, through Alburz; and the sun, every day, comes in through an aperture, and goes out through an aperture….”

Alborz-Alburz reflects older usage (see Wikipedia article), it is said that numerous high peaks were given the name and some even reflect it to this day, for example, Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus Mountains, and Mount Elbariz (Albariz, Jebal Barez) in the Kerman area above the Strait of Hormuz. As recently as the 19th century, a peak in the northernmost range in the Hindu Kush system, just south of Balkh, was recorded as Mount Elburz in British army maps.

All these names reflect the same Iranian language compound, and share an identification as the legendary mountain Harā Bərəzaitī of the Avesta. The name Elbrus is derived by metathesis from Alborz. The name Alborz is derived from that of Harā Barazaitī, a legendary mountain in the Avesta. Harā Barazaitī reflects Proto-Iranian *Harā Bṛzatī. *Bṛzatī is the feminine form of the adjective *bṛzant- “high”, the ancestor of modern Persian boland (بلند) and Barz/Berazandeh, cognate with Sanskrit ‘Brihat’ (बृहत्). Harā may be interpreted as “watch” or “guard”, from an Indo-European root *ser- “protect”. In Middle Persian, Harā Barazaitī became Harborz, Modern Persian Alborz, which is cognate with Elbrus.

The Legend of Alborz/Alburz according to Encyclopedia Iranica:

The most ancient layer of belief about the mythical “high Harā” appears to be that it was a huge mountain rising in the middle of the world, around whose peak (Av.taēra-, Pahl. tērag) “revolve the stars, moon, and sun” (Yt. 12.25), thus creating night and day. Each morning the “sun goes forth to cross high Harā in its flight” (Yt. 10.118); and Mithra, who goes before it, has his abode on the lofty, shining mountain, “where there is neither night nor darkness, neither cold wind nor hot . . . neither do mists rise from high Harā” (Yt. 10.50). Further, “just as light comes in from Harborz . . . water too comes in from Harborz” (Bd. 11.6); for the mythical river Arədvī Sūrā Anāhitā was held to pour down from the mountain’s peak into the ocean Vourukaša (Yt. 5.3; cf. Bd. 10.5-6), being thus the source of all the waters of the world. In Vendidad 21 an incantation links together light and the waters, high Harā and the ocean Vourukaša. In the yasna liturgy (Y. 42.3) the worshipers offer sacrifice to sky and earth, wind and the “Peak of Harā.” The peak is also called Mount Hukairya (Pahl. Hukar), “Of good activity” (Yt. 10.88); and worshipers of Arədvī Sūrā praise “Mount Hukairya the verdant, which deserves all praise” (Yt. 5.96), while in the Bundahišn “the lofty Hukar, through which springs the water of Ardvīsūr,” is called “the chief of summits” (Bd. 11.9; cf. Pahl.Rivayat 15.4).

The “abode and dwelling of the clouds” is on Harborz (Mēnōg ī xrad 44.16); and there the Baga set the sacred plant haoma to grow. There too the yazata Haoma, as priest of the gods, offers sacrifice, specifically to Mithra (Yt. 10.89) and to Sraoša (Y. 57.19). Figures of ancient Iranian myth, namely Haošyaŋha (Hōšang) and Yima (Jamšēd) are also said to have offered sacrifice on the mountain, to the divinities Arədvī Sūrā, Druvāspā, and Vayu (Yt. 5.21, 25; 9.3, 8; 15.7, 15).

The Iranian concept of the great central world mountain has its parallel in the Indian one of the Mount Mēru or Sumēru; and when in course of time the Khotanese Sakas adopted Buddhism, they used the name “Peak of Harā” (ttaira haraysä) to render Sanskrit Sumēru (see H. W. Bailey, Khotanese Texts IV, Cambridge, 1961, p. 12). Already in ancient times, however, Iranian thinkers enlarged this concept of Harā; according to their speculative cosmogony the earth was originally a round plane, from whose flat surface the mountains grew up as if they were plants, having “roots” going deep into the ground and joined to the root of Harā. This name was now given also to a great chain of mountains held to encircle the earth’s round rim. “As the first mountain there stood upon this earth high Harā, which encircles entirely the eastern lands and the western lands” (Yt. 19.1). “Mount Harborz encircles the world. The suŋrevolves above Mount Harborz, around (its) Peak (Tērag). . . . Harborz was growing until the completion of 800 years: for 200 years up to the star station, for 200 years up to the moon station, for 200 years up to the sun station, and for 200 years up to the summit of the sky” (Bd. 5b.1, 9.1-2). “As Harborz grew up, all the mountains were moving, for all have grown up from the roots of Harborz. . . . Their roots passed in that way from one to another and they are established in mutual connection” (Indian Bundahišn 8.2-3). The concept of an encircling mountain range again has a parallel in the Indianlōkālōka, a ring of mountains encompassing all the continents of the earth (see W. Kirfel, Die Kosmographie der Inder nach den Quellen dargestellt, Bonn and Leipzig, 1920); but the special development whereby this range was given the same name as the single central peak, with all other mountains held to be linked to them both, appears part of the general tendency of ancient Iranian thinkers to seek unity behind apparent diversity (a tendency which seems to have prepared the way for Zarathuštra’s monotheism). Attempts were made to limit resulting ambiguities by referring fairly regularly to the central mountain by the synonyms of Taēra (Tērag) and Hukairya (Hukar), while the encircling range is sometimes distinguished as the Harborz var or “enclosure” (Dādestān ī dēnīg, pursišn 20.2; Indian Bundahišn 5.3).

There was evidently a tendency from ancient times to attach legends to the great world mountain, which in one Pahlavi text is said to rise up from Ērānvēǰ (Av. Airyanəm Vaēǰah), the region which had come to be regarded as the mythical homeland of the Iranians (Dādestān ī dēnīg, pursišn 20.2). The following strange legend is preserved in Bundahišn 24.24: “Every third year many from non-Iranian lands gather together upon the summit of Mount Harborz, in order to go into the Iranian lands to cause harm and bring destruction on the world. Then the yazadBorz [i.e., Ahura bərəzant; see under Apam Napāt] comes up from the depths of the water Arang and arouses, upon the highest point of all that high mountain, the bird Čamrūš, which pecks up all those from non-Iranian lands as a bird pecks up grain.” Other legends concerning the mountain, under the later form of its name, “Alborz,” are preserved in the Šāh-nāma. Thus the mother of Ferēdūn (Av. Thrāetaona) bears her infant son for safety to the “lofty mountain,” Alborz, which here, it seems, is thought to rise in “Hendūstān” (ed. Borūḵīm, I, p. 46.145-47; tr. A. and E. Warner, London, 1905-12, I, p. 152). There the child is brought up by a holy recluse. More is told of the mountain itself in the legend of Zāl, for the Sīmorḡ is said to have her nest on “Alborz, nigh to the sun and far removed from men” (I, p. 132.83; tr. p. 241). It was at the foot of Alborz that the infant Zāl was exposed, because of its remoteness. Here again the mountain is said to be in India (I, pp. 135.111, 136.130; tr. I, pp. 243, 244). The Sīmorḡ swoops down and carries the child up to her nest on Alborz, “whose top was midst the Pleiades. Thou wouldst have said “It will obstruct the stars.”” No tracks, even of wild beasts, led up the precipitous slopes to the rocky peak (I, p. 137.145, 155; tr., I, pp. 244, 245). There Zāl grew up, and from there he was in the end brought down again by the great bird, since no man could scale that height (I, p. 142.246; tr., I, p. 250).

In a subsequent incident in the epic Rostam breaks through Afrāsīāb’s troops, at the borders of Iran, in order to reach Mount Alborz and find Kayqobād, who, like his forbear Ferēdūn, had grown up in safety on the mountain’s lower slopes, a “blest land” (I, pp. 291, 158ff., 293.195-96; tr., I, pp. 382ff., 384). Later Rostam speaks of having brought Kayqobād to the land of Iran from Mount Alborz (II, p. 467.536-37; tr., II, p. 144). In one or two other places in the epic it seems likely (though the passages are not wholly unambiguous) that Mount Alborz is conceived as being within Iran, i.e., is thought of as the great mountain range which now bears that name.

Taera -> Terak -> Tera -> Ttaira -> Taira Peaks

Ichaporia and Humbach as well as Sethna do not translate “taera” as the name of a mountain but rather as “peak“. However, it does make more sense in the contexts above to read it as several or a set of peaks rather than a single peak. But that sense of a single peak rising into the heavens is now embedded in Hindu and Buddhist mythology as well. In the Zamyad Yasht, there is no mythology in the description of the mountains. They are listed quite matter-of-factly and the word “taera” appears buried in the middle of verse 19.6 in a rather obscure manner.

Mary Boyce informs us that when the Khotanese Saka became Buddhists, they referred to Mt. Sumeru of Buddhist legends as Ttaira Haraysa, the peak of Hara. Mt. Sumeru in Buddhist mythology lies at the centre of the earth and according to Anklesaria’s translation of GB 5B.1, “Mount Tera is in the middle of the earth.”

Principal Hara Peaks – Mount Hukaria and Daitik

The Greater Bundahishn translated by B. T. Anklesaria (at 17.18) describes the Hukar (Huk-airya in the Avesta) as being the ‘chief’ of the summits. Huk-airya means the ‘good Arya’ or the ‘good and beneficent Arya’ – the environs of which, Airyana Vaeja, was a paradise with ideal conditions: no inclement weather, natural beauty and where the people enjoyed good health. The GB at 9.3 also states that, “As the other mountains have grown out of Alburz, in number, two thousand two hundred and forty-four mountains, that are the lofty Hugar/Hukar (Huk-airya), the Tera of Alburz, the Daitih peak….” We note that the Hugar/Hukar (Huk-airya) is described at both the chief of the mountains as well as lofty (tall – towering above others. At GB 9.7, “The lofty Hugar/Hukar (Huk-airya) is that from which the water of Aredvisur descends from the height of a thousand men.” At 9.9, “The Daitih (Chakad-i-Daitik in the Lesser Bundahishn) peak is that which is in the middle of the world, of the height of a hundred men, whereon is the Chinvad bridge; they judge the soul at that place.” Much attention is given to “Tera” being the name of a pivotal mountain at the centre of the earth, but in the Daitih we have another contender for this description. The height of a hundred men does not make it a very tall mountain and one suitable perhaps for a significant temple or sanctuary (see the thangka painting below). We could have two versions of the myth, one with a very tall central mountain and the other with a shorter mountain crowned by a temple or sanctuary as depicted by the thangka painting below. Both versions appear to exist currently either explicitly or implicitly, and the shorter version appears to make more sense with reality.

The combined manner in which the Hukar, Tera and Daitik are described in the Bundahishn has resonance with the manner in which Mount Meru, Sumeru, is described in Hindu and Buddhist texts”.

High Hara

At this point, all the bells ring out loud, and we are reminded of Taka-ma-ga-hara, and Ama-terasu, heavenly goddess of the Shining (who came from that celestial world above). We hear the word “tera” used and echoed as the word for Japanese temple (not shrine, implying the formation of the concept was already in the context of the crucibles of Buddhism and key Central Asian thought of the times)… and though the word is given Chinese form, its Iranian sound has no equivalent in Chinese words “shi” or “miao” for temple.

The word Taka-ma-ga-hara takes on even deeper meaning, when you consider that Taka in Japanese means High Hara, and is also synonymous with ‘plain’, and ‘taira’ is also the Japanese word for ‘plain’. Taka-ma-ga-hara is thought of in Japan as the Celestial Plains, and the celestial plains are to be found on earth in Japan as well as Mount Hara, just as the metaphysical Hara-Benzeitis or Alburzes are also physical places on earth to the Iranians, just as Mt Meru (or Sumeru) is for the Hindus and Buddhists.

The word also occurs among the Greeks, and in the Greek language, it is found as the Har or Hor signifying a mountain See Jacob Bryant’s “A New System or an Analysis of Ancient Mythology“. There is also another European (Germanic-Swabian-Suebi peoples who were an Elbe Germanic tribe whose origin was near the Baltic Sea or the today, the term “Swabian Sea” known to the Romans as the Mare Suebicum) equivalent of  High Harz in the Hochharz) - the Harz; Hardt, Hart mountains and Alburz has its equivalent in River Elbe. Hara thus finds a close cognate in Harz which is the highest mountain range in Northern Germany, the name Harz derives from the Middle High German word Hardt or Hart (mountain forest), Latinized as HercyniaThe common etymology and meanings of the words Hara, Harz Terak-Tera-Dtaira-Daira, etc. suggests the origin of the Takamagahara cosmology may have originated from tribal migrants nostalgic for these mountains.

We might also wish to factor mountains in Armenia or Mesopotamia further afield to Mt Hermon which is essentially Hara-mun, a mountain significant to both key Druze communities as well as Hebrew tribes connected to the Books of Chronicles and Enoch lineages. The Vulgata renders the Hebrew hārəy Ǎrārāṭ asmontes Armeniae, so we have another Harae-Ararat named for the peak that is associated with the Biblical Mountains of Ararat where Noah’s Ark came to rest after the great flood(Genesis 8:4). This association of Mount Ararat with the biblical mountains is ancient, entering Western Christianity in the fourth century, with Jerome‘s reading of Josephus.

Alternatively, “Togarma, Armenia, in which Mt. Arrarat is situated, is the Takamakahara, from which the ancestor of the Japanese race is said to have descended. Takamagahara means the Plain of High Heaven” … this observation was been made by Dr. Jenichiro Oyabe, author of “Origin of Japan and the Japanese and who attributed Togarma as the founder of the Japanese (and therefore regarded the Japanese to be descendants of the Hebrew race). The Biblical Togarmah was held to be the ancestor of the peoples of the South Caucasus: (the Georgians, the Armenians) and some Turkic peoples; Others (Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (37 – c. 100 AD), Roman Catholic priest Jerome (c. 347 – 420 AD) and Isidore of Seville (c. 560 – 636 AD)) regarded Togarmah as regarded Togarmah as the father of the Phrygians.  Cognates are found in the Greek Thargamos and in the Hittite Bronze Age kingdom of Tegarama in Anatolia; or with the Assyrian Til-Garimmu (the city was inhabited during the Old Assyrian Kingdom and Hittite Empire).  

Armenians call themselves Hayer and their county Hayastan (the land of the Hayasa) after their founder Haik, who according to Moses of Chorene was son of Togarmah. In the past the country was historically called by natives Metz Hayk/Hayq (Greater Armenia) and Poqr Hayk/Hayq (Lesser Armenia). Armenian Moses of Chorene and also Georgian Leonti Mroveli regarded Togarmah as the founder of their nations along with other Caucasian people.
Hermonsnow.jpg

Mount Hermon (Haramun /Hebrew: Har Hermon)
However, we still see the best fit for Takama- ga-hara in the Iranian High Hara, or Taka-Hara, closest in meaning and sound. We do not discount the possibility, however, that as the Iranian plateau was a receiver of genetic inputs from various directions, the Iranian concept of High Hara, is derived from either the Hittite or Hebrew Togarma-Haya or alternatively, an Indo-European/Aryan/Hittite/Hebrew ancestral source of all the related groups (see Colin Renfrew’s latest hypothesis “Beyond the Silk Road”), we might triangulate the Hara mountain legends and names to the general area of the Indo-European-Indo-Iranian-Armenian mountain chains, around Zagros.

Furthermore, Ama-terasu can be surmised to mean the Celestial Shining goddess of the Terak peak or plain.

Genetically, we find it hard to accept that the Japanese are descended from the Hebrew race, as neither Y-DNA haplogroup J nor R1a1 haplogroups are found anywhere among the Japanese people. We do however, find Y-DNA D (with the YAP+ alleles) in great abundance among the Japanese. And they are found among the Arab Yemeni and Israeli Druids, in the Kalasha (who say they are descended from Alexander the Great, the Macedonian) who live in the Hindukush valley, as well as in tribal Yunnan along with Xinjiang, in the Southwest of China were the receiving point for many groups from the West. We also find among the Japanese royal and elite historical clans traces of N and Q and R1b1b haplogroups which may suggest a migratory history to some extent in common with Hunnic (Mongol-Turk?) lineages of the Ashina, Khazaria and Getae-Rajput peoples. Note: Y-DNA haplogroups of proto-Turks are N and Q. 800 BCE Ural-Altay languages speaking Turks occupied Central Asia and assimilated some of the R1b and R1a (Caucasian? Tocharians, Sogdians etc.) In the meantime they were also mixed with C3 and O haplogroups due to their relations with Mongol and Chinese people. So, when Oguz tribes migrated to Anatolia they were already formed by Q, N, C3, O, R1a, R1b. In addition to these groups today Turkish population includes J1, J2, Anatolian R1b, R1a, G, E1b.

The Aryan or Indo-Iranian landscape in Japan

By examining the myths of the Aryans or Indo-Iranians, we find a number of interesting coincidences of geographical locations and nomenclature, and enigmatically begin to see an Aryan landscape in Japan.

“Airyanem Vaejah was the legendary home of the Indo-Iranian people. It is believed that between ca. 5000 B.C. and 2000 B.C., Indian and Iranian tribes lived together in one place and spoke mutually intelligible languages. Sometime in the third millennium B.C., the two groups separated, reaching Iran and India via much-debated routes (94). Not surprisingly, the Avesta and the Rig Veda, the literary monuments of the Iranians and Indians respectively (second millennium B.C.) have similarities which extend beyond linguistics, to the very gods themselves, and the themes of parts of the narratives. Regrettably, the Iranian epic material in the Avesta was purged, sanitized or recast by the zeal of Zoroaster and his followers in the 7th century B.C. and later. Complicating matters is the fact that only a tiny percentage of the historically known Avesta has survived. It is only in oblique, presumably pre-Zoroastrian passages or in much later epic material (supposedly deriving from the earliest Iranian myths) that one encounters anything comparable to the passions and jealousies of the Greek or Indian deities (95).

Airyanem Vaejah, whose location is disputed, contained the first mountain created on earth, Hara Berezaiti or High Hara. The Vedas, which do not mention Airyanem Vaejah directly, nonetheless are familiar with this premier mountain (96). Close to the mountain was a sea, called Vourukasha in the Avesta, where the “Tree of All Seeds” grew. Coursing down the mountain, or near it, was a mighty river. [26] The early Indo-Iranians believed that all mountains were connected by their roots to High Hara; and that all bodies of water were connected to the magical sea (97).

Ahura Mazda, the god who created High Hara, also built palaces on it for the greatest gods: Mithra, Sraosha, Rashnu, Ardvi-sura Anahita, and Haoma, all of whom ride in special chariots. While humans could not live on the holy mountain, the greatest mythical heroes made sacrifices there. The way to the other world, a special abode of the blessed (where the largest and most choice specimens of plants and animals were found) lay through the foothills of Hara/Meru. The Chinvat bridge of Zoroastrian mythology, over which the souls of the dead had to pass was on or near High Hara. The motif of birds dwelling near the summit is shared by Iranian and Indian accounts, as is the theme of the theft of the intoxicating plant haoma/soma from the mountain’s summit by a magical bird (Syena/Garuda/Simurgh); and the slaying of a multi-headed, multi-eyed dragon nearby (98). In the Indian tradition, Agni, the rock-born god of fire with tawny hair and iron teeth is connected with the sacred mountain. In the Iranian tradition, High Hara is also associated with metallurgy. Fire and metals were introduced to humanity after the hero Hoshang(Haoshyangha) sacrificed on the mountain (99). High Hara was also the locale of many of the most memorable contests in Iranian mythology (100).

The Avesta and the Vedas do not contain sufficiently precise geographical information to locate Airyanem Vaejah. [27]Despite this, for more than a century scholars have attempted to locate this legendary “original homeland” based on various interpretations of details. Thus, unbelievably, references to the severity of the winter storms in the mountains and certain poetic statements led to a “polar hypothesis”(101). The fact that the Avesta has survived only in an eastern Iranian language, the statement that the prophet Zoroaster’s initial visions and early teaching occurred here, and the belief that cattle raising developed exclusively on the steppes of eastern Iran, led to the selection of eastern Iran as the most likely site, by some (102). In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a number of scholars suggested that Airyanem Vaejah should be sought in the Caucasus or adjacent areas. This view, which was developed most thoroughly by A.V.W. Jackson, was shared by James Darmesteter, an early translator of the Avesta and A.J. Carnoy, author of the study “Iranian mythology” in Mythology of All Races (vol. 6), among others (103). According to these hypotheses, the sacred mountain (High Hara) and the magical sea (Vourukasha) would correspond to either Mt. Rewanduz and Lake Urmiah; Mt. Ararat or Mt. Aragats and Lake Sevan; Mt. Suphan or Mt. Nemrut and Lake Van; or Mt. Savalan or Mt. Demavend and the Caspian Sea. This last is the favorite of later Iranian tradition. Jackson suggested that Azerbaijan was the most likely site for Airyanem Vaejah, and that the later Zoroaster also hailed from this land of mountains, rivers, and prized pasturage (104)”

Regarding identification of the Veh with the Indus River, the Greater Bundahishn at 11.A.2 as translated by B. T. Anklesaria states, “The river Veh passes on in the east, goes to the land of Sind and pours into the sea in India. There they call it the river Mitran [and also call it the river Indus].” The Lesser Bundahishn translated by E. W. West, at 20.7 states, “The Mehrva River they call the Hendva River…”. Hendva would be connected to Hindu. 20.9 also states, “The Veh River passes on in the east, goes through the land of Sind, and flows to the sea in Hindustan, and they call it there the Mehra River.” We note that this river is called Hendva, Mehrava, Mehra, Mitran (Mithra/Mitra and Mehr ["mir"meaning king and used to name Himalayan mountain peaks] are related words, the former being the older form which seems to be the trend in the Greater Bundahishn. The Lesser Bundahishn starts with the declaration at 20.1 that two rivers flow from the north – from the Alburz (Mountains) – and that the one towards the East is the Veh River.

We are therefore left with two Veh rivers, one identified with the Amu Darya (Oxus) and the other with the Mitran or Mehra (the Indus). Masudi in his Historical Encyclopaedia writes that the “Guebers (sic) i.e. Zoroastrians, felt that the Jaihun (Oxus) was connected with the Indus to form one river, the Veh.” The ancients may have perceived the Veh as a mythical circumventing river, one that circumvented Airyana in the east and the west – perhaps even all the way around.

Rivers Flowing into Neighbouring Countries

Verse 10.14 of the Avesta’s Mehr Yasht, states that the rivers which originate in Airyo shayanem*, the Aryan abode, flow swiftly into the countries of Mourum [later Margu(sh) (English-Greek Margiana) and eventually Marv located in today's Turkmenistan], Haroyum (Aria in modern Afghanistan), Sughdhem (Sugd in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) and Khairizem [Khvarizem beside the Amu Darya (Oxus) River in Uzbekistan]. [*Note: shayanem is used to denote a few countries/lands/abodes in the Vendidad's list of sixteen nations. As "abode" or "dwelling place", the word may denote a region rather than a country, a region over which the Airya had spread by that time.]

There are very few sets of rivers that meet this description and they all originate in the mountains of Afghanistan and Tajikistan radiating westward from the Pamirs. Since 1. Bakhdhi (Balkh) is a significant omission from this list, 2. Khairizem is a nation not mentioned directly in the Vendidad’s list of nations and appears to be a “younger” nation than the Vendidad nations [together with Parsa (Persia) and Mada (Media) also not mentioned], and 3. the Aryan lands are called by a slightly different name than in the Vendidad, one possibility is that this Meher Yasht description was part of the younger Avesta, by time of whose writing, the original Aryan lands, Airyana Vaeja, had begun to move westward along the northern Hindu Kush slopes, towards the Kuh-e Baba, Kuh-e Hissar and Safid Kuh – the northern Afghanistan mountain region south of Balkh. To us it is not without significance that there is a Murgab River in the Pamir highlands of Tajikistan, then in the northern Afghanistan and eventually in Pars.

The larger river flowing into Mourum (Eng-Gk Margiana) is the Murgab River; the main river flowing through Haroyum (Eng-Gk Aria) is the Hari-Rud River; the main river flowing through Sughdhem/Sugd (Eng-Gk Sogdiana) is the Zerafshan River. The Kashka Darya also flows through Sughdhem. Sughdhem was likely bordered by the Amu Darya (Oxus) in the west/south-west and Syr Darya (Jaxartes) Rivers in the east/north-east. There are of course, other smaller rivers. The Pamirs together with the Hindu Kush and its western extensions including the Safeed Kuh and Siah Kuh mountains that border today’s Northern Afghanistan are where these rivers originate.

The Lesser & Greater Bundahishns at LB Chapter 20 and GB Chapter 11.A respectively provide additional information. We reproduce here portions of the Bundahishn related to the rivers of Central Asia identified above via the Meher Yasht. However, the Bundahishns only assign the rivers Daraja and Daitya to ancient Iran-Vej (Airyana Vaeja). Regardless, we still see these lands the rivers flow through as part of greater Aryan nation, Iran-Shahr:

LB 13. The Daitya river is the river which comes out from Eranvej, and goes out through the hill-country; of all rivers the noxious creatures in it are most, as it says, that the Daitya river is full of noxious creatures. [Our note: it is significant that the Daitya is noted as "going through hill country".] GB 11.A.7 states “The river Daitya comes out of Eranvej and proceeds to Dutistan.” We have yet to identify Dutistan.

Source readings and references:

Tantra and Taoism: On their essential nature and relation

Dürckheim, Karlfried “Hara, The Vital Centre of Man”  Unwin 1980

Wilberg, Peter Head, “Heart & Hara – the Soul Centres of West and East”  New Gnosis Publications 2003

Zoroastrians, Their Religious Beliefs and Practices by Mary Boyce

Japanese Author Traces Nippon Origin to Hebrew Race Aug 15, 1929

Aryans: Location of the Aryana Vaeja (Zoroastrian Heritage) by K. E. Eduljee

[Whilst it is often said that the Japanese religious system is derived from the Tibetan bon religion, much of the key royal mythology, shrine and folk lore found in the Kojiki and Nihon shoki and other early records and documents, parallel more closely those of the ancient Indo-Iranian, Greco-Bactrian and Central Asian interaction spheres, occasionally with some Sinicization or Koreanic transformation. ]

Alborz - Encyclopaedia Iranica

Elburz

Mount Hermon

The Druze: A Population Genetic Refugium of the Near East

Watch out for more on the Druze peoples.

6th~early 8th century Yokoana Catacombs of Japan

Yoshimi Hyakketsu Yokoana Kofun, Saitama Prefecture Photo: Saitama Prefectural Library

Yoshimi Hyakketsu Yokoana Kofun, Saitama Prefecture Photo courtesy: Saitama Prefectural Libraries

While Early and Middle Kofun burial mounds were mostly stone-lined chambers placed into the top of the mounds, and usually entered from the top, the Late Kofun chambers were set on the ground under or in the barrow mound (see the Chibusan Kofun) and entered from the side through a tunnel-like passageway called yokoana chambers (lit. “horizontal” or “sideways” -”hole”).

Some of these yokoana chambers were set in the mound, while others were cut into hillsides or set into rockcaves or catacombs, like the Yoshimi Yokoana Kofun 吉見百穴pictured at the top of this page or the Ichigao Yokoana Kofun immediately below.

Ichigao yokoana kofun, Kanagawa

Yokoana catatombs cut into hillsides, Ichigao Yokoana Kofun, Kanagawa Prefecture Photo: Heritage of Japan

The majority of the Late Kofun (mainly apparently pre-Buddhist) rock-cut tunnel tombs of the 6th and 7th centuries were either simply cut into the soft hillside rock, as in Kumamoto, or dug into the hard loam, as on the Kantō Plain.

Their interiors tend to be, for the most part, austere and simple, probably in keeping with the warrior sensibilities of the interred, especially those of the Kanto Musashino region.

Nabeta Yokoana Kofun, Kumamoto Prefecture

Nabeta Yokoana Kofun, Kumamoto Prefecture

However, there are a few yokoana that possess modest but still enigmatic and intriguing carvings around the entrances or painting or wall incisions in their interiors, such as those of the Chibusan and Nabeta Yokoana Kofun pictured below.

Chibusan Kofun, Kumamoto

Chibusan Kofun, Kumamoto Photo: Japan Geographic

Relief etchings by the entrance of the Nabeta Yokoana Kofun in Kumamoto Prefecture

Relief etchings by the entrance of the Nabeta Yokoana Kofun in Kumamoto Prefecture

These, are reminiscent of the more splendid decorated tumuli that have captured the public’s imagination.

Asuka Bijin, Takamatsuzuka Kofun

Asuka Bijin, Takamatsuzuka Kofun

The most famous of the decorated yokoana kofun are the Takamatsuzuka Kofun near Nara, or the Kitora Kofun in the same area —  with wall mural paintings on the chamber walls.

White Tiger (Provided by the Cultural Affairs Agency)Black Tortoise (Provided by the Cultural Affairs Agency)Vermilion Bird (Provided by the Cultural Affairs Agency)

Above: Murals found in the Kitora Kofun

Both these tombs are thought to date to the very end of the 7th century, and its murals are considered to be the finest examples of the some 300 decorated horizontal tomb murals, along with the ‘Ōzuka’ (the King’s grave) Kofun in Kyushu which is however, a keyhole tumulus.

Below are details and descriptions of several yokoana tomb clusters:

– In Kanagawa Prefecture, the Ichigao Cave Tomb Cluster 市ヶ尾横穴古墳群(Ichigao ōketsu kofun-gun)– is a group of 9 catacombs with 19 graves said to have belonged to wealthy farmers of the Kofun Period.

A look within one of the yokoana tombs Photo: Heritage of Japan

A look within one of the Yokoana tombs Photo: Heritage of Japan

The 19 graves are located in the hills where the Tsurumi River begins. These yokoana can be grouped into several types by their interior design. 
In 1933 and in 1956, things such as arms, accessories and pottery were discovered in the yokoana. From the context of the many other ruins discovered around Ichigao and Eda, it is thought that the area was a center of the ancient Tsuzuki country. See this page for access information. Below are diagrams (Photos: Heritage of Japan) showing interment burial position and grave goods found in among the yokoana catacombs.

DSCN1683DSCN1697

– In Kumamoto Prefecture, is the Ōmura yokoana-gun or Omura Cave Tomb Cluster 大村横穴群 (Hitoyoshi city)

Omura yokoana cave tomb cluster

Omura yokoana cave tomb cluster Source: Wikimedia Commons

At the 24 Ōmura (or Jōhon) yokoana tombs on the outskirts of Hitoyoshi city, a flat carving of five horses and three bells is visible in tombs 7 and 8. One horse is saddled and another resembles a foal. Zigzags, perhaps representing a gable, mark the lintel over Tomb 8, with a triangle and quiver to one side. Quivers are often proportionately larger than surrounding imagery, probably symbolizing status.

– Also in Kumamoto Prefecture, are the Nabeta yokoana tombs:

Nabeta kofun

Nabeta rockcut kofun tombs

Lined up along the face of the cliff, are 54 tunnel tombs, the entrance of the largest of which, contains a sunken relief about 2.5 m wide. The roughly hewn outlines depict a warrior and his weapons, a man holding a bow backwards, with a tomo (wrist guard), a large and a small quiver, a knife and shield; underneath, in the centre, is a quadruped, presumably a horse.

Nabeta Kofun

Nabeta Yokoana Kofun

– In Miyagi Prefecture, are Oido Yokoana History Park of Wakuya Town:

Oido yokoana tombs

The Oido yokoana tombs Photo: NIPPON-KICHI

There are several hundred “yokoana” carved into the southern side of Nonodake Hill from Oido to Nakano. These are the ruins of tombs built from the late 7th to the early 8th centuries. The site is designated as a historic site by the municipal government. The area including 9 of the caves is arranged into Oido Yokoana History Park and open to the public.

The largest tomb is 9 meters in total length. A house-shaped chamber, with three platforms to place coffins on is found at the end of the tomb. The walls of another cave are decorated with chisel carvings and painted red with bengara (iron rust). Pieces of beads made of glass, jade, agate and amber have been excavated, from which it is inferred that those are the tombs of a local ruling family.

– In Fukushima Prefecture, the Izumizaki Cave Tumulus or Yokoana Kofun 泉崎横穴, is cut into the tuff cliff in Izumizaki village.

It is an ornamental tumulus of the Late Kofun Age (early 7th century).  On the ceiling and the walls of the coffin-room (depth: 2.2m, width: 2m, height: 1.2m), are depictions of men, animals, horses and eddy patterns, painted in single red color. The tumulus was found and excavated in 1933 as the first found ornamental tumulus in Tohoku area of Japan (p. 17 of Case Studies in the Conservation of Wall Paintings)

Izumizaki Yokoana Kofun murals

Izumizaki Yokoana Kofun murals, Photos: Izumizaki Historical Museum

The tomb culture and images above are similar and appear related to those of the Kiyotosaku 清戸迫横穴 76 rockcut tomb (pictured below Photo courtesy: Fukushima Prefecture Education Board) also belonging to the Kofun culture dating between 300 AD and 700 AD (exact date unknown).

The yokoana with its mural art and solar and pastoral motifs, displayed at the Futaba-Machi’s History and Folklore Museum, a couple of hours north of Tokyo via the coastal railway line between Iwaki and Sendai. (The above yokoana’s  location is near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear zone.)

– Also in Fukushima Prefecture, is another yokoana with striking murals, the Nakada Yokoana Kofun 中田横穴 in Iwaki City

Nakada Yokoana Kofun

6th century Nakada Yokoana Kofun, Iwaki city, Fukushima  Photos: Izumizaki Historical Museum

– In Ishikawa Prefecture, are two very large Hokuriku yokoana tomb clusters 北陸の横穴墓 and Hoozanozuka Yokoana Kofun 法皇山横穴古墳,  and Suzunai Yokoana Kofun 鈴内横穴古墳群

What are the origins of this rockcut tomb technology and who were the yokoana catacomb builders?

Their origins are shrouded in mystery and the migratory tracks of the bringers of the catacomb culture erased by the passing of some 1,400 years. We can, however, consider and deduce a number of things about the catacomb culture by comparing yokoana culture with Catacomb culture found elsewhere:

The earliest rockcut grottoes in Central Asia appeared between 357 A.D. and 384 the caves of Loulan, the caves of Kirzil, the caves of Longmen (near Loyang), those of Yun Kang and the famous Dun-huang in West Gansu (Issner, Ivar Silent Past – Mysterious and Forgotten Cultures of the World, see p. 224). These rockcut caves bore mostly Buddhist cultural artefacts and mural iconography, that, however, do not resemble those found in the Japanese catacombs, despite the fact that Buddhism was filtering into the Japanese islands around this time.

Instead, we find that the Yokoana catacombs of Japan appear closest to those of the Transcaucasian Bronze Age culture called the Kura-Araxes culture (of the Ancient Near East and West Eurasian steppes – see map below) or the catacomb culture  thought to belong to the tribes of the North Caucasus or the descendants of the Proto-Indo-Iranians who are thought to have expanded from the Proto-Indo-European homeland north of the Caspian sea south to the CaucasusCentral Asia, the Iranian plateau, and Northern India.

We are told in The Genesis of North Caucasus Culture … that:

“The cave construction technique has not changed considerably for dozens of millennia. This knowhow reached the greatest perfection in the Caucasus and the Crimea due to their relief and climate.

Since times immemorial, caves were used as sanctuaries, especially connected with the underworld cults. Priests and wizards hearkened to the voice of earth as they performed cave rites. The magic power of the earth’s entrails was believed to penetrate and invigorate them. Indicatively, caves and grottos were ordinary seats of the oracles. As he struggled into the earth’s depths, man was overawed—hence the cults of caves and subterranean demons. Thus, the rock and cave structures of Urartu had their protector deity, Airiani[1].

Caves also served as burial grounds—antecedents of the later catacombs and vaults. This burial culture developed for several thousand years in the oldest areas of Nakh tribal settlement in Chechnya and throughout the Caucasus. For instance, cave burial grounds have been found in many places of the Chechen highlands—in particular, in the vicinity of the Guchan-Kale, Tuskharoi and Bamut villages, while vaults built into rock niches are frequently met in the principal necropolises. … Stone vaults are undersize replicas of dwellings. Dolmens, which preceded them in the Caucasus and were of almost the same shape, were made of cyclopean stone slabs at the time when man began to build dwellings of huge stones.

These parallels between the abodes of the living and the dead are observed in many nations and millennia.”

Thus the Kofun culture may have been derived from one or more of the migrating nomadic-warrior lineages from the Caucasian region, who interacted and intermarried with the East Asian and Hunnic/Xiongnu-Mongolic tribes as they made their way from the Caucasus through Mongolia or North China and down the Korean peninsula and/or with Indo-Iranian migrants via the alternative southern Silk Route through Southeast Asia.

In Eastern Anatolia, the Urartian kings of land of Urartu (also equated with Ararat and the Land of Van) were buried in rock-cut tombs overlooking Lake Van and Urartians were thought to be the Hurri people (the Hoori hero of Japanese royal myths?) a.k.a. Hurrians, and to have spoken the Hurrian language (See Bishop’s “Urartu – Lost Kingdom of Van“). During the 9th century BC, the Urartian State expanded north into the Caucasus and also eastwards across the Zagros Mountains into northwestern Iran, where many rock-cut texts evidence their conquests, influence and presence in the neighboring lands (Urartu, Metropolitan Museum of Art). [Note that Urartian art included the (prototype?) motifs of the triangle rim edgings and the iconic bronze bell that are also features of the Kofun culture.]

The Urartians were also known as the Vanites, and from which we speculate the spread and diffusion of the word Van and associated etymologies  – from the Indo-European and Indo-Aryan usages of Van (Urartian-Hurrian):  Vani(Colchi-Georgian) or Vani-Wani(Pakistani), Vanir(Norse from PIE), Varna (Black Sea-Bulgarian as well as Indian Sanskrit); Varun-Varuna-Waruna (as they variously became known to India, and from which may have derived the Wani clan of Japan, whose totem is the same as the Indian Waruna’s crocodile mount?). Wani is also an Indian caste of Maharashtra, and a sir-name of the Kashmir valley). Varna becomes Vana (of the Swede’s Vanaland) and Vani is anglicized as Wanes, Waynes or Wain. The root of the word “Wain” appears to be associated with PIE metalworking cultures and “waggon”-building or cart-chariot-building, which originated from the Don River or Caucasian region.

Since it is in fact, only in the Ukraine and the North Caucasus that we find the probable provenance of the architecture of the gable roof AND chigi and katsuogi forked finial features that form the familiar and distinctive look of Japanese shrines such as seen in Ise Jingu, and that go back even earlier to the form of the clay haniwa houses found in the royal and elite barrow tombs of the Kofun Period… we may surmise an early connection there.  The technology and culture for the dolmens, the V forked shrine roof finials and cyclopean barrow stoneworks and bronze mirrors (Sarmatian mirrors of the Caucasus were also among the earliest mirrors), not to mention, horse and chariot implements, ostensibly all stem and derive from this region. (In fact, pottery ware and mythology too tie early Japanese culture to the Caucasus-CAS area but must be addressed elsewhere.)

Tripolye_hutCucuteni terracotta modelsNaiku_01crop

Extreme left shows a Cucuteni-Tripolye hut model with pole finials for the roof (see Neolithic Romanian architecture), the middle picture shows a Cucuteni terracotta funerary model of residences, while the far right-hand picture is of the distinctive chigi and katsuogi roof of Naiku Shrine, Ise Jingu. The Naiku forked finial roof (chigi) share the forked finialed roof ends of the Cucuteni terracotta temples (see photo immediately below and the Kofun terracotta structure in the photo below it).

Haniwa house from Imashirozuka Tomb, Takatsuki city, Osaka prefecture. Haniwa / 埴輪 are terracotta clay figures which were made for ritual use and buried with the dead as funerary objects during the Kofun period.

Photo image: Neolithic. Art of the Gods

Source readings and references:

追戸横穴墓群 Oido-yokoana-bo-gun Oido Yokoana Tombs (NIPPON-KICHI website)

Chibusan and Obusan Yokoana Kofun, Japan Geographic

Ozuka Kofun, Kyushu (The Megalithic Portal)

Kofun period by Charles T. Keally

Farris, William Wayne Sacred Texts and Burried Treasures: Issues in the Historical Archaeology of Ancient Japan

Mural paintings of the Kitora burial mound ;Tiger-man image found in tomb (Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan 23, 2002); Stone chamber of Kitora mound on  display for one time only (AWSJ, Jun 2013) 

Visitors will have to look through a glass panel to see the stone chamber of the Kitora mound in Asuka, Nara Prefecture, for a limited period in August. (Provided by the Agency for Cultural Affairs)Stone chamber of the Kitora Mound

Lecture abstracts (by the Institute for the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Properties, Kansai University) of the Nov 13, 2010 International Meeting on Case Studies in the Conservation of Wall Paintings

Izumizaki Historical Museum website

Masafumi, Ito 北陸における横穴墓の諸問題

Kanazuka, Yoshikazu Yoshimi hyakketsu yokoana bogun no kenkyū,  Tōkyō Azekura Shobō 1975

Ichigao Yokoana Kofun

Yoshimi Yokoana Kofun (Youtubev video clip)

Kohl, Philip L. Situating the Kura-Araxes Early Transcaucasian ‘Culture’ within the History of Bronze Age Eurasia  Tel Aviv vol. 36, 2009 241–265

Prehistoric Nagorno-Karabakh, The Kura-Araxes

Catacomb culture (Wikipedia)

R i m a n i s h v i l i, Go d e r d z i na  The Genesis of North Caucasian Material Culture and Chechen Ethnogeny

Trialeti in the 15th and 14th centuries BC

Bishop, R. Troy “Urartu – Lost Kingdom of Van

Urartu” (The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History)

Origins of ‘dragon blood’ or cinnabar use in Japan and the possible origin of the cinnabar mining technology

The Meaning and History of ‘Dragon’s Blood’

Cinnabar, a powdered mineral pigment also known as Dragon's blood

Cinnabar, a powdered mineral pigment also known as Dragon’s blood

The symbolism of cinnabar or dragon’s blood according to The Symbolism of cinnabar or ‘Dragons’ blood:

“Cinnabar was recognized as a mystical powder because it is produced from volcanic and/or hot springs activity. The heat that results in the creation of cinnabar comes from the very heart (centre) of the earth. Its red colour depicts both the heart (blood) and burning embers of a fire. As a result, it has the ability to both foster positivity and cause destruction. The ‘magic’ of cinnabar is that it opens doors of opportunity for the future while putting negative experiences of the past to rest.”

 

According to the website, 

minerals-n-more.com, the word ‘cinnabar’ comes from the Persian word for ‘dragon’s blood’ and cinnabar has been mined since the days of the Roman Empire and it is still ‘harvested’ and used for both practical and metaphysical purposes.

Cinnabar production in Japan

 

The village of Niu (literally meaning “cinnabar producing”) was the producing place of red stones, red soil and vermillion (mercury). It is said that the tribes that had the skills in mining and moved from place to place seeking for mineral resources gave the name to this place. Niu Kawakami Shrine Shimo-sha located in Shimoichi-cho, Yoshino-gun, Nara Prefecture is one of the three Niu Kawakami shrines that have existed since the ancient times. The three shrines are respectively called Kami-sha (the top shrine), Naka-sha (the middle shrine) and Shimo-sha (the bottom shrine). The Shimo shrine enshrines Kura Okami no Kami (the god of water and rain). According to the shrine record, it was founded in 676, when the god said,

“If you set up the holy pillars of my shrine in this deep mountain, I will bring the blessed rain instead of the damaging rain for the people of this country.”.. The present Shimo shrine is thought to have been the ancient Kami shrine. (Source: Nippon-kichi 丹生川上神社下社 Niu-kawakami-jinjya-shimo-sya Niu Kawakami Shrine Shimo-sha)

However, cinnabar use in Japan goes back much earlier to Initial and Early Jomon times, becoming common in Late Jomon times, according to Nelly Nauman’s “Japanese Prehistory: The Material and Spiritual Culture of the Jōmon Period“. Red oxide uses were earlier known widely used in burial rituals but as early as Early Jomon, was also used for lacquering wooden and clay vessels. Red was also a popular colour not just in tomb burial usage, but also for colouring craft and fashion items (see The color red and Jomon people).

But the earliest cinnabar ores and production implements were found from the Ojibar site of the Late Jomon period and painted objects from the Shimoda site in Gunma prefecture. Cinnabar production of items for trade was seen from sites south of Ise, like Morizoe and Tenpaku.  

Tracing the industry of cinnabar production:
The earliest use of the cinnabar mineral is from the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük in Turkey (7000-8000 BC) where wall paintings included cinnabar’s vermillion. “The primary prehistoric use of the mineral was grinding it to create vermillion”, according to Cinnabar: History of Mercury Mineral Use. The article also puts the use of cinnabar as a pigment beginnning ~5300 BC. Lead isotope analysis identified the provenance of these cinnabar pigments as coming from the Almaden district deposits[Iberian peninsula]. (see Consuegra et al. 2011).

Also important locations, according to the above article, on the early cinnabar trail are:

“The Neolithic Vinca culture (4800-3500 BC), located in the Balkans and including the Serbian sites of Plocnik, Belo Brdo, and Bubanj, among others, were early users of cinnabar, likely mined from the Suplja Stena mine on Mount Avala, 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) from Vinca. Cinnabar occurs in this mine in quartz veins; Neolithic quarrying activities are attested here by the presence of stone tools and ceramic vessels near ancient mine shafts.

In China, the earliest known use of cinnabar is the Yangshao culture (~4000-3500 BC). At several sites, cinnabar covered the walls and floors in buildings used for ritual ceremonies. Cinnabar was among a range of minerals used used to paint Yangshao ceramics, and, at Taosi village, cinnabar was sprinkled into elite burials.”

In both Mesoamerica and South America, cinnabar was an important trade item. The Mayan may have considered cinnabar to be sacred because of its red color. Red was considered to be the color of the east, and may also have symbolized blood as well as life, though there is no solid evidence for this.The ancient Maya used cinnabar in their jewelry, set into incised decorations, as a paint pigment and as part of certain rituals such as funeral rituals and rituals involving fire. For rituals involving fire, Mayan priests would burn cinnabar to release the mercury.
Since Olmec culture is thought to be derived from the Chinese migrants of the Shang dynasty, it is possible that cinnabar use and mining technology came from the China. In 1975, Betty Meggers of the Smithsonian Institution argued that the Olmec civilization originated due to Shang Chinese influences around 1200 BC. Olmec culture shares both cinnabar and jade production techniques.
Cinnabar: Its brutal history and transformation Catherine’s Blog About Jewelry, Gemstones, wrote:
“Theophrastus (372 BC- 288 BC), a Greek naturalist, mentions the use of cinnabar as early as the 6th century BC.  But early Chinese objects show traces as far back as the second millenium BC.  The Romans mined cinnabar ores for mercury near the Gulf of Trieste and in Almaden, Spain (home of the largest mercury mine in the world).  Several of these mercury mines are still in use today, 2500 years later. According to Rome’s famous engineer, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (90-20 BC), miners of cinnabar ore quickly showed poisonous effects:  tremors, extreme mood changes and loss of hearing progressing to severe mental derangement and death.  The Romans solved the problem of  toxicity by turning the cinnabar mines into penal institutions for criminals, slaves and other undesirables….
The Chinese realized the problems of mercury poisoning early on and, during the Sung Dynasty (960-1279), developed a technique that mimicked the carving of real cinnabar called “tsuishu”.  The core of many pieces of jewelry was made of wood, then usually 100 to 300 layers of lacquer were applied.  Each layers was allowed to dry for one day and then lightly polished.  A motif was then carved into the piece.  This was better than carving genuine cinnabar, but, unfortunately, to get the prized red color, the lacquer often had powdered mercuric sulfide added to it”.

Cinnabar is known to have been used for at least 2,000 years as part of Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medicines and is still used in at least 46 traditional Chinese patent medicines today, making up between 11-13% of Zhu-Sha-An-Shen-Wan, a popular over-the-counter traditional medicine for insomnia, anxiety and depression.

At present, it is uncertain whether cinnabar production techniques in early Japan came from China and Western China sources, or the Caucasus-Siberian Altai Transbaikalian cultures.

On Kamchatka Penin., at the Tamvatney deposit, cinnabar is represented in the composition of silification list-wanites; on the Chukchi Penin. – in the composition of quartzites and linariteof the Plamennoye deposit; and in Rep. of Tyva – in the composition of sandstones of the Terligkhaiskiy ore center. In the Ukraine, in Donetsk Region, quartzites with inclusions of cinnabar are known at the Nikitovka deposit, and at the Borkut deposit they described diorite porphyrites with cinnabar. In Kyrgyzstan, at the Chonksoy deposit, list-wanites are enriched with cinnabar. In Kazakhstan, at the Khaidarakan deposit, calcareous-quartz breccia is enriched with cinnabar, and at the Chagan Uzun deposit – limestone with cinnabar. In Tadzhikistan, similar rocks of the Dzhizhikrut deposit are brecciated limestones and barytocalcite with cinnabar. In the Priasovje territorz cinnabar has been extracted before A.D. According Herodot, red paint was received from it by Greeks. The Scythian name of the paint – “cannabis” – was close to its Greek name cinnabar – kinnabaris. It’s possible to assume that cinnabar is a word of the Scythian origin…. In China, cinnabar is added into varnishes as a coloring pigment for painting on caskets and other souvenirs.” — Source: Cinnabar (Russian Minerological Society)

However, we might infer a Chinese origin for cinnabar use since its use is closely associated with lacquering techniques, and the Kyoto National Museum attributes the Japanese lacquerware culture as of Chinese origins, see Chinese Carved Lacquerware:

“the lacquer tree grows not only in Japan, but in Southeast Asia, China, Korea and other parts of Asia. The lacquer tree does not, however, grow in Europe or America. In the West, lacquerware was often called “japan,” showing that lacquerware-making is an Asian art. 

The history and culture of Japan, however, are not nearly as old as those of China! From the very beginnings, when Japan was still called the Yamato Taikoku and was ruled by the Empress Himiko, Japan has looked up to China and imported Chinese culture. This also relates to lacquerware; the Japanese actually learned the art of making lacquerware from China…”

Source readings:

The symbolism of Cinnabar or ‘Dragon’s Blood’

Cinnabar (Wikipedia)

Cinnabar: Its brutal history and transformation Catherine’s Blog About Jewelry, Gemstones

The Symbolism of cinnabar or ‘Dragons’ blood

Nelly Nauman “Japanese Prehistory: The Material and Spiritual Culture of the Jōmon Period

Nippon-kichi 丹生川上神社下社 Niu-kawakami-jinjya-shimo-sya Niu Kawakami Shrine Shimo-sha)

Cinnabar (Russian Minerological Society)

Rutherford J. Gettens, Robert L. Feller and W. T. Chase, Vermilion and Cinnabar . Chase Studies in Conservation Vol. 17, No. 2 (May, 1972), pp. 45-69

minerals-n-more.com

For photos of cinnabar-use in fashion and craft objects of the Jomon era, see:

The molding and beauty of Jomon culture

Exhibit of ancient ornaments shows fashion’s long history (Jun 5, 2013, Asahi Shimbun) a permanent link here.

Chinese Carved Lacquerware(A Kyoto National Museum page)

The Japanese rain-doctor(wizard), Sekison rain-stones and white and black horse symbolism

Ooyama.jpg

Pictured above: Mt. Oyama or Afuriyama or Afurisan, “Rainfall-inducing Great Mountain” (Source of photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Japanese rain wizard or sorcerer

The Japanese shaman of the Yayoi period onwards resembled the Shibi shaman of the Qiangic people, he was the rain sorcerer, the intercessor for bountiful harvests and for successful outcomes in major events and to reverse the bad luck during disasters. His role is to lead in sacred dances to influence the divinities and during activities that entail the “worshipping divinities, praying for divine blessing, holding funerals, exorcizing diseases and demons, and also praying for rain when in drought”. Taoist rain dances using sacred Big Dipper swords are still performed in Japanese Shinto shrines, have an origin in China.

Etching of shaman found on Yayoi pottery shard (Photo source: Heritage of Japan)

The  Taoist rain sorcerer’s dance has also survived in essentially-the-same form with southern Chinese migrants to other parts of Asia, especially in the relic dance of the Tang-ki shaman rain-sorcerer’s dance which is a veneration of King or Emperor Yu, the first ruler of the Xia dynasty and the earliest recorded archetype of the Chinese rain sorcerer. See  The Tang-Ki as Cosmic Actor by Margaret Chan, cf. p. 7):

“The tang-ki ritual sword has a double-edged blade engraved with the zig-zag pattern of the constellation and is believed to be imbued with the very spirit of the star group, so that the sword is worshipped as a deity in its own right. The zig-zag star motif is one of the twelve imperial insignias and can be seen printed on all sorts of talismans”

The Taoist associations with weather prayers and raindances seem borne out at least with the sword-waving dance offering of the Yasaka shrine during the Ine Festival, prayers for abundant crops, as well fish-catches. Similar tachifuri sword dances such as the Tabayashi-juni-kagura handed down at Tabayashi Atago Shrine are held at the ruins of Marumori Castle in Marumori Town, Miyagi Prefecture, as well as at the  Kono Jinja Shrine during the Aoi Festival (source).  The annual festival held April 24 at Kono Shrine in Miyazu City, Kyoto Prefecture is also called the Aoi Matsuri. From the Encyclopedia of Shinto, on the Aoi Festival:
Known as the sword-waving rite (tachi-furi shinji), swords three shaku long (about 90.9 centimeters) are enclosed inside poles four shaku long. Tassels of paper are attached to both ends of the poles, which are then positioned on the backs and at the hips of the performers and waved about. They also join in an accompanying festive song known as the sasa-bayashi. The livestock market held during this Aoi Festival is called the Aoi ushiichi (“Aoi cow market”).
The Budo World blog has more on the Big Dipper associations of the Taoist sword (see The Sword of Ancient Taoism) and its diffusion path to Japan via Korea. However, in our article Dragon-slaying sacred swords and kusa-nagi grass-cutters, we explore our theory that the idea of dragon-slaying sacred swords may have been of North-west Indian and/or Iranic origins.
Rain doctor/wizards who summon the rain with rain-stones on rain-making mountains

The clearest evidence of the rain sorcerer practice is perhaps to be found in the relic Oyama cult on Mt. Oyama’s Oyamadera temple-shrine complex in Kanagawa. Although the temple is also Buddhist, the syncretic Buddhist and Shinto elements both reveal the early rain-related functions and Omayadera’s main hall was first constructed in 1900 at the site exactly where Afurisan Oyamadera used to stand. The name Afuri of the Shrine is short for Amefuri, which is literally “rainfall.” As the word indicates, Oyama is believed to be a rain doctor, and in time of drought, farmers conducted special service of prayers to the god of the Shrine for rain. See the Oyama Afuri Jinja Shrine article on the history and practices of the temple-shrine complex:

“In the early times, there was a shrine called Sekison atop Mt. Oyama, which is 1252 meters above sea level, enshrining a natural, giant and holy stone as its principal object of worship. (Seki is a stone and son is a honorific suffix). Halfway up the mountain, they built a temple sacred to Fudo Myo-o in association with the stone statue Priest Roben had found. In other words, it had a Shinto shrine on the top, and Buddhist (Shingon) temple in the mid-slope of the mountain. Like other temple/shrine complex, however, Buddhist elements were more pronounced in this complex as well, and it was Buddhist priests, if anything, who controlled the institution. In the Shrine’s case, Shingon Esoteric Buddhism prevailed under the name of Afurisan Oyamadera, which, is literally a “rainfall-inducing-great-mountain” temple and Sekison was called Sekison Daigongen. (Gongen denotes manifestation of Buddha).

Meanwhile, people in Kanagawa and western Tokyo knew that if the top of the mountain was veiled by clouds, it would rain momentarily. At a long spell of dry weather, they offered a prayer and petition for rainfall to Sekison enshrined at the top of the mountain as if Sekison had been a rain doctor. Hence the Shrine was called Afurisan, or rainmaker-mountain. Incidentally, the present name Afuri of Afuri Jinja is also short for a rainfall in Japanese.”

For more on rainstones and rain doctors or rain wizards, see A study of rain deities and rain wizards of Japan.

We also know historically that Kukai or Kobo-Daishi “the Grand Master who propagated Buddhist Teaching”, did more than teach Buddhist beliefs, he summoned the rain which involved a rite to summon the third nāga princess of the Nāga King Sāgara, the emanation of Cintāmaṇicakra Avalokitēśvara Bodhisattva to come from the snowy mountains of the Himalayas. (Kukai arrived in Fujian but proceeded to Changan and he studied Chinese Buddhism in earnest at  the famous Tang dynasty Ximingsi temple as well as Sanskrit with the Gandharan pandit Prajñā (734-810) who had been educated at the Indian Buddhist university at Nalanda. He was also initiated into esoteric Buddhist traditions upon meeting in 805 Master Hui-kuo (746 – 805) at Changan’s Qinglong Monastery (青龍寺).)

Shrines were often established and dedicated to rain or water gods. According to the records of the Niu kawakami shrine, it was founded in 676, when the god said, “If you set up the holy pillars of my shrine in this deep mountain, I will bring the blessed rain instead of the damaging rain for the people of this country.” Niu Kawakami Shrine’s Lower Shimo-sha located in Shimoichi-cho, Yoshino-gun, Nara Pref. is one of the three Niu Kawakami shrines that have existed since the ancient times and it enshrines Kura Okami no Kami (the god of water and rain(Source: Nippon-kichi).

Rain dances and Dipper sword dances

Compare the roles of the Japanese rain-sorcerer to the Shibi sorcerers of the Qiang group (CulturalChina.com) below:

“Within the settlement of Qiang Ethnic Group in the upper reaches of Min River of Sichuan Province, sorcerers are called Shibi in the southern dialect. …

In the primitive society, like other ancient ethnic groups with a long history, Qiang Ethnic Group could not understand many natural phenomena. They vaguely felt that there seemed to be supernatural force underlying happiness, affliction, success and failure. They looked forward to times of good harvests, prosperity and peace, thus giving birth to Shibi. As the messenger of divinities, Shibi is a key figure who holds varied conventional activities like sacrificial ceremonies and who spreads culture of Qiang Ethnicity. Dancing runs through all sacrifices and other conventional activities which are held in Qiang settlement. Shibi presides at all these activities, so he is the indispensable protagonist. Therefore, not only is Shibi an important figure presiding at various activities, but he is also an art teacher good at singing and dancing, as well as a proactive creator of folk dances of Qiang Ethnic Group. By fulfilling his sacred obligations, Shibi plays a decisive role in the content and form of Qiang dances.

Qiang Ethnic Group will carry out activities of offering sacrifices, under such circumstances as worshipping divinities, praying for divine blessing, holding funerals, exorcizing diseases and demons, and also praying for rain when in drought. During these activities, there will be a traditional folk ceremony called Buzila, namely sheepskin-drum dance. Dancing while beating a drum, Shibi will carry a sacred stick on his shoulder, and hold in his hand a dish-like bell made of copper. Besides, when there is a battle, hunting or memorial ceremony for national heroes, Shibi will run around outside the altar, holding a torch and wearing cowhide loricae. He will stoutly lead people in the “loricae dance”. Moreover, at wedding ceremonies, Shibi is characterized by easy and slow motions, gentle behavior, and melodious incantations which seem to pray that the newly-wed will always enjoy happiness, prosperity and good luck. Everything done by Shibi seems to be making arrangement for life. Consequently, he is the most authoritative in the conventions and life of the entire Qiang Ethnic Group. The deity genealogy of an ethnic group is a complicated system of cultural symbols, by means of which the group understands, reflects, interprets and controls its society. Shibi is recognized as the critical link of this system. Accordingly, Shibi occupies an eminent position and plays an essential role in dances of Qiang Ethnic Group. “Dancing is very solemn and grand for them. It is more a religious ritual and special incantation than entertainment.”

Buzila (sheepskin-drum dance) is popular in places like Wenchuan and Lixian Counties. No matter whether the dance is to exert mysterious magic influence on divinities or to entertain them, its ultimate purpose is to pursue prosperity by asking divinities for protection.”

Incidentally, the name Shibi is still a rather commonplace in Japan, as a location name and names can be found in the earliest historical chronicles of Japan.

See also Rain dances of Qiang ethnic group.

The many Kojindani’s swords – largest cache discovered in Japan (Kojindani Museum) were likely ritual swords used to summon rain. According to the Kojindani Museum, the swords originated from China. See Taiji sword dance of Wudang mountain and we have already mentioned the Taoist sword and rain-sorcerer’s dances above.

Rain related symbols and ritual objects – white horses, roosters and dragon-serpents

White horse, black horse symbolism Other practices that originated from China (but which may have had earlier roots in Scythic-Indo-Saka steppeland practices elsewhere) were the offerings of black and white horses such as the ones still seen at the Festival at Niu Kawakami Shinto shrine in Shimoichi-cho, Nara. The shrine has revived an ancient ceremony once held as a state festival in 763 — the Imperial court would present a black horse to the water deity at the shrine or a white horse to stop excessive rains and damage from the tsunami/typhoon.

White horse sacrifices were also presented at the Kifune-jinja, see A study of rain deities and rain-wizards of Japan. The Kamigamo shrine of descendants of the Kamo clan, still keeps a sacred white horse tethered in a small hut, see photo here and here. The practice of keeping sacred or sacrificial white horses died away as Buddhist prohibitions against taking animal lives, led to votive ema offerings as substitutes, see photo of ema white horse votive tablets here.

Cosmic Couple dance around the Cosmic Pillar The mytheme of the Primordial Couple and Cosmic Pillar is closely connected with Chinese The Deluge or Diluvial concepts (see the Handbook of Chinese mythology – origin of flood myths, Nuwa legends and brother and sister primordial pair and Miao cosmic pillar courtship dance) and manifest the common origin of the origin of the Japanese cosmic couple Izanagi and Izanami (although the roots of the myth appear to have been Iranic-Vedic in character, so a common Iranic connection or influence is possible see # below).

Rooster symbolism

Japan also shares the Rooster symbolism of the Miao people – image of cock summoning Dawn. And although the cock is mainly known for its Underworld funerary associations, additionally, “in the Miao’s flood myths, the thunder god is in charge of the rain, and the image of the thunder god is a rooster.” (See Chicken and Family Prosperity: Marital ritual among the Miao in Southwest China).

Other rain-connected mythemes of common East Asian origin are dragon and serpent concepts connected with rain and spring sources and with immortality concepts (see Towadako: Lake so popular a dragon and serpent fought over itToyo no Kuni and the Spring of Immortality.)  The ubiquitous rain dragon symbols in Japan clearly have a Chinese connection (see the Evolution of the Chinese dragon symbol)

Rain drums and bronze bells

Other symbols connected with rain are bronze drums and bronze bells.

Diorama depicting how a Yayoi bronze bell may have been used (Photo source: Heritage of Japan)

Bronze bells and drums are also a symbol of rain-making pleas for agricultural communities of Japan and China… and Southeast Asia. The use of rain bronze drums and bronze bells(see Treasure! Bronze bells and magical mirrors), for instance, appears to have been a key cultural of the southerly tribes in Yunnan (see Ancient bronze bells at Jianshui, Yunnan) and Dong son tribes of Vietnam. The early rain drums of Jomon and Yayoi were however, superceded by the taiko prototypes from Central Asia (possibly of Indian or Indian-Saka origin).

Bronze bells were almost certainly used in agricultural ritual or festive contexts, as depicted in the context of tribal festivity shown in the ancient mural in Yunnan, China.

Bronze bells were almost certainly used in agricultural ritual or festive contexts, as depicted in the context of tribal festivity shown in the ancient mural in Yunnan, China.

The genetic connection and ancient continental links

Two genetic connections with Chinese prehistoric populations and the Japanese are evident in the M7 haplogroup of the Miao tribe (Early Japanese belong to the M7 (mtDNA) family of Austronesian Southeast Asia), as well as in the Y-DNA O3 haplogroup connection between Di-Qiang and the Japanese prehistoric population, see Zhao YB, et al., Ancient DNA evidence supports the contribution of Di-Qiang people to the Han Chinese gene poolAm J Phys Anthropol. 2011 Feb;144(2):258-68. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.21399. Epub 2010 Sep 24.

“Han Chinese is the largest ethnic group in the world. During its development, it gradually integrated with many neighboring populations. To uncover the origin of the Han Chinese, ancient DNA analysis was performed on the remains of 46 humans (1700 to 1900 years ago) excavated from the Taojiazhai site in Qinghai province, northwest of China, where the Di-Qiang populations had previously lived. In this study, eight mtDNA haplogroups (A, B, D, F, M*, M10, N9a, and Z) and one Y-chromosome haplogroup (O3) were identified. All analyses show that the Taojiazhai population presents close genetic affinity to Tibeto-Burman populations (descendants of Di-Qiang populations) and Han Chinese, suggesting that the Di-Qiang populations may have contributed to the Han Chinese genetic pool.”

Furthermore, regarding the Chinese creation myth, it is interesting to note that Derk Bodde, believed the Pangu myth “to be of non-Chinese origin” (Bodde 1961:383) and who linked it to the ancestral mythologies of the peoples such as Miao people and Yao people in southern China. (Source: Professor Qin Naichang, head of the Guangxi Institute for Na, Chinese creation myth). Given the similarity with Japanese myths of the emergence from caves of deities, of the primordial pair, jade tadpole symbolism, gourd tales, sacrifices to rice spirits, underworld worldview, there is also a possibility that these beliefs issued from the wild Wa country in Northern Indo-China, which may have been connected to the Japan’s Wa-kuni (Wa country) of the Yayoi Period (see Anthropogonic myths of the Wa in Northern Indo-China by Taryo Obayashi). Thus a more southerly proto-Mongoloid provenance of such beliefs should also be contemplated and explored.

For comparing similarities in the gene pools of Chinese and Japanese populations (suggesting affinities or common origins), see other relevant sources below:

The population in Yunnan, like the population in Japan, are predominantly of the Y-DNA haplogroup D (with YAP+alleles*)…as are the Japanese whose Y-DNA haplogroups are D-P37.1 (34.7%) and therefore suggest common or close ancestral origins in ancient times. For sources see Shi, Hong et al. (2008). “Y chromosome evidence of earliest modern human settlement in East Asia and multiple origins of Tibetan and Japanese populations”BMC Biology (BioMed Central6: 45. doi:10.1186/1741-7007-6-45PMC 2605740PMID 18959782YAP in 25 ethnic groups from Yunnan China and The geographic polymorphisms of Y chromosome at YAP locus among 25 ethnic groups in Yunnan, China also studies by Shi Hong et al.

*The YAP allele defines haplogroup DE of the human Y-chromosome phylogeny, which joins together the haplogroup E, found in Negroids and Caucasoids, with haplogroup D, found mainly among Mongoloids, including the archaic Ainu, but also non-Mongoloid populations such as the Andaman Islanders. It has also been suggested that the patrilines belonging to haplogroup D are possibly the first modern human groups in East Asia based on the Out of Africa theory because their ancestor haplogroup DE is found in Africans in Nigeria along with Tibetan in East Asia (Source: Shi, Hong et al. (2008). “Y chromosome evidence of earliest modern human settlement in East Asia and multiple origins of Tibetan and Japanese populations”.

A 2007 study by Nonaka et al. reported that Japanese males in the Kantō region, which includes the Greater Tokyo Area, mainly belong to haplogroup D-M55 (48%), haplogroup O2b (31%), haplogroup O3 (15%) (see Nonaka, I.; Minaguchi, K.; Takezaki, N. (February 2, 2007). “Y-chromosomal Binary Haplogroups in the Japanese Population and their Relationship to 16 Y-STR Polymorphisms”. Annals of Human Genetics(John Wiley & Sons71 (Pt 4): 480–95. doi:10.1111/j.1469-1809.2006.00343.xPMID 17274803.)

Nonaka I et al., Y-chromosomal binary haplogroups in the Japanese population and their relationship to 16 Y-STR polymorphismsAnn Hum Genet. 2007 Jul;71(Pt 4):480-95. Epub 2007 Feb 2.

Using 47 biallelic markers we distinguished 20 haplogroups, four of which (D2b1/-022457, O3/-002611*, O3/-LINE1 del, and O3/-021354*) were newly defined in this study. Most haplogroups in the Japanese population are found in one of the three major clades, C, D, or O. Among these, two major lineages, D2b and O2b, account for 66% of Japanese Y chromosomes. Haplotype diversity of binary markers was calculated at 86.3%. The addition of 16 Y-STR markers increased the number of haplotypes to 225, yielding a haplotype diversity of 99.40%. A comparison of binary haplogroups and Y-STR type revealed a close association between certain binary haplogroups and Y-STR allelic or conformational differences, such as those at the DXYS156Y, DYS390m, DYS392, DYS437, DYS438 and DYS388 loci.

# Note the possible Iranic interaction sphere and provenance of the primordial couple mytheme from Michael C. Witzel’s Vala and Iwato – The Myth of the Hidden Sun:

…there are indications of the high status of brother-sister marriage in a wide swath, between Egypt, Iran48 and Polynesia where it occurred as late as the early 1800’s. King Kamehameha who unified the Hawaiian islands was born of one such carefully planned union, which made him magically strong.49…..

Apparently even primordial incest between siblings was not tolerated both in Yamato and in Vedic myth. Instead, the union of Susa.no Wo and Amaterasu is carefully obscured, and this is matched in the Veda where incest50 between brother and sister was likewise forbidden even for the first mortals (Yama and Yamī, RV 10.14), while it was allowed in Iran. The intriguing Apålå hymn (RV 8.91, Schmidt 1987) tells, again in a rather veiled fashion, of a marriage proposal made by the young Apålå to the great demiurge god Indra. In this hymn51 a young woman, Apålå, is looking for a husband. She goes down to a river, finds and chews some Soma stalks (A 6). The clanking of her teeth is enough to attract Indra, who yearns for his favorite Soma drink. The similarity with Amaterasu is clear: both women, standing at the river (of heaven) invite their partner to produce children or to marry, both chew some objects and exchange the results. Such food exchange is typical for many marriage ceremonies. Apålå is to be regarded as Indra’s wife.52 Usually a wife does not carry a name of her own but is called, like most other Vedic goddesses, after the husband: she is Indrå􏰁ī, ‘the one belonging to Indra…

…there are indications of the high status of brother-sister marriage in a wide swath, between Egypt, Iran48 and Polynesia where it occurred as late as the early 1800’s. King Kamehameha who unified the Hawaiian islands was born of one such carefully planned union, which made him magically strong.49…..

Footnote no. 49:

In India, the Buddhist version of the Råmåyana, too, has the conjugal pair Råma and Sītå as siblings, which fits the Iranian-like concepts of some dynasties of eastern North India (Buddha legend, see Witzel, forthc. §2, with n. 101 sqq). Note that the marriage between Adam and Eve fits the Iranian version closely: though the ‘birth of Eve’ from Adam’s rib is an isolated feature, both are ‘siblings’ like Yima/*Yamī, the later Jam/Jai in Iran; the motif is not found in the RV, though Parśu (‘the rib/sow’) is said to have had of 20 children (10.86.23 parśur ha nåma månavī såka􏰆 sasūva vi􏰆śatim).

Source references and readings:

Shibi sorcerers of the Qiang group (CulturalChina.com)

Notes: Qiangic populations and their traditions and beliefs

Witzel, M., Vala and Iwato – The Myth of the Hidden Sun

Han Xiaorong (1998) The Present Echoes of the Ancient Bronze Drum: Nationalism and Archeology in Modern Vietnam and China A Journal of the Southeast Asian Studies Student Association, Vol 2, No. 2 Fall 1998

Articles also by me (Aileen Kawagoe @ Heritage of Japan):

The Adoration of the Sword: Dragon-slaying sacred swords and kusa-nagi grass-cutters

Magic, superstitions, religious rituals of the Yayoi culture

A study of rain deities and rain wizards of Japan.

Treasure! Bronze bells and magical mirrors

Role of a shaman

Kukai (Wikipedia); Ximingsi temple

The adoration of the sword: ‘Kusa-nagi’ grass-cutter conquering sword and dragon-slaying sacred swords

The Serpent With Eight Heads, French ed. 1897(Meiji 30) Photo: KUFS

The Serpent With Eight Heads, French ed. 1897(Meiji 30) Photo: KUFS

The sacred sword called the ‘kusanagi-no-tsurugi’ has been written about in both academic and popular literature a great deal (for eg., see The kusanagi sword by Nelly Nauman) because it is a part of the Imperial Regalia of Japanese royalty, and because as an emblem of mythical dragon-slaying heroes such as Susanoo who slew the Eight Headed Yamato-no-Orochi Serpent (see Protocol of the Gods: A Study of the Kasuga Cult in Japanese History by Allan G. Grapard, cf. p. 43) … such sacred swords with magical powers have captured the imagination of man through the ages.

Catalogue No. 113    資料ID:513368(書誌詳細画面へ接続) Photo: KUFS

Catalogue No. 113
   資料ID:513368(書誌詳細画面へ接続) Photo: KUFS

Ritual swords have been found in Japanese archaeological sites since much earlier times, and have been kept alive in the imagination of the Japanese through Shrine festivals that feature the tachifuri sword dance, kaguras such as Aramai or Furious Dance which involves the Setsurugi/Tetsurugi or Hand sword: 

This dance is also called “Three-men-passing-through Dance,” and is said to ward off evils by three gods and an enchantment dance to avoid disasters. But it is unknown what the dance shows because there is no verse of the dance. First, three dancers without masks perform furiously, and after taking off their masks, they pass through each other holding their swords and drawing a circle, which is a thrilling and interesting program.

Early ritual sword dance symbolism, is seen in the ritual swords and in the Taoist sword performances in China, Korea and Japan that retain Star constellation, particularly the Dipper associations. These Taoist influences from Tang dynasty China probably survived and gained momentum during the Achaemenid-Sasanian-Persian eras –  (for reference, see the Taiji sword dance of Wudang mountain and The Tang-Ki as Cosmic Actor by Margaret Chan, cf. p. 7):

“The tang-ki ritual sword has a double-edged blade engraved with the zig-zag pattern of the constellation and is believed to be imbued with the very spirit of the star group, so that the sword is worshipped as a deity in its own right. The zig-zag star motif is one of the twelve imperial insignias and can be seen printed on all sorts of talismans”

The Taoist associations with weather prayers and rain-dances seem borne out at least with the sword-waving dance offering of the Yasaka shrine during the Ine Festival, that are effectively prayers for abundant crops, as well fish-catches. Similar tachifuri sword dances such as the Tabayashi-juni-kagura handed down at Tabayashi Atago Shrine are held at the ruins of Marumori Castle in Marumori Town, Miyagi Prefecture, as well as at the  Kono Jinja Shrine during the Aoi Festival (source).  The annual festival held April 24 at Kono Shrine in Miyazu City, Kyoto Prefecture is also called the Aoi Matsuri. From the Encyclopedia of Shinto, on the Aoi Festival:
Known as the sword-waving rite (tachi-furi shinji), swords three shaku long (about 90.9 centimeters) are enclosed inside poles four shaku long. Tassels of paper are attached to both ends of the poles, which are then positioned on the backs and at the hips of the performers and waved about. They also join in an accompanying festive song known as the sasa-bayashi. The livestock market held during this Aoi Festival is called the Aoi ushiichi (“Aoi cow market”).
The Budo World blog has a well-written article on the Big Dipper associations of the Taoist sword, see The Sword of Ancient Taoism and the diffusion of the sword practice and meaning to Japan via Korea.

The most elaborate and ornate and famous swords of all, are the swords with ostensible Iranian (Achaemenid or Sasanian) styles have been found from the Kofun tumulus era of Japan.

We seek to explore the possible origins of the word ‘kusanagi’ and also the proto-types for the sword. It is our contention today that the idea and etymology of the word  kusanagi-no tsurugi’ sword (tsurugi means sword) has its roots in the Indo-Scythian spheres:

The Word “Kusa”

The word “kusa” is a word from the ancient Sanskrit language.  In ancient India the word became the name for a storied, ceremonial grass:  the sacred kusa grass.  The legend of a “sacred grass” rises out of the mists of time at the beginning of history in the ancient East.   At the root of the legendary kusa grass resides one of humanity’s great myths. Click on this link for more on Kusa “Sacred Grass.”

About The Word “Kusa

The word “kusa” is a word from the ancient Sanskrit language.  In the fullness of time, the word came to be used in India as a name for a storied, ceremonial sacred grass:  the kusa grass.  Behind the legendary kusa grass lies one of humanity’s great myths.  The legend of a “sacred grass” rises out of the mists of time at the beginning of history in the ancient East.Just as a human mother nourishes her offspring, humanity at the beginning of history perceived a “great vegetal mother” whose green plants made human life possible through nourishment.

Humanity’s ancient legend of a special “sacred grass” (the kusa grass), pays tribute at its root to this concept of a great vegetal mother whose botanic bounty sustains all life on earth.

The cereal grains are humanity’s most important, renewable, human food resource.  As such, they have rightly been called “culture elements” (pillars of civilization).  Because of their life-or-death importance, the cereal grasses have been from time immemorial respected as “sacred grasses” by many peoples around the world.

We thus believe from the origins of the word ‘kusa-nagi’ that the origins of Japanese royal mythology lie in the Hindu Kush region in the area where the Rgveda was written (RV, Pāli, Prakrit; Gypsy – Dardic (Kalasha, Shina, etc.) – Sindhi – Lahnda Panjabi – W. Pahari- Kumaoni – Nepali – Assamese – Bengali – Bihari – Maithili – Hindi - O. Marwari – Gujarati – Marathi – Sinhala) …and in the culture of the Indo-Saka Iranian Scythian tribes, a small elite tribe who likely made their way to Japan and who likely made significant contributions to the tumulus culture of the Kofun era.

The legendary hero Susanoo is specifically noted as having saved the ashinanuchi i.e., the deity of the Ashina clan (descendants of the Xiongu clan and royal elites of the ancient Turks). The Ashina clan is known to have formed the royal elites of the Indo-Saka tribes (the word ‘Ashina’ is said to have come from one of the Saka languages of central Asia and means “blue”, gök in Turkic) as well as the Khazaria state. Indo-Sakas are Central Asian Scythians, thought to be hybrids of Indo-Aryan Scythians (attested by Vedic sources) and Eastern Hunnish races such as the Xiongnu and Ashina. Indo-Sakas and the Ashina have close and interchanging relations. Ashina survives as geographical locations (e.g. Ashina-gun county, Hiroshima and Ashina-Hayama, Kanagawa) and a clan family name in Japan, see feudal lord Ashina Yoshiro of Aizu (芦名義広/蘆名義広) . ‘Kusa’ is sacred grass in Indo-European language Sanskrit and its usage is most prominently seen among the Indo-sakkas to the later Kushan and Khotanese-Saka tribes.  Read more at Kusa and Kusanagi: A word about grass and the grasscutter sword for a fuller exposition of the etymology and origins of the ‘kusanagi’.  A lot more is written about The Search for Kusanagi, the Lost Imperial Sword here as well as at the Wikipedia article Tsurugi.

Ritual swords

On the matter of ritual swords, the most famous among which, is probably the seven-branched sword ‘Nanatsusaya no Tachi’ mentioned in Nihon Shoki and given by the King of Baekje (though whether in tribute vassalage is a matter of huge historical controversy), see The Art of Swords and the Seven-Branched Sword. The original sword is kept by the Isonokami Shrine (see video clip) in Nara Prefecture of Japan and is not shown to the public, but a replica is on display at the War Memorial in SeoulSouth Korea, called chiljido. According to Isonokami Shrine, “this sword was presented by the King of Paekche in the 52nd year of the regency of the Empress Jingu (372)”. The Shrine further informs the visitors that:

The god Futsu-no-mitama-no-ookami, enshrined in Isonokami Jingu Shrine, is the deification of the sword said to be owned by the god Takemikazuchi-no-kami. Futsu-no-mitama-no-ookami has been known from ancient times as the god who protects the state and keeps peace among the people, as well as being the patron god of the accomplishment of all things.

In Japanese mythology it is said that this god (the sword god) contributed to the subjugation of the country, and also defeated false gods and rebels on the eastern campaign of Emperor Jimmu (the mythological first emperor, said to have been enthroned in the 7th century B.C.) . Thereafter, Emperor Jimmu commanded Umashimaji-no-mikoto, the ancestor of the Mononobe clan said to be the head of the warriors, to enshrine this sword eternally within the imperial court. Later, during the reign of Emperor Suijin (around the 1st century B.C.) the sword was transferred from the court to Takaniwa of Isonokami-furu, the present site, and this was said to be the origination of Isonokami Jingu Shrine.

Since then the emperors worshipped this shrine, donated many weapons in preparation for any emergeney in the state and prayed for harmony in especially during times of war. The shrine also received the worship of famous generals and warriors. Many clans offered sacred treasures to the storehouse called Hokura and prayed for the safety of the imperial family and for the peace of the state.

Analysis shows that the sword’s origins lie in Jin Dynasty China in 369, although Korea claims the sword was originally made in Paekche (or Baekje), the Korean kingdom.

Seven blades of the sword likely correspond to the astral symbolism of seven stars (or seven rishis) of the Big Dipper in Taoism, that may have been adopted from other Central Asian religions of the time. From The Art of Swords:

“The link between belief in seishin (the stars and constellations) and the sword dates back a very long time. For instance, in the text “Kokon Token-roku” (a record of ancient and modern swords), during the Xia Dynasty (approx. 2100 –1600 BCE), there is a description of a person named Kei (said to be the child of the Yu, creator of Xia Dynasty) who scribed the shape of the stars into the swords that he cast. Just as Yu, Kei also had legends told about him, and although the historical credibility of this text is weak, it is perceivable that the connection between faith in astrology and swords is very old.

Furthermore, in the text used towards the end of the Spring and Autumn era (approx. 770–403 BCE) to deal with various matters, the “Go Etsu Shunjū”, it is said that the great commander Goshisho of the state of Go had seven stars (possibly the Great Dipper) engraved on his sword.

This association between astrological beliefs and the sword are rich within Taoist concepts, particularly in the developments resulting from its links to the magic arts and warding off evil spirits. In ancient China also, the sword was revered in accordance with the stars. However, it is also interesting that although the stars did not descend from heaven, they were still carved directly onto the sword.

Other possible interpretations of the symbolism of seven stars or branch-levels or blades may be found in the Essene Tree of Life (which “represented …seven of them heavenly or cosmic forces and seven earthly or terrestrial forces. The Tree was pictured as having … seven branches extending up toward the heavens, thus symbolizing man’s relationship to both earth and heaven”; seven levels of the Shamanic Seven-branched Tree and the latter explains the cosmic symbolism of Seven as follows:

“We see these stars within being the same as the stars of the Seven Sisters or the Pleiades group of stars. We know that those stars in the sky are the same stars that are within us… Over one or more lifetimes a person might climb this tree of life, spiritually developing as he goes ever higher… Upon the seventh branch resides Eagle with his head extending into the realm of the eighth. Because the realm of the eighth resides beyond us, it is not for all people to be able to make the journey there. The “Keeper of the Starry Heavens” resides within the realm of the eighth, preventing those who attempt to enter his realm from doing so. It is said that only those who have undergone shamanic initiation of intentful death and return and blessings that may then journey to the ninth level of awareness. … The use of the number seven is an integral part of the Essene tradition which has been transmitted to Western cultures in various outer ways, such as the seven days of the week. Each root and branch of the tree represented a different force or power. The roots represented earthly forces and powers, the Earthly Mother, the Angel of Earth, the Angel of Life, the Angel of joy, the Angel of the Sun, the Angel of Water and the Angel of Air. The seven branches represented cosmic powers, The Heavenly Father, and his Angels of Eternal Life, Creative Work, Peace, Power, Love and Wisdom. These were the Essene angels of the visible and invisible worlds. In ancient Hebrew and Medieval literature these heavenly and earthly forces or angels were given names, Michael, Gabriel and so on. Man, in the center of the Tree, was seen to be surrounded as in a magnetic field, by all the forces, or angels, of heaven and earth. He was pictured as in the meditation posture, the upper half of his body above the ground and the lower half in the earth. This indicated that part of man is allied to the forces of heaven and part to the forces of earth. This concept closely parallels that of Zoroaster who represented the universe as a framework of realms with man in its center and the various forces above and below him. It also corresponds to the Toltec ritual performed on the steps of their pyramids with man in the midst of all the forces“).

Other sources and writings on sacred swords to explore:

The Search for Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi and the Lost Imperial Sword 

Naga and Nagi (see Sanskrit and Pali forms of Naga). A Nagi is female snake in India and in Southeast Asia. Naga serpents also have totemic and symbolic significance as well as among the Khmer-Cambodians who are also known as the Naga peoples:

The Khmer dragon, or neak is derived from the Indian nāga. Like its Indian counterpart, the neak is often depicted with cobra like characteristics such as a hood. The number of heads can be as high as nine, the higher the number the higher the rank. Odd-headed dragons are symbolic of male energy while even headed dragons symbolize female energy. Traditionally, a neak is distinguished from the often serpentine Makar and Tao, the former possessing crocodilian traits and the latter possessing feline traits. A dragon princess is the heroine of the creation myth of Cambodia. See the entwined neak at the base of a temple at the Angkor Neak Pean temple.

Naga peoples have been described as the Scythic race — in Naga from the “Cyclopedia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia” by Edward Balfour (1885):

NAGA, a Scythic race who appear to have occupied part of India prior to the appearance of the Aryans. In the mythology of India they are described as true snakes. In the Persepolitan inscription, Xerxes calls himself Nagua or Nuka, the Greek Auax, and some writers have surmised that this may be the true meaning of the Naga dynasties of Kashmir and Magadha. A Naga race ‘seem to have ruled in Magadha until dispossessed by the Aryan Pandava. Whether they came from the N.E., whilst the Aryan race advanced from the N.W., is not known. But the races seem to have come in contact in the lands where the Jumna joins the Ganges, at a time when the Aryans were divided as to the object of their worship between Indra, Siva, and Vishnu. Oue of the opening scenes of the Mahabharata de scribes the destruction of the forest of Khanduva, and a great sacrifice of serpents ; and though the application of the term Nag or Naga has come to be taken literally, there can be no doubt that the descriptions in the Mahabharata, and as to Krishna’s exploits against snakes, relate to the opposing Naga race. In India the term Nag or Naga is applied to the cobra serpent, and the race who were so designated are believed to have paid their devotions to that reptile, or took it as their emblem. They are mentioned in the Mahabharata (n.c. 1200) as causing the death of Parikshit, which led to their great slaughter by Janemajaya. But a Naga dynasty’ was still dominant n.c. 691, like wise when (s.c. 623) Sakya, a prince of the Solar race, was born, and it was this race who placed Buddhism on a secure basis in India, and led to its adoption by Asoka as the state religion.

A Naga dynasty ruled over Magadha at the date of Alexander’s invasion; and the reigning prince bore the name of Nanda. His minister Chandragupta, the Sandracottus of the Greeks, assassinated the Naga prince, and seized upon the throne for himself ; and a Naga dynasty, tributary to the Gupta, were ruling to the south of the Jumna during the first three centuries of the Christian era. A Naga race are said also to have ‘occupied Ceylon, on the northern and western coasts, before the Christian era: Colonel Tod shows, in the annals of Marwar, that the Rahtor race conquered Nagore, or Naga drug (the Serpent’s Castle), from the Mohil, who held 1440 villages so late as the fifteenth century.

So many of the colonies of Agnicula bestowed the name of serpent on their settlements, that he was convinced all were of the Tak, Takshak, or Nagvansa race from Sakadwipa, who, six centuries anterior to Vikramaditya, under their leader Sehesnaga, conquered India, and whose era must, he thinks, be the limit of Agnicula antiquity.

The Nagbansi chieftains of Ramgarh Sirguja have the lunettes of their serpent ancestor en graved on their signets in token of their lineage. The Manipur rulers were also Scythic, and most of the Manipur people continued to worship snakes till the beginning of the 19th century, as indeed is still the custom amongst all Aryan and non Aryan tribes throughout the Peninsula of India.

Naga and Takshak* are Sanskrit names for a snake or serpent, the emblem of Buddha or Mercury. The races who dwelt in India prior to the advent of the Aryans are alluded to in ancient books as Naga, Rakshasa, Dasya, Asura. The whole of the Scythian race’ are mythically descended from a being half snake and half-woman, who bore three sons to Hetacles [a typo variant of Heracles] (Herod. iv. 9, 10), the meaning of which probably is that the ancestral pair were of two races, and the offspring took the snake as their emblem, similarly to the Numri or Lumri Baluch of the present day, who are foxes, and the Cuch’hwaha Rajputs, who are tortoises. The snake race seem to have spread into North America. Abbe Domenech mentions an Indian race there who traced their origin from the snakes of Scythia. The serpents who invaded the kingdom of the Lydians just before the down fall of Creesus, were probably the Scythian Naga (Herod.) race.

The Naga race were so numerous in Ceylon that it was called Nagadwipo, as Rhodes and Cyprus received the designation of Ophiusa, from their being the residence of the Ophites, who introduced snake-worship into Greece. According to Byrant, Eubeea is from Oubaia, and means serpent island. Strabo calls the people of Phrygia and the Hellespont the Ophio or serpent races.—Tod’s Rajasthan.

[*Note: The two Persian clans entombed at Persepolis were called Taḵt-e Jamšīd, and Naqš-e Rostam (cf. Strabo 15.3.3: “There the Persians had their tombs, on ancestral sites” ... i.e. possible cognates for the Sanskrit Naga and Takshak*)

Ophiuchus, the snake holder, is the adjoining constellation that holds this serpent, and his name means serpent-holder (ophis, serpent + okhos, holder). The Greeks knew Serpens as Ophis which comes from the Indo-European root *angwhi-, 'Snake, eel'. Derivatives: ophidianophioliteophite (a green rock), ophicleide ('serpent-keys', a musical instrument of the bugle family), ophiologyOphiuchus (the adjoining constellation Ophiuchus, the Serpent-Holder), ophiuroid, (these words from Greek ophis, snake, serpent). 2. Taboo deformation or separate root *eghi-; echino-,echinus, from Greek ekhinos, hedgehog (< 'snake-eater'), echidna (from Gk. ekhidna 'snake, viper,' from ekhis'snake'). [Pokorny angw(h)i- 43. Watkins] The term ophiasis means a winding bald patch on the head, or a form of leprosy in which the patient sheds his skin like a snake. Source: Serpens (Constellationsofwords.com)

There might be a connection between the two words sophia and ophis:

The image of the serpent as the embodiment of the wisdom transmitted by Sophia (from sophos, meaning  ‘wisdom’) was an emblem used by gnosticism, especially those sects that the more orthodox characterized as ‘Ophites‘ (‘Serpent People’)” — Wikipedia article Serpent symbolism

 “.. sophos, the Greek for wisdom, and Sophia, the Virgin of Light, may be traced to is ophis, the ‘light of ophis,’ the Serpent” [The Lost Language of Symbolism, Harold Bayley, p.219.]

“…the Greeks call the Marsians ‘Oscians,’ as if it were ophskoi, because they had many serpents, and ophis means ‘serpent.’ They are also said to be invulnerable to the sorcery of spells. Like the Umbrians they inhabit the region of the Apennine mountains”

– Source: The Etymologies of Isidore Seville

Naga-serpent symbolism is also significant amongst the Druids Naddreds as well as among the Hebrews and Christians and Gnostics of the Middle and Near East, see the Hebrew and Biblical forms of serpent – ‘m’opheph

The Biblical Texts Reviewed

“The burden of the beasts of the south: into the land of trouble and anguish, from whence come the young and old lion, the viper and fiery flying serpent,” (Isaiah 30:6).

In this verse the Bible mentions an intriguing creature, the fiery flying serpent.  The Hebrew words are m’opheph [translated flying] and saraph [translated fiery snake].   It is here distinguished from the viper.  Moreover, Isaiah 14:29 states: “Rejoice not thou, whole Palestina, because the rod of him that smote thee is broken: for out of the serpent’s root shall come forth a cockatrice, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent.” Here the same animal is listed as distinct from all serpents in general.  What exactly is this ancient flying creature referenced by the prophet Isaiah?

The scriptural word “flying” in the original Hebrew is of interest. About it, Goertzen writes:

That Hebrew word, m’opheph Jpvfm, is a polal participle; a form used only by Isaiah when describing the reptilian saraph (14:29 and 30:6). 

The Greek word used by Josephus for “snake” is the same one employed by Christ in John 3 (and also by Paul in I Corinthians 10:9) to describe the attacking serpents in the wilderness (ophis, or ophesi in its masculine, dative, plural form). It is also the same as the Septuagint version of the wilderness account.

– Source: The fiery flying serpent

  1. URULÓKI: This is the name of a sub-species of wingless fire-breathing dragon, also known as the fire-drake. They appear in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth and were probably sired by Glaurung. A single Urulóki is called an Urulokë.

  2. OPHIUCHUS (Ὀφιοῦχος): Greek name meaning “serpent bearer.” This is the name of one of the constellations listed by Ptolemy, depicted as a man supporting a serpent. The man depicted in the constellation is thought by some to actually be the demigod Asclepius.

  3. ORMARR: Old Norse name composed of the elements orm “serpent” and herr“army,” hence “serpent army.”

  4. ORMR: Old Norse byname derived from the word ormr, meaning “dragon, serpent, snake.”

  5. OROCHI (大蛇): Japanese name meaning “big snake.” In mythology, this is the name of an eight-forked serpent who demanded virgin sacrifices. He was killed by the god-hero Susanoo.

Source: Dragon names

Conclusion

‘Uruti’ in the Tamil language, a word that approximates the closest to the Japanese form ‘orochi’ means ‘promise’… source: Language in India, indicating a possible existence of the word in ancient Dravidian times, or more likely, a borrowing from the Greek?   ‘Orochi’ seems to be a blend of European Norse and Indian forms ‘Uruti’ and ‘Uruloki’ and ‘Orphiuchius’.

***

Having posited the Indo-Sakka-Ashina provenance and possible Indo-European etymology of the words, ‘kusa-nagi’ and Uruti-Uruloki-Orphiuchius-Orochi origins, we look next at the typology of sacred swords and the symbolism sacred swords to their owners. The most famous swords of the Scythians were the akinakes swords which were regarded as the sacred swords of the day…coveted as Greek booty and offered in the Acropolis, this was likely to have been the prototype of the sword retrieved from the Orochi tale by Susanoo. Thus, as we look to the Iranians as sources and forgers of the akinakes, we look also to them for the symbolism of the akinakes as explicated by Michael Shenkar as follows:

“The most famous manifestation of “material aniconism” among the Iranians is the worship of a warrior-god in the form of a sword thrust into the ground. Herodotus, writing about Scythian rituals, tells us that:”…their sacrifices to Ares are of this sort. Every district in each of the governments has a structure sacred to Ares; namely, a pile of bundles of sticks … On this sacred pile an ancient akinakes (short sword) of iron is set for each people: their image of Ares. They bring yearly sacrifice of goats and horses to this akinakes, offering to these symbols even more than they do to other gods.”

Adoration of the sword among Scythians is also mentioned by other Classical authors. Speaking about the Alans who were the successors of the Scythians and the Sarmatians in the Pontic steppes, … according to a Barbarian custom, a naked sword is fixed in the ground and they respectfully worship it as god of war and protector of the regions through which they travel.” … 

An akinakes dated to the fifth century B.C.E. found thrust into the artificial fill between two kurgans at Nosaki in modern-day Ukraine has been interpreted as the sanctuary and the idol of Ares described by Herodotus. Finds of weapons (spears, axes, daggers, and swords) thrust into the ground and walls are also attested in a number of Scythian burial sites. …” p. 249, Shenkar, M., “Aniconism in the Religious Art of Pre-Islamic Iran and Central Asia Bulletin of the Asia Institute, 2008, Central_Asia_Bulletin of the Asia Institute, Vol. 22

"Amano Sakahoko" and the "Saka" trident staked atop of a rock cairn on top of Mt. Takachiho-no Mine, Miyazaki prefecture

“Amano Sakahoko”
and the “Saka” trident staked atop of a rock cairn on top of Mt. Takachiho-no Mine, Miyazaki prefecture — where the Heavenly Descendent Ninigi no Mikoto is believed to have descended from the Heavenly Takamagahara Field. Photo source: Yokoso! Japan

which is believed to be where the Heavenly Descendant Ninigi no Mikoto descended from Takamagahara Field (Heavenly Hill Field).

The Japanese practice of sword adoration or sword worship and the worship of some god of war, akin to Ares (though they are equated with deities of various names in Japan) is clearest from the Isonokami Shrine, as a warehouse of conquering swords, although their ritual and magical powers became applied through Taoist priests to the control of rain and weather, and their adoration was believed to produce bountiful blessings both land and sea.

A description of the akinakes is found at the Akinakes Blog:

The acinaces is typically 35–45 cm. (14-18 in.) in length and double-edged, and although there is no universal design, the guard may be lobed with the hilt resembling that of a bollock dagger, or the pommel may be split or of the “antenna” type. Interestingly, the scabbard as much as anything else defines the acinaces and usually has a large decorative mount near the opening allowing it to be suspended from a belt on the wearer’s right side.

Since the acinaces seems to have been a thrusting weapon, and since it was typically worn on the right, it was likely intended to be suddenly drawn with the blade facing down for surprise stabbing attacks.

For more info see Wikipedia article: Akinaka and the Weapon blade list

Comparing the Typology of Japanese, Central Asian swords with Greek and Persian akinakes finds, we look at:

  • Akinakes of Athens and Persia, E. Europe and northern Caucasus:  There were many Dnieper and northern Caucasus finds of daggers and akinakes. Akinakes were standard military equipment of Xerxes, Persians, booty of Greeks, and royal gift of Darius. Akinakes could have their scabbards and hilts ornately decorated with gold. eg the Persepolis South Treasury Relief’s “the King’s Weapon-Bearer”. And the akinakes was a standard gift (according to Herodotus)  - a gold akinakes was given to Hellespont by Xerxes along with a gold phiale and bowl. Large numbers were dedicated on the Akropolis according to inventories, most noted around the date 385/4, such as this description: “an iron akinakes with a gold handle, a sheath of gilded ivory and gold pommel”. They were mostly finished with costly materials, despite their functionality.  Source: Athens and Persia in the Fifth Century BC: A Study in Cultural Receptivity, Margaret C. Mille
  • Ukrainian Scythian akinakes – The original of the reproduction featured here one dates to the 6th century B.C., and was excavated from a kurhan near the village of Kam’ianka, Cherkas’ka Oblast, Ukraine. It’s 36cm in length, and weighs 500gs
  • Scythian iron short sword akinakes
    • Central Bessarabia: A possible proto-type of the akinakes, may be found in the pre-Scythian dagger of Central Bessarabia (the Sabaens?), see Some Finds of Weaponry of Early Nomads from Orhei District (Republic of Moldova) by . This paper publishes two finds of Early nomadic weaponry in Central Bessarabia — iron pre-Scythian dagger from Braneshti and Scythian akinakes of Kelermes type from Vatich. The analysis of technical features and distribution of types is given. The chronological conclusion is: the dagger is from 8th BC and the Scythian akinakes could be dated by 650—500 BC. More Info at: Co-authored with I. Bruyako. Published in ‘Stratum plus’, 2012, Nr.3. Source: Publication Name: Находки клинкового оружия ранних кочевников из Оргеевского района (Республика Молдова)
  • Some famous swords of Japan include:

- The Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi is currently housed at the Atsuta Shrine in Aichi (click here to see a photo of the sword)

- The Futsu-no-Mitama-no-Tsurugi (the lost and recovered) currently housed and worshipped as a deity of the Kashima Shrine, regarded as owned by the fire deity Takemikazuchi, he was originally venerated as the kami of war, tōken (swords), and thunder

Sugari no Ontachi another sword that represents the regalia of Japan. Empress Jitō was handed the sword as part of the regalia. According to legend, the blade was created after Susanoo slew the serpent that ate maidens. Housed at the Ise Shrine, Mie Prefecture and only taken out for ceremonial purposes when a new emperor ascends to the throne.

Sugari-no-Ontachi
Sugari-no-Ontachi  Photo: Legendary Sword

Yohoken and Inhoken, two sacred swords (ca. 760A.D.) found under the Great Buddha of Todaiji Temple (now at the Shosoin Repository) see photo below. (Note: Todaiji has 100 sacred swords on its weapons list)

Seven-Branched Sword, which Wa Japan received from Paekche (or Baekje). Already touched upon above.

Seven-branched sword
Seven-branched sword Photo: Legendary Sword

Famous swords from Japanese temples and shrines, an exhibition of the Kyoto National Museum From the museum webpage: “The act of offering swords to the gods and buddhas as prayers has been a custom in Japan since ancient times. This practice derives from ideas that swords possess a spirit, symbolize esoteric Buddhist deities such as Fudo Myoo (Skt., Acala), or represent sacred ancient offerings to the gods who use them as divine tools. This tradition of sword offering continues even today in Japan, where temples and shrines own a considerable number of swords. 

Brocaded and Jeweled Scabbard Edo Period Yasaka Shrin3
Brocaded and Jeweled Scabbard
Edo Period, Yasaka Shrine

This exhibition introduces several historically renowned swords originally belonging to famous temples and shrines. Among these, the oldest known example is an early Heian (794-1185) sword with black-lacquered scabbard (Important Cultural Property, Kurama-dera Temple) that is said to have belonged to the warrior Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (758-811). Other famed swords include a Kamakura-period (1185-1333) tachi (slung sword) that has been historically associated with the Genji clan (Important Cultural Property, Daikaku-ji Temple), a katana (sword) that has belonged alternately over the generations to the Ashikaga shoguns and the powerful Otomo clan in Bungo Province (Important Cultural Property, Toyokuni Shrine), and another katanathat the warlord Oda Nobunaga (1534-82) purportedly took from the warrior Imagawa Yoshimoto (1519-60) in the Battle of Okehazama (Important Cultural Property, Kenkun Shrine). Other objects include a tachi with a black lacquered scabbard named Sasamaru that is said to have been offered by the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-98) (Important Cultural Property, Atago Shrine), a golden tachi from Tonomine Shrine in Nara Prefecture (Important Cultural Property), as well as a tachi and jeweled dagger offered by the Tokugawa government to the Three Pillar Deities of Gion-sha, also known as Yasaka Shrine (the former is designated an Important Cultural Property, Yasaka Shrine). Also on exhibit will be swords that originally belonged to shrines, such as Nyakuoji Shrine in Kyoto, Kasuga Shrine in Nara, and Sanage Shrine in Aichi Prefecture, that are now in private collections. Explore the deep connections that swords have had with temples and shrines through this New Year exhibition.”

Sword repaired Long Spear Toyokuni Shrine
Sword repaired Long Spear
Toyokuni Shrine

- Other famous swords such as Honjo Masamune (see photo of the sword here) and the sword of Nitta Yoshisada are not covered here.

- Swords recovered from the early Tumulus Age (Kofun Period) in Japan are:

Kofun period swords (view of hilts) from Metropolitan Museum Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Kofun period swords (view of hilts) from Metropolitan Museum Photo: Wikimedia Commons

  • the 2nd c. (and the oldest inscribed sword of Japan) Tōdaijiyama Sword discovered in Nara, forged in China;
  • the 5th c. Eta-Funayama sword, found locally in Kumamoto;
  • the Inariyama Sword dated to 471 (or 531 according to others) made from copper originating in Jiangnan, China, but forged in Japan;
  • 5th c. Inaridai Sword discovered in Chiba prefecture, forged in Kinai

Finally, a comparison of the tumulus swords might be made by way of a roundup of some of the world’s oldest bronze swords:

1. Gojoseon’s Liaoning or Bipa bronze sword ca. 194 B.C.
2. Ordos’s Inner Mongolian bronze sword ca. 6th-2nd century BC
3. Zhou dynasty bronze sword (West Zhou & East Zhou) c. 1046–256 B.C. see photos here[Chinese bronzes do not go further back than 1,300 B.C. and are said to have influences from northern regions in Siberia]
4. Akinakes’s Persian Bronze sword (mainly in the first millennium B.C.)
5. Scythian Ana’nino & Karasuk Bronze sword (ca. 8th-3rd c. B.C. and ca. 1500–800 B.C. respectively) The latter bronze knives are similar to those from northeastern China.

The listed swords are indicative of the three major bronze civilizations existed in East Asia. An important map for comparing the Ordos-Xiongnu, Korean bipa and Zhou dynasty bronze swords is this useful map.

Three major sword-smithing and bronze centers of the Bronze Age

Three major bronze centers of  East Asia

Further reading:

History and characteristics of Korean Swords  by Parl Je Gwang

A Study of Chinese Weapons Cast During Pre-Qin and Han Periods in the Central Plains of China by Cao Hangang

Ordos Daggers and Knives. New Material, Classification and Chronology. First part: Daggers by Max Loehr, Artibus Asiae Vol. 12, No. 1/2 (1949), pp. 23-83

Ordos Daggers by S.C. Tang.

Ancient Bronzes of the Eastern Eurasian Steppes by Emma C. Bunker

Arms of Nomads of the Eurasian Steppes in the 1st Millenium B.C. 

Nomads of the Eurasian Steppes in the Early Iron Age by Jeannine Davis-Kimball et al.

Kusa and Kusanagi: A word about “grass” and the “Grass-cutter” sword

Offering of Kusa Grass by Sotthiya the Grasscutter to Siddhartha (Buddha Sakyamuni)

Depicted above in the Indian votive stupa carved in relief: Offering of Kusa Grass by Sotthiya the Grasscutter to Siddhartha (Buddha Sakyamuni), Kusana period ca. second century CE, 101 CE – 200 CE (Collection of Central Archaeological Museum, Lahore, Pakistan. Photo: The Huntington Archive

Skt: कुश (kusha) – and kusa grass – OnlineSktDict Pali: kusa  m.  a blade of grass, sacrificial grass, good — Source: Kusha grass

Kus, kush, kusha grass — Brahmin

Not much is written about the etymology and origin of the word “kusa” (the word means “grass” in Japanese), although tomes have been written about the sacred “sword of life”, the “Kusanagi that is part of the imperial regalia of Japan and a component of the conquering tale of “Grasscutter” sword of Yamato Takeru (see The Search for Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, the Lost Imperial Sword of Japan - the tale is too familiar and well-known that we will leave it out of the  discussion, focusing only on the etymology of the common word ‘kusa’ in the Indian and Japanese languages. A lot of scholarship and speculation, however, surrounds the word “kusanagi” and its roots, which have been attributed to Altaic or Tungusic origins:

Proto-Altaic or Tungus words for serpent: “A link between ‘serpent’ and the sword-name OJ kusanagi is not difficult to postulate, even though one essential link in the etymology remains missing. New Korean kulöng’i ‘a serpent, a large snake’ (Martin et al. 199 a) …The Proto-Tungus form, reflected also closely in the Korean, would be *kulin- ; to this the Korean has added its reflex of the Tungus animal-name suffix * -ki(Miller 1989: 147 sqq.), for a proto-form as *kulinki. To associate this with OJ kusanagi we must postulate that the *-/- in these Tungus and Middle, resp. New Korean forms goes back to earlier Proto-Altaic *- /2 – in a proto-form *kul2 in-, this would regularly have yielded an Old Korean *kusinki which was then borrowed into Old Japanese to appear …” – Professor A. Miller (and noted by N. Nauman)

We would like to suggest, notwithstanding the above interpretations, that a clear and direct Central Asian provenance for the Japanese word ‘kusa’ (and hence, ‘kusa-nagi’ may be found in the ‘kusa’ and ‘kusha‘ grass forms in the Rigvedic Sanskrit, Proto-Indo-European linguistic usage, both ancient and current, from the regions of North-west India or possibly, the Hindu Kush valley area from whence the kusa grass was both domesticated and its Vedic word usage recorded (these was also the approximate regions that were formerly populated by the Indo-Sakka (possibly related to the later derived Kushan and Khotanese-Sakka peoples).

The origin of the word ‘Kusa”

“The word “kusa” is a word from the ancient Sanskrit language.  In the fullness of time, the word came to be used in India as a name for a storied, ceremonial sacred grass:  the kusa grass.  Behind the legendary kusa grass lies one of humanity’s great myths.  The legend of a “sacred grass” rises out of the mists of time at the beginning of history in the ancient East.

Just as a human mother nourishes her offspring, humanity at the beginning of history perceived a “great vegetal mother” whose green plants made human life possible through nourishment.

Humanity’s ancient legend of a special “sacred grass” (the kusa grass), pays tribute at its root to this concept of a great vegetal mother whose botanic bounty sustains all life on earth.”

– The kusa seed society (Jaipur Rajasthan) 

Kusa’ and its ‘kusha‘, the close cognate form, are still in use today in many parts of India — the Desmotachya bipinnata (Salt-reed grass) is an Old World perennial grass, with long usage in human history medically and ritually. A meditational mat called the kusha ashan mat still being manufactured in India and musti kusa grass sold out of Jaipur, Rajasthan, where the use of ‘kusa’ grass is universally known. The Kachchwaha people of Jaipur, Rajasthan, belonging to the Kshatriya-warrior caste of Hindus, trace their origins back to the sun, via Kusa#, who is the twin son of the god Rama (see “History of Jaipur” ). ‘Kusha’ has continuing ritual significance for the Vedic, Hindu and Buddhist religions.  In many sacrifices, branches or leaves of sacred plants, such as the kuśa plant (a sacred grass used as fodder) of the Vedic sacrifice and the Brahmanic pūjā (ritual), are used in rituals such as the Zoroastrian sprinkling (bareshnum), or Great Purification, rite, in which the notion of fertility and prosperity is combined with their sacred characters (see Boyer’s “Ceremonial Object“). The plant (also known as DaabhDarbha, Darbhai) was mentioned in the Rig Veda for use in sacred ceremonies and also as a seat for priests and the god. From the Bhaktivedanta VedaBaseSrimad Bhagavatam (Chapter 8: “Markandeya’s Prayers to Nara-Narayana Rishi”):

SB 12.8.7-11: “After being purified by his father’s performance of the prescribed rituals leading to Markandeya‘s brahminical initiation, Markandeya studied the Vedic hymns and strictly observed the regulative principles. He became advanced in austerity and Vedic knowledge and remained a lifelong celibate. Appearing most peaceful with his matted hair and his clothing made of bark, he furthered his spiritual progress by carrying the mendicant’s waterpot, staff, sacred thread, brahmacari belt, black deerskin, lotus-seed prayer beads and bundles of kusa grass.”

Also recorded is the Srivaishnavam or Brahmin traditional “practices widely used by Indian Brahmins all over using a Holy Grass named Dharbham or Dharbai. The botanical name is Eragrostis cynosuroides and Hindi they call as Kus or Kusha.”

And in the Hindu books:

Puranas and Upnishads describe that this grass came into existence after Samudra Manthan, the churning of cosmic ocean. When demigods and demons got ready to churn the cosmic ocean of milk, there was no one to support the base of Madhara mountain. Lord Vishu took the form of Tortoise [Kurma Avatar] and gave the needed support. During the churning, the hairs of the tortoise came out and washed away to the shore. These hairs turned to Kusha grass. – Punitra Yatra: The sacred grass called dharbai or kusha grass

Most significantly, a clear connection can be seen between ‘kusha’ grass with its sword-like quality, and the killing of serpents:

“The sanctity of dharba, also known as kusha (or, kusa) grass, is as old as the Indian gods.  Puranas tell how Vishnu assumed the form of the Cosmic Tortoise (Skt. kurma) whose shell served to support Mandara, the mountain that served as a dasher in the Churning of the Sea of Milk. As the mountain rotated, several hairs were rubbed from the tortoise’s back.  With time, they washed ashore and became Kusha. …

Another myth explains that when the pot of Amrita was set on the sacred grass, the children of  Kadru (Garuda‘s stepmother) were determined to get some of the elixir. Ever-watchful Garuda, to prevent their attaining immortality, quickly snatched it away. The snakes ended up licking the the leaves in hopes that some drops had fallen there, but they were so sharp that the poor serpents’ tongues were sliced in two.

Later, when the amrita [nectar of immortality] was obtained as a result of the churning and distributed among the gods, some drops fell on the grass which further sanctified it imbuing it with healing properties.  Therefore, in the traditional hair-cutting of Vaishnava toddlers, the hair is touched with kusha before it is cut. 

It was used as a ritual seat as far back as the Vedas, and the Bhagavad Gita (ch. 6) stipulates that, covered with a skin and a cloth, it is the appropriate seat for meditation.  Therefore, it was one of the first offerings made to the Buddha.

Kusha, whose name signifies sharp in the sense of acute, is the root for the Sanskrit word for “expert,” kosala.  That is because the edges of the long leaves that grow in pairs along the tall stems are very sharp, so like the sword it is a symbol for discernment or “discriminating wisdom.”

It grows beside brackish (salty) water such as is found at the mouths of rivers and is a kind of tussock grass; that is, it grows in clumps” — Kusha Grass, (Khandro.Net)

The kusa grass and serpent-slaying associations may also have arrived in Japan via Korea’s Indian connections with Ayodhya, from which the legend of the Kusha king (who was the twin of Luv, and one of the two sons of Rama# see the next paragraph) came. The city had ancient connections with the Gaya kingdom of ancient Korea due to an alliance with the Ayodha-Indian princess who was sent to the Gayan kingdom to marry King Suro in 48 AD (see Kim clan and the Princess Heo Hwang-ok). The Kusha king is also said to have subdued in battle the Naga king, Kumuda, which has an affinity to the allegorical idea of the Kusanagi, subduing the serpent (see King Kusha)…for Naga king means Serpent king. Hence, the Indian legend could have been the origin or indicate a close and common source for the word ‘Kusa-nagi’ (‘nagi is known to be a female snake ‘naga‘ deity, or alternatively in the Japanese context, a ‘cutting’ or ‘mowing’ sword)… in which case, ‘nagi‘ here could be a cognate of the Iranian aki-nakes sword.

In another myth cycle involving ‘kusa’ grass, Kusha is said to have taken over the Kosala Kingdom (ruling from Ayodhya) from his father, Rama, and is also believed to have founded a city called Kushapur (today called Kasur). Also called “Kush,” he was believed to be the ruler of a kingdom centered at Kasur in ancient times. According to the legend of Kusha, the sage Valmiki created another copy of Luv using his divine powers when he thought that wild animals had taken away Luv while he was away for prayers, so Kush or Kusha was so named because he was created out of divine kusha grass, see “The story of Kusha grass and the birth of Kush – The son of Sri Ram and Sita“.  The Raghuvamsha of Kalidasa also mentions the names of some of the kings of the Ikshuvaku dynasty. (Source: Ikshvaku dynasty‘s - Kusha and Kushapur vs. Luv-and-Luvpur). The Genealogy of the Ikshuvuku dynasty includes the following:

Atithi, the son of Kusha
Nishadha, the son of Atithi
Nala, the son of Nishadha
Nabhas, the son of Nala and so on……..

Luv (Lav; Loh) or Lava was said to have created a kingdom elsewhere purportedly Lahore (in the Ramayana: we find that, Lava and Kusha were the sons of Rama). It is believed he did so to the Northwest (present Punjab). He founded the city of Luvpur (or Loh-Awar [Loh's Fort]; today known as Lahore). The Mewar Lineage descends from Luv.

From Central Asia to East Asia:

The usage of the sacred reed grass ‘kusa’ as meditation mats for ascetics, together with other ritual ‘kusa‘ ritual practices, likely spread eastwards to Tibet and China, probably along with the growth of Buddhism, and from there to Japan via either Tibet or China (see the 17th c. Silk Painting below “Buddha Enthroned on a Mat of Kusa Grass“, Photo: Smithsonian Institution):

The Indo-Sakka or perhaps Kushan monks or hybrid Sakka-Chinese migrating peoples could conceivably have brought their customary practices to Japan. A kind of herbgrass-cake called ‘kusa-mochi‘ is popularly made and eaten in Japan, and the origin of ‘kusamochi‘ is said to have come from China:

the custom of eating KUSAMOCHI first began back in ancient China, where bitter grasses were believed to be effective in expelling from the body impurities and evil spirits. This notion was imported to Japan in the Heian Period (794-1192) though a different type of herb was used as the most common ingredient (母子草 hahakogusa or gogyou).” – Bitter herb an important component of traditional spring sweet kusa-mochi

Endnotes:

* The text also informs us that “Darbha or Kusha grass is a special type of grass which is used in Hindu rituals for purificatory process. This grass is wore as the ring in the ring finger of the person who is performing the rituals.” “All kind of evil forces like, ghosts, spirits, demons, etc. keep away from the place where it is used. This is considered to be the holiest of all the thirthas here, and is believed to be the spot where Gowtama Rishi finally secured Ganga on earth by spreading the Kusha or the Durva grass around her. Kusha grass is considered purifying, and rings woven of it are sometimes worn in worship to keep the hands ritually pure.”  This suggests a Central (or South) Asian source for the practice of the chinowa harae purification ritual where Shinto devotees go through the purification ritual of walking through grass rings (see “Chinowa“, Encyclopedia of Shinto).

Chinowa harae ritual at Katori Jingu, Katori city, Ibaragi, Japan

Chinowa harae ritual at Katori Jingu, Katori city, Ibaragi, Japan

Incidentally, a Kusa swamp exists in Kenya Africa, from which the grass for the making of papyrus and mats is sourced (see Utilization and conservation of papyrus plants for sustainable livelihoods in Kusa swamp, Lake Victoria, Kenya). It is however, beyond the scope of this article to investigate whether the roots of ‘kusa‘ usage go back all the way (via ancient migrations) to Africa, or whether the word is related to the Melanesian myth of the Kusa Kap bird. The word ‘Kusa’ also appears as part of the name of the mythical bird ‘Kusa Kap’, a folktale of Melanesian New Guinea, and islands of the Torres Strait.

***

Sources & readings:

Kusa “Sacred Grass

Nauman, Nelly 1992. “The Kusanagi Sword” Nenrin-Jahresringe: Festgabe für Hans A. Dettmer. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1992, S. [158]-170

Kusha Grass - Khandro.net

Punitha Yatra: The Sacred Grass called Darbhai or Kusha Grass

Witzel, Michael. 2009. The linguistic history of some Indian domestic plants. Journal of BioSciences 34(6): 829-833 http://dash.harvard.edu/handle/1/8954814

Kusha grass (Rigpa Shedra website)

Kusha ashan mat (Rudra Yoga store)

Desmostachya_bipinnata (Wikipedia)

AuBoyer, Jeannine “Ceremonial Object

The search for kusanagi-no-tsurugi, the lost imperial sword

Dharbam the Holy Grass” by TRS Iyengar

History of Jaipur

Kusanagi (Wikipedia)

Kusha_(Ramayana) (Wikipedia)

Kusha (2)

The Search for Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, the Lost Imperial Sword of Japan

Dharba / Kusha Grass

The Encyclopedia of Shinto article, “Chinowa harae

About akinakes URL: http://akinakes.wordpress.com/about/

The story of Kusha grass and the birth of Kush – The son of Sri Ram and Sita

Utilization and conservation of papyrus plants for sustainable livelihoods in Kusa swamp, Lake Victoria, Kenya

Descendants of Edo “Four Greats” to gather together for heritage story-telling pow-wow

Nakahama "John" Manjirō (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Nakahama “John” Manjirō (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Families of Edo’s big names to tell all

The present-day descendants of four renowned movers and shakers of the late Edo period (1603-1867) are set to gather for a forum in Tokyo on Monday to share little-known stories that have been handed down in their families over generations.

The descendants will also discuss the spiritual legacies they hope to pass on to future generations. One of them says the group “wants to search together for the source of our ancestors’ aspirations.”

Awa Katsū

Awa Katsū, “The Man Who Saved Early Modern Japan”

The five participants are Minako Koyama of Kanagawa Prefecture, 51, a great-great-grandchild of Katsu Kaishu; Noboru Sakamoto of Tokyo, a descendant of Sakamoto Ryoma’s elder brother; Hirotsugu Okanoue of Yamanashi Prefecture, 72, a great- grandchild of Ryoma’s elder sister Otome; Kei Konishi of Kanagawa Prefecture, a great-great-grandchild of John Manjiro; and Takamichi Enomoto of Tokyo, a great-grandchild of Enomoto Takeaki.

Enomoto Takeaki

Enomoto Takeaki

The “Katsu Kaishu Forum” will be held in Sumida Ward, Tokyo, also known as Katsu’s birthplace.

Takayama works as a freelance writer while Konishi has served as an adjunct instructor of Japanese language at Sophia University after studying linguistics in the United States. Enomoto, a guest professor at Tokyo University of Agriculture, has written and published many books on Takeaki.

Once a mentor to Ryoma, Kaishu became a Tokugawa shogunate retainer along with Takeaki. He also traveled to the United States together with Manjiro. As there are no historical records suggesting that Ryoma and Manjiro met directly, it is highly unlikely that the four major figures were ever present in the same place. However, Kaishu is known to have maintained relationships with the other three.

The forum’s organizer, an association established to commemorate the achievements of Katsu Kaishu, said, “The event offers a rare glimpse of the four greats from the perspective of their descendants 150 years after the end of the [Tokugawa] shogunate.”

The forum will start at 9:30 a.m. at Sumida Ward Office’s Sumida Riverside Hall.

Source of article:  July 14, 2013 The Yomiuri Shimbun 

Source of images: Wikipedia

An archaeological galore on display at a traveling exhibition

These "haniwa" clay figurines and sculptures, on exhibit at the Edo-Tokyo Museum, were excavated by the Imperial Household Agency. The figurine shaped like a human head, foreground, is from the Daisen burial mound in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture. (Kazuaki Owaki)

These “haniwa” clay figurines and sculptures, on exhibit at the Edo-Tokyo Museum, were excavated by the Imperial Household Agency. The figurine shaped like a human head, foreground, is from the Daisen burial mound in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture. (Kazuaki Owaki)

An archaeological exhibition, touring Japan and now making a stop in Tokyo, is offering a breathtaking glimpse into the lifestyles and thoughts of people who inhabited the Japanese archipelago from prehistoric through medieval times.

Titled “Hakkutsu Sareta Nihon Retto 2013” (The excavated Japanese islands 2013), the exhibit is made up of 510 artifacts from 32 archaeological sites across Japan. The Agency for Cultural Affairs is one of the organizers, and The Asahi Shimbun Co. is among its sponsors.

A 2.8-centimeter-long, comma-shaped “magatama” jade bead and a bronze mirror are among the finds unearthed from the Inuyama Tenjinyama burial mound in Tokushima, the capital of Tokushima Prefecture. A rare find from the fifth century, when society was patrilineal, was an aged matriarch found buried in a tomb believed to belong to a group engaged in maritime trade.

Four stone clubs, each measuring more than a meter, were found in parallel positions at the Midorikawa Higashi site in Kunitachi, western Tokyo, that are believed to be 4,000 years old. The largest stone club previously unearthed in Japan measures 2 meters. Half that length is still considered long, and four clubs of that dimension found together has no parallel elsewhere in Japan.

These four stone clubs were unearthed exactly as photographed here. They are on exhibit at the Edo-Tokyo Museum and are from the Midorikawa Higashi archaeological site in Kunitachi, western Tokyo. (Kazuaki Owaki)

These four stone clubs were unearthed exactly as photographed here. They are on exhibit at the Edo-Tokyo Museum and are from the Midorikawa Higashi archaeological site in Kunitachi, western Tokyo. (Kazuaki Owaki)

An 80-centimeter-long sword with a round pommel and decorated in gold and silver was unearthed from an old riverbed at the Toriimatsu site in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture. Its flamboyant styling was created by pressing plates of gold and silver into its wooden handle to leave a three-dimensional pattern. The sword is believed to be of Korean origin and forged during the first half of the sixth century.

One particular exhibit of note includes 13 select “haniwa” (terracotta figurines and sculptures) that were unearthed from sites administered by the Imperial Household Agency. The sites include those the agency believes to be tombs of emperors and other imperial ancestors.

This "haniwa" clay sculpture, representing a house surrounded by walls, was unearthed from the Gobyoyama burial mound in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture. (Provided by the Imperial Household Agency)

This “haniwa” clay sculpture, representing a house surrounded by walls, was unearthed from the Gobyoyama burial mound in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture. (Provided by the Imperial Household Agency)

“Never before have such a large number of haniwa toured Japan at one time,” said an official at the agency’s Mausolea and Tombs Division.

The Gobyoyama burial mound in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, dated to the fifth century, produced one of the haniwa on display, which represents the likeness of a shrine-like house surrounded by walls–one of the largest of its kind.

The Hashihaka burial mound in Sakurai, Nara Prefecture, which some say may be the tomb of Himiko, a third-century shaman queen, produced a 45-centimeter-tall, pot-shaped haniwa. A hole in its bottom indicates the haniwa was made for decorative purposes rather than as an actual water container.

Also on exhibit are finds unearthed as a result of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Seven archaeological sites were discovered in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures when communities were relocated to areas considered safe from future tsunami and during road construction following the disaster. They include the remains of ninth-century ironwork furnaces from the Oshimizu B and Sawairi B sites in Shinchi, Fukushima Prefecture, and roof tiles unearthed from the site of Sendai Castle in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture.

The exhibition at the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Sumida Ward runs through July 25 (with the exceptions of July 16 and 22). The venue is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m. on Saturdays). The admission is 600 yen for adults and free for elementary school students and younger children.

Source: Exhibition showcases ancient Japanese archaeological discoveries, Asahi Shimbun, July 12, 2013

Second-century ritual mask uncovered among warrior artifacts in the ruins of Daifuku Remains in Sakurai City, Nara

A wooden mask fragment, left, unearthed from the Daifuku archaeological site, is shown in Sakurai, Nara Prefecture. On the right is an artist's rendition of the mask as it would have appeared whole Credit: Toshiyuki Hayashi

A wooden mask fragment, left, unearthed from the Daifuku archaeological site, is shown in Sakurai, Nara Prefecture. On the right is an artist’s rendition of the mask as it would have appeared whole Credit: Toshiyuki Hayashi

Ceremonial mask may be oldest ever discovered in Japan
Japanese archaeologists believe they have uncovered a fragment of an ancient wooden ceremonial mask, the oldest to be discovered in the country. The object resembles a face, dates to the late second century and was found with wooden armor and bronze artifacts in the ruins of Daifuku Remains in Sakurai City. “We think the wooden object was used as a mask by an influential group of residents around the area to arrange a religious or solemn ceremony to show performed actions with the item,” said chief researcher Teruhiko Hashimoto of Sakurai City’s division of cultural assets. United Press International (May 31, 2013)

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NHK World May 30, 2013:  Japan’s oldest known wooden mask found
Japanese archaeologists have found the country’s oldest known wooden mask, believed to date back more than 1,800 years.

The team, from a municipal education board, unearthed the find at the Daifuku ruins in Sakurai City, Nara Prefecture, in western Japan.

The mask is a little over 23 centimeters long and 7 centimeters wide. It appears to be split in half lengthwise. If complete, the object would be about 16 centimeters wide.

The visage is made from a conifer called Japanese umbrella pine. It has 2 holes, one for an eye and the other for the mouth, and another small hole measuring 2 millimeters in diameter near where the ear would be.

The archeologists speculate that the hole was used to put the mask on with a piece of string. Pottery unearthed alongside the mask suggests the face-shaped object dates from the latter half of the 2nd century.

Another wooden mask dating back to the early 3rd century was discovered in 2007 at the Makimuku ruins in the same city. The ruins are said to be one of the sites where the ancient Yamatai Kingdom was situated. The archeologists say the latest find is dozens of years older than the one from Makimuku.

Keiji Niwa, who is a member of the education board, says his team believes the masks were used at religious ceremonies.

May 30, 2013
NHK world news

Mt. Fuji’s ancient sacred status gains World Heritage stamp of recognition

Cultural asset: Mount Fuji is seen from the Miho-no-Matsubara pine grove in the city of Shizuoka. | CULTURAL AFFAIRS AGENCY/KYODO

Cultural asset: Mount Fuji is seen from the Miho-no-Matsubara pine grove in the city of Shizuoka. | CULTURAL AFFAIRS AGENCY/KYODO

“Fuji has been revered as a sacred mountain since ancient times. In the early Heian Period (794-1185), a Sengen Shinto shrine that enshrines Konohana-sakuya-hime, the goddess associated with volcanoes, was built at the base of the mountain’s north side.

In spiritual terms, Fuji is divided into three zones. The bottom, or Kusa-yama, is said to represent the everyday world. The forest line, or Ki-yama, represents the transient area between the world of humans and the world of gods, and the “burned” area, or Yake-yama, at the top is said to represent the realm of the gods, Buddha and death.

Thus, to climb Mount Fuji is to descend from the living world to the realm of the dead and then back, by which pilgrims can wash away their sins…” Read the rest of the article at Heritage status will mean big changes

Yomiuri Shimbun reports on the historical significance of Mt. Fuji as a cultural heritage:

“The Japanese people have long worshiped the beautiful, towering Mt. Fuji as an awe-inspiring mountain. During the Edo period (1603-1867), commoners would climb the mountain en masse as members of a religious association centering around Mt. Fuji.

Since ancient times, the mountain has also been the subject of literature and poetry. This includes waka, traditional 31-syllable Japanese poems, as contained in the works of Manyoshu, the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry.

It has also been an indispensable theme in ukiyo-e woodblock prints and paintings from the Edo period and other artworks that have greatly influenced foreign artists, such as “The 36 Views of Mt. Fuji” by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). ” Read more from the article “Mt. Fuji listing will help spread Japanese culture around the world”(via ANN).

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Update: UNESCO recognizes iconic peak’s cultural influence | Mount Fuji named World Heritage site (Kyodo news via Japan Times, Jun 23, 2013)

The World Heritage Committee of UNESCO decided Saturday to inscribe Mount Fuji on the U.N. agency’s prestigious World Heritage list.

The 3,776-meter volcano straddling Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures was approved by the 21-member panel of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization during its 37th session in Cambodia’s capital.

Japan’s highest and most celebrated peak was designated a “cultural” rather than “natural” site and registered under the title “Mt. Fuji: Object of Worship, Wellspring of Art. Read more

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The Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha (pictured below) and Shizuoka Shizuoka Sengen Shrines are just but two of some 1,300 Asama shrines, centered mainly in Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures(and nearly all with a view of Mt Fuji), with a strong mountain cult based on the veneration of the kami of volcanos in general, and Mount Fuji in particular.

Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka, Japan, late 16th century, Muromachi era

Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka, Japan, late 16th century, Muromachi era

On the cult of Mt. Fuji from Asama Shrines:

“The derivation of the word “Asama” is subject to considerable uncertainty and debate, but the original meaning of the word appears to be connected with volcanoes or volcanic eruptions, and the presence of water springs in the foothills of such mountains. Mountain-worship based cults centered on Mount Asama(浅間山 Asama-san) in Niigata and Mount Asama (朝熊山 Asama-yama) in Mie appear contemporary with the mountain-cult centered on Mount Fuji, via references in the Man’yōshū. However, worship of Mount Fuji, as the tallest and most famous volcano in Japan came to dominate. Mount Fuji has erupted eighteen times in recorded history. In order to pacify it, the Imperial Court awarded it court rank and venerated it as Sengen Ōkami in the early Heian period

According to shrine tradition from the Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha, Sakanoue no Tamuramaro moved an existing shrine from the slopes of Mount Fuji to the lowlands during the reign of Emperor Suinin. Traditions also exist associating Mount Fuji with immortality-seeking wizards, and attribute the legendary mystical powers of En no Gyōja to his training on the mountain.

From the Heian period, the worship of the volcano kami as providers of water combined with Shingon esoteric Buddhism and with Shugendō practices.Yamabushi Matsudai Shōnin is said to have climbed Mount Fuji several hundred times and built a temple, with the retired Emperor Toba as his patron.

By the Muromachi period, pilgrimages to climb Mount Fuji increased in popularity, and mandala were produced both as souvenirs, and to spread the cult. Such mandala typically depicted pilgrims landing at Miho no Matsubara, and the various stages of the ascent of Mount Fuji. The top of the mountain is depicted as having three peaks, about which float various Buddhas and Bosatsu. In the Edo period, the Fuji-kō, a religious confraternity system became extremely popular in the Kantō region, using magico-religious practices with talismans to protect followers from illness and catastrophe, despite efforts by the authorities to discourage it.

After the Meiji Restoration, the cult of Mount Fuji declined precipitously…”

According to another Wikipedia article Fujisan Hongu Sengen Shrine:

“The foundation of the Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha predates the historical period. Per shrine tradition, it was established in reign of Emperor Suinin, with the shrine first built on its current location during the reign of Emperor Keikō. This was period of intense volcanic activity on Mount Fuji, and the shrine was built in order to appease the kami of the mountain. The shrine is mentioned in accounts of the legendary hero Yamato Takeru as well. The entire mountain was off-limits for religious reasons, except for Shugendō monks noted for the asceticism.

Historical records, however, only exist as far as the early ninth century. During the reign of Emperor HeizeiSakanoue no Tamuramaro was ordered to rebuild the Honden of the shrine in its current location. The Heian period Engishiki records list the shrine as the ichinomiya of Suruga Province. Pilgrimages to Mount Fuji became common in the ninth century, although women were forbidden from climbing.”

The article also notes that while the primary kami of Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha is the Konohanasakuya-hime (木花咲耶姫?), the daughter of Ōyamatsu-no-mikoto (大山祇命?), the “association of Konohanasakuya-hime with Mount Fuji appears to date only to the early Edo period. Previous to this, the kami of Mount Fuji was named Asama no Okami (浅間大神?), also known as Asama Daimyōjin (浅間大明神?), Asama Gongen (浅間権現?) or Sengen Daibōsatsu (浅間大菩薩?).”

***

The tradition of another of the Asama shrines, Shizuoka Sengen Shrine(Wikipedia source), also suggests that inhabitants in the area or of the shrine go back to earlier times (Kofun Period).

“The area has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and a Kofun period burial mound has been excavated at Mount Shizuhata. Per the Nihon Shoki, the area was colonized by the Hata clan during this period. According to unsubstantiated shrine legend, the foundation of the Kambe Jinja dates to the reign of Emperor Sujin, that of the Ohtoshimioya Shrine to the reign of Emperor Ojin, both from the Kofun period.

Per the Engishiki records, Kambe Jinja was given national recognition and status of the Sōja of Suruga Province in the Heian period. Also, the date of 901 is given for the foundation of the Sengen Jinja, as a subsidiary branch of the Fujisan Hongū Sengen Taisha, and initially was referred to as the “Shingu” (new shrine).

The primary kami of Kambe Jinja is the Ohnamuchi-no-Mikoto, who is regarded as the mythical founding deity of Suruga Province.

The primary kami of Sengen Jinja is the Konohanasakuya-hime, the deity of Mount Fuji.

The primary kami of Ohtoshimioya Shrine is the Ohtoshimioya-no-Mikoto, who appears in the Kojiki as a daughter of Susano-o, and a kami protecting markets and commerce”.

***

Earliest fish stews were cooked in Japan during last ice age, experts say

In the chilly final years of the last ice age, hunting communities in Japan may have served up warm fish stews of salmon and shellfish for dinner.

In charred scrapings from clay pots dating back to the Jomon period 15,000 years ago, scientists found well-preserved traces of fat from marine and freshwater fish and shellfish. The pots themselves are among the oldest clay vessels found anywhere, but until now, no one could confirm what they were used for.”It is the oldest example of cooking in pottery,” Oliver Craig, a senior lecturer in archaeology at the University of York, told NBC News. Craig is the lead author of a research paper on the pots appearing in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature.

Even older clay vessels have been found in China, but pinpointing their age has been difficult. The flakes of burnt pottery have introduced archaeologists to a Stone Age society that stewed their fish and ate it in groups, going against the stereotype of Stone Age humans as hunters and gatherers. The researchers analyzed up to 30 milligrams of burnt remains from 101 vessels that were found at 13 different sites.

News sources: nbcnews.comtbsnewsi

This is a High Definition Movie that is exhibited in Idojiri
Archeological Museum(http://www.alles.or.jp/~fujimi/idojiri.html) of
Fujimi Machi, Nagano, Japan.

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More related reports: Pottery reveals Ice Age hunter-gatherers’ taste for fish (The University of York, 10 April 2013)

Hunter-gatherers living in glacial conditions produced pots for cooking fish, according to the findings of a pioneering new study led by the University of York which reports the earliest direct evidence for the use of ceramic vessels.

This study demonstrates that it is possible to analyse organic residues from some of the world’s earliest ceramic vessels
Dr Oliver Craig

Scientists from the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden and Japan carried out chemical analysis of food residues in pottery up to 15,000 years old from the late glacial period, the oldest pottery so far investigated. It is the first study to directly address the often posed question “why humans made pots?”  The research is published inNature.

The research team was able to determine the use of a range of hunter-gatherer “Jōmon” ceramic vessels through chemical analysis of organic compounds extracted from charred surface deposits. The samples analysed are some of the earliest found in Japan, a country recognised to be one of the first centres for ceramic innovation, and date to the end of the Late Pleistocene – a time when humans were adjusting to changing climates and new environments.

Until quite recently ceramic container technologies have been associated with the arrival of farming, but we now know they were a much earlier hunter-gatherer adaptation, though the reasons for their emergence and subsequent widespread uptake are poorly understood. The first ceramic containers must have provided prehistoric hunter-gatherers with attractive new ways for processing and consuming foods but until now virtually nothing was known of how or for what early pots were used.

The researchers recovered diagnostic lipids from the charred surface deposits of the pottery with most of the compounds deriving from the processing of freshwater or marine organisms. Stable isotope data support the lipid evidence, and suggest that the majority of the 101 charred deposits, analysed from across Japan, were derived from high trophic level aquatic foods.

Dr Oliver Craig, of the Department of Archaeology and Director of the BioArCh research centre at York, led the research. He said: “Foragers first used pottery as a revolutionary new strategy for the processing of marine and freshwater fish but perhaps most interesting is that this fundamental adaptation emerged over a period of severe climate change.

“The reliability and high abundance of food along shorelines and river-banks may well have provided the initial impetus for an investment in producing ceramic containers, perhaps to make the most of seasonal gluts or as part of elaborate celebratory feasts and could be linked to a reduction in mobility. This initial phase of ceramic production probably paved the way for further intensification in the warmer climate of the Holocene when we see much more pottery on Japanese sites.

“This study demonstrates that it is possible to analyse organic residues from some of the world’s earliest ceramic vessels. It opens the way for further study of hunter-gatherer pottery from later periods to clarify the development of what was a revolutionary technology.”

The study also involved researchers from Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford; Division of Chemistry and Environmental Sciences, Manchester Metropolitan University; School of Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool; Department of Archaeology, University of Aberdeen; Centre for the Study of Cultural Evolution, Stockholm University; The Archaeological Research Laboratory, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Stockholm University and Arctic Centre, University of Groningen, Netherlands; and Niigata Prefectural Museum of History, Niigata; Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto and  Wakasa History and Folklore Museum, Fukui, in Japan.

The research was supported by the Leverhulme Trust and Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science.

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In the news: British Museum acquires 15-m-hand-painted scroll giving a scene by scene account of day of the arrival of US Commodore Matthew Perry’s fleet in 1854

One wonders how such a valuable historic scroll could have slipped out of Japan and past the Japanese government official who rubber-stamped the export license permitting its exit from Japanese shores …

British Museum snaps up historic scroll depicting birth of modern Japan

Maev Kennedy
The GuardianTuesday 2 April 2013

Hand-painted scroll, which portrays arrival of US fleet in 1854, pokes fun at American etiquette during expedition to Japan

British Museum buys Japanese scroll

A Japanese scroll showing in meticulous detail the arrival of the US fleet led by Commodore Matthew Perry in 1854 has been acquired by the British Museum. (guardian.co.uk )

A Japanese scroll showing in meticulous detail the arrival of the US fleet led by Commodore Matthew Perry in 1854 has been acquired by the British Museum.

The hand-painted scroll, depicting a key moment in Japanese history that ended centuries of isolation and opened up the country to western trade, unrolls for 15 metres (50ft). It gives a scene-by-scene account of the day, in which the Japanese remain stately and dignified but decorum seems to break down among the Americans, at a formal banquet one hides some of the food in his hat, while others turn the porcelain serving bowls upside down to study the maker’s marks.

Tim Clark, the museum’s keeper of Japanese collections, has been wrestling with a colleague at Osaka University to translate the formal language of the preface, written in Japanese but with Chinese characters. In part it reads: “Mr Maruyama has employed an artist to paint this not just for amusement, of course. The main purpose is simply so our descendants in future generations will get a vivid idea of how great was the authority of the Shogunate [military ruler] on this occasion.”

It is hard not to imagine the descendants rolling on the floor with laughter at the absurdity of the Americans. As entertainment the Japanese offered sumo wrestling, and one image shows the gigantic sportsmen standing impassively as the incredulous Americans, who appear to have drunk something more than green tea, poke and prod at them. In return, the Americans offer their own startling entertainment – a minstrel show performed by members of the crew in blackface.

“I think you have to imagine this scroll being unrolled for private delectation perhaps after a very good dinner,” Clark said.

After decades when foreigners and foreign trade were permitted only in one port, Perry had arrived with three ships in Edo Bay in July 1853, with a letter from US President Fillmore asking to open trade relations.

He promised, or threatened, to return with more ships, and the scroll opens with the horizon ominously crowded with black ships, including paddle steamers, which clearly fascinated the Japanese artists.

The landing party includes a brass band and a small group carrying the coffin and carved wooden grave markers for a sailor who died on board two days earlier. Curiosities such as American steel-framed umbrellas and the musical instruments get their own panels, along with gifts presented including a miniature train and track.

Rowdy behaviour by the cabin boys, and their later dressing-down from the American officers, also attracts the artists’ attention.

The day ended with the signing of the treaty of Kanagawa, between the US mission and the representatives of the Shogun, which laid the foundation for further treaties, the opening of the trading ports, and the rapid transformation of Japan.

Other representations of the day are known, including much more straight-faced US versions with illustrations and photographs. However the new acquisition is the most comprehensive view from the Japanese side, made four years after the event but based on sketches on the day.

The scroll is not signed, but Clark believes it is the work of two artists who were actually there, one disguised as a physician to a magistrate who was one of the main negotiators, the other as his medicine-box carrier.

The later history of the scroll is unknown, but Clark was alerted to it by a London dealer, after the Japanese government granted it an export licence.

“I had no idea it existed – when he unrolled it for me first I did feel a bit weak at the knees,” he said.

The present display in the Japanese galleries ends with the arrival of Perry, symbolic of the birth of modern Japan. The museum has acquired the scroll, thanks to several grants and donations, for £400,000.

The paintings, on silk-backed paper, are in astonishing condition. There was some worm damage to the scroll, but confined to the unpainted margins.

The artwork will be on display for the first time in the Japanese galleries at the British Museum from 17 April until October, but since there is no case large enough to show the whole thing, it will be rolled on each month to reveal more scenes. An online gallery will be at www.britishmuseum.org.

Researchers Investigate Hashihaka Ancient Tomb

hashihaka ancient tomb asahi getty images

SAKURAI, JAPAN – FEBRUARY 20, 2013: In this aerial image, the Hashihaka Ancient Tomb is seen on February 20, 2013 in Sakurai, Nara, Japan. The tomb, some researchers believe Queen Himiko’s, is open for the investigation for the first time due to the tomb is under the Imperial Household Agency. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images) 

Hashihaka pt 2

 

Researchers allowed first on-site survey of ancient tomb in Nara

By Ida Torres  /   February 21, 201 Japan Daily Press

Researchers were finally allowed by the Imperial Household Agency to make an on-site survey of the ancient Hashihaka Kofun tombs in Sakurai, Nara Prefecture. This could lead to confirmation whether or not the burial mound is of Queen Himiko, an obscure ancient Japanese queen.

Sixteen researchers representing fifteen academic societies were allowed access to the Hashihaka (Chopstick Tomb) Kofun (Tumulus) for research purposes. Even though they were not allowed to excavate or take soil samples, the inspection marks a major step towards uncovering and understanding ancient history. This ancient burial spot has been of interest to academic scholars because it is believed to be closely linked to Yamatai-koku, an ancient country in Wa (Japan) during the late Yayoi period (circa 300 BCE — 300 CE). The Yamatai-koku is a hot topic in the archeological circles, with some pointing to the current Kinki region, including Nara, while others suggest the Kyushu southwestern region as the location of the ancient kingdom.

The Hashihaka Kofun is the largest and oldest tomb mound that is also believed to be the first tomb of a king of the Yamato Court, which later evolved into the Imperial Family. Based on ancient documents like the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) and the Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan), Imperial burials were designated as the tombs of the Imperial family and have been closed to the public since the Meiji Era. But scholars and researchers believe that the tombs should be open to academic study since they are cultural assets. Since 1979, the Imperial Household Agency has partially opened the tombs once a year to the public while some parts of the tombs are repaired. Fumiaki Imao, an expert on Imperial burial mounds at Kashihara Archaeological Research Institute is hoping that they will allow more access for further studies.

See also Yomiuri Shimbun’s report: Researchers survey possible tomb of ancient Queen Himiko

Yomiuri — Feb 21. 2013
Researchers on Wednesday conducted the first-ever on-site survey of an ancient tomb in Sakurai, Nara Prefecture, that some believe may be the tomb of legendary Queen Himiko.

The Imperial Household Agency administers the Hashihaka tomb, built around the third century for a daughter of Emperor Korei. It was the first time that access to the tomb has been allowed for research purposes.Himiko is said to have governed a kingdom called Yamataikoku. The location of Yamataikoku is a hot archeological topic in Japan, with some researchers pointing to the current Kinki region, including Nara, while others suggest the Kyushu southwestern region.

Click on this link for videoclip of Kyodo news broadcast “卑弥呼の墓”を3D測量 前方部は3段構造と判明

卑弥呼の墓?立ち入り調査 奈良・箸墓古墳

On the trail of the torii’s origins

Shime torii: just two posts and a shimenawa

Shinmei torii

Ise torii – a shinmei torii with a kasagi pentagonal in section, a shimaki and kusabi

   Myojin – kusagi and shimaki are curved upwards

Kasuga torii /myōjin torii with straight top lintels cut at a square angle

Mihashira toriis showing Nestorian influences -  records of Konoshima Shrine in Kyoto, hinting at Nestorian influences in the construction of the torii, state that the three pillars represent the heavens, the earth, and mankind

Above: Evolution of earliest forms of torii (Wikimedia Commons)

One of the more plausible and elaborately argued theories of the origins of the torii architecture and symbology in Japan is associated with the Indo-Iranian or Persian bird perch.

“The Phœnix, like the bird Feng, is a mystical bird said to live 500 or 600 years and then to build for itself in the desert a funeral pyre of dried grasses and sweet spices. To this it sets fire by fluttering its wings whilst hovering over it, is then consumed, but from the ashes it rises again renewed in youth and in its gorgeous plumage; an idea appropriated by old-established fire insurance offices, the symbol of which is familiar to all.

The Phœnix is believed by the Chinese to uphold their Empire and preside over its destiny; it is also worn as a Talisman for Longevity and Conjugal Happiness; whilst in the mystic sense it typifies the- whole world, its head the heavens, its eyes the Sun, its beak the Moon, its wings the wind, its feet the earth, and its tail the trees and plants.

To the Japanese the Phœnix, or ho-wo bird, is a Talisman for Rectitude, Obedience, Fidelity, Justice, and Benevolence, and they consider it a manifestation of the Sun, its appearance on earth being considered a portent of great events. The torii, a kind of gate elaborately carved and decorated at the entrances of Shinto temples, is erected for the Phœnix to perch upon should it visit the earth (see Illustration No. 40, Plate III).

Source: The Book of Talismans, Amulets and Zodiacal Gems, by William Thomas and Kate Pavitt, [1922], at sacred-texts.com  p. 38-39 [The phoenix is also a common emblem adorning the top of the roof of the portable mikoshi shrine].

The torii is explained as a sacred perch where the Phoenix alights In the excerpt “The Torii. [Shinto Gateway.] from the 1902 copy of the “Mythological Japan : the symbolisms of mythology in relation to Japanese art, with illustrations drawn in Japan, by native artists” by Alexander F. Otto and Theodore S Holbrook:

“The whispering voices of tradition — how we treasure them — tell us that the Torii, the stately, well poised gateway of Shinto faith, has an office that lifts it far above the commonplace. The Sun at divers times and places, comes down to earth in the form of the great and wondrous Ho- Wo Bird, or Heavenly Phoenix, using for its perch one of the many Torii Gates, which the good people of Japan have built and placed throughout the land for that most exalted purpose.

The traveller may still see the Torii at the entrance to the Shinto temple grounds, where it appears as the signification of the true gateway to a life of grace ; in art, it is used innumerable times in the decoration of Japan’s fairest ornaments.”

This suggests a original and remoter provenance from some Persian influenced ideology upon early relic technology from the area of Anyang’s Yin ruins site, Shandong (or the other early Chinese tribes) where a rare small torii has been excavated from an underground burial tomb chamber. Alternatively, as the earliest torii is said to have been from the Kofun kurgan period, the torii may in fact have been of Indo-Iranic influences from incoming Saka migrants. Torii are gates have been observed to resemble the torana at Sanchi, in India which betrays the Indo-Iranian Saka sun-worshipping tribes who settled mainly in the Northern and Northwestern parts of the Indian subcontinent.

In India (at Sanchi), the torana (Wikimedia Commons)

Also in India:

Gate to the Bodhgaya temple 8th century in Gaya, India

Gate to the Bodhgaya temple 8th century in Gaya, India

Gateway to the Umananda Temple, Kamrup, Nepal

Gateway to the Umananda Temple, Kamrup District, Guwahati, Assam

Shrine gate to Srivaishnavi temple, Aavadi

Shrine gate to Srivaishnavi temple, Aavadi

In China:

Gateway to the Yin ruins, Museum of Anyang, China

Gateway to the Yin ruins, Museum of Anyang, China

Gateway in Anyang, China

Gateway in Anyang, China, see also the archways of Xidi village, Huizhou

Archway to the tomb of Niu Gao, Hangzhou, China

Archway to the tomb of Niu Gao(1087-1147), Henan Lushan County, China

The Korean hongsalmun, at the shrine of the clan Yi of Jeonju (Wikimedia Commons) The Korean hongsalmun has the same function and role of demarcate the area and the sacred space inside the shrine.

For a further evolution of torii structural styles in Japan see the JAANUS article “torii for elaboration of the topic.

***

According to Wikipedia’s entry on “Torii”:

Because the use of symbolic gates is widespread in Asia—such structures can be found for example in India, China, Thailand, Korea, and within Nicobarese and Shompen villages—historians believe they may be an imported tradition.

They may for example have originated in India from the torana gates in the monastery of Sanchi in central India.[1] According to this theory, the torana was adopted by Shingon Buddhism founder Kūkai, who used it to demarcate the sacred space used for the homa ceremony.[8] The hypothesis arose in the 19th and 20th centuries due to similarities in structure and name between the two gates. Linguistic and historical objections have now emerged, but no conclusion has yet been reached.[5]

In Bangkok, Thailand, a religious structure called Sao Ching Cha strongly resembles a torii. Functionally, however, it is very different as it is used as a swing.[5] During ceremonies Brahmins swing, trying to grab a bag of coins placed on one of the pillars.

Other theories claim torii may be related to the pailou of China. These structures however can assume a great variety of forms, only some of which actually somewhat resemble a torii.[5]

Pailou, Xujiang, Jiangxi

Pailou, Xujiang, Jiangxi

This pailou in Xujiang, Jiangxi is similar to theMiwa shrine’s torii below.

The Korean hongsalmun (紅箭門) is the most likely actual relative of the torii.[5][note 2] Structurally, being red and composed by two vertical posts crossed by two horizontal lintels, it strongly resembles it. Hongsalmun also stand free in front or near a sacred location, and are just a symbolic borderline between sacred and profane. The major difference between the two lies in the fact that in Korea the two horizontal lintels do not lie on top of the pillars, but are surpassed in height by them. In spite of these obvious similarities which suggest a relationship, it is still unclear whether this is a case of parallel evolution, or if either one gave birth to the other.[5]“

The above ambivalent position taken on the origins of the torii notwithstanding, we would like to examine the possibility of the torii architecture being derived from Indo-Iranian (proto-Persian) religious symbolism and attendant influences upon mainland religions.

The Simurgh(Simorgh)’s Perch

The Persians have a mystical tale of the Touba was a (pomegranate) tree in Paradise where the mythical bird, the Simorgh loved to perch, according to Persian literature “Touba and the Meaning of Night” by Shahrnush Parsipur, Havva Houshmand. Although according to Hafiz, the Persian Poet, the Simorgh perched ” on the dewy boughs of stately pine”

The Simorgh was a creature of Middle Eastern mythology which took hybrid form of a human head and  figure of a bird.  The legendary Simorgh was believed to be so old that it had seen the destruction of the world three times over.

Simorgh

M. C. Escher owned this Simorgh figurine, a gift from his father-in-law, who acquired it as a wedding gift in Azerbaijan Photo courtesy: Cordon Art B.V., Baarn, The Netherlands

The tale of the Simorgh

“there was a carved wooden statue of a phoenix at the tip of the cliff.  What’s that I asked my mother? It’s a phoenix, it’s really like our bird. The Simorgh she explained was a mystical bird, the leader king of all birds  thousands of years ago . One day the birds were summoned and asked to undertake a journey to reach their king They accepted, though it was a hazardous journey fraught with obstacles and Some of the birds, the nightingale, the sparrow dropped out along the way. …in the end, the birds made it to the final valley gathered and waited expectantly to meet their leader. Their guide turned to them and announced there was no leader, no Simorgh,  just themselves. That if they looked around them–they would realize that they themselves were the Simorgh. The tale relied on a play of words. In Farsi ‘si’ meant thirty, ‘morgh’ meant bird. The birds looked around and realized there were thirty of them. The goal of their journey which they had imagined as a quest for their king, was actually their quest  for self.”

Source: “Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran” By Azadeh Moaveni.

The tale of the Simorgh is found in the tale of Zal or Zaal, a legendary Persian warrior from the old Persian “The Book of Kings/ The king of books” or Shahnameh, as well as in Peter Sis’ illustrated “The Conference of the Birds“, an adaptation of the classic twelfth-century Sufi epic, see review by Randall Hayes for the Audubon Bird Society excerpted below.

The Conference of the Birds

Birds!

Look at the troubles happening in our world!

Anarchy–discontent–upheaval!

Desperate fights over territory, water, and food!

Poisoned air! Unhappiness!

I fear we are lost. We must do something!

I’ve seen the world. I know many secrets.

Listen to me: I know of a king who has all the answers.

We must go and find him

After a good bit of funny and very human arguing, the birds flap off to find their king, called Simorgh. Their search covers half the world, and at the end they realize that THEY are Simorgh….

Sassanid silver plate with a depiction of a simurgh (Sēnmurw), 7-8th c. CE (Wikimedia Commons)

Tomb mural painting depicting of the arrival of Saka(?) warriors with upcurling toed-boots, from across the sea to Kyushu, with their hemp-fans and horse cultures. Notice the griffin-like creature slightly floating above the other figures, which may be the homa / huma bird of the early Iranian-Saka peoples. It is a close match with the griffin-homa creature seen in Iranian art in Persepolis (but less so with the griffins of the Altai region).  Homa, is “a legendary bird especially of the Persian branch of Iranian mythology and Sufi fable. It is said to never come to rest, living its entire life flying invisibly high above the earth, and never alighting on the ground…The word Huma which has a Persian origin is reflected in Old Iranian Humāya. In Arabic we find the term Bulah corresponding to Huma.  In Turkic mythology, it is referred as bird of Kumay or Umay which was used as a symbol of Çepni, one of the 24 tribal organizations of Oghuz Turks…  the Huma bird is said to be phoenix-like, consuming itself in fire every few hundred years, only to rise anew from the ashes. The creature is often referred to as bird of paradise...” — Source: Huma Bird

Excerpted from Simurgh:

“The simurgh is depicted in Iranian art as a winged creature in the shape of a bird, gigantic enough to carry off an elephant or a whale. It appears as a kind of peacock with the head of a dog and the claws of a lion; sometimes however also with a human face. The simurgh is inherently benevolent and unambiguously female…

The simurgh has teeth. It has an enmity towards snakes and its natural habitat is a place with plenty of water. Its feathers are said to be the colour of copper, and though it was originally described as being a Dog-Bird, later it was shown with either the head of a man or a dog. …

Iranian legends consider the bird so old that it had seen the destruction of the World three times over. The simurgh learned so much by living so long that it is thought to possess the knowledge of all the Ages. In one legend, the simurgh was said to live 1,700 years before plunging itself into flames (much like the phoenix).

The simurgh was considered to purify the land and waters and hence bestow fertility. The creature represented the union between the earth and the sky, serving as mediator and messenger between the two. The simurgh roosted in Gaokerena, the Hōm (Avestan: Haoma) Tree of Life, which stands in the middle of the world sea Vourukhasa. The plant is potent medicine, is called all-healing, and the seeds of all plants are deposited on it. When the simurgh took flight, the leaves of the tree of life shook making all the seeds of every plant to fall out. These seeds floated around the world on the winds of Vayu-Vata and the rains of Tishtrya, in cosmology taking root to become every type of plant that ever lived, and curing all the illnesses of mankind. …

The relationship between the simurgh and Hōm is extremely close. Like the simurgh, Hōm is represented as a bird, a messenger and as the essence of purity that can heal any illness or wound. Hōm – appointed as the first priest – is the essence of divinity, a property it shares with the simurgh. The Hōm is in addition the vehicle of farr(ah) (MP: khwarrah, Avestan: khvarenah, kavaēm kharēno) “[divine] glory” or “fortune”. Farrah in turn represents the divine mandate that was the foundation of a king’s authority.

It appears as a bird resting on the head or shoulder of would-be kings and clerics, so indicating Ormuzd’s acceptance of that individual as His divine representative on earth. For the commoner, Bahram wraps fortune/glory “around the house of the worshipper, for wealth in cattle, like the great bird Saena, and as the watery clouds cover the great mountains” (Yasht 14.41, cf. the rains of Tishtrya above). Like the simurgh, farrah is also associated with the waters of Vourukasha (Yasht 19.51,.56-57). In Yašt 12.17 Simorgh’s (Saēna’s) tree stands in the middle of the sea Vourukaša, it has good and potent medicine, is called all-healing, and the seeds of all plants are deposited on it. 

In the Shahnameh

The Simurgh made its most famous appearance in the Ferdowsi’s epic Shahname (Book of Kings), where its involvement with the Prince Zal is described. According to the Shahname, Zal, the son of Saam, was born albino. When Saam saw his albino son, he assumed that the child was the spawn of devils, and abandoned the infant on the mountain Alborz.

The child’s cries were carried to the ears of the tender-hearted Simurgh, who lived on top this peak, and she retrieved the child and raised him as her own. Zal was taught much wisdom from the loving Simurgh, who has all knowledge, but the time came when he grew into a man and yearned to rejoin the world of men. Though the Simurgh was terribly saddened, she gifted him with three golden feathers which he was to burn if he ever needed her assistance.

Upon returning to his kingdom, Zal fell in love and married the beautiful Rudaba. When it came time for their son to be born, the labor was prolonged and terrible; Zal was certain that his wife would die in labour. Rudabah was near death when Zal decided to summon the simurgh. The simurgh appeared and instructed him upon how to perform a cesarean section thus saving Rudabah and the child, who became one of the greatest Persian heroes, Rostam. Simurgh also shows up in the story of the Seven Trials of Esfandiar and the story of Rostam and Esfandiar.

In Azeri folklore

Simurgh also goes by the name of Zumrud (emerald). It was an ancient tale about Malik Mammad, the son of one of the wealthiest kings of Azerbaijan. That king had a big garden. In the center of this garden is a magical apple tree which yields apples every day. One ugly giant called Div decides to steal all the apples every night. The king sends Malik Mammad and his elder brothers fight the giant. In the middle of this tale Malik Mammad saves Simurgh’s babies from a dragon. Simurgh takes pleasure of Malik Mammad and decides to help him. When Malik Mammad wants to pass form The Dark world into the Light world Simurgh asks him to provide 40 half carcasses of meat and 40 wineskin filled with water. When Simurgh puts water on its left wing and meat on its right wing Malik Mammad is able to enter the Light world….

In Kurdish folklore

Simurgh is shortened to Sīmīr in the Kurdish language. The scholar Trever quotes two Kurdish folktales about the bird. These versions go back to the common stock of Iranian Simorḡ stories. In one of the folk tales, a hero rescues Simurgh’s off-springs by killing a snake that is crawling up the tree to feed upon them. As a reward Sīmīr(Simurgh) gives him three of her feathers; which the hero can call for help by burning them. Later the hero uses the feathers, and Simurgh carries him to a distant land. In the other tale, Simurgh carries the hero out of the netherworld; here Simurgh feeds its young with its teats, a trait which agrees with the description of the Simurgh in the Middle Persian book of Zdspram. “

From the above, we can see that the Simurgh symbolizes purity, divinity, and the gateway to the Netherworld and the journey from the Dark World into the Light World.

Parthian city of Simorghian bird and tori is residence of sacred bird and Asuka was the capital city of Japan in Asuka era (500-645). Asuka was derived from Persian word “Ark Saca” which means the sacred place of the Saccas (Scythians). Parthian “Arsaces” has the same origins. Hi 飛 means flying, Tori 鳥 means bird. Asuka 飛鳥 means “flying bird”. The bird is Simorgh (Goddess Div).

TOJO Masato concluded in his great treatise “An introduction to Simorghian Culture and Mithraism in East Asia” on Persian influences in Japan:

“Torii is the gate of Shintô shrine. Tori 鳥 means bird, I 居 means residence. Therefore Torii 鳥居 means a residence of a bird (Simorgh). Shintô shrines are residents of Simorgh. This word is also Iranian origin. The shape of torii is symbolical representation of Simorgh as the winged disk widely used in Persia” (Source: Imoto. Ancient Iranian Culture and its influences on Japanese Culture, Panel Discussion, 2007 January 21th Sunday). 

While in the Asuka period, Asuka 飛鳥 means “flying bird” and its symbolism is strongly associated with the phoenix or as argued by scholars, the Simorghian bird, as a bird perch the tori architecture is also often strongly associated with the rooster or cock perch, therefore showing perhaps a stronger Sraosa affinity as gate to the Underworld or possibly paradise, since Sraosa was better known as accompanied by messenger cockerels (with ancient statuary found in Luristan).

***

Another more remoter but possible early prototype of the shrine gate is the Jewish doorpost and gateway:

Lechis – Strip used to represent a doorpost. Can be made of anything solid from a length of twine to a 2×4 or I-beam. In the Boston Eruv, lechis are usually made of black plastic U-guard, of the type employed by the telephone company for protecting ground wires coming down the side of a utility pole. The lechis are affixed to the pole using U-shaped nails. The lechi is attached to a utility pole side starting at the ground and continuing upwards until just beneath whichever cable is being used as the vertical member of the Tzurat HaPesach (see below).

Korah The lintel portion of the Tzurat HaPesah (see below). This horizontal member can be an existing physical structure such as an existing utility (phone or cable, usually phone) cable that is already in place between a set of two poles. If no cables are located where the two Eruv poles are being used (for example along the Massachusetts Turnpike where the Eruv erected standalone poles), a length of plastic (polypropylene) baling twine is stretched between the tops of the two poles. The twine is insensitive to moisture and cold and only mildly sensitive to sun, i.e. ultraviolet radiation exposure. It holds little moisture and does not tend to build up ice during the winter. It does suffer from abrasion damage if tree branches rub against it. However, since it is electrically non-conductive, the various granting agencies allow the Eruv to use it.

Tzurat HaPesach A doorway opening. The construction of two doorposts and an overhead lintel. This construction is used when the Eruv fence or border is open and some way must be found to maintain perimeter continuity. In one case, two poles can be erected at the edges of the gap and a length of non-conducting twine is stretched carefully between the two pole tops. It is critical that the twine be attached to the pole over the absolute top of the pole and not to the pole side.

The term eruv refers to the act of mixing or combining, and is shorthand for eruv hazerot–the mixing of domains, in this case, the private (rashut hayahid) and the public (rashut harabim). An eruv does not allow for carrying items otherwise prohibited by Jewish law on Shabbat, such as money or cell phones.

Having an eruv does not mean that a city or neighborhood is enclosed entirely by a wall. Rather, the eruv can be comprised of a series of pre-existing structures (walls, fences, electrical poles and wires) and/or structures created expressly for the eruv, often a wire mounted on poles. In practice, then, the eruv is a symbolic demarcation of the private sphere, one that communities come together to create

Despite its symbolic nature, the eruv is intended to mimic in some way the form of walls, which need doorways–defined as two posts with a crossbeam over them, strong enough to withstand an ordinary wind. The eruv likewise needs openings, consisting of crossbeams resting or passing directly over the top of the doorpost (lehi). This is how modern rabbis arrived at the solution of having the eruv be made of a wire: The poles holding up the wire represent the “doorposts,” and the wire itself represents the “crossbeam.”

Many communities construct their eruvim by using lighting (or utility) poles to fulfill the requirement of doorposts and a continuous cable, string, or wire to represent the crossbeam. In order for this arrangement to be acceptable, the “beam” must rest directly above the top of the doorposts

It has also been nicknamed–using the Yiddish word for carrying–”the magic schlepping circle.” Since the social aspect of Shabbat is one of the most significant elements fostering community bonding, the eruv proves to be instrumental in enhancing the Shabbat experience, though disagreements and disputes surrounding its very nature and essence are likely to continue.

It may be that early forms of the eruv doorpost emerged from and were carried by an extremely ancient migratory lineage of Semitic-Arab origin who are represented by haplogroup D-bearing  (Y-DNA) ethnic population groups including the Druzes, the Kalash(pre-Vedic culture of Pamir-Hindu Kush mountains), the Sindhi of Pakistan, etc. (see the map of the haplogroup D trail) who eventually reached Japan during the Kofun Period in substantial numbers as bearers of pre-Vedic rituals and horse and sacrificial culture with them.

Another bird-symbolism cultural zone may be associated with the Y-DNA haplogroup N. Haplogroup N1b forms two distinctive subclusters of STR haplotypes, Asian and European, the latter now mostly distributed in Uralic-speakers and related populations. Haplogroup N1b (N-P43)..is defined by the presence of the marker P43 and is found frequently among Northern Samoyedic peoples; also found at low to moderate frequency among some other Uralic peoples, Turkic peoples, Mongolic peoples, Tungusic peoples, and Siberian Yupiks.

Haplogroup N1c (N-M46)is approximately 14,000 years old. The mutations that define the subclade N-M46 (old name N3) are M46/Tat and P105. This is the most frequent subclade of N. It arose probably in the region of present day China, and subsequently experienced serial bottlenecks in Siberia and secondary expansions in eastern Europe.[4]

In Siberia, haplogroup N-M46 reaches a maximum frequency of approximately 90% among the Yakuts, a Turkic people who live mainly in the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic. However, it is practically non-existent among many of the Yakuts’ neighboring ethnic groups, such as Tungusic speakers. It also has been detected in 2.4% (2/85) of a sample from Seoul, South Korea[18] and in 1.4% (1/70) of a sample from Tokushima, Japan[10]. The haplogroup N-M46 has a low diversity among Yakuts suggestive of a population bottleneck or founder effect.[19] This was confirmed by a study of ancient DNA which traced the origins of the male Yakut lineages to a small group of horse-riders from the Cis-Baïkal area.

Subclade of N-M178 Haplogroup N1c1 (previously known as N3a) is defined by the presence of markers M178 and P298. Miroslava Derenko and her colleagues noted that there are two subclusters within this haplogroup, both present in Siberia and Northern Europe, with different histories. The one that they labelled N3a1 first expanded in south Siberia (approximately 10,000 years ago) and spread into Northern Europe (Finns -60%; Latvians – 40%; Estonians – 35% frequencies)  while, the younger subcluster, which they labelled N3a2, originated in south Siberia (probably in the Baikal region). Source: Haplogroup N (Wikipedia)

The upshot of the above is that given the two ancient migratory lineages Y-DNA haplogroups D and N present in Japan, both regions have strong bird-death-netherworld cultures, the former from the Middle Eastern semitic-Arab lands, and the latter from Siberian lands, the theory (see Wikipedia’s “Torii”) advancing the bird-Netherworld association that is strongly associated with the Middle East becomes highly plausible:

Because in Japan birds have long had a connection with the dead, this may mean it was born in connection with some prehistorical funerary rite. Ancient Japanese texts like the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki for example mention how Yamato Takeru after his death became a white bird and in that form chose a place for his own burial.[5] For this reason, his mausoleum was then called shiratori misasagi (白鳥陵?, white bird grave). Many later texts also show some relationship between dead souls and white birds, a link common also in other cultures, shamanic like the Japanese. Bird motifs from the Yayoi and Kofun periods associating birds with the dead have also been found in several archeological sites. This relationship between birds and death would also explain why, in spite of their name, no visible trace of birds remains in today’s torii: birds were symbols of death, which in Shinto brings defilement (kegare)

The last sentence is however, somewhat incorrect since rooster symbolism and sacrifice remains associated with Ise Shrines and the Amaterasu myth, and are seen on Rooster Market Day (Tori-no-ichi festivals) held at O-Tori-jinja shrines, as well as Tengu- or three-legged-crow- motifs that are widespread and iconic in many mountain shrines). The rooster symbol was a messenger for Sraosa as well as for early Jizos, and rooster fowl sacrifices are known all across India, the Bengal into Austronesian parts of Asia. The same mythical components of the rooster crowing and sun hiding in the cave, are shared by both the Japanese Amaterasu myth as well as the Miao legends (both lineages share the same ancient mtDNA M7 genetic pool). It is possible that the rooster was coopted as the bird symbol for the royal myth rather than the phoenix because firstly, the M7 lineages had arrived in Japan earlier than the Saka royals and elites, and secondly, because they were more heavily involved in agricultural rites in which the sun’s seasonal return had the greater significance. The rooster for the Iranians/Persians was also more central to funerary rites as an escort in the Afterlife Passage through the Underworld, while the Homa bird, Simurgh, Phoenix are more auspicious symbols of good fortune and are thus appear widely in conjunction with matsuri-festivals.  Due to constraints of space here, for deeper treatment of  this bird symbol, please see Rooster Symbolism and Rooster rituals and sacrifices in various cultures and since ancient times.

Kiyotosaku 76 Rockcut tomb, Futaba-machi

Baikal-Mongol? or Indo-Saka? Horse-riders, ca 300-700 AD. Kiyotosaku no 76 Rockcut tomb, Futaba-machi, Tomioka, Fukushima

It is thus suggested here that the early toriis were architecture that came whole and parcel together with the Indo-Iranian Saka sun-worshipping lineages (and their sun-kings and rock-sky-vault and Earth-Womb-Cave-Passage-Netherworld burial culture)  that had arrived in Japan from the mainland continent in China as well as Korea, especially associated with the elite royal lineages.

Sources and references:

Eruv By Sharonne Cohen

James Edward Ketelaar.Of Heretics and Martyrs in Meiji Japan. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990. p.59

Derenko M, Malyarchuk B, Denisova GA et al: Y-chromosome haplogroup N dispersals from south Siberia to Europe. J Hum Genet 2007; 52: 763 – 770

Malyarchuk B, Derenko M: On the origin of Y-chromosome haplogroup N1b. Eur J Hum Genet. 2009 Dec;17(12):1540-1; author reply 1541-3. doi: 10.1038/ejhg.2009.100. Epub 2009 Jun 17.

The Huma bird (Wikipedia)

Ancient Chinese arrowhead found in Japan

Ancient Chinese arrowhead

Credit: Okayama City properties division

UPI, Jan. 24, 2013

OSAKA, Japan, Jan. 24 (UPI) — Archaeologists say an ancient Chinese arrowhead unearthed in Okayama City in Western Japan is the first of its kind discovered in the country.

The bronze arrowhead has been dated to the Warring States period of ancient Chinese history, 475 B.C. to 221 B.C., China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported Thursday.

Researchers said the Chinese artifact, a “double-winged bronze arrowhead,” was unearthed at the Minamigata ruins located in the city center of Okayama.

The arrowhead, 1.4 inches long by a half inch wide, was found together with pottery fragments and pieces of stoneware dated to Japan’s Iron Age Middle Yayoi period, about 300 B.C. to 100 B.C.

The double-winged shape of the arrowhead represents a distinctive manufacturing style from the era of ancient China, suggesting it was imported by an influential group with care from the continent to western Japan, archaeologists said.

“Considering that there is a considerable time gap between its original production in China and the actual usage in Japan, the thin bronze arrowhead must have been used as a ritual item or burial good rather than a weapon,” Minoru Norioka, director of Okayama City’s properties division, said.

 

 

 

Tales of Mystic Mountain: The Legend of the Levitating Monk of Mt Horai-ji

Horaiji Temple on Mt Horaiji (鳳来寺 東照宮)

It is said that 1,300 years ago, on the peaks of Mt Horai lived an ascetic monk and hermit called Rishu. According to temple tradition, Rishu founded the Horaiji Temple in 703. Pilgrims of old approached the temple up a winding stone staircase of 1,425 steps through a primeval wood of towering cryptomeria cedars, and cypresses, the mountain made for a truly magnificently mystical setting for mountain ascetic practitioners. Interest in the mountain as a popular spot for pilgrimages, peaked during the Edo Period.

Mikawa Province, Horaiji Temple Giclee Print

Mikawa Province, Horaiji Temple  by Ando Hiroshige. 

The Temple belongs to the Shingon Buddhist sect, but its founding by the obscure mystic Rishu inexplicably shows dates that are earlier than the late 8th century origin of of Shingon Buddhism usually attributed to the more famous monk Kukai.

<a href="/Attraction_Review-g1019656-d1310011-Reviews-Horaiji_Temple-Shinshiro_Aichi_Prefecture_Chubu.html">Horaiji Temple</a>: Photos
Horaiji Temple (Photo courtesy of TripAdvisor)

Local legends cast a pall of mystery over the mountain temple’s early background. Below is a conflated story from two accounts of the origins of the miracle hotsprings of Yuya valley as well as the founding of Horaiji Temple.

The Legend of the Levitating Monk

Around 1300 years ago, a Buddhist monk named Rishu was said to have happily discovered a natural hot spring bubbling to the surface of the Yuya valley in what is today’s Aichi prefecture.  Rishu according to some accounts, was at the time already residing in the mountains when the 42nd Emperor of Japan whom we know to be Emperor Mommu and who was very ill at the time..

Trained in the Buddhist arts of healing, Rishu was called upon to find a cure for the Emperor and supernaturally carried away by a phoenix to the royal palace. At the palace, the monk worked hard for 17 days and the Emperor successfully made a full recovery.

As a reward for his work, the monk was allowed to establish the Horaiji Temple (which means ‘Phoenix Come Temple’) in the mountains above the Yuya hotsprings.
<a href="/Attraction_Review-g1019656-d1310011-Reviews-Horaiji_Temple-Shinshiro_Aichi_Prefecture_Chubu.html">Horaiji Temple</a>: Pictures
This photo of Horaiji Temple is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Now, dwelling on the peak of Mt Horai didn’t make it particularly convenient for Rishu to visit the hotsprings that he so favored.  So he levitated his way down the mountain.

Swooping powerfully down from the peaks of 684m-high Mt. Horaiji like a kyarobinga, and yet gracefully poised like an apsara with his robes gracefully flapping around him and all the while playing his flute, was how Rishu would visit the hot spring waters near the Ure River. This unusual method of travel and the holy monk’s frequent dips made such an impression on the locals, that they thought it opportune to open bathhouses there, in the belief that these would be waters with magical healing powers.

Now there’s a tale that could have given a movie such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon a run for their money. This legend embodies the full flavour of the religious worldview of the time – the idea of Bosatsu or Bodhisattvas floating on clouds often playing musical instruments —  was part of the vision of the Pure Land Paradise (see Bosatsu on Clouds | Flying Apsaras) and is a major feature of Japanese art spanning several centuries including Rishu’s period.

Furthermore, Mount Horai is Japan’s equivalent of, a concept that arose in China and Chinese mythology, Mount Penglai (traditional Chinese: 蓬萊山 Pénglái shān as well as Penglai Island (simplified Chinese: 蓬莱仙岛 Pénglái xiāndao), was commonly believed to be a mystical land in the Eastern seas. The legend in Chinese mythology also passed into Japan, where it was known as the legend of Horai (蓬莱 Hōrai). And so, here we have on Mt Horai-ji (鳳来read Horai in Japanese was read Fenglai in Chinese, a close homonym and the ancients would not have failed to see the association, iconic art imagery aside), a face-on encounter with the legend of Mt Horai and one of its “floating immortals” or sages.

Chinese influence: Penglai Island (蓬萊仙島), in the Collections of the Palace Museum Beijing – compare this painting with the photo of Mt Horai-ji and Hiroshige’s Mt Horai-ji at the top of this page.

As a Penglai city exists in Shandong China, it is possible that the legend goes back deeper in time, brought over by migrants from Shandong into China (early prehistoric tomb culture in Japan is associated with Shandong tomb building techniques), although it is more likely that these Yakushi cults and apsara-heavenly beings motifs emerged later in the 6th – 7th century via the Indo-Iranian-Sogdian dharma monks traveling the Dunhuang and Northern Wei Chinese Buddhist circuit as well as Paekche-Korean craftsmen all the way to Japan. (Note: There are other Mt Horais in Japan, eg. Mt Horai in Aibetsu, Hokkaido

Modern pilgrims today still visit the mysterious mountain as a “power spot” some supposing the place to be still infused of magic and the supernatural … locals say the local birds (Japanese scops owls) chant paeans to Buddhism in the late spring and summer: “Bu!” (Buddha), “Po!” (sutra), and “So!” (priest). And tourists and pilgrims still visit as well the hotsprings in Yuya Valley for its medicinal waters that are reputed to cure everything from rashes to cancer.

Buddhist steles that guide and protect travelers on their pilgrims up the mountain

Buddhist steles that guide and protect travelers on their pilgrims up the mountain

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Was there really a hermit monk Rishu?

According to tradition, the founding of the Horai-ji Temple is associated with Shingon Buddhism and with the historical figure 42nd Emperor Mommu (683–707)– these facts as well as the fact that Yakushi mystic cults were proliferating (see pp. 564-567 Ancient Buddhism in Japan), and that temples tended to be associated with Yakushi-cults exactly around this time … all appear corroborate the existence of an ascetic hermetic monk such as Rishu around the turn of the 8th century.

The more fanciful embellishments of Rishu’s character, and the crediting him with wizard-like powers, appear to be consistent with the activity of the popular Yakushi Cults in an Age of Mysticism.

The account of the founding at 703 of a Yakushi-Nyorai venerating temple squares well with historical events thus in recorded in (see pp. 564-567 Ancient Buddhism in Japan | Sutras and Ceremonies in use in the seventh and eighth centuries A.D. and their history in later times:

“In A.D. 702 (XII 13), when the Emperor Mommu was ill, a great amnesty was granted throughout the Empire, a hundred men were caused to become monks, and order was given” for the monks to be sent to the provinces. During A.D. 702 (2nd year of Mommu Tenno, II 20) “Provincial Masters” (kokushi, were appointed in all the provinces…, in A.D. 685 (10th month), this sutra was expounded in the Palace, evidently in order to cure the Emperor Temmu, who died the following year (IX 9). Other sutras used for this purpose were the Yakushikyo (686, V 24), the Konkwomyokyo (686, Vlll 8) and the Kwannongyd (686, VII 28, VII 2); vegetarian entertainments of monks, penitential services (kekwa), offerings, dedication of a hundred Kwannon images general amnesty, everything was done in vain to save the Emperor’s life.

As seen above (Ch. I, § 10), in A.D. 686 (V 24) “the Emperor Temmu’s body was ill at ease. Accordingly the Yakushikyo was expounded in the Temple of Kawara, and a retreat (ango) was held within the Palace”.’ As to the Yakushi-kekwa or “Rites of Repentance in worship of the Healing Buddha” not only Yakushi-kekwa were practised in all Nihongi, Ch. xxix, p. 541; Aston II, p. 376.

Shoku Nihongi, Ch. vhi, p. 123.Yakushi-kekwa. 559 Buddhist temples of the Capital and Home provinces and in all “pure places of renowned mountains”, but also seven Yakushi images, 6 shaku 3 sun high, and seven copies of the Yakushikyo (each of one chapter) were made in the capital and in all the provinces. … The son of Emperor Mommu – “Shomu Tenno was also a devout worshipper of Bhaishajyaguru, We learn from the above facts that in the eighth century and in the first half of the ninth the Hosso priests, and thenceforward during many centuries those of the mystic branch of the Tendai sect were the principal worshippers of Yakushi Nyorai.”

Sacred to the worship of Horai-ji Temple is the Yakushi-Nyorai (the Healing Buddha) a.k.a. the Buddha of the Master of Medicine).  Yakushi-Nyorai was among the first of the Buddhist forms or representations to arrive (the other being Miroku) in the 6th century from the mainland continent, quickly becoming popular throughout Japan as a powerful deity who could cure sickness and eliminate earthly suffering– Yakushi remains one of the most cherished Buddhist figures in Japan today.

Yakushi’s full name is Yakushirurikō 薬師瑠璃光, which means Medicine Master of Lapis Lazuli Radiance. The practice of venerating the “Medicine Buddha” in Japan is traceable to Northwest India, via China which had practised a sinified form of Bhaiṣajyaguru, an Indian bodhisattva who had achieved Buddhahood, to become the Buddha of the eastern realm of Vaidūryanirbhāsa, or “Pure Lapis Lazuli”*. The Medicine Buddha is often depicted with a lapis-colored jar of medicine nectar in his left hand and in the related sutra, he is also described by his aura of lapis lazuli-colored light. Sanskrit manuscripts of the Bhaiṣajyaguruvaiḍūryaprabhārāja Sūtra have  been found at Gilgit, Pakistan prior to the 7th century and also at a Bamiyan monastery, Afghanistan, in the 7th century CE – attesting to the popularity of the Medicine Buddha in the ancient northwest Indian kingdom of Gandhāra as well as in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The same mystical tendencies  seen in India, Tibet and China were also evident in Japan with Yakushi cults.

Beginning in the 7th century in Japan, Yakushi, the Medicine Buddha, became the center of the devotion of the earliest temples, (most belonging to the Tendai and Shingon sects), around Kyoto, Nara and the Kinki region. Devotees recite the mantra of the Medicine Buddha to overcome mental, physical and spiritual sickness  Yakushi was prayed to not only for relief from illness and suffering, but was also invoked often in the traditional memorial services for the dead.  The Bhaiṣajyaguruvaiḍūryaprabhārāja Sūtra states:

“ Wherever this sutra circulates or wherever there are sentient beings who hold fast to the name of the Medicine Buddha [Yakushi Buddha] and respectfully make offerings to him, whether in villages, towns, kingdoms or in the wilderness, we [the Twelve Generals] will all protect them. We will release them from all suffering and calamities and see to it that all their wishes are fulfilled

The Yakushi Buddha was venerated by many powerful men including Takeda Shingen, a daimyo of the 16th century, as well as Tokugawa Ieyasu, powerful shogun of the 17th century.

Toshogu

Toshogu shrine, Mt Horai-ji

Apart from Horai-ji Temple, a Toshogu Shrine also stands venerated by worshippers on the slopes on the Horai-ji mountain. Built in the 17th century by the third shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu for his father, Ieyasu, to the east of the main temple. The interior walls of Toshogu are decorated with elaborate carvings that resemble those in the World Heritage site Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, Tochigi prefecture.

The religious site is said to have been particularly venerated by the Tokugawa family, upon Tokugawa Ieyasu’s mother’s conception of her son after praying there.  But the influence of the temple declined after the mid-19th century with the end of the samurai rule of Japan.

The main building of Horaiji burnt down many times, the extant building was completed in Showa 49. 

Nio-mon ("Deva King Gate"

Nio-mon (“Deva King Gate”

Today, the main historic relics that remain of the sacred site are the sanctuary, Nio-mon (“Deva King Gate”), bell tower, Okuno-in (inner shrine), Ko-do (small hall), and two small annexes.

However,  the discovery of ancient ritual relics such as an old mirror is thought to substantiate the actual antiquity of the site as a historical spot for pilgrims’ and ascetics’ rituals and provide evidence of human inhabitation on the mountain since early times.
<a href="/Attraction_Review-g1019656-d1310011-Reviews-Horaiji_Temple-Shinshiro_Aichi_Prefecture_Chubu.html">Horaiji Temple</a>: Pictures
This photo of Horaiji Temple is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Geology and environs of the mountain

Mt Horai-ji, located on the southern edge of dormant volcanos in Okumikawa, Shinshiro, Aichi Prefecture. Formed by volcanic lava 20 to 15 million years ago, the mountain consists of dacite, pitchstone and so on. The mountain is famous as a habitat for scops owls, and at the end of a rigorous climb to the top of the mountain, the panoramic view of the forested hills of the East Mikawa Plain stretching all the way to Mikawa Bay.

Visitors will combine their temple pilgrimage with a visit to the Yuya Onsen, a popular rustic hotspring resort in the 18th century 5 km. Or they will want to hike the beautiful prefectural park and for the spectacular autumn colours of the Aichi Kenmin no Mori  in early November, all within easy walking distance of JR Yuya Onsen station. Many campsites are to be found (eg. the Kenmin no Mori campground nearby the Yuya Onsen station) as well as the Youth Travel Village at the base of Mt. Horaiji (which offers tents and bungalows, as well as auto camping sites).

Visiting Mt Horai-ji and Horaiji Temple

Location and address:

Horai-ji located in Horai-cho, Aichi Prefecture.
Address: 1 Horaiji, Kadoya, Shinshiro-shi, Aichi (Kadoyama Shinshiro, Aichi Prefecture,  441-1944, Shinshiro Sightseeing Association)
Admission Fee: Free in the temple precincts

Directions From Tokyo :
[Rail] 2h 15 min to Toyohashi Station by JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line. 35 min from Toyohashi to Hon-Nagashino-jo Station by JR Iida Line (limited express), and 10 min from the station to Horaiji by bus. From the Horaiji Stop, a 40-min. walk

From Osaka :
[Rail] 1h 20 min from Shin-Osaka to Toyohashi Station by Shinkansen. From Toyohashi Station, southeast of Nagoya on the Tokaido main line, take the JR Iida line to Yuya Onsen station (about 70 minutes by local train, or 46 minutes on the Inaji limited express). For Horaiji, exit at Honnagashino station instead, then board the (infrequent) Toyotetsu bus to either the Horaiji stop (an easy 15-minute walk to the temple) or the village at the base of the Horaiji staircase.

* Note on the significance of Lapis Lazuli:

The most distinctive feature of this Medicine Buddha is his color, the deep blue of lapis lazuli. This precious stone has been greatly prized by Asian and European cultures for more than six thousand years and, until relatively recently, its ornamental value was on a par with, or even exceeded, that of the diamond. An aura of mystery surrounds this gemstone, perhaps because of its principal mines are located in the remote Badakshan region of northeast Afghanistan, an all-but-inaccessible area located behind the Hindu Kush. One commentator has written, “the finest specimens of lapis, intensely blue with speckled waves and swirls of shining gold-colored pyrite, resemble the night aglow with myriads of stars.” Traditionally this beautiful stone was used to symbolize that which is pure or rare.” – Medicine Buddha and Tibetan Medicine

Sources and references:

鳳来寺山 Houraiji-san Mt Horaiji (NIPPON-KICHI)

Horaiji Temple (Japan National Tourist Organization) 

Tenryu-Oku-Mikawa Quasi-National Park 鳳来寺山と湯谷温泉 by Daniel Simmons

What’s Up Aichi : The Healing Waters of Yuya, The Healing  Issue 26, Autumn 2012 is a Publication of The Aichi Prefectural Government San Francisco Office

Bhaiṣajyaguru (Wikipedia)

Horaiji Toshogu National Treasure

Shingon Buddhism (Wikipedia)

Shingon Buddhism by David Moreton

The Encyclopedia of Taoism ed. edited by Fabrizio Pregadio

Ancient Buddhism in Japan | SUTRAS AND CEREMONIES IN USE IN THE SEVENTH AND EIGHTH CENTURIES A.D. AND THEIR HISTORY IN LATER TIMES by Dr. M. W. De Visser

Shingon-shu (Shingon Buddhism)

The Adhyardhasatika Prajnaparamita is one of the most influential and revered scriptures in East-Asian esoteric Buddhism. Known as the RishukyM, this sktra, in its Chinese version by Amoghavajra, has been for centuries been at the core of the Shingon liturgy in Japan. Its Sanskrit text, however, was known until recently only through a fragmentary Central-Asian manuscript studied by Ernst Leumann in early twentieth century. This volume presents a critical edition of the Adhyardhasatika based on the a newly available photocopy, kept at the China Tibetology Research Center (Beijing), of a newly available Sanskrit manuscript from Tibet. Also edited in this volume is the Tibetan version of the text, Zes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa’i tshul brgya lna bcu pa, using fourteen exemplars of Kanjur and a Dunhuang manuscript. The introduction to the edition includes a survey of previous studies of on the Adhyardhasatika, a description of the materials used, as well as remarks on the distinctive features of the Sanskrit text. See (source: Austrian Academy of Sciences) of Sanskrit Texts from the Tibetan Autonomous Region 5 2009, ca. XVIII+100 Seiten, 24×15,5cm, broschiert

The Sacred Sword of the Ise Grand Shrines to be renewed

The hilt of the sword Sugarino-Ontachi features ibis tail feathers  Photo: The Yomiuri Shimbun

The hilt of the sword Sugarino-Ontachi features ibis tail feathers Photo: The Yomiuri Shimbun

New ibis feathers to be used on sacred sword hilt 

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 24, 2013)

Tail feathers of Japanese crested ibises at Ishikawa Zoo in Nomi, Ishikawa Prefecture, will be used in a votive sword, one of the sacred treasures to be renewed along with the renovation of the Ise Grand Shrines this autumn.

Although the shrines in Ise, Mie Prefecture, are traditionally rebuilt every 20 years, securing the feathers was a great concern when the shrines were rebuilt in 1973 and 1993 due to the sharp decline in the number of ibises.

According to the shrines, Engishiki, a detailed rule book for ceremonies and institutions in the Heian period (794-1192), stipulates the hilt of the sword Sugarino-Ontachi should be wrapped in ibis feathers. It is believed the hilt has been covered with two tail feathers and wound by a red braid for more than 1,000 years.

To preserve the tradition, Yoshio Muramoto, the honorary president of a Japan-China ibis protection association, has provided feathers from his collection, which dates back to 1959, for the past two renovations. He also donated feathers for this year’s renewal of the sword.

However, the number of ibises in Japan has recently topped 100 thanks in part to a breeding project involving Chinese ibises. Some of the birds were transferred to other facilities nationwide from Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture, where ibis preservation activities are based.

Given the current situation and the fact that the color of Muramoto’s feathers have faded, this year, the shrines decided to look for new feathers. Out of respect for Muramoto, who lives in Ishikawa Prefecture, the shrines decided to use feathers from ibises kept at Ishikawa Zoo. The zoo has already provided six tail feathers, which fell naturally from the birds.

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Exploring the River of the Dead, and Rivers of Death-and-Disease ideas and the origins of river expulsion practices

Kusatsu Onsen Sainokawara Park, Gunma Prefecture Source: Wikimapia

In folklore, there is a famous River of the Dead called Sai-no-kawara, (there are actual varying physical locations in Japan), the most famous one being perhaps Kusatsu’s Sainokawara Park (see photo gallery below).

According to tradition, here it is Jizo Bodhisattva, the most beloved and well-known of folk deities, who is the guide for the lost souls of children on the Sai-no-kawara riverbank, and who saves them from either the Oni (ogre-demon) or Shozuka-no-baba (see photo of her enshrined), the Hell’s Hag who receives the souls of the dead, and wife of Ten Datsu-Ba (source: Mythology Dictionary). She demands money from all who arrive at her home on the bank of the River of Three Roads (River Sanzu) and, if it is not paid, takes their garments…one version of the story is found in the folktale “Broken Images“:

“I am Jizo, who guards the souls of little children. It is most pitiful to hear their crying when they come to the sandy river-bed, the Sai-no-kawara. O dreamer, they come alone, as needs they must, wailing and wandering, stretching out their pretty hands. They have a task, which is to pile stones for a tower of prayer. But in the night come the Oni to throw down the towers and to scatter all the stones. So the children are made afraid, and their labour is lost.”

Beloved Jizo is saviour of the children and whose counterparts in Central Asia are Sraosha (Persia), Ksitigharba(India) and Jizhang(China).

Beloved Jizo is saviour of the children and whose counterparts in Central Asia are Sraosha (Persia), Ksitigharba(India) and Jizhang(China).

In the tradition of Japan’s Pure Land sects, when a child dies, its soul has to cross the River Sanzu (Sanzu No Kawa 三途の川, River of Three Roads, River of Three Crossings, akin to the River Styx in Western myth), which lies between the first and second Judges of Hell (between the kings Shinkō-ō and Shokō-ō; see above).  It is believed that when a person dies, they can cross the river at three different spots depending on how they lived their lives. After the first trial by Judge Shinkō-ō, the dead who are found innocent can cross the river, walking on a bridge guided by Jizō. The guilty, however, must swim across deep waters and the less guilty ford across a rapid stream. On the other side of the river, the old Hell’s Hag Datsueba waits for the guilty to arrive and then robs them of their clothes. Those who arrive without their clothes are instead stripped of their skin.

Datsue-ba at Saifuku-ji Temple

Datsue-ba at Saifuku-ji Temple

Since children have not accumulated enough experiences, however, they are unable to cross. At the river’s edge, the souls of deceased children are met by the Hell’s Hag or Datsue-ba himself (and not the wife of Ten Datsu-Ba)who strips the clothes off the children, then hangs them on a tree to measure the weight of their sins. How far the tree bends determines where they are allowed to cross the river. Datsu-ba advises them to build a pile of pebbles on which they can climb to reach paradise. But before the pile reaches any significant height, the Hell’s Hag and other underworld demons maliciously knock it down. The Buddhist bodhisattva Jizō saves these souls from having to pile stones eternally on the bank of the river by hiding them in his robe and guiding them across the river to safety. Datsue-ba is sometimes described as the wife of Yama, King of the Dead.

When a soul is that of an adult, Datsue-ba forces the sinners to take off their clothes, and the old-man Keneō hangs them on a tree branch and measures the gravity of the sins. If the sinner arrives with no clothes, Datsue-ba strips them of their skin. Various levels of punishment are performed even at this early stage. For those who steal, for example, Datsueba breaks their fingers, and together with her old-man consort, she ties the head of the sinner to the sinner’s feet (Source: Wikipedia’s Datsue-ba).

Datsueba (also Datsue-ba), spelled either 奪衣婆 or 脱衣婆. The characters 脱衣 literally mean to undress, to “take off one’s clothes,” or to “stripe one of one’s clothing.”  Datsueba makes her first appearance in Japan in the Bussetsu Jizō Bosatsu Hosshin Innen Juō Kyō 仏説地蔵菩薩発心因縁十王経, a late Heian-era Japanese sutra (based on a Chinese counterpart) dealing with Jizo Bosatsu and the Ten Kings of Hell, but Sanzu no Baba 三途の婆, Shōzuka no Baba, and Jigoku no Baba 地獄の婆 likely appeared much earlier. The Sainokawara at Kusatsu, Gunma  is associated with the Shirane Jinja Shrine nearby which according to local legend is dedicated to the mythical prince, Yamato Takeru (recorded in the Kojiki and Nihonshoki Chronicles) and who allegedly discovered Kusatsu Onsen.

This landscape has elements that appear to have close affinity to Indo-Iranian/ Persian ideology and the Netherworld hell’s hag and other attendant characters likely came from a westerly region of China where either Persian ZoroastriansSaka- or Zoroastrian Sogdians resided in great numbers and influenced Taoist ideas. The Sogdians are also known to have dominated the trade along the Silk Route from the 2nd century BCE until the 10th century CE (see Sogdian Trade).  In Japanese folklore, Shozuka-no-baba, the hell’s hag cast in opposition to Jizo, reminds us of Druj nasu (or Nasu) the female corpse demon who in Persian mythology is in opposition to Sraosa or Sraosha, guardian of the underworld, the ear that heard the cries of man and, a judge (along with Mithra) who weighed souls in the scales in the underworld of death. This demon was said to cause the corruption of corpses, in some accounts described as taking the shape of a fly which crawls over a corpse as soon as a soul leaves its body (source: “Persian Mythology” entry in the Mythology Dictionary).

An ancient stele portrays a figure that looks like a Zoroastrian Sogdian

An ancient stele of Kusatsu onsen portrays a figure that looks like a Zoroastrian Sogdian

Zoroastrian tradition considers a dead body—to be nasu, unclean, polluting. The nasu corpse demon was believed to rush into the body and contaminate everything it came into contact with. The pile of stones in the Shozuka-no-baba landscape reminds us of the funerary tower of the Zoroastrians as well as of the cairns built by semitic peoples or of the cairns of Central Asian and Eurasian landscapes, such as the ovoos of Mongolia, Tibet, Yunnan(Southwest China) and the Russian Baikal area. The Vendidad (an ecclesiastical code “given against the demons”) has rules for disposing of the dead as “safely” as possible, and the bodies of the dead are placed atop a dahkma—a tower of silence—and exposed to the sun and to scavenging birds, so that “putrefaction with all its concomitant evils… is most effectually prevented.”[Source: Brodd, Jefferey (2003). World Religions.]  In another Japanese myth Izanami and Izanagi, Izanagi escaped the demons of hell by throwing peaches at them, and upon escaping from the Land of Yomi, had to perform purification ritual ablutions to cleanse himself of the pollutants from the land of the putrefying dead. In ancient times, peaches were cultivated in the cline from Southwest China to Persia (see Golden Peaches of Sarmarkand), and peaches and peachwood were popular in China as charms against disease demons and evil spirits (see Chinese Peach Charms). Peach wood was also used to make swords, arrows, and amulets in ancient times because the Chinese word for peach (tao 桃) has the same pronunciation as the Chinese word for “flee” or “run away” (tao 逃) (see Chinese Peach Charms). Peaches are fruit which the Chinese legends associate as fruit of immortality grown in garden by Xiwangmu the Queen Mother of the West (which suggests a western foreign origin of the goddess and of the peaches). Magic wands of the taoist priests were made of peach wood are used in exorcisms. (River Sanzu, the River of the Japanese underworld sounds somewhat like Shazu, which is a Persian river-god.)

Statues of Jizo Bosatsu at the Kusatsu Onsen Sainokawara Park (Photo source: Wikimapia)

Kangaroo Notebook; by Kobo Abe, translated by Maryellen Toman Mori. In the novel, it is said there are 164 Riverbank of Sai sites in Japan, a description is given many of the locations are listed at this page.

The Nagatoro Funadama Festival held annually on the Arakawa River in the Chichibu area of Japan in Saitama prefecture is but one example among many, of ancient river or water expulsion practices still practised today in Japan. The Nagatoro Fireworks festival is held right beside the river, preceded by sending off a boat lit up with lights. The festival takes place during the Bon period, to honor the spirits of the dead that visit the realm of the living during this period. After dark, boats decorated with paper lanterns and about 1,000 individual lanterns are floated on the waters of the Arakawa River to pray for the repose of drowned persons, creating an otherworldly atmosphere. Click here to watch a video clip of the event or read more about the Festival for the Dead here.

Origin of river rituals:
River rituals involving human sacrifices to river deities were prevalent on the Chinese continent in the Shang, Zhou and Warring States eras and are believed to have been imported by Chinese immigrants into Japan over the long periods of time. The Korean kingdoms too had numerous river and water deities to whom the people tried to appease through their offerings.
In a case study on the Taiwanese 18 deities’ Royal Lords temple cult, the rite of floating and burning boats was noted to be a custom prevalent among southern Chinese and Siberian Khanty peoples. That the imagery of a River of Plague or Disease may have been widely known to Central Asia in ancient times, is suggested by the research paper:
“The Royal Lords cult involves the performance of plague expulsion festivals, which include sending off a “plague boat”—small wooden boat—which represents the community’s accumulated afflictions. I saw exactly such kind of wooden boat in the underground chamber of the Temple of 18 Deities during my fieldwork.  According to Katz (2003: 158), worshipers in southern China and Taiwan have used the title “Royal Lord(s)” to refer to a wide range of spirits, including plague-spreading deities. Such cults developed in south China in the 10th century. Most popular deity among them is Marshal Wen (Wen Yuanshuai), who is worshiped in southern Fujian and Taiwan as Lord Chi (Chi Wangye). Marshal Wen originally was a snake-demon who spread diseases by spitting out poisonous vapours. The connected Chinese images of plague-spreading deities and a boat remind to the plot of a Khanty (Siberian) myth “Holy Legend about the Desirable Knight—Merchant of the Low World, Merchant of the Upper World” (1990 no. 30: 105–125), which describes a floating caravan of boats on the Ob river with diseases-spreading deities on them. The caravan brought epidemic diseases and mass deaths to many cities on the Ob banks and belonged to the underworld, which was believed to be situated on the North Lower Ob and was a kingdom of the Lord of Diseases and Death.
In Japan, offerings of pottery at river sites had also been made since prehistoric or proto-historic times by local communities, excavated finds by archaeologists indicate the purification ritual practice began at least as early as the Kofun era (large quantities of miniature earthern pots were found from the river area of the Mizokui site, Ibaraki city, Osaka; one of them with a face etched onto the pottery).
Some scholars believe that the use of effigies in Nara period river rituals in particular is associated with ancient Chinese witchcraft techniques may go back to the Han dynasty or even earlier as outlined in Chi Songzi zhangli (赤松子章曆 an important Taoist text and ritual compilation) were later introduced into Japan.
Shinto practitioners and experts in Japan today trace the various rites which go by the name of harae (or o-harae) to the Kojiki myth of  the act of  washing in the sea which Izanagi-no-kami performed after his return from Yomi, the land of the dead (to which he had followed his wife Izanami) in order to purify himself from the uncleanness and polluting elements he had come into contact with there.
In its earliest form of the custom, the ritual offerings made were a fine or penalty imposed upon those who had committed offences or in contracted pollution, under which term all crimes and sins were at first included. The ritual offerings sometimes took the form of human, animal or other food sacrifices, as well as other items of value. In the Nara period the practice was declared to be barbaric, so substitutive pottery, human or animal effigies, and coin offerings became the norm.
Until the Nara period, o-harae ablution events were performed at various irregular times and as the need arose, but from the Nara period onwards, o-harae became regular bi-annual court and shrine events as carried over till today.  The “Great Purification” came to be held regularly on the 30th June and 31st December. This was because the mid-ninth century, the Nara court in adopting Chinese Tang dynasty style of court etiquette and government, had established an official bureau of yin-yang geomancy masters who went to work institutionalizing and regulating the expulsion rituals and the management of pollution taboos.

Boat effigies found in old riverbed at Kannonji site

Excavated from the Kannonji site, which were once old riverbeds of a branch of the Yoshino River during the Nara period, were  large numbers of artifacts, including pottery and wooden boat effigies and other implements.  Also among the artifacts are thin boards shaped into a human outline, and faces drawn in ink. One board is split down the center, broken into upper and lower halves has realistically painted thick eyebrows, and the beard and moustache.  Together with the boat effigies made of wood, they are thought to have been used in a harae rite.

Wooden human effigy, Kannonji site

Pottery with faces painted in black ink have been excavated from the Mizutare archaeological site of Nagaoka Palace in Kyoto Prefecture.

Pottery with faces painted in black ink lying on old riverbed at the Mizutare site

Archaeologists have also found fragments of earthenware jars that had been tossed into a dried-up riverbed of a tributary of the Yamatogawa River (in today’s Yao city, Osaka)  in a ritual to bring salvation and ward off illness. Distinctive faces had been painted in black ink on the small pottery jars. Along with the pottery jars, seven types of coins were discovered, along with Kocho-Junisen copper coins from the Nara (710-784) period (as well as Kangen-Taiho coins minted in the 958 which suggests the practice continued through the early Heian (794-1185) period).

Below is an excerpt from the Encyclopedia of Religion that is particularly illuminating on the widespread and connected ideas and cosmology behind the “river of Death” in various ancient cultures, particularly in the Indo-European/Indo-European/Aryan cultures, that spread to Japan.

RIVERS OF DEATH.  Crossing the river at the time of death, as part of the journey to another world, is a common part of the symbolic passage that people have seen as part of one’s journey after death. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the hero encounters a boatman who ferries him across the waters of death as he seeks the secret of immortality. The river Styx of Greek mythology is well known as the chief river of Hades, said to flow nine times around its borders. Styx is married to the Titan Pallas and according to Hesiod counts as her children Rivalry, Victory, Power, and Force. The power of the Styx is evidenced in the fact that Achilles gained his invulnerability by being dipped in the river as a baby held by his heel, the only part of his body thereafter vulnerable to mortal wounds. In addition, the most inviolable oath of the gods is sworn with a jug of water from the Styx, poured out while the oath is being uttered.

In Hindu mythology, the river Vaitaran: marks the boundary between the living and the dead; in the Aztec journey, the river Mictlan must be crossed on the way to the underworld; in Japan, rivers are part of certain landscapes designated as realms of the dead in both the Shinto¯ and Buddhist traditions. The Sanzunokawa, for example, is said to divide the realms of the living and the dead. The dry riverbed of Sainokawara is said to be the destination of dead children.

The far shore of the river of life and death, or birth and death, thus becomes an important symbol for the destination of one’s spiritual journey in many religious traditions. In the Buddhist tradition, nirva¯n: a is referred to as the “far shore.” In the Hindu tradition, holy places are called t¯ırthas (“fords”) because they enable one to make that crossing safely. Riverbank  t¯ırthas, such as Banaras and Prayaga, are thought to be especially good places to die. In the Christian tradition, crossing over the Jordan has come to have a similar symbolism. On the far shore is not only the promised land, but the spiritual promised land of heaven. Home is on the far shore…”

Source and references:

Encyclopedia of Religion (2nd edition) ed. Lindsay Jones, pps. 7862

The Nara Court practised harae purification rituals by the river (Heritage of Japan website)

Common symbols in Eurasia-Pacific unconsious cultural heritage: A case study of the Taiwanese 17 Deities’ cult” by  Igor Sitnikov

The Vedic Age, 1500-500 B.C.  throws light on the Indo-Aryan system of sacrificial priesthoods, and culture of sacrifice and purification rituals that became all pervasive and that came to dominate and influence the nomadic cultures of the Eurasian steppelands as well much of Central Asian civilization where the Indo-Aryans invaded or interacted with.

” … more and more magnificent royal sacrifices were performed–the most famous being the rajasuya, which was initially repeated every year, and the asvamedha, the horse sacrifice. In the later the king’s horse was allowed to roam for a year and then the king claimed the land the horse had transversed. The major sacrificial rituals were occasions for the consumption of wealth, extending over many months with lavish libations of milk and clarified butter, ghi, the offering of grains and the sacrifice of the choicest animals in the herd. These rituals testified that the king had met all challenges or that no one had dared to challenge him. These ceremonies would remain central to Indian cults of kingship for another thousand years, influencing medieval kingship as it developed.

Kings would perform purification rituals which would give them power as sacrificers, the patrons of the sacrifice. As I mentioned, these rituals were said to place the raja in the proximity of the gods–gradually the kings came to be seen as divinely appointed. The gods had titles incorporating sovereighty, paramountcy and overlordship, and as a consequence of the ceremonies the rajas became eligible for such titles. A king was seen, for example, as Indra the chief of the gods. The rituals gave the king–the chief sacrificer among sacrificers–responsibility for maintaining cosmic order and fertility. Since the chief sacrificers also added to the status and significance of sacrificial priests, brahmins were active proponents of this exhalting of the status of kings. Kings and brahmins continued their mutual interest in preserving their positions.
Brahmins received patronage from a stable kingship and the king protected their superial status, their monopoly on purity. Only brahmins could learn the hymns and mantras and only brahmins had the right to perform certain purifying rituals and exercises.
The immigrating Aryans had not encountered mighty enemies and big empires–such as in Persia. Thus they were not forced by events to develop political units which would allow for more effective military capacity, to seize and protect territory–as did the Aryans in Persia, where they developed imperial organization early. On the contrary, the proliferation of little kingdoms, the janapada, in the western Genges Valley was a political luxury which the Aryans could afford; they could afford to remain decentralized…”

In the early Vedic texts rajas are shown as having to consult a council of all male members of a tribe or aristocratic tribal councils called sabhas or samitis. Some tribes had no kingly figures and only councils–these were aristocratic tribal republics, a kind of cheifly organization, or gana-sanghas …. In the early Vedic age, as I mentioned earlier, presiding rajas were elected. A new type of raja appears, however, in the late Vedic period, after the transition to settled agriculture and the more complex society which developed. This raja became more of a king, one who emerged from a power struggle among the nobility and then was ritually invested by brahmin priests. A political system in which there were a number of little kings developed into a system whereby there were fewer kings and these had more authority. Still, these more powerful figures did not have well-developed royal administrations. Instead, more and more magnificent royal sacrifices were performed–the most famous being the rajasuya, which was initially repeated every year, and the asvamedha, the horse sacrifice. In the later the king’s horse was allowed to roam for a year and then the king claimed the land the horse had transversed. The major sacrificial rituals were occasions for the consumption of wealth, extending over many months with lavish libations of milk and clarified butter, ghi, the offering of grains and the sacrifice of the choicest animals in the herd. These rituals testified that the king had met all challenges or that no one had dared to challenge him. These ceremonies would remain central to Indian cults of kingship for another thousand years, influencing medieval kingship as it developed.

Druj Nasu is according to Persian mythology a “corpse demon that takes possession of the dead in the form of a fly. Known as Druj Nasu. In Zoroastrian funerary rites, the corpse is washed and dressed, and then taken by corpse bearers to the dahkma (“Tower of Silence”), a massive, circular funerary tower on elevated ground where the Zohr i atash proper occurs, involving the pouring of animal fat upon a fire, representing the ancient animal sacrifices that were used to appease Druj i Nasu, the corpse demon. Further, this ritual is seen to assist the soul on its heavenly journey, which begins on the fourth days after death. Bareshnum i-no Shab was necessary of all Zoroastrians, and, even now, most devout Zoroastrians undergo the rite at least once in their lifetimes. (See also Daevas)

Sacred Expression- Stone Cairns by Cynthia Morin

The religious system of China, its ancient forms, evolution, history and present aspect, manners, custom and social institutions connected therewith

Rare Tang Dynasty copy of work by 4th century Chinese calligraphy master Wang Xizhi found in Japan

The work is believed to have been brought over to Japan by the diplomatic delegations sent to China during the Nara period.

Wang Xizhi, pictured below, (303–361) was a Chinese calligrapher considered to be the Sage of Calligraphy who lived during the Jin Dynasty (265–420).

Wang Xizhi

 

He is one of China’s most esteemed Chinese calligraphers of all time, especially during and after the Tang Dynasty, and a master of all forms of Chinese calligraphy, especially the running script. To find out more about Wang Xizhi’s works visit the Chinaonlinemuseum gallery.

Read more about the Japanese discovery in the Japan Times’ article:

Japan finds rare copy of Tang Dynasty Wang Xizhi’s work (Japan Times, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013)

AFP-Jiji    An extremely rare copy of a work by fourth century Chinese calligraphy legend Wang Xizhi has been found in Japan, the first such discovery in four decades, Tokyo National Museum said Tuesday.

No original works survive, despite their having been treasured by Chinese emperors throughout history for their contribution to the development of the delicate art form.

However, Wang’s innovative style was so influential that Chinese courts created precise replicas of his writings more than a millennium ago, some of which are held by Japan as national treasures.

“This is a significant discovery for the study of Wang Xizhi’s work,” the museum, which will display it from Jan. 22 to March 3, said in a statement.

The writing, owned by an individual in Japan whose identity was not disclosed, shows 24 Chinese characters in three lines on a piece of paper roughly 26 by 10 cm.

It was long thought to be the work of an ancient Japanese nobleman calligrapher, but a recent review by Jun Tomita, a Chinese calligraphy expert at the museum, has determined it was an expertly made copy of Wang’s writing.

The page appears to be part of a letter and includes phrases known to be used by the master calligrapher.

“I am tired everyday. I am living only for you,” part of the script says. It also includes the names of his relatives, including his son, the museum said.

The content of the writing, its style, copying technique, and other factors indicate the copy was made during the Tang Dynasty in the seventh to eighth century by the emperor’s court, the museum said.

It was likely brought out of China by Japanese commercial or diplomatic missions visiting their powerful continental neighbor during the era, the museum said.

China

A tracing copy of the original calligraphy “Mei Zhi Tie,” right, by Chinese calligrapher Wang Xizhi, was displayed at the Christie’s preview in Hong Kong Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2007. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

1,000 year old shogi pieces are Japan’s earliest shogi pieces found in Kashihara city, Nara prefecture

1,000 year old "koma" chess pieces excavated from Kashihara city, Nara prefecture

The oldest shogi pieces ever excavated found at the Kofukuji Temple

Thousand-year-old “koma” chess pieces from Kashihara city, Nara prefecture, 17 pieces in all, including a “king” piece — these are the earliest shogi game pieces ever found in Japan.

Shogi is the most popular form of chess and board game played in Japan. Shōgi means general’s (shō 将) board game (gi 棋).

The earliest predecessor of the game, is thought to have been chaturanga, of Indian origins from the 6th century, which spread throughout the continent of Eurasia, developing into many variants of chess games. In the West, it became chess. In China, it became known as xiangqi (象棋), on the Korean Peninsula as janggi (장기), and in Thailand as makruk or makluk in South-East Asia.  10th to 12th centuries Chinese variant of chess, xiangqi, are believed to have emerged in Japan, spawning local variants of the game. Shogi in its present form with the “drop rule” was played as early as the 16th century, with a direct ancestor without the “drop rule” was recorded from 1210 in a historical document Nichūreki, which is an edited copy of Shōchūreki and Kaichūreki from the late Heian period (c. 1120).

The said shogi 玉将 or koma pieces — 18 white and 19 black shogi koma pieces, were found in Kashihara city, at the Fujiwara-kyo or Fujiwara Palace(682-710). This form of shogi is considered the prototype of the shogi game played in Japan today.

The oldest archaeological evidence, pictured above, is the group of 17 shogi pieces excavated from the grounds of Kōfuku-ji (founded in 669) in Nara Prefecture. The finds were physically associated with a wooden tablet written on in the sixth year of Tenki (1058), so that the shogi pieces are thought to date from that period. The simple shogi pieces were cut from a writing plaque in the same five-sided shape as modern pieces, with the names of the pieces written on them.

Oral tradition has it that shogi was invented by Yuwen Yong of Northern Zhou, and that Kibi no Makibi (吉備真備) brought it back after visiting the country of Tang.  One of the oldest documents indicating the existence of shogi is Kirinshō (麒麟抄), written by Fujiwara Yukinari (藤原行成) (972 – 1027), a seven-volume work which contains a description of how to write the characters used for shogi pieces, but it is thought that the shogi section may have been added by a writer from a later generation. The earliest generally accepted mention of shogi is Shin Saru Gakuki (新猿楽記?) (1058–1064) by Fujiwara Akihira. It contains passages relating to shogi, and is regarded as the earliest document on the subject. The fact that a go-board exists in the collection of the Nara Period Shosoin Treasure House, but not shogi boards or koma pieces, is thought to be negative evidence indicating that shogi had not emerged in Japan by that time.

Ivory shogi pieces and lacquered board from the 16th century that turned up in Fukui prefecture have earlier captured the media spotlight.

Sources and references:

Shogi (New World Encyclopedia)

千年前の駒玉将 くつきりYomiuri Shimbun Nov 25, 2012

img199Click to enlarge

img197Click to enlarge

博物館・一般展観者向け解説書原稿(6月13日、修正版)
2012-06-13 17:49:54 | 文章 | 象牙の水無瀬駒と、葵紋蒔絵の将棋盤        元(財)将棋博物館顧問 熊澤良尊

Discovery of 9th century fragment of earthenware indicates hiragana originated a century earlier than thought

Eartheware plate fragments with hiragana characters Photo: The Yomiuri Shimbun

Plate dates hiragana to 9th century (The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov.30 2012)

KYOTO–Earthenware fragments from the late ninth century that bear hiragana calligraphy have been discovered in the ruins of the building of a noble who lived during the Heian period (794-1192) in Kyoto, the Kyoto City Archaeological Research Institute has announced.

Modern hiragana is closer to the calligraphy on the discovered fragments than characters from the early 10th century that were believed to be the oldest, evidence that hiragana characters were created at least five decades earlier, the institute said Wednesday. The find constitutes precious historical material for the history of the Japanese language.

The fragments were found at the ruins of the house of Minister Fujiwara Yoshimi (813-867) in November 2011.

According to Kyoto University Prof. Ryohei Nishiyama, who analyzed the calligraphy, it can be read “Hitonikushito omoware.” Hiroshi Sano, an associate professor of the university, explained it meant annoying yet adorable.

The origin of hiragana was Manyogana, kanji that represented Japanese phonetically. Until now, hiragana was believed to have been established in the early 10th century, when an Imperial-commissioned poetry anthology, Kokin Wakashu, and diary Tosa Nikki, were compiled.

The earthenware fragments are scheduled to be displayed at the Kyoto City Archaeological Museum from Friday to Dec. 16.

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Ongoing photo exhibition of Koguryo Tomb mural paintings at the Japan Newspaper Museum

Koguryo tomb mural painting

The Complex of Koguryo Tombs, along with beautiful wall mural paintings, are the only remains and evidence of the Koguryo culture. Koguryo was one of the strongest kingdoms in northeast China and half of the Korean peninsula between the 3rd century BC and the 7th century AD. The best known cultural heritage remains of this kingdom are the tombs, built of stone and covered by stone or earthen mounds. The special burial customs of this culture had an important influence on other cultures in the region, including Japan’s. Tomb mural painting techniques are said to have been brought to Japan by Koguryo monks and craftsmen (see “Kitora Mural Vividly Shows Koguryo’s Influence on Ancient Japanese Tumuli” and “Kitora tomb originates in Koguryo murals“).

The Complex includes several groups of and individual tombs situated mainly at the foot of mountains and some in villages. Located in Pyongyang and surrounding provinces, the tombs are thought to have been made for the burial of kings, members of the royal family and the aristocracy.

Only about 90 out of more than 10,000 Koguryo tombs discovered in China and Korea so far, have wall paintings and half of those are in the Complex. The  wall paintings the subject of the photo exhibition, constitute masterpieces of the art of wall painting, offering unique evidence of the richness and complexity of the now-vanished Koguryo culture, portraying the costumes, food, residential life and burial customs, as well as religious practices and imagery associated with Buddhism, Taoism and the Four Deities. This photo exhibition is a rare opportunity to get up close in Japan with the Koguryo cultural heritage.

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Venue: Japan Newspaper Museum: Photo exhibition of Koguryo Tombs, their mural paintings (10.6 – 12.16)

Press Photo Exhibition of the Koguryo Mural Tombs

Kyodo News and the Japan Newspaper Museum will jointly hold a press photo exhibition featuring the Koguryo Tombs and their wall paintings. The Complex of Koguryo Tombs, which was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, offers a unique testimony to Koguryo culture, its burial customs, and religious practices as well as daily life and beliefs, especially through the mural paintings. The paintings notably include images of hunting, women in colorful clothes and the Four Deities.

These artworks that flourished in ancient East Asia are believed to have connections to Japan’s Takamatsuzuka Tumulus and Kitora Tumulus.

Kyodo News in 2010 and 2011 exclusively covered five tombs in Pyongyang and its vicinity, shooting numerous photographs. On display at the exhibition will be photographs of the ”Four Guardian Deities” murals at the Kosan-dong No. 1 Tomb in Pyongyang which was excavated in 1936 by Japanese researchers, and recently-discovered images of people at the Okdori Tomb in Nampo.

Kyodo News became the first foreign media organization to cover the Okdori Tomb. Other photos to be shown include those of the Tokhungri Tomb, the Anak No.3 Tomb and the Kangso Great Tombs and their mural paintings to introduce the essence of Koguryo culture. Life-size replicas of stone chambers of the Kosan-dong No. 1 Tomb and Takamatsuzuka Tomb will be on display as well.

◆Opening Period: Oct. 6 (Sat.) ~Dec. 16 (Sun.), 2012
◆Venue: The Japan Newspaper Museum (2F gallery)
11 Nihon Odori, Naka-Ku,
Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture 〒231-8311
(The museum is located in the
Yokohama Media and Communications Center)
◆Organizers: Kyodo News
The Japan Newspaper Museum
◆Supporters: National Federation of UNESCO Associations in Japan
Foundation for Cultural Heritage and Art Research
Board of Education, Kanagawa Prefecture
Yokohama City Board of Education
◆Opening Hours: 10:00 a.m. ~ 5:00 p.m. (Must enter the facility by 4:30 p.m.)
Closed on Monday (If Monday is a holiday or a compensatory
holiday, we will be closed on the next business day.)
◆Admission Fee: 500 yen for adults and college students 300 yen for high school students Free for junior high school students or
younger ※Various discounts are available.
◆Access: ・Direct connection to Nihon Odori Station (Minatomirai line, Exit No.3)
・10-minute walk from Kannai JR train/municipal subway stations
・1-minute walk from Nihon Odori Eki Kencho-mae municipal bus stop
・3-minute drive from Yokohama Park exit ramp of the Metropolitan Expressway

Source: Kyodo News press release

***

Further readings:

N.Korean-Japanese Team Finds Koguryo Tomb in Pyongyang, Chosun, Aug 16, 2010

Goguryeo ladies mural in Susanri tomb 修山里古墳の壁画「侍女図」

Japanese tomb murals removed for restoration, Jul 1, 2007

Japan – ancient murals in Nara tomb – May 13, 2005.

Nara tomb murals

 

Han Mural Tombs: Reflection of Correlative Cosmology through Mural Paintings”, ASIAN AND AFRICAN STUDIES, Volume XV, Issue 1, Ljubljana, May 2011  (pp. 19-48) by Nataša VAMPELJ SUHADOLNIK

Japan Comparative Study of Ancient Mural Tomb by HAN ZHAO

An examination of Japanese rooster symbolism, mythology, and the funerary and folkloric connections with rooster symbolism around the world

Chicken haniwa, 3rd century, Asadaiseki no. 3 Kofun tomb (Photo: Asahi Shimbun)

The rooster was a universal solar symbol across Eurasia, the Near and Middle East and Europe as a bird that heralded the dawn with its crowing and that would dispel evil spirits as the light of day dispelled darkness. Veneration of the rooster in East Asia was particularly widespread, but is best known today and associated with Japan and China where the rooster is entrenched as the tenth of the twelve animal symbols in the Chinese zodiac.

Chinese Zodiac Year of the Rooster Tattoo

The Chinese ideogram for rooster is 雞/鷄, 鸡 ( qi/chi/kai), homophonous to the one meaning “favourable” while the word for chicken crest is the same sound as that of an official (guān).  Its appearance and its behaviour symbolize the “five virtues”: civil virtues, because its comb makes it look like a mandarin and therefore suggests advancement and promotion; martial virtues, because of its spurs; virtues associated with courage because of its conduct in battle; virtues in association with kindness, because it protects its hens; virtues related to confidence because of the accuracy with which it heralds the dawn. It also spoke of reliability, epitome of fidelity and punctuality. In Chinese Taoist and fengshui beliefs, the red cock or rooster on the walls of the house symbolizes protection of the house from fire; the white cock – protection from and chasing away demons. Five (cocks)- reminding parents to educate their sons (and hopefully daughters as well).  Brilliant white in China is the color of purity and is linked with the Rooster. The Rooster’s direction is associated with West (death and burial).

In Japan, its crowing, associated with the raucousness of the deities, who lured Amaterasu, Goddess of the Sun, out of the cave where she had been hiding. Courage is the virtue that the Japanese (like other Far Eastern peoples) attribute to the rooster. The white cockerel as an auspicious symbol Japanese Shinto or shrine tradition likely has its origin in Taoist practices that filtered through from the Chinese court during the Tang dynasty and Nara periods.  Chickens are thought of as errand messengers of the gods at the Isonokami Shrine where many sacred roosters are seen roaming. Roosters are also seen at the Ise Shrine, where roosters are associated with the Amaterasu myth where the rooster in the myth crowed at dawn just as she was tricked into leaving her cave-grotto.

In China, during the spring Hanshi festival the cock, like fire/sun, was considered a yang symbol and symbol of the sun, was temporarily extinguished and then relit. In Taoism, to have a rooster fight another rooster, stood for fire-renewal or regeneration … the rooster and the cockfight then takes its place as an indispensable spring ritual (although the Hanshi festival was eventually moved to coincide with the Qingming Festival or the Pure Brightness Festival which still includes the rooster and cockfight).

The dancing also recalls the raucous, erotic and ecstatic rituals of the Cock Festival (or Minam Bharani Festival) at Sri Kurumba Kavu in central Kerala is known for the raucous, erotic rituals. Thousands of devotees take part annually in the singing of highly explicit sexual songs and in the ceremonial pollution of the  (attributed to Syrian/Hellenistic world influences) — see Scandalizing the goddess at Kodungalur

Comparing traditions, the Han Chinese myth of the divine archer Hou-Yi shooting three suns, the motifs of the sun palace and the celestial cock appear to have been mythical motifs that were separate, while some Miao versions have the merged myths of both Yi the archer shooting the sun as well as the sun entering the cave and refusing to emerge until the celestial cock crows.  The story is set in the context of the reign of Emperor Yao, who is said to be ancestor to Han dynasty emperor Liu Bang or “the son of Emperor Ku and Qingdu, the emperor’s third concubine surnamed Chenfeng. Yao was also named “Yaotang Shi” and widely known as “Tangyao”, due to the land conferred upon him in Yao and Tang areas. At the age of 15, Yao began to assist his elder brother Emperor Zhi in ruling the country.”

The cave and rooster cult-myth of the Japanese is however closest to that of the Miao tribes of East and Southeast Asia, with whom the Japanese share the same M7 mitochondrial DNA ancestry or roots.  The Miao/Hmong-Miao people are associated with cave culture. Their Dancing in cave Festival calls to mind the Japanese myth of the dancing that takes place to draw out the goddess Amaterasu from her cave. The Miao people have lived in the mountains since ancient times. The Dancing in Cave Festival of Miao people in Gaopo County lasts from the fourth day to the ninth day of the first lunar month every year. The jolliest event during the festival is dancing the Chinese Bagpipe Dance in caves. Miao people in Gaopo County said that celebrating the festival in caves is to honor their ancestors. Caves play a significant role in local Miao people’s daily life. Young people would choose caves to develop a romantic relationship; ancestors of Miao people even lived in caves; and caves were the place where the dead were buried…” — Dancing in Cave Festival From January 4 to 9 of every lunar year, the Miao people in Gaopo celebrates “Skipping Cave Festival” alongside the Lusheng dance in caves, which is intended to commemorate the lives of their ancestors as well as the traditions of the Miao ethnic group.  In the Matang Village, 18 kilometers north of the city of Kaili, is a Gejia ethnic minority village, of the Gejia people who are classified as a subgroup of the Miao ethnic minority – the Gejia believe insist that they are the descendants of Houyi, the God of the Arrow, and the mythical marksman who shot down nine suns, leaving only the present one. His actions saved the world’s people from overheating and the drying up of all fresh water.

The chicken features in mortuary death rites and has the dual role “to guide the newly deceased family member’s soul to find the ancestral land” but also “In the process of Miao marriage, chicken is a symbol throughout every stage, from courting, proposal, betrothal, and wedding, to having children.” More is written about the symbolism of the rooster cock to the Miao below:

“Rooster divining: chicken in Miao myths: To understand the symbolic meaning of the rooster divining ritual, we may turn to the cultural motif which recurs in Miao myths and legends. Using a rooster to predict the future of a marriage reflects its mystical function in the mind of the ancient Miao. There are various Miao sun-bird/ sun-rooster myths, which demonstrate that this ritual may have something to do with the association of bird/chicken with the sun. One of their widespread sun myths is about a rooster calling the sun out: long ago, there were twelve (nine in a different version) suns hanging in the sky. The people could not stand the heat aThe nd asked a brave hero to shoot eleven (or eight) of them by arrow, leaving only one. But the last sun was so scared that it hid, not daring to come out until a rooster started crowing (Pan, Yang, and Zhang 1997; Tapp 1989; Wu 2002). There is a similar myth popular in West Hunan (Lu 2000) and Southeast Guizhou (Bender 2006) about a hero who rides a golden pheasant to rescue the sun taken by a demon to bring life, joy, and hope back to the earth. These myths show that in Miao belief, the rooster is the medium connecting the secular and supernatural worlds; it is a sacred bird, a messenger of the sun god. It is capable of delivering requests for blessings to ancestors and gods in the supernatural world, and carrying messages about the future from the supernatural world to the Miao. This also explains the use of roosters in Miao funeral ritual for guiding the soul of the deceased to find the path leading to the realm of the ancestors … , in the Miao’s flood myths, the thunder god is in charge of the rain, and the image of the thunder god is a rooster.” – Chicken and Family Prosperity: Marital ritual among the Miao in Southwest China

Above: Boat-of-the-dead rowing towards sun with rooster leading the way,  Ikegami site of the Yayoi Period, Izumi city, Osaka; Below:

The cock as funerary and solar symbol in Japan dates back even earlier to the Yayoi period with the introduction of rice agriculture and then during Kofun Period where haniwa ceramic cocks and chickens were placed on top of tomb mounds.  Haniwa chickens are found from the very beginning of the custom of placing these sculptures on tombs and they continue right through the period of haniwa use.  Chicken form of haniwas appear in greater numbers than finds of other haniwa birds and are distributed from Kagoshima to Iwate Prefectures, a distribution, correlating to the distribution of kofun with haniwa…indicating a Yamato-nation-wide burial custom and Afterlife Worldview.

Somewhat rarer to be found than chicken clay haniwa, the cock motif also appears tomb mural paintings at the helm of a boat heading towards the sun.

“Boat of the dead with bird perched on prow” late 6th century tomb mural, Mezurashiizuka Kofun tumulus, Ukiwa city, Fukuoka

Drawings of the haniwa pottery incised pictures of the “boat of the dead” from the early 4th century Higashi Tonozuka Kofun, Nakayama-cho, Tenri city, Nara prefecture

Origin of cock symbolism in Kofun Period mortuary tomb haniwa

Procession of chicken and bird (among other animals) haniwa figurines, Hodota-hachimanzuka Kofun, Takasaki city, Gunma Prefecture (Photo: Kamitsukenosato Museum)

As seen from the reconstructed Kofun mortuary artefacts in the photo above, Japan probably derived its funerary cock symbolism from the Mongolic/Xianbei/Hun-Xiongnu kurgan culture in Eurasia-Central Asia and/East Asia, and Nara period symbolism from Tang China where it is an auspicious symbol, and not from its Tibetan lineages – since Tibetan Buddhism regards the rooster as an exceptionally ill-fated symbol (where it appears in the centre of the Wheel of Life, alongside the hog and the snake, as one of the three poisons, symbolizing lust, attachment and covetousness that put in motion the Wheel of the Law). The emerging-from-the-sacred-cave motif in the context that Emperor Yao appears in the Korean royal founding myth of Tangun (Dangun) – suggests an affinity and connection among the Korean-Mongol/Xianbei-Chinese-Miao-Japanese cave traditions.

A further question that might be asked is how these East Asian cave cult traditions might be related to the Roman-Mithraic cave-cock cults and the Bactrian-Kushana cock imagery found on coins and statues. A possible clue may come from the Yingpan Man mummy. The Yingpan Man is a 2,000-year-old Caucasian mummy discovered in 1995 in the town of Yingpan, which was an crucial trade node on the Silk Road. Yingpan Man’s head rested on a pillow shaped like a cockerel. Since the Yingpan man was buried with rich grave goods with a Greek gold mask and wearing elaborate golden embroidered red and maroon wool garments with images of fighting Greeks or Romans, he is thought to have been one of the wealthy Sogdian traders who plied the Silk Road, who were an Iranian-speaking people hailing from a place near Samarkand in what is now Uzbekistan. His head rested on a pillow in the shape of a crowing cockerel. Taken together with Colin Renfrew’s Anatolian hypothesis and ideas about the origins of the proto-Europeans, we can guess how the funerary cock motif might have spread via the Silk Route East-West-Mediterranean trade contacts and networks.

A further connection is suggested below in the Out of India section]

The Gaxian cave in the north-eastern Inner Mongolia

Gaxian Cave (Show Caves of China)

The location of this ancestral cave is thought to be Gaxian Cave is located in the Da Xing’an Range, 10 km northwest of Alihe (the administrative center of the Oroqen Autonomous Banner) in northern Inner Mongolia. This cave, whose southwest facing entrance is easily accessible from a small fluvial plain ten meters below, is 120 m deep and 22 m high. The surrounding landscape is covered by Manchurian primeval forest.  In recent history, Gaxian Cave is known to have been used as an occasional shelter by Tungusic-speaking Oroqen hunters, the original inhabitants of the region.

A study of the cave was initiated in 1980 by Prof. MI Wenping, a prominent specialist on Manchurian archaeology and history, who upon his fourth visit to the cave, located on the west wall close to the entrance an engraved inscription comprising 19 lines of 201 Chinese characters. This inscription was in a style typical for the Northern Wei empire (386-581) and was a passage from the Wei Shu, the dynastic history, records the sending of a mission by the Wei emperor to visit an ancestral temple in his tribal homeland, It also contains a date equivalent to A.D. 443, was soon found to be almost identical to a passage in the Wei Shu, the dynastic history of the Northern Wei empire.  Gaxian Cave may have been this ‘temple’. The ethnic group that established the Northern Wei empire is known historically as Tabgach (Tuoba) and thought to be the descendant of the Sienpi (Xianbei), both of which are believed to have been linguistically related to the later Mongols. Gaxian Cave thus provides tantalizing perspectives on early ethnic migrations in protohistoric Manchuria and Mongolia and the possibility that it may be common ancestral cave temple of the Wei Shu imperial mission, as well as of the Manchurian, Korean people of the Xianbei lineage. (Source: A visit to Gaxian Cave, Inner Mongolia Society for East Asian Archaeology (SEAA) – EAANnouncements 15 by Juha Janhunen)

In Korea, people “believed roosters knew time well and considered them a symbol of hopeful beginnings and good omens. It was said that when the chicken made sound, all evil spirits disappeared. The characteristic of intelligence was attributed to the rooster’s crest. When it eats, it shares its food with others, showing patience. A rooster stays awake all night and cries at a certain time every morning, giving an impression of trust. Its sharp toenail represents the science of war, and its continuing to fight until death was compared with bravery”. – Animals, Life in Korea

Sacred white rooster

Japanese white Yokohama cockerel (Photo: e-chickens.com)

In Japan, the white rooster is a sacred symbol, and it is allowed to run freely in Shinto temples where its morning call is thought to awaken the sun goddess Amaterasu.   According to e-chickens.com, the Japanese white chickens probably originated sometime in the late 16th Century in what was then Southern China and taken to Japan in the early 17th Century. The earliest long tailed fowl were found in China, but during the 17th century Japan became the centre for their development. The Japanese are said to be experts in keeping their tails growing all season. Japanese Bantam Chickens were first known as Chabo Chickens and are an old and well established ornamental Asian bantam breed.

Japanese Bantams, a.k.a. Chabo  (Photo:  John deSaavedra)

The white rooster is also a symbol of Lampang a province of Thailand. It is a symbol of the province adopted from one of the region’s oldest temple shrines; the Wat Phra Tat Lampang Luang Lampang, Thailand. Like in Japan where the rooster is depicted roosting on a tori arch, the white rooster is depicted seated in a ‘mondapa’ which is an arched structure with a pyramidal roof. The idea of the mondapa has in turn been derived from the ancient temple just named above. The Lampang Rooster Lampang has been further modified and incorporated within the design of Lampang province’s seal. A replica of the symbol of the white rooster can be seen adorning the horse carriages running on the streets of Lampang.

The Lampang Chicken icon

The white rooster is the “bird depicted on the Polish Coat of Arms. Often times, this chicken is incorrectly referred to as an Eagle or a Hawk. The Legend: This emblem originated when Poland’s original founder Lech saw a white chicken resting in it’s nest one early morning when he was out hunting. Lech hunted the bird while it rested in it’s nest, which was situated in a grassy valley in an area currently known as central Poland. He was so pleased with the ease at which this bird (chicken) was hunted, that he decided to settle there and placed rooster on his emblem (as opposed to the chicken that was originally hunted). … Lech decided to use a white rooster on his emblem instead of a chicken to symbolize the fact that the bird that rises earliest (the rooster) gets the easiest prey (the chicken resting in it’s nest). Initially, the emblem depicted a white Rooster. After generations and generations of being passed down, the rooster began being drawn as a white bird wearing a royal crown, paying respect to the Polish royal monarchs of the past. In later renditions, the original rooster was drawn as resembling a hawk or an eagle; This is what has led to the common modern misconception about the origin of the emblem.”

Rooster as fertility or sacred symbol in Southeast Asia

The rooster is also thought to counteract the evil influences of the dark night that it drives from the house if the inhabitants paint its effigy on their door.

The Miao (a.k.a. Hmong) people are traditionally animists, shamanists and ancestor worshipers with beliefs having been affected in varying degrees by Taoism, Buddhism and Christianity. At the Miao New Year there may be the sacrifice of domestic animals and there may be cockfights. The Hmong of Southeast Guizhou will cover the rooster with a piece of red cloth and then hold it up to worship and sacrifice to the Heaven and the Earth before the cockfight.  The Miao are famous for their animal imitation dancing such as the cockfight dancing. In Shamanism in the Hmong culture, a shaman may use a rooster in religious ceremony as it is said that the rooster shields the shaman from “evil” spirits by making him invisible as the evil spirits only see the rooster’s spirit. In a 2010 trial of a Sheboygan Wisconsin Hmong that was charged with staging a cockfight, it was stated that the roosters were “kept for both food and religious purposes” resulted in an acquittal.”

In Vietnam, fighting roosters or fighting cocks are colloquially called “sacred chickens”.

The veneration of the traditional spirits (anito) is still practised in northern Philippines. Animist beliefs extend to the rooster and the cockfight, ”a popular form of fertility worship among almost all Southeast Asians”.

Kaharingan, an animist folk religion of the Iban branch of the Dayak people, accepted as a form of Hinduism by the Indonesian government, includes the belief of a supreme deity as well as the rooster and cockfight in relation to that of the spiritual and religious and some with the belief that humans become the fighting cocks of god, with the Iban further believing the rooster and cockfight was introduced to them by god. Gawai Dayak a festival of the Dayaks includes the cockfight and the waving of a rooster over offerings while asking for guidance and blessings with the rooster being sacrificed and the blood included in spiritual offering, while the Tiwah festival involves the sacrifice of many animals including the chicken as offerings to the Supreme God.

In East Timor, the roof of the house is reserved for gods and spirits of ancestors, the lower portion remains for the nature spirit and usually occupied by animals, and the cock is admired because of courage and perseverance, with the courage of a man compared with that of the cock, with the cockfight occurring regularly and “many tais designs include the cock”.

Aluk or Aluk To Dolo a sect of Agama Hindu Dharma as a part of religion in Indonesia, within the Toraja society and the people of Tana Toraja, embrace religious rituals such as the funeral ceremony where a sacred cockfight is an integral part of the religious ceremony and considered sacred within that spiritual realm. In several myths the cock has the power to revive the dead or to make a wish come true and is well known in Torajan cosmology.

Khasi people (with curiously Christian-like symbolism) believe the rooster is sacrificed as a substitute for man, it being thought that the cock when sacrificed “bears the sins of the man.

Out of India and Buddhist iconography

In India, hens and roosters were regarded as sun birds. They were named this way for their chickensong at sunset and by this allegedly warning people that evil spirits began wandering around the earth having just conquered the sun. Signing the end of the night at dawn, the roosters with their crowing were thought to let people know that the sun has gathered its power and conquered the evil spirits.

In India, it is the attribute of Skandha, personification of solar energy – also known as Lord Murugan. Skanda, is variously known as Lord Murugan a Bachelor god as well as the Kārttikeya/Kumara, the Warrior God of War, who wields a bow in battle. The lance called Vel in Tamil is also a weapon closely associated with him. The Vel was given to him by his mother, Parvati, and embodies her energy and power. His army’s standard depicts a rooster. [From Persia/Parthia/Kushan-Bactria to India?  In the Iranian counterpart of Skanda, the Avestan deity Sraosa (which had its Sanskrit equivalent 'Srausa' which means "obedient messenger of the sun god") is a killer of demons, like Skanda, has attributes of conqueror, protective martial deity for Zoroastrianism, and acts as the watchful and obedient messenger o f Ahura Mazda, and like Skanda, the cock is an animal sacred to the Sraosa. Sraosa is described in Pahlavi texts as repelling evil powers  of the night with the help of a cock. According to Richard D Mann the earliest depiction of Skanda/Karttikeya with a cock and cock statuary comes from Mathura and dates to the Kushana era. The author suggests Parthian coinage influence upon the Bactrian-Kushans and that bird-falcon association with Parthian warrior gods was borrowed by Kushan/Bactrians, and that a Bactrian legend in Greek script identifies the figure holding bird-topped standard found on Kushan coins to be the Hindu-Kushan deity Mahasena.  Mann (at p. 126) notes that "all of the cock statues with the bird/cock from the Kushana era occurs in an area geographically close to Parthia, where Scythian and Parthian culture spread ... owes its presence on these statues to those cultures....The cock itself relates these images of Mahasena to another Iranian martial deity Sraosa".  According to Mann, Sraosa was assimilated with Indian Karttikeya, the Avesta Mithra is flanked by Rasnu and Sraosa, the latter pair is thought to be the origin of the Indian Purana's Rajna and Srausa. In Pahlavi texts:

"The cock is created to oppose demons and sorcerers, as a collaborator of the dog. As He says in the Religion: those are the material creatures, those are the collaborators of Sros [Sraosa], the dog and the cock …  for that cock, they call the bird of righteous Sros. And when it crows, it keeps misfortune away from the creation of Ohrmazd”

Hence, we have two schools of thought, one, that cock symbolism in India originated from the Iranian/Parthian/Bactrian quarter, while the other sees cock symbolism as indigenous to India and hailing from much older fertility cults or festivals. [We break in here to suggest that the beloved folk Jizo deity is likely the Japanese counterpart to Sraosa/Srausa as Jizo is also seen as Conqueror/Victor of death, navigating the Underworld assisting hapless humans, especially children, and equally associated with the appearance of cocks, and their crowing at dawn dispersing the demons in Japanese folklore, although the Jizo icon was later transformed into a bodhisattva with the arrival of Buddhism and the cock association sometimes lost.]

The Bhil peoples of Central India, who believe in the myth of Bhagavan a personal supreme god and worship Bhagavan in their central sanctuary. They practise a human-oriented cult of the dead front of the dead person’s house, in which the main ritual called Nukto purifies the spirit of the dead, uniting it with Bhagavan. In the Nukto ritual, Gothriz Purvez the role of a spirit rider  who accompanies the spirit on part of its journey to the afterworld.  Now in the Bhil myth, Bhagavan creates two washer-folk, a brother-sister pair who become progenitors of the human race after a flood deluge that turns the world upside down. Bhagavan  saves the pair  by telling them to make a cage, step into it taking pumpkin seeds and water. After the rains subside, God discovers their survival through the crowing of the cock, and questions how they survived.  A DNA study published in Feb 2012 determined that the Bhil tribal people from Central India are unequivocally Indo-Aryan, speak Gujarati, an Indo-Aryan language, although they may live close to Austro-Asiatic tribes.

Stephen Oppenheimer in his book “Eden in the East” noted the close resemblance of the Bhil flood deluge mythical components to the flood myths of a broad swathe of Austro-Asiatic minority peoples of northern Thailand,Vietnam, Laos and southern China. Particularly strong is the resemblance of the Noah’s ark style myth of the Bahnar or Ba Na tribe of the highlands of Vietnam’s central provinces – where a brother and sister pair escape from a sea flood, by shutting themselves into a sealed chest that has with them a pair of every sort of animal. The chest floated away for seven days and seven nights until the brother heard a cock crowing outside, a bird sent by the spirits to let the pair know that the flood had abated and that they could emerge safe from the chest.

Kukkuta Sastra (Cock Astrology) is a form of divination based on the rooster fight and commonly believed in coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh, India. It is prevalent in the state, especially in the districts of Krishna, Guntur, East Godavari and West Godavari and the Sankranti festival.

Cocks and cockfighting have been depicted on Indus valley seals and Tamil cities have been named cock-cities which is believed to have occurred with the migrations of the Dwarakans (at about 1,500 B.C. at the end of the Indus civilization) who brought the word “kozhi” for cock and cockfighting practices to pre-existing Tamil lands such as Kerala, Calicut, Urayur, all cock cities associated with kozhi. Cock fighting is a traditional pastime, known also as the 43rd Womenfolk were particularly good at the art and gaNikas (courtesans) of Royal court since the times of Ramayana were trained in the 64 arts including the cock fights.

Despite being forbidden in the Vedic philosophy of sattvic Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. Theyyam deities are propitiated through the rooster sacrifice where the religious cockfight is a religious exercise of offering blood to the Theyyam gods. A popular Hindu ritual form of worship of North Malabar in Kerala, India is the Tabuh Rah blood offering to the Theyyam gods. Scandalizing the goddess at Kodungalur is a study of the Cock Festival (or Minam Bharani Festival) at Sri Kurumba Kavu in central Kerala is known for the raucous, erotic, and insulting devotional practices of its participants. Thousands of devotees take part annually in the singing of highly explicit sexual songs and in the ceremonial pollution of the goddess Sri Kurumba’s shrine. This festival is controversial but popular, and resembles in many ways descriptions of the ecstatic cults of the ancient Near East that spread throughout the Greco-Roman empire. Oracles of the goddess, called veliccappatus (illumi­nators), reveal her wishes through trance and in their possessed state cut their foreheads with swords as they dance.

In 2011 the Madras High Court Bench ordered the rooster fight at Santhapadi and Modakoor Melbegam villages permitted during the Pongal religious festival.  Again in 2011 a public interest litigation petition caused the Madras High Court Bench to grant permission to villagers of Kodaioor village to conduct a rooster fight during Deepavali coinciding with a local temple festival from the claims that the “villagers’ religious sentiments would be hurt if the cockfight was not allowed “. In many parts of India, tribal or folk deities are propitiated through cock sacrifice.

Bayon Temple is an ancient Buddhist temple that also incorporates elements of Hindu cosmology (see next section)  includes “a depiction of a cockfight” within the walls of the temple which continues today within a debate of “religious sanctity”.

With the rambling strutting roosters of the Buddhist temple of Wat Suwankhiri on a Payathonsu cliff near by, during April, Three Pagodas Pass becomes a site of the Songkran Festival with cockfights.

Sacred Buddhist amulets are made within that religious schema, created and blessed in various temples in Thailand, many depicting Buddha with cocks in fighting stance, sacred within that religion.

Balinese Hinduism also includes the religious belief of Tabuh Rah, a religious cockfight where a rooster is used in religious custom by allowing him to fight against another rooster in the religious and spiritual cockfight of the Balinese Hinduism spiritual appeasement exercise of Tabuh Rah. The altar and deity Ida Ratu Saung may be seen with a fighting cock in his hand with the spilling of blood being necessary as purification to appease the evil spirits. Ritual fights usually take place outside the temple proper and follow an ancient and complex ritual as set out in the sacred lontar manuscripts.

Cocks in Hinduism

Makar Sankranti is a Hindu festival dependent on the position of the sun and celebration of Sankranti who is considered a Deity for Hindus and is celebrated in many ways including worship for the departed ancestors and to worship Saraswati. In the western Indian state of Gujarat, an event of the Makar Sankranti festival is kozhi kettu, the rooster fight. Kozhi kettu is an ancient ritual of Tulunadu and an ancient ritual associated with the ‘daivasthanams’ (temples) there. Kozhi kettu organized as part of religious events are permitted.

Feathers have been ruffled and controversy brewed when some Hindu temples used a symbol of a peacock rather than a rooster on their flags for Kavady festivals. Gonaseelan Moopanar, chairman of the Hindu temples foundation, confirmed that the rooster was the correct symbol, not the peacock saying, “According to religious scriptures and the teaching of our elders, the rooster is the correct symbol. It has been the symbol for many years. “The peacock symbolises the transport for Lord Muruga, but the rooster is the victory flag.”

Cockfighting arrived in Bali, Indonesia, it is not  known when, but probably together with Hindusim. Cockfights,called tajen, meklecan or ngadu, in Balinese, are part and parcel of temple and purification (mecaru) ceremonies. The Tabuh Rah ritual to expel evil spirits always requires a cockfight to spill blood. Tabah Rah literally means pouring blood. There are ancient texts disclosing that the ritual has existed for centuries. It is mentioned in the Batur Bang Inscriptions I from the year 933 and the Batuan Inscription from the year 944 (on the Balinese calendar). The blood of the loser spills on the ground, an offering to the evil spirits.

The origin of cockfights:  Cock fighting is said to be the world’s oldest spectator sport and was entrenched in ancient India, China, Persia, and other Eastern countries, and was introduced into Ancient Greece in the time of Themistocles (c. 524–460 BC). In Persia, the sport goes back 6,000 years in Persia and the term “Persian bird” for the cock or fighting cock,is thought to have been given by the Greeks after Persian contact “because of his great importance and his religious use among the Persians”. It is however noted that even long before that time, in Iran, during the Kianian Period, from about 2000 B.C. to about 700 B.C., “the cock was the most sacred” bird. It is also thought that cockfighting has its origin in the Indus Valley Civilization, and spread from South Asia after the Persian armies conquered India in the 4th century B.C. The Persians adopted the sport and are thought to be at least partly responsible for its introduction to the Mediterranean basin through military and commercial pursuits. The sea-faring Phoenicians are also thought to be responsible for the widespread distribution of gamefowl from the orient to Africa, the Middle East, and along the European coast (source: Encyclopædia Britannica (2008) and History of Aseel (old game breed)).

***

In the Near East in the ancient land of Babylonia (including modern day Iraq), there is the lore of the True Shepherd of Anu(SIPA.ZI.AN.NA – Orion and his accompanying animal symbol, the Rooster, with both representing the herald of the gods, being their divinely ordained role to communicate messages of the gods. “The Heavenly Shepherd” or “True Shepherd of Anu” – Anu being the chief god of the heavenly realms. On the star map the figure of the Rooster was shown below and behind the figure of the True Shepherd, both representing the herald of the gods, in his bird and human forms respectively.[Source: "Rooster", Wikipedia]

Nergal, an idol of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Phoenicians, and Persians, whose name means, “a dunghill cock.”(Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Brewer, 1900) Astrological mythology of the Assyrians and Babylonians was that the idol “Nergal represents the planet Mars, which was ever the emblem of bloodshed”

The Middle East and the rooster in Judaic tradition

Arab and Islamic traditions:  In pre-Islamic Arabia, Arab Bedouins attributed generosity to the cock.  In Islam, the rooster enjoys a particular veneration. The Prophet himself is alleged to assert that the white rooster is his friend because it announces the presence of the Angel. Moreover, the Prophet is said to prohibit cursing the rooster, which calls to prayer.  In Islamic dream analysis, both snake and rooster are interpreted as symbols of time.”

The cock is a divine Islamic symbol – in the words of Muhammad of that Abrahamic religion in one of the six canonical hadith collections of Sunni Islam, stating that of “when you hear the crowing of cocks, ask for Allah’s Blessings for they have seen an angel” as well as the mention where “the cock is also venerated in Islam: it was the giant bird seen by Muhammad in the First Heaven crowing.”

Judaic tradition:  Although rooster worship is considered by some within the Judeo-Christian ethic as a form of Baal or Baalim worship, rooster (Gallus domesticus) bones were identified at Lachish dating to early Iron II”, in Palestine, the earliest chicken bones are present in Iron Age I strata in Lachish and Tell Hasben”.

And in excavations at Gibeon, near Jerusalem, dating to the seventh century B.C., potsherds were found incised with cocks and “some of them placed within the six-pointed star of the Magen David.” The seal of Jaazaniah carries the insignia of a rooster from the ruins of the biblical Judean kingdom at Mizpah, with the inscription of “belonging to Jaazaniah, servant to the king”, the first known representation of the chicken in Palestine, and from II Kings 25:23, we know of one Jaazaniah the Maschathit, who was an official under Gedalish at Mizpah.

The Zohar (iii. 22b, 23a, 49b), the book of Jewish mysticism and collection of writings on the Torah written by first century tannaic sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi), tells of a celestial manifestation, which causes the crowing of the roosters; known also in the Talmud, is “blessed be He who has given the cock intelligence,”(Ber. 60b) and as well as Job 38:36 in the Douay-Rheims Bible.

“In the rabbinic literature, the cockcrow is used as general marking of time”, and some of the Sages interpreted the “cockcrow” to mean the voice of the Temple officer who summoned all priests.

Levites, and Israelites in the context of their duties and used, the Hebrew gever was used to mean a “rooster” in addition to the meaning of “man, strong man”. Saʻadiah ben Yosef Gaon(Saadia Gaon) identifies the definitive trait of “a cock girded about the loins” within Proverbs 30:31(Douay–Rheims Bible) as “the honesty of their behavior and their success”, identifying a spiritual purpose of a religious vessel within that religious and spiritual instilling schema of purpose and use, within Judeo-Christian traditions. The Hebrew term zarzir, which literally means “girt”; “that which is girt in the loins” (BDB 267 s.v.) is recognized in the Targum as well as the Chaldaic, Syriac, Arabic, LXX and Vulgate with all referencing the fighting rooster of fighting cock as the religious vessel. The ancient Hebrew versions identified the Hebrew “a girt one of the loins” of Proverbs 30:31 as a rooster, “which most of the old translations and Rabbis understood to be a fighting cock”, with also the Arabic sarsar or sirsir being an onomatopoeticon or onomatopoeia for rooster(alektor) as the Hebrew zarzir of Proverbs 30:31.

In the Jewish religious practice of Kapparos, a rooster as a religious vessel is swung around the head and then sacrificed on the afternoon before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The purpose of the sacrifice is the expiation of sins of the man as the animal symbolically receives all the man’s sins, which is based on the reconciliation of Isaiah 1:18. The religious practice is mentioned for the first time by Natronai ben Hilai, Gaon of the Academy of Sura in Babylonia, in 853 C.E., who describes it as a custom of the Babylonian Jews and further explained by Jewish scholars in the ninth century by that since the Hebrew word geber(Gever)[62] means both “man” and “rooster” the rooster may act or serve as a palpable substitute as a religious vessel in place of the man with the practice also having been as a custom of the Persian Jews.

In Iran during the Kianian Period, from about 2000 B.C. to about 700 B.C., among domestic birds, “the cock was the most sacred” and within that religion, the devout, “had a cock to guard him and ward off evil spirits Zoroastrianism, claimed to be “the oldest of the revealed world-religions” and founded by the Prophet Zoroaster (or Zarathustra) opposed animal sacrifices but held the rooster as a “symbol of light” and associated the cock with “good against evil” because of his heraldic actions.

From Anatolia to the Greco-Roman world and Europe

Plutarch said the inhabitants of Caria carried the emblem of the rooster on the end of their lances and relates that origin to Artaxerxes, who awarded a Carian who was said to have killed Cyrus the Younger at the battle of Cunaxa in 401 B.C “the privilege of carrying ever after a golden cock upon his spear before the first ranks of the army in all expeditions” and the Carians also wore crested helmets at the time of Herodotus, for which reason “the Persians gave the Carians the name of cocks”. It is Carites in 2 Kings 11 who were used by Jehoiada to protect Joash son of Ahaziah of the line of David, ancestor to Christ from Athaliah.

Good Shepherd fresco from the Catacombs of San Callisto with the cock at His right hand

The Rooster Symbol in Europe

The Rooster symbol in Europe is borrowed from many directions – Anatolia, Greco-Roman traditions and Judaic-Christian traditions.

The sacrifice of a cock and a ritual cockfight was part of the Imbolc festivities in honour of the pan-Celtic goddess Brighid.

“In Greek tradition Velchanos the Cretan rooster-god was assimilated to Zeus. A rooster was standing beside Leto, pregnant by Zeus, when she gave birth to Apollo and Artemis. Thus the rooster is dedicated to solar gods as well as to lunar goddesses.  Moreover, the rooster is the specific attribute of Apollo. A rooster was ritually sacrificed to Asclepios, son of Apollo and god of medicine, because the bird heralded the soul of the dead that it was to guide to the Otherworld.  Asclepios is also the god who, by his healing powers, brought the dead back to life on earth.  This is precisely the reason why the rooster was also the emblem of Attis, the oriental Sun-God, who died and came to life again. This also explains why the rooster is attributed to Hermes, the messenger who travels the three levels of the cosmos.  The rooster, along with the hound and the horse, is among the animals offered in sacrifice in the funeral rites of the ancient Germans.  In Norse traditions, the rooster is symbol of soldierly vigilance, posted on the topmost branches of the ash Yggdrasil to warn the gods when the giants, their foes, are preparing to attack.  When the bird is set on church spires, it assumes the role of protector and guardian of life.  ” – “The Rooster” the New Acropolis International Philosophical Organization (see Readings below)

The Talmud makes the rooster a master of courtesy because it heralds his Lord the Sun with its crowing.  In the Book of Job, the rooster is the symbol of God-given intelligence while the ibis is the symbol of wisdom and the Judaic tradition carried over cock-as-victor-over-resurrection  symbolism to Christianity. The cock was considered an emblem of Christ, like the eagle and the lamb, symbol of Light and resurrection.  The rooster or cock as a religious vessel found in the Catacombs from the earliest period including a painting from the Catacomb of St. Priscilla (mentioned in all the ancient liturgical sources and known as the “Queen of the Catacombs” in antiquity) reproduced in Giovanni Gaetano Bottari’s folio of 1754, where the Good Shepherd is depicted as feeding the lambs, with a crowing cock on His right and left hand. Likewise as well within the Christian “Tomb of the Cocks” in Beit Jibrin, which was a Palestinian Arab village located 13 miles northwest of the city of Hebron and part of the Kingdom of Israel, “we find two spirited cocks painted in red in the spandrels with a cross just over the center of the arch”. Similarly a multitude of sarcophagi are found with the rooster and the sacred cockfight with the understanding of striving for resurrection and eternal life in Christianity. This sacred subject carved on early Christian tombs, where the sepulchral carvings have an important purpose, “a faithful wish for immortality, with the victory of the cock and his supporting genius analogous to the hope of resurrection, the victory of the soul over death”. Similar illustrations of cocks in fighting stance are found within the Vivian Bible as well as the fighting cocks capitals in the Basilica of St. Andoche in Saulieu and the Cathédrale Saint-Lazare d’Autun provides “alternate documentation” of the rooster and the religious, spiritual and sacred cockfight.

All four canonical gospels state that, during the Last Supper, Jesus foretold of Peter’s denial (Saint Peter) and that he would deny Christ three times before the cock’s crow. Augustine of Hippo, Catholic saint and pre-eminent Doctor of the church understood “a visible sign of an invisible reality” of the rooster to include that as described by St. Augustine in DeOrdine as that which “in every motion of these animals unendowed with reason there was nothing ungraceful since, of course, another higher reason was guiding everything they did”.

Vatican Persian Cock – A 1919 print of a fabric square of a Persian cock or a Persian bird design belonging to the Vatican (Holy See) in Rome dating to 600 C.E. The halo denotes its divine status.

The cock for the Vatican is a Persian cock denoting a sacred and religious vessel. In the sixth century, it is reputed that Pope Gregory I declared the cock the emblem of Christianity saying the rooster was “the most suitable emblem of Christianity”, being “the emblem of St Peter”. Some say that it was as a result of this that the cock began to be used as a weather vane on church steeples, and some a Papal enactment of the ninth century ordered the figure of the cock to be placed on every church steeple. It is known that Pope Leo IV had the figure of the cock placed on the Old St. Peter’s Basilica or old Constantinian basilica and has served as a religious icon and reminder of Peter’s denial of Christ since that time, with some churches still having the rooster on the steeple today. A Dictionary of the Bible” which tells us that “Pindar (ca. 522–443 BC), mentions the cock, Homer (ca. 800–750 BC) names a man “gever” the word for a cock and Aristophanes (ca. 446 BC – ca. 386 BC) calls it a Persian bird.” In Portugal, the rooster is a symbol of justice and faith in God.

However, given the antiquity of solar symbolism in Europe, alternative reasons for cock symbolism may have been derived from the Celts, or the Goths or along with the proliferation of the Roman cult of Mithras where the rooster was the symbol of the sun god and the Orphic bird of resurrection. The cockerel was already of symbolic importance in Gaul at the time of the invasion of Julius Caesar and was associated with the god Lugus.  The most important evidence of the cultic practices of Mithraic Mysteries was the find in Moesia and Thrace, in Bulgaria, of the square stone of Novae/Steklen depicting on the lateral faces Cautes carrying a cock held upside-down and Cautopates a cock or other bird held upright (both in addition to their torches). The find dates the arrival of a cult in the Danube to the 1st century. or the very beginning of the 2nd. Cautes carries the inverted bird. The torch-bearers wear pillei not in the Phrygian style, a long ray links the raven to Mithras’s head. The ray extending to Mithras is very carefully modelled to give the impression of penetration through the vault surrounding the bull tauroctony – it emerges from a hollow specially cut on the inside the vault. A small lion’s head is carved on the rocky cave below Sol  the sun god. The serpent coiled around the feet of Cautes. [recall solar symbolism, sun-god, cock and cave cult of East Asia - which influenced which?]

During the Punic wars, the specialist bird watcher, the Roman augur, who was advisor to ruler and king, would observe the chickens to tell whether or not a proposed course of action had the approval of the gods. The Roman augur did not stay in Rome when there were wars being waged. Sacred chickens were taken on the road and to the field with them in times of war.

In 256 BC, a Roman army led by the consul Regulus invaded Africa, but at Carthage, the Romans encountered a far superior army to those they had defeated in Sicily. A large army, led by the Spartan Xanthipus, defeated the Romans and captured Regulus. The Roman army retreated, and while sailing back towards Sicily a large storm came and destroyed the rest of the fleet. During Carthaginian War II the armies of Carthaginians predominantly gained victories, especially under the leadership of the famous commander Hannibal.   Undeterred, the Romans sent a new invasion fleet in 254 B.C., which was also sunk by a storm.  But despite their victories, the Carthaginians were weary of war, sent Regulus, who had now been a prisoner for five years, back to Rome to negotiate the terms of peace. Regulus on his part swore that he would return to Carthage upon the completion of his mission. When he arrived in Rome, he went before the Senate and told them to continue the war and not make peace.

Claudius Pulcher, now in charge of the Roman fleet, caught sight of a Carthaginian squadron. As was the custom for the Romans, he performed the necessary auguries before the sea-battle of Drepanum between Rome and Carthage in 249 B.C… grain was offered to chickens, and see if they would eat. When this was performed, the chickens refused to eat. Angry, Claudius Pulcher took the chickens and tossed them overboard, saying “If they will not eat, then let them drink!” The superstitious military chiefs, soldiers and sailors believed the augurs, and are thought to have lost heart, and failed to put up resistance to the Carthaginians.  Consequently, Claudius’ fleet was defeated by the Carthaginians. When Claudius returned to Rome, he was put on trial and fined heavily, not for losing the battle but for ignoring the will of the gods.

Another notable occasion was the morning of the battle of Lake Trasimene in 217 BC, during the Second Punic War, when the consul C. Flaminius ignored the auguries with disastrous results.

1904 French Gold Coin featuring a cockeral as well as the French MottoFrench coin

Today the Gallic rooster is an emblem of France and adorned the French flag during the French Revolution.  In the Bayeux Tapestry of the 1070s, originally of the Bayeux Cathedral and now exhibited at Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux in Bayeux, Normandy, there is a depiction of a man installing a rooster on Westminster Abbey.  From 16th century onwards representations of a cockerel accompanied the King of France and French royal coinage.  The cock appears on the coins struck under both the Valois and Bourbon kings.  Napoleon III however, was said to have disliked the cockerel, which nevertheless, virtually became an official symbol of the Third Republic: the gates of the Elysée Palace, erected at the end of the 19th century, feature a cockerel.

The gallic rooster is also an emblem of French-speaking Wallonia in Belgium and Denizli.

Flag of Wallonia (French-speaking region of Belgium)

The ancient Greeks amused themselves with cock games. The cock was a sacred symbol of Apollo, and also associated with his son, Asklepios, the healergod, associated with the life-giving force of the sun. Phemistocles, a famous Athenian statesman, strategist and commander, according to legend, proposed to include the review of cock games in the program of military training during the Greco-Persian wars … he allegedly said, “Let the young warriors see how selflessly the roosters fight, and learn firmness and bravery from them”. Frazer (2006: p. 106) in The Golden Bough wrote: “In modern Greece, when the foundation of a new building is being laid, it is the custom to kill a cock, a ram, or a lamb, and to let its blood flow on the foundation-stone.”

A belief arose in medieval times that the black cockerel was a symbol of witchcraft along with the black cat, and the rooster continued to be “used as symbols of either virtue or vice” till modern times. A white cockerel is thought universally to be lucky whilst the dark cockerel attracts negative energies, and in some parts of Europe was thought to be in league with the Devil and foretold death in the family.  In 19th-century-Styria, a province in Austria, jaundice(hepatitis) was treated by placing yellow hens close to the ill person and the disease driven into the chickens through conjuring and wailing.

Rooster symbolism in more recent times

In the 20th century, Imbolc was resurrected as a religious festival in Neopaganism, specifically in Wicca, Neo-druidry and Celtic Reconstructionism.

During World War I, an organization entitled, Order of the White Feather got men men to enlist in the British Army by telling women to present men do did not enlist in the army with a white feather, that symbolized cowardice?  Men with wives and children decided to join the army because their masculinity were questioned when they had not enlisted. Women would stick a white feather on the coats and jackets of men who did not enlist to ridicule them. According to Wikipedia, “The white feather as a symbol of cowardice comes from cockfighting and the belief that a cockerel sporting a white feather in its tail is likely to be a poor fighter. Pure-breed gamecocks do not show white feathers, so its presence indicates that the cockerel is an inferior cross-breed.”

In Japan, since the Edo Period, the Tori no ichi, a market fair has been held on the Days of the Rooster in November (to welcome the New Year) at various Otori-jinja shrines found in all parts of Japan. This fair is sometimes called by the familiar name of Otori-sama. The patron deity of good fortune and successful business is enshrined at Otori-jinja shrines. Open-air stalls are set up selling among other things, kumade rakes (symbolic of the rooster’s feet) for ‘raking in wealth and good fortune.’This good-luck rake is made of bamboo and is decorated with masks and koban (old gold coins).

Tori no Ichi is held at Temple of Tori (Juzaisan Chokoku-ji) in Asakusa, Tokyo, but it moved there, originally from moved Hanamatamura. The origin of Tori no Ichi Fair was a fair of Hanamatamura , a harvest festival celebration by peasants who thank to Hanamata Washidaimyojin. On the day of the festival, Ujiko (people under protection of the local deity) dedicated a rooster to Hanamata Washidaimyojin and after the festival they went to the most famous temple “Senso-ji” in Asakusa and released the collected roosters in front of the temple. Similar fairs are also held at various shrines of the Washi (Eagle) – numbering about 30 other shrines in Tokyo such as Hanazono-jinja Shrine in Shinjuku-ku, Kitano-jinja Shrine in Nakano-ku and Ebara-jinja Shrine in Shinagawa-ku.

The Rooster fair at Otori-jinja Shrine is believed to have begun during the Oei era at the beginning of the 15th century (the period spanned the years from July 1394 through April 1428). The new era name was created because of the plague that struck in the preceding one, which leads us to surmise that one of the reasons the Rooster symbol was adopted was to dispel the evil spirits or demons of disease. A poet, KIKAKU who was a pupil of the most famous Japanese poet Mastuo Basho, said for Tori no Ichi “Haruwomatsu Kotonohajimeya Tori no Ichi” (Tori no Ichi is a first important event to bring New Year.). The rooster appears to have fire (solar) associations – the day of the Tori (Rooster) comes every 12 days in November and it is said that a fire is likely to take place in the year that the day of the Tori has 3 times.

Chicken Cosmology in the Skies and Milky Way

The cosmonym for Milky Way as ‘the path of birds’ (‘path of cranes’, ‘birds’ path’, ‘trace of the route of birds’, etc.) is known mainly to peoples from three language families, i.e. Balts, Finno-Ugrians (but excluding Samoyeds) and Turks, the Letts and Lithuanians, Estonians, Finns, Saami,  Bashkir, Udmurt, Komi, Kazakh, Kirgiz, Karakalpak. The same cosmonym was known also to the Khanty and Mansi and to the Hungarians. The Russians call the Milky Way ‘path of geese’ in Vologda, Viatka, Perm, Tula, Smolensk, and Kaluga provinces and in Siberia. The ‘path of birds’ is also known to the Evenki of the Middle Amur area and in America to Algonkians who live to the north of the Great Lakes.  The absence of the ‘path of birds’ among peoples of the Sayan-Altai region as well as among Uzbeks (and most probably Uigurs) makes it doubtful that this cosmonym had a proto-Turkic origin. However, it is thought that this concept of the Milky Way as ‘path of birds’ that is so well known to the Finno-Ugrians must have appeared in Eurasia long before the split of Proto-Uralic into two major branches.

The cosmonym of the Milky Way as the “route of dead souls” is known among the native peoples of Alaska, North American Northwest Coast and some South American Indians, who do not know of the Milky Way as the ‘path of birds’. There is another bird cosmonym this time, for the Pleiades (not Milky Way) — that of ‘a duck’s nest’ or ‘a flock of ducks’ which is predominantly seen among northern Russians, among the Khakas, who speak a Turkic language,  and east of the Urals, where the Russians brought the ‘duck’s nest’ to Siberia. The myth cycle is a clear Uralic legacy of the pre-Slavic sub-stratum.

This flying bird motif and by extension, the duck-swan-cranes cosmic motifs of Russia and the Urals are thought to be implied in many of the ritual and shamanic implements or bird totems excavated from Yayoi Period to the Kofun Period sites of Japan. The rituals may resemble those of Siberian shamans where the shamans are often transported away to the other world of the dead spirits on a bird (in lieu of the horse or deer).

A variation of the bird cosmonym that is typically found in Western, Southern and Central Europe, the Balkans, Western Ukraines is however that of the ‘hen with its chickens’, ‘brood’, ‘chickens’, ‘pullets’ that is symbolic of The Pleiades. The cockerel which crows at dawn is said to be symbolic of the transition from night’s darkness to daylight and as a marker of time it is associated with birth, death and rebirth and thus is a symbol often seen on Greek and Italian tombstones. In several Celtic legends, the cock is a good luck charm that chases away ghosts and other night terrors by his crowing at dawn. The chicken played an important role among the Romans as sacrificial animals. Sometimes clay figurines were used as a substitute in their death rituals. Cocks were regarded as animals accompanying the god Mercury and votive offerings of clay were therefore often sacrificed in sanctuaries. As an intermediary between day and night, life and death or as a guard for the dead.

Outside Europe it is also found in North-East India, South-East Asia, West Africa and the Sudan. The chicken imagery is only absent across most of the territory of the former Yugoslavia, but the imagery is present among the Basques peoples of the Pyrenees. It is also thought that the Pleiades chicken cosmonym was also once known in the Near East and North Africa.

Replica of a early 2nd century AD cockerel terracotta originally deposited in the grave 2 of “Older Praunheimer burial ground” (Photo: Archaologisches Museum Frankfurt)

Chicken haniwa, 3rd century, Asadaiseki no. 3 Kofun tomb, Japan (Photo: Asahi Shimbun)

Curiously, given the ritual or symbolism or funerary context of the Japanese bird clay haniwa found in the magnificent kurgan-style burial mounds of the Kofun Period, it is likely that there existed a Japanese bird cosmonym similar to Central Asian/Eurasian variant of the Milky Way ‘path of birds’ as the heavenly ‘route of dead souls’. Though the two ideas are quite similar in meaning but the cosmonym ‘path of birds’ is still specific and distinctive enough differ from the image of the Milky Way (called the heavenly river or “ten-no-gawa” in Japanese) as a ‘route of dead souls’. (From the Nara period onwards, the literal watery “river of souls” becomes the more common imagery in local festivals.)  It is an also tantalizing coincidence that the raven, swan and crane were all sacred birds to both the Celts as well as the Japanese on terminuses on opposites of the Silk Road.

Chicken DNA and the domestication of the chicken

Chicken myths across cultures and civilizations in many countries show common components, and likely originated with the peoples who domesticated the chicken, or with those who took chickens with them as they migrated or traded. Chickens are established by DNA research to have come from the Gallus gallus bankiva wildfowl which live in the jungles of South and South-East Asia, but that Gallus sonneratii has also contributed to the genetic make-up of the domestic chicken. Mitochondrial DNA research data suggests that one continental population of red junglefowl Gallus gallus gallus, probably from Thailand, is likely at the maternal origin of all domestic chicken stock. Chickens are however, thought to have been domesticated independently in various places in Asia, including India‘s Indus Valley (where the chicken population expanded the most) as early as 3,200 BC,and brought from India to Persia by the soldiers of Tsar Darius I, returning from a campaign.  From Persia, chickens spread to Egypt, then to Greece, and by trade routes to Sicily and Rome, Italy and from there to the rest of Europe.  Historians have noted   that the bird is not represented on Egyptian monuments, and that it appeared in Babylonian art only in the late Persian period. Out of Southeast Asia, the chicken spread to Japan, Java and the Philippines, etc.

Yuri Berezkin has given us an elaborate theory of trans-Eurasian migration of cosmic ideas in his paper “The Pleiades as openings, the Milky Way as the path of birds, and the girl on the moon: Cultural links across Northern Asia“. According to his hypothesis, detailed ideas about the objects of the night sky had probably been forming in Northern and Central Eurasia since very early times during the Final Pleistocene – Early Holocene, and that small groups of migrants from the East were spreading the new cosmic ideas across most of Eurasia and to North America — he tells us to connect the dots, and draw his conclusion based on the fact that all three cosmic motifs (the Milky Way ‘the path of birds’; the motif of stars/Pleiades as sieve/sky-openings; and the ‘water-carrier on the Moon’) are typical for the Eastern Baltic and Middle Volga region and that all the motifs are also typical for some or for many of the northern Russian provinces and for most of Siberia. The ‘path of birds’ is known to all Finno-Ugrians (as is ‘the water-carrier on the Moon’ is known to most of them in some variation). The fact that some of the motifs are not known to the peripheral regions such as for southern Russia or for the Ukraine or to some of the Altai-Sayan Turks or for later arrivals to Siberia (the Northern Samoyeds –  the Nenets, Enets and Nganasans – are not familiar with these three motifs) and the southernmost parts of Americas, suggests that these cosmic ideas were spread very early in antiquity. But in many instances, new images in Siberia and Eastern Europe did not displace earlier ones but were added to them. Even the Algonkians to the north of the Great Lakes have ‘the path of birds’ and ‘the water-carrier on the Moon’, and also a possible parallel for the image of the Pleiades as an opening in the sky).

Sources and References:

Haniwa birds (Heritage of Japan website)

In the news: A contemplation of the bird haniwa from Suyama Kofun (Heritage of Japan website)

The Rooster” the New Acropolis International Philosophical Organization

“Rooster” (Wikipedia)

The Lampang rooster

Dancing in Cave (Cultural China website)

Chicken and Family Prosperity: Marital ritual among the Miao in Southwest China by Xianghong Feng

A visit to Gaxian Cave, Inner Mongolia Society for East Asian Archaeology (SEAA) – EAANnouncements 15 by Juha Janhunen

The Myth of Gojoseon’s Founding – King Dan-gun

Scandalizing the goddess at Kodungalur

The Sacred Birds (on Roman augury)

Animals, Life in Korea

Animal Symbolism Animals’ Symbolism In Decoration, Decorative Arts, Chinese Beliefs, and Feng Shui.

The Gallic Rooster (History of Provence and France)

The Rooster: A Symbol of Portugal

Origin and domestication of chicken: a mitochondrial DNA perspective by O. Hanotte, paper presented at the Chicken diversity consortium

Genetic evidence from Indian red jungle fowl corroborates multiple domestication of modern day chicken by Sriramana Kanginakudru et al. BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:174

Chicken domestication: from archeology to genomics. C R Biol. 2011 Mar;334(3):197-204. by Tixier-Boichard M

Marked by the sign of the rooster (Zoom Central Asia)

The First Punic War

Midsummer: Magical Celebrations of the Summer Solstice by Anne Franklin (p. 177)

Dacian monuments: Mithraic studies in BulgariaForts., Volume 2; Volume 14; Volume 17 by Wolfgang Haase, Hildegard Temporini

Haniwa Birds, by KAKU Takayo Nihon Kokogaku 14, November 2002 ISBN 4-642-09089-4 ISSN 1340-8488, ISBN 4-642-09089-4

Our Yokohamas (e-chickens.com)

Iranian Sraosa and the Indian Skanda by Sukumar Sen

The Rise of Mah Sena: The Transformation of Skanda-K Rttikeya in North India from the Ku A to Gupta Empires by Richard D. Mann

Ancient tales in modern Japan: an anthology of Japanese folk tales by Fanny Hagin Mayer

How the chicken conquered the world  by Jerry Adler and Andrew Lawler  Smithsonian magazine, June 2012

The Cocks in Indus seal and the Cock-city in Tamilnadu. World Tamil Conference series 16

Balinese cockfighting

Sacred cockfight (Wikipedia)

The origin of the Tori no ichi fair

Ise Shrine

Genetic Affinities of the Central Indian Tribal Populations by Gunjan Sharma

Japan’s legacy of the celestial cultural complex of Eurasia (Heritage of Japan website)

The Pleiades as openings, the Milky Way as the path of birds, and the girl on the moon: Cultural links across Northern Asia“ by Yuri Berezkin

New rice to be offered to gods at Ise Shrine

Watch the Daijosai being performed on this Youtube videoclip.

Ise Shrine in Mie Prefecture will host one of its most important annual festivals Monday in which the year’s new rice harvest will be offered to the shrine’s gods.

The festival this year is special because the sacred symbol of a deity will be installed in a new shrine next year. This event occurs once every 20 years. Therefore, many people from all over Japan will bring their own offerings of rice to the ceremony, and various groups will perform dances from local festivals around the country.

The festival takes place from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The venue is close to Ise-shi Station on the Kintetsu Line.

For further information, visit www.tenace.co.jp/ise/ or call (0596) 25-5151

Source: KANSAI: Who & What  (Japan Times, Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012)

Editorial notes on the historical background of the national rite:

Niiname sai 新嘗祭 “Celebrations of the First Taste” or Rice Tasting Ceremony. According to an article by Nakanishi Masayuki in the Encyclopedia of Shinto:

“Literally, “Celebrations of the First Taste,” niiname sai refers to the set of harvest festivals in November carried out at the imperial palace and shrines throughout the country. Complements the Kinen sai, a rite involving prayers for a healthy crop and held in on the fourth day of the second month. In ancient times also called nihinahe and niha’nahi. Motoori Norinaga suggests that, since it appears in the “feting anew” section of the Transmission of the Kojiki (Kojiki den), that it was a festival in which new rice was offered to the deities. As in the ancient Chinese celebration “Name no matsuri,” a rice festival held in the autumn, this was a typical festival expressing gratitude to the gods for exercising their powers on earth and bringing about a successful harvest. The origins probably date back to the Yayoi period when rice cultivation began. The niiname sai is mentioned in both the “Era of the Gods” section of the Nihon shoki (“when Ama-terasu ôkami honorably performed Niiname”) and in the entry for year forty of its “Nintoku” section (“In the month of Niiname, since it was a day of banqueting, sake was given to the palace ladies”). For a long time it was held on the latter “Day of the Rabbit” in the eleventh lunar month (or the middle “Day of the Rabbit” if there were three such days in the month), but with the conversion to the new calendar in 1873, it was changed to the November 23. In the Ninth Article of the 1908 “Prescriptions of the Imperial House Rituals,” this celebration is named as one of the Major Rites (tai sai), and listed as occurring between November 23 and 24. For the rite two dais, one for the deities (kamiza) and one for the emperor (goza), were constructed inside the Shinka Hall, then the emperor makes food offerings to Ama-terasu and the many divinities twice, once at dusk on the twentythird and again at dawn on the twentyfourth. The emperor arranges an offering of sake, rice porridge, and steamed rice (made from the newly harvested rice) served in special vessels crafted from woven beech leaves (kashiwa) and presented to the kami on a special reed mat (kegomo). Following this evening meal (yūmike), the emperor purifies himself in seclusion (kessai) for the night and, after changing robes (koromogae), prepares the morning offering of food for the kami. Also listed in Article Two of the “Regulations for Shrine Rituals” of the Association of Shrines (Jinja honcho kitei) as a Major Rite, it is performed at shrines throughout the country to accompany the rites at the palace. Besides the yearly Niiname sai, the one which is the first performed after a new emperor’s ascendance (sokui) is called the Daijō sai.”

Wikipedia, however, gives a different date for the beginning of the niiname sai rituals. “The Nihon Shoki mentions a harvest ritual having taken place during the reign of the legendary Emperor Jimmu (660–585 BCE), as well as more formalized harvest celebrations during the reign of Emperor Seinei (480–484 CE). Modern scholars can date the basic forms of niiname-sai to the time of Emperor Temmu (667–686 CE)”.

Daijōsai 大嘗祭

The Great Food Festival is an elaborate variation of the annual rice-tasting ceremony known as Niinamesai 新嘗祭:

And from the JAANUS database:

“The Great Food Festival, which includes extensive preparations for the final enactment of the communion of the emperor with the gods. It dates from ancient times as a major part of the enthronement ceremonies and is therefore performed only once within an emperor’s life time. It is an elaborate variation of the annual festival niinamesai 新嘗祭 when the emperor offers the first harvest of new rice to the ancestral gods and then partakes of it himself. Several references to the annual harvest festival are found in both the NIHON SHOKI and KOJIKI before the first appearance of the word daijou in 674, during the reign of Emperor Tenmu (?-686). The Great Food Festival is described in the JOUGAN GISHIKI, (Ceremonials of the Jougan era; 859-876), and book seven of the ENGISHIKI (Procedures of the Engi era; 901-922) contains a detailed description of The Great Food Festival of Enthronement. Before the Heian period, a special area for the daijousai was enclosed and consecrated in front of the Imperial Council Hall, daigokuden. After the capital was moved to Heian, the daijousai took place in a sacred area slightly north of the palace called kitano-no-saijou (place of ceremony in the north plain). Later the location was changed to the courtyard in front of the Shishinden 紫宸殿 where various temporary structures were erected to form the sanctuaries in which the Great Food Festival took place. See *daijoukyuu. According to the ENGISHIKI, the newly enthroned emperor entered the precinct from the southeast side gate. After various rituals he entered the Ablution Hall, kairyuuden, where he received ceremonial purification before being attired in garments purged of all defilements. He then continued to the Yuki-in *shoden, the main hall of the eastern sanctuary of the daijoukyuu, where he entered the inner chamber. There he offered specially grown sacred rice and rice wine to the gods, and then ate the rice and drank the wine himself. This was the evening meal which according to the ENGISHIKI was taken shortly before midnight. Following this, he returned to the kairyuuden, where he underwent more purification rites, and then proceeded to the Suki-in shouden 主基院正殿 or western sanctuary. There he repeated the same offering to the gods and then ate his morning meal. According to the ENGISHIKI, this ceremony began about 3:00 A.M. When the Great Food Festival was completed all the temporary structures were burned. By the end of the 12th C. the extent of the pomp and pageantry at the Daijosai had decreased, and the festival declined further over the next few centuries, ceasing altogether in the 15th C. during the Onin wars. Although later revived, the festival did not attain similar elaborateness until the enthronements of the Meiji, Taisho and Showa Emperors in 1871 in Tokyo, 1915 in Kyoto, and 1928 in Tokyo respectively.”

It is highly likely that the rituals associated with rice originated in the country where rice was domesticated, and although there have been various conflicting studies as to the origin of rice, the most recent gene re-sequencing studies reveal that rice originated 9,000 years ago in the Yangtze Valley, China.

See Study: Rice originated in China BioSpectrum 29 May 2012

“China was the original home of rice

A study that employed large-scale gene re-sequencing to trace the origin of rice, through thousands of years of evolutionary history, has revealed that the cereal grain originated in China. The research was conducted by scientists at the Center for Genomics and Systems Biology and Department of Biology, New York University; Department of Biology, Washington University, St Louis; Department of Genetics, Stanford University; and Department of Agronomy, Purdue University; and was published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The research was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation Plant Genome Research Program. Previous research had suggested that domesticated rice had two points of origin, including India and China. Although the Asian rice, Oryza sativa, has several varieties, two major subspecies of rice – japonica and indica – represent most of the world’s varieties. Because rice is so diverse, its origins have been the subject of scientific debate. One theory-a single-origin model-suggests that indica and japonica were domesticated once from the wild rice O. rufipogon. Another-a multiple-origin model-proposes that these two major rice types were domesticated separately and in different parts of Asia. In the PNAS study, the researchers re-assessed the evolutionary history, or phylogeny, of domesticated rice by re-sequencing 630 gene fragments on selected chromosomes from a diverse set of wild and domesticated rice varieties. They concluded that the two species have the same origin as they have a closer genetic relationship to each other. The investigators also used a ‘molecular clock’ of rice genes to see when rice evolved. Depending on how the researchers calibrated their clock, they pinpointed the origin of rice at possibly 8,200 years ago, while japonica and indica split apart from each other about 3,900 years ago….” Read more at: http://www.biospectrumasia.com/biospectrum

paris AFP Jiji The mother of all cultivated rice was grown on China’s Pearl River according to DNA map

DNA ‘map’ sites ancient roots of all cultivated rice in China
By Agence France-Presse, October 4, 2012, via Yomiuri Shimbun

The mother of all cultivated rice was grown on China’s Pearl River, according to a DNA “map” published on Wednesday.

PARIS (AFP-Jiji)– The mother of all cultivated rice was grown on China’s Pearl River, according to a DNA “map”.

The first domesticated strain of rice was Oryza sativa japonica, which was grown thousands of years ago from wild rice in the middle of the Pearl River in southern China, says the study, published recently in Nature.

One of the “Big Three” crops that feed the world along with wheat and corn, rice today has diverged into hundreds of varieties.  …

Researchers led by Bin Han of Shanghai Institute for Biological Sciences put together a gigantic database to compare tiny single-letter changes in rice DNA. Their trawl covered 446 geographically diverse types of wild rice (Oryza rufipogon)– the ancestral progenitor of commercially farmed rice–and 1,083 varieties of japonica and indica.

By putting together a family tree, the researchers say they can disprove theories that indica rice was domesticated separately from wild rice. Instead the first indica was a cross between japonica and wild rice. Tis mix then spread into Southeast and South Asia where farmers bred varieties to cope with local conditions, thus creating the distinctive indica group. …

HUANG Xuehui et al., A map of rice genome variation reveals the origin of cultivated rice Nature (2012) doi:10.1038/nature11532

Read more at “Rice as Self: Japanese Identities through Time” by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney where at page 46, the author tells us that while other rites may have been added to the Emperor’s duties, the core ones have always been niinamesai, onamesai (=daijosai) and kannamesai. The harvest festival ritual of the ninamesai becomes onnamesai at the accession of a new emperor and is held as the last of three acccession rituals ….although niinamesai and onamesai are almost identical, the kannamesai is the ritual in which a new crop of rice is offered to the Ise Shrine rather than at the Imperial Court itself…”

Other references:

Research on the origin of Chinese cultivated rice: Present situation and forecast by WANG, Xiangkun et al.

5,000-year-old Jomon pottery from Nagaoka (Niigata prefecture) on exhibition at the British Museum

Rare jars: Prehistoric pots excavated in Niigata Prefecture are displayed last week in the British Museum in London. KYODO

British Museum shows 5,000-year-old pottery

Kyodo

LONDON — Two rare prehistoric pots excavated in Niigata Prefecture have gone on display at the British Museum in London as part of an exhibition on the Jomon Period.

The vessels, which date back about 5,000 years and were unearthed at the Iwanohara dig in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, are being exhibited overseas for the first time with the assistance of the Niigata Municipal Science Museum.

Officials from Nagaoka said it is very rare for such pots to be loaned overseas.

Used to cook and store food, the vessels are marked with cord imprints and some of the elaborate decorations may represent animals, according to experts.

“The citizens of Nagaoka are very proud of this exhibition and the fact that people from all over the world can learn more about a culture that existed 5,000 years ago,” Nagaoka Mayor Tamio Mori said.

The exhibition’s curator, Nicole Rousmaniere, said: “I’m thrilled to have the pots here, it’s the highlight of my year. They are incredible pieces.”

The British Museum already has around 15 pots from the Jomon Period (about 10,000 to 300 B.C.), but they are far simpler in design and considerably less valuable. The display, which runs through Jan. 20, takes visitors on a trip through the Jomon Period and demonstrates its significance.

Source: Retr. from Japan Times, Oct 10, 2012

The extent of Yamato kingdom’s influence in ancient Japan found to have extended 250 km further north than thought

Yamato kingdom traces found in Niigata Pref. (The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sep.17)

NIIGATA–The political and cultural influence of the ancient Yamato kingdom reached about 250 kilometers farther north than previously believed, a new archaeological find in Niigata Prefecture has revealed.

The board of education of Tainai, Niigata Prefecture, excavated a bronze mirror, magatama beads, a piece of lacquerware and other burial-related items from an ancient Jonoyama burial mound dating back to the first half of the fourth century.

The excavated items strongly resemble other pieces found mainly in the Kinki region.

Until recently, the reigning belief among scholars was that the northern extent of the Yamato kingdom’s influence was the Noto Peninsula on the Sea of Japan, due to the large number of similar burial items found in several locations.

The latest find is about 250 kilometers farther north.

The Tainai board of education will open the site to the public Saturday and then continue its research, hoping to attain national historic site designation for the burial mound.

The round mound stretches about 35 meters north to south, about 40 meters east to west, and is about five meters high, according to the board of education.

The burial mound is one of the northernmost on the Sea of Japan among those built in the first half of the Kofun period (ca 300-ca 710).

The excavation began in 2005 when a piece of earthenware was discovered at the site.

A wooden coffin found in the mound had almost completely decayed, but researchers determined it was boat-shaped, about eight meters long, about 1.5 meters wide, and decorated with red pigment.

There is no evidence the mound had been plundered by grave robbers, as a wide variety of items were found inside, including the bronze mirror, magatama beads, a sword and a bow.

A lacquered “yuki” box more than 80 centimeters long that was used to store arrows was found in good condition. The box is similar to one excavated from the Yukinoyama Kofun burial mound in Higashiomi, Shiga Prefecture.

Burial items discovered at the site have much in common with pieces from ancient burial mounds in the Kinki region, leading the researchers to conclude the site was the grave of an influential person with close ties to the Yamato kingdom.

Previously, the northern influence of the Yamato kingdom during the first half of the Kofun period on the Sea of Japan coast could only be confirmed as far as a site in Ishikawa Prefecture–two tombs of the Kokubu-Amazuka burial mounds in Nanao in the prefecture.

“I believe the yuki box and other craftwork items were made in the central Kinki region and brought to the site,” said Niigata University Prof. Hirofumi Hashimoto, the archaeologist who led the excavation of the Jonoyama mound. “These precious findings prove the Yamato kingdom’s influence reached the Tohoku region.”

(Sep. 17, 2012)

Japanese yama-uba (a.k.a. jigoku no baba; datsueba): The universality of the Baba yaga mountain crone

Datsueba, the Old Woman Who Snatches away Clothes Datsueba

Japanese, Edo period, 1845 Kikuchi Yôsai, Japanese, 1788–1878 (Boston Museum of Fine Arts)

 

I was reading a fascinating account about the possible origin of Baba yagas by Sergei V. Rjabchikov from his “The Scythian and Sarmatian Sources of the Russian Mythology and Fairy-Tales” when I began to think of all the similarities between the Russian “crone” and the Japanese mountain crone or hell’s hag (Shozuka- /Sanzu- /Jikoku-no baba). In the process of investigating further the Russian folkloric figure baba yaga, I discovered that many East European or Slavic countries as well as Central to East Asian peoples also possess uncannily similar versions of the old mountain hag or crone. That there should be such larger-than-life folkloric character-sharing with so many similar features existing across so many cultures, says to me that the universal old crone legend must have had great significance to have survived over at least thousand years, and to have been passed on through the generations. It also indicates a large swathe or huge spheres of cultural interaction where the Baba yaga/Hell’s Hag stories could have been passed on in a “Chinese whispers” sort of way, as a result of either cultural or demic diffusion…yet without losing much of the essence or spirit of the Baba yaga character. To begin with, we go through Rjabchikov’s version, excerpted below and key elements bolded:

From an ancient crypt in Crimea, Ukraine comes images of…

“…a fiery horse, a hut standing on four chicken legs (as in Russian fairy tales!) and a woman (goddess) with the fiery hair. A child is seen in this fairytale hut. These data correspond to the Russian fairy-tales about Baba-Yaga (the old woman Yaga).

I think that the personage Baba-Yaga corresponds to the Scythian goddess Tabiti. I have counted ten rays at her head in this figure. The face of a goddess is represented on a Scythian brooch discovered in the Belyaus burial ground, the Crimea, Ukraine (Dashevskaya 1991: 121, table 65, figure 10). It is a designation of Tabiti whose head is decorated with nine or ten rays. As has been shown earlier (Rjabchikov 2001a), Baba-Yaga (cf. Old Indian yaga ‘sacrifice’) is closely related to the fire god Agni. Actually, this god plays the main role in sacrifices according to the Indo-Arian mythology (Neveleva 1975: 85).

Let us examine some features of Baba-Yaga. V.Y. Propp (1998: 147) stresses her roles of a donor, an abductor, a female warrior. The last function is in my opinion a hint at the Amazons, otherwise the Sarmatian women. In Baba-Yaga’s hut the initiations are performed (Propp 1998: 157). She denotes the fertility without the participation of men (Propp 1998: 168); she directs winds; she keeps keys from the sun (Propp 1998: 169). As an ancestress she is connected with the hearth (Propp 1998: 171). She gives her horse (Kobylitsa-Zolotitsa ‘The Golden Mare’) to a hero (Propp 1998: 172). Some epithets of the horse which is equal to the god Agni are “with a golden mane”, “having a light-coloured back”, “with a fiery head” in the Indo-Arian beliefs (Propp 1998: 264). The main attributes of Baba-Yaga are the fire and the horse (Propp 1998: 190, 197). Besides, she is preparing a youth for a marriage; she is burning or boiling children (Propp 1998: 198, 200).

Baba-Yaga’s hut stand on chicken legs? First of all, Old Indian kukkuta means ‘cock; hen; fire-brand; spark of fire‘. So such legs may correlate with the cult of the fire…

Baba-Yaga knows the future and betokens (Afanasiev 1996: 57). And now one can examine an information about the Scythian goddess Tabiti mentioned in the History of Herodotus (Book IV): she compares with Hestia, the Greek goddess of hearth and home who is a virgin and the eldest sister of the god Zeus (1). All these features fit the features of Baba-Yaga (hearth; initiations; without a husband; connected with winds). The edges of roofs in the ancient town Panticapeum, the capital of the Bosporan kingdom (modern Kerch, the Crimea, Ukraine), were decorated with masks of a goddess (Blavatsky 1953: 173, figure 7). Since her hair is shaped like tongues of flame or rays of the sun, this is Tabiti, the goddess of hearth and home. It is well to bear in mind that D.S. Raevsky (1994: 204-5) points to the similarity of Tabiti (Tapayati ‘Heating; Flaming’) to Agni. In a Scythian inscription I read the words Tabera vese ‘Knowing Tabiti’ (Rjabchikov 2001a). The names Tab-iti and Tab-era (cf. the Russian suffix ar) ‘Heating; Flaming’ are the variants. One can suppose that the Scythians translated the name Tabiti as Ta biti ‘Beating’ (Trubachev 1981: 23), too. The beating Baba-Yaga is also known (Propp 1998: 180-1).

The goddess Tabiti is depicted on a gold badge discovered in the Chertomlyk barrow, Ukraine; it was dated to 4th c. B.C.”

           – End of excerpt…

One wonders how much of a connection Baba-Yaga has with the Japanese myths and folktales of the Sanzu no Baba 三途の婆= Shōzuka no Baba=Jigoku no Baba 地獄の婆=Datsueba who are varying folk versions of a hideous creature or “hell’s hag”. Shozuka-no-Baba or Datsueba who strips children of their clothes on the Sanzu river banks of the Buddhist Underworld (or in other folkloric versions – Sainokawara, the Japanese River Styx), and then encourages them to make piles of stones to build a stairway to paradise. The afflicted children are then consoled and saved by the very popular Jizo Bodhisattva, (alternatively, Ksitigarbha) who hides them in the wide sleeves of his robe.

In the Japanese context, the Jikoku no Baba lit. “Hell’s Hag” or Datsueba, “Old Hag of Hell” is obviously related to death or funerary customary practices because it occurs in the context of the  Sainokawara which is the Riverbed of Souls in Purgatory or sometimes interpreted as the Limbo for Children) with Jizo guiding dead souls safely in the crossing of the River Sanzu (Sanzu No Kawa 三途の川, River of Three Roads, River of Three Crossings. River Sanzu would ring a bell for most, with echoes of River Styx and an Orpheus-like Underworld.

Overall, there are enough common elements between the Japanese hag and the Slavic/Uralic Permyak/Sami/Mansi)/Scythian/Siberian ones to suggest a (lost or forgotten?) funerary Underworld context as well to make us ponder the possibility of a universal “Baba yaga” and the probable route of diffusion to the “Baba yaga” countries:

  • Baba-yaga is a hag, crone or witchlike person or seer/fortune-teller (Romani gypsies)  In Tibet, the Yagas are thought to be either Bon Po demon-and-fire-worshippers or the fierce demons themselves: Grandmother Demon, Grandmother Dragon. The Hungarian bábák meant “old woman”, originally a good fairy with magical abilities who in later eras was regarded as having become degraded and became evil. She was thought to live in fountains, and if young children went too close to her lair, she lured them in. She was also thought in mythology to have possessed a táltos  shamanic function and able to fly between the Upper/Middle/Underworlds on the back of a horse, so one of the theories about the ancient Hungarian religion is that it was a form of Tengriism, a shamanistic religion common among the early Turkic, Uralic and Mongol people, that was influenced by Zoroastrianism when the Magyars (perhaps the Arpad-Attila the Hun lineage) encountered the Persians during their westward migration.
  • Baba yaga tortures or kidnaps small children, sometimes grilling or boiling them! (although the Greek Persephone as daughter of Demeter (Mother Earth) is the one being abducted by Hades to become his Queen of the Underworld). Alternatively, Baba yaga is sometimes the force behind urging children to behave …as well as delivering what goes around comes around to unsavory stepmothers.
  • Baba yaga is often described as tending the fire / water /or gathering herbs or rearing the animals … in such a role, she is akin to an underworld goddess who rules over the forces of life, death and fertility. See Grandmother Gaia: Baba Yaga stories) Sumerian BAÚ was believed to be the goddess of bounty, a healer, and a provider of harvest and food, giver of birth and fertility and often called Mother BABA, and the life giver (midwife) who helps bring life into the world, while her Hungarian counterpart was Boldog Asszony, goddess of birth, fertility and harvests. Dumuzi, god of the Underworld was a vegetation god as well as a harvest god of ancient Mesopotamia, — he was the son-husband of the goddess Gula-BAU. [Note: Hungarian-Sumerian-Russian fertility-birth-Earth's womb-Underworld-mother goddesses ... all are called Baba, along with the Ob people's Zlata Baba, the Golden Woman or more properly, the Lumiinous and Radiant Dame, but there is also the Khanty's goddess Kaltash-ekva, the deity the birth-giving goddess who dispatches the souls of the children to be born, also the goddess of dawn, wife of the sky god and who keeps account of the length of people's lives.  Japanese Demon Lore suggests that the Jigoku no baba / datsueba and yama-uba (Mountain Hag) reveal the dichotonous nature of the goddess of birth and death. The earliest attested form of Demeter's name in Mycenean Greek is Da-ma-te,  Da meaning "earth" and the second element of her name meter (μήτηρ) derived from Proto-Indo-European *méh₂tēr (mother). So Demeter is "Mother-Earth".
  • In some legends Baba Yaga is also awarded the title Костяная Нога ("The Bone Leg") and considered a guardian between the real world and the land of the dead. She is known on rare occasions to offer guidance to lost souls. Hecate, the Greek triple goddess plays such a role and becomes attendant to Persephone and guide of in the Underworld. Hecate is thought to have originated in the Hekat of the Carians of Anatolia, where ((like the Japanese Jizo) she has a succouring role of savior and variants of her name are found to be names given to children, although classical Athens traditions associate her with witchcraft and refer to her in the Goddess's aspect of the "Crone".
  • A chicken motif (suggesting the ancient votive offering/cock symbolism in funerals) - the cock is seen on a boat heading towards the sun (solar deity) in many Underworld myths or iconographies. Ceramic cockerel or chicken haniwa are the most numerous type of bird tumuli terracotta artefact, followed by waterfowl, found during the Tumuli Kofun Period in Japan. The Persian Avestan (Indo-Iranian) Sraosa, attendant to the Sun god, guides the souls of the deceased to find their way to the afterlife. His symbolic animal is the cock, whose crowing calls the pious to their religious duties. (Sraosa, killer of demons, is opposed by archdemon Aesma Daeva together with other Underworld female demons). A hen and cock (along with two horses) were sacrificed as part of the Norse funeral rituals, presided over by an old woman referred to as the "Angel of Death" who was responsible for the mortuary rituals. Cock symbolism and terracotta were also used by the Romans. The Russian/Slavic interpretation of cock and hen usage however, is that it relates to the use of magic and for al healing spells (p. 166).
  • Baba yaga's hut is surrounded by a palisade with a skull on each pole, or both. The fence with a skull on pole (overtly a mortuary and/or sacrificial ritual function) or the fence outside is made with human bones with skulls on top, often with one pole lacking its skull, leaving space for the hero or heroes.
  • The hut (funerary context -perhaps interim holding hut see Khanty burial house) connected with horse (Scythian and Siberian afterlife horse (and chariot) riding towards the sun cosmogony motif) In "some tales, the hut is connected with three riders: one in white, riding a white horse with a white harness, who is Day; a red rider, who is the Sun; and one in black, who is Night" (see Baba-yaga). Baba Yaga, hints of the old horse-Goddess cults predating classical Greek culture (see Hag of a Muse)
  • The element of animal or human sacrifice - horses, cocks, and also cows or sheep or human sacrifices were made but the horse was symbolic of a mount for the deceased and the cock, a  solar guide through the Underworld towards Dawn/sun (a remote memory perhaps alluded to by the burning and grilling of bones. Ritual child sacrifice and urn burial, the most famous examples of which are those held at Tophet, by Canaanites and Carthaginians and the practices of the ancient Near East. The Tibetans' pre-Buddhist mortuary rituals included a sacrificial requirement of a holy triad of horse-sheep-yak  -- the sheep as guide to make their way across clips and rivers; and the yak to confound or combat the demons. Sometimes, a human "ransome" sacrifice was donee.
  • In the Russian tales, Baba yaga lives in a log cabin that either stands on or moves around on a pair of dancing chicken legs. The Sami have a storehouse that looks exactly like it with the "chicken feet" (see photo below). In Slavic traditions, there is also a death hut (see sketch below).
  • Siberians, Ob-Ugrians hold figurines of their gods in such huts or doll-like effigies in rags in a small cabin on top of a tree stump that fits a common description of "Baba Yaga, who barely fits her cabin: her legs lie in one corner, her head in another one, and her nose is grown into the ceiling". However, the doll is said to be a repository for fourth and renascent, reincarnating soul of the deceased(see Edgar Saar) and is not representative of a deity nor of Baba Yaga as such. The Golden or Radiant Lady of the Dawn called Zolota Baba or Slata Baba, is whom the Ob-Ugrians (Khant-Mansi) revere the most, and pray to and consult for all things. The title Golden or Radiant Lady of the Dawn recalls the solar nature (cock calling at dawn or guiding the boat of the dead towards the sun), a character that has strong parallels with Amaterasu sun goddess of Japan emerging out of the Cave.

Left: Sketch by Nicholas Roerich, Izba smerti of the Hut of Death, 1905, an artistic expression of burial traditions of the ancient Slavs

Right: Sami storehouse, Stockholm, Sweden

Above: Shogoso of the Shosoin, Nara

Below: Storehouse of the Khanty-Mansi (Ob-Ugrians)

The Russian and East Slavic folkloric Baba yagas seem to be characters who have become detached or removed from the original funerary-Underworld contexts, though that mortuary context is still secure in the Finno-Ugric/Norse/Japanese contexts (except for the Japanese Yama-uba mountain crone variant). The Baba yaga in the Russian/Slavic cultures have become "forest demons" or "forest spirits",  writes Andreas Johns in "Baba Yaga: The Ambiguous Mother and Witch of the Russian Folktale"(p. 162). But even in the East European context, Baba yaga's funerary role re-surfaces again as Sergei Rjachikov in his article  uncovered the Baba yaga figure in the  ancient Ukrainian crypt, although Rjachikov's purpose and focus was to try to establish an Indo-European origin for Baba yaga.

While the Japanese figure of Shozuka-/Sanzu-/Jigoku-  no-Baba appears closest perhaps to the Khanty-Mansi Radiant Dawn-Zolota Baba figure especially because of the riverbank and cairns setting.

Other Japanese tomb iconography of the Yayoi and Kofun tombs show boats with a cock at the helm journeying towards the sun....pointing to either Persian influence point to either Persian or Vedic Indian influence via the imagery of Sraosa as a guide in the Underworld with cock towards the Sun Ahura Mazda or the Indo-European equivalent seen in India's Indra, a.k.a. Sakra (lord of heaven, war and thunderstorms), who pushes up the sky and by smashing of the Vala stone cave or alternatively cow enclosure, he releases Ushas, the most exalted Dawn goddess (parallels in Zolota Baba and especially in the Amaterasu myth). Twenty of the 1028 hymns of Rig Veda are dedicated to Ushas whose role of warding off evil spirits of the night, and as a beautifully adorned young woman rides in a golden chariot on her path across the sky. Indra is also described as golden-bodied and having a function as one of the guardians of the directions - of East, and deceased warriors go to his hall after death, where they live without sadness, pain or fear. There is also a Near Eastern connection since the name of Indra (Indara) is also mentioned among the gods of the Mitanni, a Hurrian speaking people who ruled northern Syria from ca.1500BC-1300BC (source: Indra).

The solar aspect of cock symbolism is however, is given fullest treatment in the Legend of Archer Yi shared by East Asians - the Miao, Yi and Korean peoples:

"The sun rises and sets at fixed times; you do not yet know the laws of day and night; it is absolutely necessary for you to take with you the bird with the golden plumage, which will sing to advise you of the exact times of the rising, culmination, and setting of the sun." "Where is this bird to be found?" asked Shên I. "It is a three-footed bird, which perches on the Fu-sang_ tree [a tree said to grow at the place where the sun rises] in the middle of the Eastern Sea. This tree is several thousands of feet in height and of gigantic girth. The bird of golden plumage had a sonorous voice and majestic bearing. It lays eggs which hatch out nestlings with red combs, who answer him every morning when he starts crowing. He is usually called the cock of heaven, and the cocks down here which crow morning and evening are descendants of the celestial cock. This bird keeps near the source of the dawn, and when it sees the sun taking his morning bath gives vent to a cry that shakes the heavens and wakes up all humanity. Go and fetch it and take it to the Palace of the Sun” [think of Indra's Hall]

Fred Hamori in “The goddess of birth and fertility” relying on the work of Dr Ida Bobula, “A Magyar ösvallás istenasszonya” goes to great lengths to establish the very ancient Mother Goddess BAU, the Sumerian/Mesopotamian goddess of birth and fertility as the pre-cursor or proto-type for the Hungarian, Bulgar, Finno-Ugric, Turkic and Mongol-Hun mother- harvest-cum-Womb-of-the-World type goddesses.

So far, the Near Eastern and Mediterranean solar/earth goddesses’ fertility and regenerative functions and more benevolent and dichothonous qualities have been addressed. But the Russian Baba yaga and Japanese, Tibetan-Indian babas and crones are darker and more terrifying creatures … crones, hags or “demon”-like creatures, which suggests to me there was a transformation of the Old Woman images– into more demon-daeva-like moving Eastwards across Eurasia. This trend may be attributable to the opposing Indian-Persian tensions following the Aryan invasions from the northwest into India. The witch-like images may also have been due to Christianity’s and Islam’s ascendency and the ensuing oppression and moves to stamp out paganism.

The concept of the Old Woman Stone or Ubaishi comes to mind here. In “Immortal wishes: labor and transcendence on a Japanese sacred mountain, Ellen Schattschneider writes of that the “important destination of shugyo (ascetic discipline) on Akkaura mountain is the sacred rock of Ubaishi (Old Woman Stone) high on the left ridge above Akakura gorge. Ascetics are expected to crawl through a tunnel under the boulder six times, a process that recalls birth as well as passage throught he six realms of creation (rokudo) and which has associations with an important episode in the Kojiki .., in which the sun goddess Amaterasu emerges from a cave”. Amaterasu could be interpreted as “Ama”=”Mother” although current interpretations have it as meaning `Sky’ or `Heaven’ and “terasu” according to consensus views means “to shine” or “shining”, but “terasu” actually sounds like an close phonetic sounding out of “Th-ra-ce”, so my conjecture would be that Ama-terasu could actually mean “Mother of Thrace”.  In other words, a ‘Mountain Mother’ that came out of Thrace’s sacred mountains and caves.

In Mountain goddesses in Ancient Thrace: The Broader Context Nikola Theodossiev argues a good case for an origin of the `Mountain Mother’ in Thrace’s mountain cult sanctuaries for many of the Greek and Phrygian (Asia Minor) gods, “Mountain Mothers” including  Cybele, Zerynthia (aka Hecate/Rhea), Tereia, Gaia, Rheskynthion,  Dindyma, Ganea/Ganos and  the male gods too: Saon/Saoke/Saos, Apollo, Orpheus,  Zalmoxis (a.k.a Zeus).

According to Theodossiev, this borrowing of Thracian ‘Mountain Mothers’ was widespread in Greece and Asia Minor, and the process by which how this could have happened is explained thus:

In the context of all these written sources is the great number of Thracian sanctuaries located in mountains and rocky highlands that clearly show the sacred nature of the places. Also, it is possible that the numerous tumuli of ancient Thrace might symbolize sacred mountains and if so how these burial constructions could be related to some cults of mountain goddesses besides their funerary functions. … A similar syncretic process could be traced back in the literary works of the late 5th century BC … In fact the literary image of Rhea as `Mountain Mother’ was probably created in the interaction zones of Asia Minor, where the idea had been borrowed from the non-Greek people. The literary image of the ‘Mountain Mother’ survived well into the Roman Imperial Period.

On late Hellenistic silver bowl [supposed to have come from Asia Minor or Thrace] … a brief inscription is incised … in translation “Koteus [son/servant of `Mountain Mother’   … In both cases this inscription is remarkable evidence for religious ideas and cults related to the mountain appearance of the goddess.

Although Thrace is a long way away from Japan, the Thracian worldview and belief system obviously had great impact in the Hellenistic and Asia Minor scheme of things, and its influence was undoubtedly also spreading eastwards throughout the Greek-Bactrian-Margiana-Ferghana sphere of interaction into Southwest China and Northern China via trade or nomadic expansions along the Silk Road terminating at the Japanese archipelago. We could conceive this was how not only the Baba yaga or the Mountain Crone character, but also the mother and mountain goddess-Sacred Cave concept came to be so widely implanted across Eurasia.

Researchers discover in Southeast Asia one of the most extensive pre-Indic sea-based trade networks involving jade in the prehistoric world, but this network is separate from that of the Northeast Asia’s

Fig. 1. Green nephrite jade ornaments and manufacturing debitage. (A–C) Nephrite lingling-o penannular earrings with three pointed circumferential projections. (A) Go Ma Voi, Vietnam (Institute of Archaeology, Hanoi). (B) Uyaw Cave, the Tabon Complex, Palawan, Philippines (National Museum of the Philippines, Manila). (C) Duyong Cave, the Tabon Complex, Palawan, Philippines (National Museum of the Philippines, Manila). (D) Double-headed animal nephrite ear pendant from the Philippines (collection of Ramon Villegas, Manila). (E–O) A suggested manufacturing sequence for lingling-o ear pendants, as reconstructed from discarded raw material recovered at Pinglin, eastern Taiwan, and Anaro, Itbayat Island, northern Philippines (these pieces do not come from a single manufacturing event). Stage 1: E is a triangular discard from a cut square preform ≈1 cm thick (F), the intention being to shape an octagonal blank (see I); from Pinglin, eastern Taiwan. Stage 2: G and I represent the first bracelet to be drilled from an octagonal blank, in this case, ≈2 cm thick, leaving a round core (H). Presumably, the original bracelet outer diameter exceeded the diameter of available bamboo drills, hence this method of manufacture, allowing the projecting corners to be ground off to give the bracelet a round exterior; from Pinglin. Stage 3: J represents a second (or perhaps third) bracelet drilled from a large core; from Pinglin. Successive bracelet and flat ear ring removals could have continued from this point, until the remaining core became too small to use. Stage 4: Items K–O all come from Anaro, Itbayat, northern Philippines. We infer that some large discs produced by large bracelet manufacture were brought to Anaro from Taiwan, each to become the blank for four lingling-os, drilled in quadripartite fashion (P). O is a drilled core from the center of a lingling-o; K–M are discards from around and between the smaller drilled circles. N is part of a much thinner ring drilled out to help delineate the projections, which were probably drilled finally at 90° to the axis of the core and finished by manual shaping (see A–C)

A recent (2007) article “Ancient jades map 3,000 years of prehistoric exchange in Southeast Asia” (by Peter Bellwood and others) focuses on the three-pointed lingling-o and animal-headed pendants and on identifying and determining the geological sources of the materials used to make these artifacts. Through a series of mineral analyses and technique applied with wave-length dispersive spectrometers using an electron probe microanalyzer (EPMA) at the Institute of Earth Sciences, Academia Sinica, Taipei, a mineralogical database was created for several nephrite deposits, including Fengtian in Taiwan and other green nephrites from East Asia and the Pacific (China, Siberia, Japan, Australia, New Caledonia, New Zealand, and British Columbia), as well as white nephrites from China, Luzon (Philippines), Russia, and Korea.

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The article determined that

“the ear pendants of Fengtian nephrite in Southeast Asia (outside Taiwan) were made by a small number of highly skilled and perhaps itinerant jade craftsmen using stone cutting tools and perhaps bamboo drills. During the Iron Age, such jade craftsmen, with or without the help of transporting middlemen, carried or acquired their raw materials from Taiwan, then traveled and/or resided along the shorelines of the South China Sea to produce extremely uniform jade ear ornaments to suit the demands of local elites. The most extensive evidence for such trade postdates 500 B.C., by which time the use of jade in Taiwan itself was already in decline (15).

In general, the quantity of Fengtian nephrite decreases with distance from the source, with sites on the eastern coast of Taiwan having the highest quantities (Fig. 2). However, the combined distributions of the two kinds of ear pendant discussed here do not follow this trend and, instead, correspond closely with the distributions of many important but very far-flung Austronesian-speaking populations in early history (e.g., Formosans, Filipinos, Chams of southern Vietnam, and Borneo Dayaks). For instance, although northern Vietnam is closer to Taiwan than southern Vietnam, positively identified artifacts of Taiwan nephrite have never been found there. All come from Sa Huynh sites (500 B.C. to 100 A.D.) in coastal central and southern Vietnam, mostly in association with jar burials, bronze bracelets, bells and small vessels, iron tools, and glass and carnelian beads, all paralleled quite closely in early Metal phase jar burial assemblages in the Philippines and northern Borneo (4). The Sa Huynh culture is regarded as ancestral to the Chamic-speaking (Austronesian) ethnic groups of central and southern Vietnam in historical times, whereas the Dong Son of northern Vietnam is geographically associated with Tai and Mon-Khmer (Austroasiatic, including Vietnamese) speaking group”

We have used electron probe microanalysis to examine Southeast Asian nephrite (jade) artifacts, many archeologically excavated, dating from 3000 B.C. through the first millennium A.D. The research has revealed the existence of one of the most extensive sea-based trade networks of a single geological material in the prehistoric world. Green nephrite from a source in eastern Taiwan was used to make two very specific forms of ear pendant that were distributed, between 500 B.C. and 500 A.D., through the Philippines, East Malaysia, southern Vietnam, and peninsular Thailand, forming a 3,000-km-diameter halo around the southern and eastern coastlines of the South China Sea. Other Taiwan nephrite artifacts, especially beads and bracelets, were distributed earlier during Neolithic times throughout Taiwan and from Taiwan into the Philippines.

Artifacts of nephrite (jade) k have been reported in great variety and large numbers from many Neolithic and Bronze–Iron Age archaeological sites in China, Taiwan, and northern Southeast Asia (especially Vietnam and the Philippines). Many appear to be relatively local in origin, in terms of both raw material and style. But within the broad range of material represented, archaeologists have long been aware that two very specific and fairly standardized forms of nephrite ear ornament occur across a very large region, extending from Taiwan through the Philippines, East Malaysia, central and southern Vietnam, and as far southwest as eastern Cambodia and peninsular Thailand.

The three-pointed lingling-o is the most widespread form of jade ornament in Southeast Asia, with examples being reported from southeastern Taiwan, the Philippines, Sarawak, central and southern Vietnam, central and southern Thailand, and eastern Cambodia, as listed in Fig. 2 and located in Fig. 3 . All of these exquisite ear ornaments share very close similarities in style, manufacturing technology and size, being ≈30–35 mm in diameter. The distribution of the double animal-headed ear pendants is similar: Lanyu Island (off southeastern Taiwan), Philippines, central and southern Vietnam, and central Thailand. Radiocarbon dates suggest an age range from 500 B.C. to 500 A.D. for both of these remarkable artifact types in Southeast Asia (SI Table 2), thus placing them within a period of late prehistoric indigenous social complexity and interregional interaction, contemporary with later Zhou to Han Dynasty China and with early trade from India but before the intensive Indian religious, philosophical, and architectural influence that became established during the later first millennium A.D. (4–6).

Archaeologists have long noted the widespread occurrences of these and other jade ornaments in Southeast Asia. In the 1940s, Japanese archaeologist Kano Tadao (7) recognized four types of jade earrings with circumferential projections that he believed originated in northern Vietnam, spreading from there to the Philippines and Taiwan. Beyer (8), Fox (3), and Francis (9) also suggested that the jade artifacts found in the Philippines were of mainland Asian origin, possibly from Vietnam. In Taiwan, it was generally believed that all prehistoric jade artifacts were exotic, until the 1997 Raman spectroscopy sourcing study by Tan and his colleagues (10). This confirmed that the jades from Beinan, the largest excavated collection from Neolithic Taiwan, were of raw material from the Fengtian source in eastern Taiwan.

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The article found the Pinglin workshop in eastern Taiwan, located close to the Fengtian nephrite deposit, to be “the largest ancient jade workshop in Southeast Asia” and dates the jade industry and trade to two periods:

~ the Neolithic in Taiwan (≈3000–500 B.C.) and the Philippines (≈2000–500 B.C.) and

~ the Early Iron Age in a much vaster region across the South China Sea between 500 B.C. and 500 A.D. In Taiwan itself, tools and ornaments made of Fengtian nephrite have been found in >108 sites dating from the early Neolithic to the Iron Age (≈3000 B.C. to 500 A.D. …the export of Fengtian nephrite from Taiwan into the Philippines continued for >2,500 years, until well into the Iron Age.

However, researchers observed that

“the circumstances of manufacture and the scale of the trade both changed dramatically during the Iron Age (≈500 B.C. to 500 A.D.).

During this time, the ear pendants described above appeared in an extensive region of Southeast Asia, although only one has so far been found in Taiwan itself—a three-pointed lingling-o from Jiuxianglan in southeastern Taiwan. This situation suggests an export of “blanks” to further regions where artisans manufactured artifacts tailored to local taste. This scenario is supported by a presence of slate cutting tools and pieces of worked Fengtian nephrite, including drilled-out cores, annular rings, rectangular cut pieces and recycled artifacts, in several Iron Age habitation sites in Southeast Asia. These cut nephrite fragments often indicate that lingling-o or animal-headed ear pendants were being made locally by using Fengtian nephrite blanks. …

This sourcing study of ancient Fengtian jade has revealed a remarkable pattern of pre-Indic communication across a vast area of mainland and island Southeast Asia.”

The distribution of Taiwan nephrite artifacts in Southeast Asia. The green zone represents the currently known distribution of Taiwan nephrite artifacts. The green triangle locates the Fengtian nephrite deposit. Yellow stars represent sites outside Taiwan with positively identified Fengtian nephrite artifacts (Taiwan itself has >108 jade-bearing sites, and these cannot be shown individually). Blue stars represent sites with jade artifacts of possible Fengtian origin, based on visual examination but not yet demonstrated in terms of mineral chemistry. Black circles represent sites that have identified nephrite of non-Fengtian origin. Identified Fengtian and possibly Fengtian nephrites: WG. Liyushan, Wangan Islands; QM, Nangang, Qimei Islands, Penghu Archipelago; JXL, Jialulan, eastern Taiwan; LD, Yugang and Guanyindong, Ludao Islands; LY, Lanyu High School Site, Lanyu Islands; AN, Anaro, Itbayat Islands; SG, Sunget, Batan Islands; SD, Savidug, Sabtang Islands; NGS, Nagsabaran, Cagayan Valley; KD, Kay Daing, Batangas; EN, Leta-Leta and Ille Caves, El Nido, Palawan; TC, Tabon Caves, Palawan; NC, Niah Cave West Mouth, Sarawak; AB, An Bang; GM, Go Mun; DL, Dai Lanh; GMV, Go Ma Voi; BY, Binh Yen (these five sites in Quang Nam Province, central Vietnam); GCV, Giong Ca Vo, Ho Chi Minh City; SS, Samrong Sen, Cambodia; UT, U-Thong, Suphanburi; BTDP, Ban Don Ta Phet, Kanchanaburi; KSK, Khao Sam Kaeo, Chumphon. Identified non-Fengtian nephrites: BTG, Uilang Bundok and Pila, Batangas; TK, Trang Kenh; YB, Yen Bac; MB, Man Bac; QC, Quy Chu; GB, Go Bong; XR, Xom Ren; GD, Go Dua; GL, Giong Lon. The red dashed lines enclose the major Austronesian language subgroups according to Blust (17) (SH/WNG, South Halmahera/West New Guinea).

More source readings may be found  on the SEA trading network from Dr Hsiao-chun Hung’s Bibliography page.

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Another study, “New Findings on Zhang in the Phung Nguyen Culture” while focused on archaeological discoveries of Zhang in the Vietnamese Phung Nguyen Culture, noted the related “spread of exchange relations having existed on the two continents of Asia and Europe”. The vast exchanges over long distances involved bronze mirrors from South Siberia, jade zhangs from south (Vietnam) to the north (Central Plains of China), cauris moneta from Karasuk culture to throughout Central Plains, stone and jade “eardrops with slits” and T shaped bracelets, with stone and jade halberd items found from southern Ancient Viet culture to Central Plains, while shouldered halberds were propagated from west to east. Rectangular adzes were found in the North while shouldered adzes were found in the south in large numbers.

On the diffusion of zhangs, the article concluded “It is obvious the appearance of zhangs confirms the exchange relations starting from the north”  and also noted the following:

“Among the four zhangs that appeared in Viet Nam, the Phung Nguyen zhang found in 1985, despite its belonging to the category of one knot accompanied by many small ones, belonged to the most complicated fashion. The Xom Ren zhang belonged to the two knot category accompanied by many small knots, belonged also to the most complicated fashion. The complicated evolution of the zhang knots could only happen in what can be called the Longshan culture.

In the concrete geographic situation of North Viet Nam, it was a tradition that the mountain people came down and invaded the delta. Nevertheless in the common tendancy of the geoculture that event was connected with the tradition having existed in the whole West Pacific area. The appearance of zhangs in the Erlitou culture was related to the legendary period of the Xia’s dynasty as well as the appearance of zhangs in Viet Nam was related to the legendary period of the Van Lang country. Both bore the influence of the socioeconomic law, the most common law on the way to the threshold of civilization. The Old History (1697) related that Van Lang comprised 15 “departments”. Could it be that the appearance of zhangs as confirmed by archaeological proof demonstrate the role of the leader topping all the others at the head of what was called “department”. It is impossible to omit one possibility; as long as the three powers-divine power, ruling power, and military power-were not unified, the appearance of zhangs was then connected with the people who controlled the divine powers…. “It is obvious the appearance of zhangs confirms the exchange relations starting from the north.” Ceramic stamp seals and zhangs were used in an exchange factor in sea factor of the Dong Son civilization.”

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Notwithstanding the jade trade network of the Southeast Asia, a different jade trade network existed involving Northeast China, coastal Russia and East Asia including Japan.

Chinese, Japanese Started Prehistoric Exchanges 7,000 Years Ago: Archeologists (Xinhua News Agency October 11, 2003)
Archeologists say Chinese and Japanese began prehistoric exchanges about 7,000 years ago.

More than 200 Chinese and Japanese scholars and archaeologists convened in Beijing Saturday for a symposium themed on prehistoric culture exchange between China and Japan. They compared archeological findings in China’s Xinglonggou Relics Site in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, also popularly known as “China’s first primitive village”, and findings in Japanese sites from the Neolithic age, about 10,000 to 4,000 years ago.

The cultural exchanges occurred on a route from northeast China through coastal Russian areas to Japan’s Hokkaido and Honshu over 7,000 years ago, noted Wang Wei, deputy director of the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

He went on to say that the old route had been known in south China from the lower reaches of the Yangtze River to Japan’s Kyushu and Honshu.

Experts say the conclusion was based on several pieces of evidence. Jade rings used for ear decoration and bar-shaped jade used for neck decoration were usually found “together” in the northeast China approximately 8,000 years ago, but showed up together in 7,000-plus-year-old Japanese sites, said Wang.

The Japanese substituted their once widely-used pottery with flat-bottomed pieces, with forms and decorations widely found in northeast China’s relic sites.

Findings excavated from Xinglonggou site, including half-underground homes, human bones and pottery and stone ware, will be conducive to the study of the two nations’ cultural exchanges, according to Okamura Michio, director of the Department of Heijo Palace Site Investigations of the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Nara.

With a history of anywhere from 7,500 to 8,000 years, the Xinglonggou Relics Site, which was discovered in Chifeng city in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region back in 1982, has yielded 37 housing sites, 26 graves and over 50 pits used as storehouses. Excavation started in 2001 reveals the ancient tribal people lived by hunting and collecting wild plants.

They had several unique customs, building houses half underground, burying a small number of deceased villagers in residences for some unknown purposes and placing drilled deer and pig heads and clam shells before houses possibly for religious reasons.

The relic site is the earliest and most well-preserved of primitive villages in China and pushed estimates of the country’s jade production history back to some 8,000 years ago.

In An Zhimin’s “Effect of Prehistoric Cultures of the Lower Yangtze River on Ancient Japan“, he corresponds the finds of common artefacts of jade and stone jue earrings excavated in China and Japan with the diffusion of rice agriculture from the Lower Yangtze River area to Japan.

(2)  From Yuyao Hemudu, Zhejiang, China
(3)  From Qingpu Songze, Shanghai, China
(4)  (9)  From Wushan Daxi, Sichuan, China
(10)  From Suzhou Yuecheng, Jiangsu, China
(11)  From Taidong Donghe, Taiwan
(12)  From Taipei Yuanshan, Taiwan
(13)  From Fukuoma Beishaoye, Japan
(14)  From Fukuoma, Japan
(15)  From Henei Guofu, Japan
(16)  From Qiutien Beifu, Japan
(17)  From Shanxin Chuipu, Japan

The article also postulates the probable route by which the technology, along with rice, may have arrived(see map below).

In the article “The origin and development of the earring in the shape of Ketsu in East Asia” by Kawasaki Tamotsu sets out the chronology of the locations where ketsu earrings are found and also compares the assemblage of other jewellery items from the same set of sites:

“The initial stage of ketsu-shaped earrings mainly exists in 4 areas. They are Jiangnan district of China, Northeastern district of China, Primorskii state and the valley of the Amur River and Japanese islands. The initial stage is about B.P. 6000~8000 years. In this stage ketsu (jue)-shaped earring’s style is very similar each other in Asia. I think they have some relations each other.
But in the other jade pendants with the ketsu-shaped earring in this 4 area there are similar types and different ones. One of the former types is long bead just like kudatama. The beads are very popular pendants in these 4 areas. This means relationship of 4 areas too.
If the ketsu-shaped earring and its other ornaments set came from outside of Japan, the oldest type of ketsu-shaped earring and its ornaments set should be very similar to ones of the area where the ketsu-shaped earring and its ornaments set came from.
The ketsu-shaped earring, the long beads just like kudatama and the spatula-shaped pendant are the oldest jade ornament set in Japan. The ketsu-shaped earring and the long beads are popular in East Asia.
But the spatula-shaped pendants exist in North-eastern district of China, Primorskii state and the valley of the Amur River and Japanese islands. So now I think the origin of the ketsu-shaped earring and its ornaments set is North-eastern district of China and its jade culture went by way of Primorskii state and the valley of the Amur River.”

The above viewpoints coincide with that of Sarah M. Nelsen who also favoured Northeast China as the source for jade products, in “The Development of Complexity in Prehistoric Northern China” (Sino-Platonic Papers, 63 (December 1994)):
“jade carving is found in all the Liaoning neolithic sites. At first the jade products were exclusively in the form of ornaments, but by the time of the Houwa site (around 5000 B.C.) carved stone objects are obviously emblematic, because they follow specific patterns and are pierced for hanging on a cord or attachment to clothing. There is arguably a continuity between the annular slit earrings of Chahai in 6000 BC through crude slit-ring jades at Zuojiashan in Jilin province in perhaps 4500 BC, to the annular pig dragon emblems of Hongshan (Fig. 3), thus suggesting continuity through time as well as over distance (Sun and Guo 1984).”

Magatama and gogok

Comma-shaped magatama pendants made of jade as well as other types of stone emerge in Jomon period Japan, and also turn up as gogok in stone cist and dolmen burials in Korea. But magatama emerge earlier in Japan from the middle of the Jomon period (around 5,000 BC)…whereas gogok turn up during the Three Kingdoms period (i.e. during the Yayoi period). Jade magatama have been excavated from ‘Bibi 4 site’ and ‘Wofuki site’ in Hokkaido, ‘Sannai-Maruyama site’ and ‘Kamegaoka site’ in Aomori, ‘Chojagahara site’ in Itoigawa City, Niigata Prefecture and ‘Hanareyama site’ in Nagano (source:  ヒスイ製勾玉 Wikipedia).

Click to enlarge

Sannai Maruyama site turned up finds of a jade beads production site with jade coming from the Itoigawa area in Niigata. Habu Junko’s  “Ancient Jomon of Japan” noted that “The earliest item known which was made of jade dates back to the Early Jomon, and most of them came from the Itoigawa sources; the raw material was processed at various production sites located in the vicinity, although it appears some weren’t. Jade is mostly associated with larger settlements during the Middle Jomon, when they were most common; the amount of jade found disminishes in the Late Jomon before rising again during the Final Jomon, with production centers located this time throughout Eastern Japan. It is believed that what was traded during the Middle Jomon were finished beads and various other items, while what was traded during the Final Jomon was mostly raw material.”

In the news: The oldest stringed instrument in the world from the ruins of Korekawa-nakai

Koto-shaped wooden implement excavated from the Korekawa-Nakai ruins. Source: Hachinobe Board-of-education (Photograph: Hiroki Matsukura) 

The oldest stringed instrument in the world  from the ruins of Korekawa-nakai (2012/03/22 16:25)

The  箆 (へら/hera; also loosely translated as nogata arrowhead-shaped spatula)shaped wooden board implements of the Late Jomon period  excavated from the ruins of the Korekawa-nakai site (Hachinohe, in Aomori prefecture) are the “oldest” stringed instruments in the world.

64-year-old, guest researcher, Mr SUZUKI Katsuhiko, head of the Hirosaki Gakuin College’s Area Comprehensive Cultural Research Center, has summarized the research findings as follows:

According to the current consensus theory, the “koto” was supposedly introduced into Japan from China during the Yayoi period.

However, Mr. Suzuki, the researcher states these wooden implements are “Jomon koto”, not Yayoi koto, and has developed his own theory.

The said ruins yielded eighteen “hera”, i.e. arrowhead-shaped wooden implements, from the site excavations in 1926 and two, in 2002.

There are, however, various alternative theories of the possible usage of the wooden implement. Some say, it may have been a stringed musical instrument theory, others believe it might have functioned as a weaving implement.

Mr. Suzuki, had undertaken a joint research project in 2009 with eighty-one-year old Director SASAMORI Takefusa, head of musicology studies (in the aforesaid Hirosaki Gakuin College). He created a survey map from a photograph of the “koto”, and built a replica out of “hiba” wood, and using hair and hemp, etc., for the strings…, then playing and sounding out music on the replica instrument.

Although the pitch of such an instrument may differ with the size of wood, quality of the bowstrings, the volume of the sound, it is said, did not vary much — thus strengthening the theory that it functioned as a musical instrument.

The average length of instrument is 55 cm.
Researcher, Suzuki deduces from this fact, that it was “played by resting it on the lap”.

It was said that the oldest stringed instrument in the world was the “shitsu” (a ten-stringed instrument and proto-type of the koto, was excavated from China’s Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng dated to the 5th Century B.C).

A fragment of “hera” arrowhead-shaped wooden implement was also recovered from the Oshoro-dojo-iseki ruins in Otaru city, Hokkaido, which is dated older than the Korekawa-nagai-iseki ruins.

[Translation by Heritage of Japan]

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Original text in Japanese:

是川中居遺跡から“世界最古”の弦楽器?(2012/03/22 16:25)

是川中居遺跡(八戸市)で出土した縄文時代晩期の箆(へら)形木製品は“世界最古”の弦楽器―。弘前学院大学地域総合文化研究所の鈴木克彦客員研究員(64)=考古学=らが21日までに、こんな研究結果をまとめた。琴は弥生時代に中国から日本に伝来したというのが通説だが、鈴木研究員はこの木製品を「縄文琴」と名付け、持論を展開している。
同遺跡では箆形木製品が1926年に18点、2002年に2点出土。ただ、用途は弦楽器説のほかに機織り具説など諸説がある。
鈴木研究員は09年から同研究所の笹森建英所長(81)=音楽学=と共同研究。写真から実測図を作成、ヒバ材でレプリカを製作し、麻や毛髪などを弦に、実際に鳴らしてみた。
木製品の大きさや弦の材質で音の高さは異なるが、音量はさほど変化せず、楽器との見方を強めたという。木製品の長さは平均55センチ。鈴木研究員は「膝などに乗せて弾いたのでは」と推定する。
世界的に最古といわれる弦楽器は、紀元前5世紀の中国「曾侯乙墓」から出土した10弦の瑟(しつ)とされる。
箆形木製品の一部は、是川中居遺跡より古い縄文時代後期中葉の忍路土場遺跡(北海道小樽市)などでも見つかっており、鈴木研究員はまとめて「縄文琴」と呼んでいる。(松倉宏樹)
【写真説明】
是川中居遺跡から出土した箆形木製品=八戸市教委提供

※詳しくは本紙紙面をご覧ください。有料携帯サイトにも掲載しています

Further readings:

Music and musical instruments the Jomon people made - this article (by this site) features a Jomon musical instrument also thought to have produced koto-like sounds, that was excavated from Matsubaranaiko site, Shiga prefecture. Strings are strung through the 4 holes at the tip.

Origin of the koto (and kayagum) music instrument.

KANSAI “The Grand Izumo Exhibition” KYOTO NATIONAL MUSEUM

“Horse,” “Sumo Wrestler” and “Chair,” haniwa figures excavated from Ishiya Tumulus, Shimane Prefecture (Kofun Period, mid-5th century) MATSUE CITY BOARD OF EDUCATION, SHIMANE

Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012 Japan Times

By HAN ZHANG Staff writer
The Kyoto National Museum is commemorating the 1,300th anniversary of the Kojiki, the oldest chronicle in Japan, as well as next year’s grand installation ceremony of Shimane Prefecture’s Izumo Taisha, one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan.

Myths from Izumo Province were recorded in the Kojiki, and this exhibition showcases artifacts from ancient Izumo shrines and other related temples. Also on show will be objects excavated from Taisha Izumo, as well as treasures belonging to the shrine and bronze artifacts that have never before been shown outside of Shimane; till Sept. 9.

Kyoto National Museum; (075) 525-2473 ; 527, Chaya-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto; Shichijo Station, Keihan Railway. 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. (Fri. till 8 p.m.). ¥1,300. Closed Mon. www.kyohaku.go.jp.

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Below is further information on the exhibit from the Kyoto National Museum:

The Grand Izumo Exhibition

Images from the Exhibit This year marks the 1300th anniversary since the compilation of Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) and next year, 2013, is the grand installation ceremony of Izumo Taisha, which takes place for the first time in almost sixty years. In commemoration of this, the Kyoto National Museum will hold an unprecedented exhibition introducing treasures from the ancient Izumo shrines and closely affiliated temples as well as artifacts excavated from historic sites in Izumo in a single venue. This exhibition includes new discoveries made during preparatory surveys. Presented will also be an overview of Izumo legends, the beginning of Izumo Shrine, and the forms of prayers offered to the gods and buddhas by the ancient and medieval people of Izumo.

The 1300th anniversary of the Kojiki Chronicle

This year marks 1300 years since the compilation of the earliest extant chronicle of Japan, Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters). Consisting of oral transmissions compiled by Ono Yasumaro (d. 723), the record was presented to Empress Genmei (660-721) in 712. Within the historical tales recorded in Kojiki, perhaps what excites us most is the section on myths, which recalls the adventures of the heroic gods. The Izumo region was an important stage for the legendary episodes such as the slaying of the eight-headed, eight-tailed serpent Yamata no Orochi by the god Susanoo (fig. 1) or the white hare of Inaba and the celebrated Okuninushi.

Fig 1 Susanoo Slaying the Eight-Headed, Eight-Tailed Serpent (Sketch) by Harada Naojiro (1863-1899)
Meiji period, The Okayama Prefectural Museum of Art

Tales from the Land of Legends

Fig 2 National Treasure
Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters)
Nanbokucho period, Osu Kannon Hosho-in Temple, Aichi Prefecture

While focusing Izumo as the stage of early Japanese myths, this exhibition first explores these myths and the Kojiki through related works. Highlights include the Shinpuku-ji Temple edition of Kojiki (fig. 2), which is the earliest extant copy of the Kojiki and a designated National Treasure, Nihon Shoki (The Chronicles of Japan), Izumo no kuni fudoki (Records of Customs and Land of Izumo) as well as pictorializations of early myths. Excavated artifacts, playful and rich in sculptural form, from the Kofun period (c. 250-538), such as the impressive Deer Haniwa (fig. 3) looking back will also be exhibited. The exhibition will also showcase a group of bronze implements (figs. 4 and 5), which were excavated in large quantities from the Yayoi-period (300 BC-300 AD) sites of Kojindani and Kamo Iwakura, which represent a starting point for the legendary land of Izumo. Why so many of these objects were buried in one place is full of mystery even today.

Fig 3 Important Cultural Property
Deer Haniwa, excavated from Hiradokoro ruins
Kofun period, Shimane Prefectural Board of Education

Fig 4 National Treasure
Ritual Bronze Swords, Halberds, and Bells, excavated from Kojindani ruins
Yayoi period, Agency for Cultural Affairs

Fig 5 National Treasure
Ritual Bronze Bell, excavated from Kamo Iwakura ruins
Yayoi period, Agency for Cultural Affairs

Unta Comes to Kyoto

Fig 6 Important Cultural Property
Axis Pillars, excavated from the grounds of the Izumo Grand Shrine
Kamakura period, Izumo Grand Shrine, Shimane Prefecture

In Japan, people usually associate Izumo with the shrine Izumo Taisha and next year will mark the first grand installation ceremony in sixty years. Incidentally, do you know the phrase, “Un-ta, Wa-ni, Kyo-san,” which is connected to the shrine? It relates to the greatness of structure in order of size beginning with the largest. Unta refers to “Izumo Shrine being the largest,” Wa-ni means the “Great Buddha Hall of Todai-ji Temple in Nara, second,” and Kyo-san is the “Daigokuden (or ‘Great Hall of State’) in the early capital of Kyoto, third,” signifying that Izumo Shrine was the greatest structure of the time. In Nihon Shoki, Okuninushi is rewarded with the construction of Izumo Shrine for relinquishing the land to the Heavenly Grandson. The shrine is said to have been approximately 48 meters tall or twice that. Substantiating these this are enormous Kamakura-period (1185-1333) axis pillars (uzubashira, fig. 6), which were discovered on the shrine grounds. These will be on display in this exhibition for all to see their enormity.

This Summer, the Gods Will Be in Kyoto

Fig 7 Important Cultural Property
Seated Hachiman deity
Kamakura period, Akana Hachiman-gu Shrine, Shimane Prefecture

The traditional name for the tenth month in Japan is Kannazuki, meaning “the month without gods.” However, Izumo, the home of numerous Shinto gods, is the only place in which the tenth month is known as Kamiarizuki or “the month when the gods are present.” The Hachiman deity (fig. 7) of Akana Hachiman Shrine and many other sculpted images of Shinto gods will be present in this exhibition. The splendid ornamentations found on sacred treasures offered to the gods, such as the lacquered Toiletry Case with Deer in Autumn Field in Makie (sprinkled metal design, fig. 8), are perhaps manifestations of the awe and respect that the gods inspired among the people of the time. While Izumo was the land of the gods, on the one hand, it was also a place where many Buddhas were worshipped. Seated Yakushi Nyorai (Medicine Buddha, fig. 9) of Kezo-ji Temple, which is usually kept from public view as a hibutsu (“secret Buddha”), and other Buddha images from Izumo will also be in this exhibition.
It is not an overstatement to say that this unprecedented exhibition on grand shrine of Izumo will be the first and perhaps last of its kind. Explore the mythical land of Izumo this summer at the Kyoto National Museum

Fig 8 National Treasure
Toiletry Box with Deer in Autumn Field in Makie (Sprinkled Metal Decoration)
Kamakura period, Izumo Grand Shrine, Shimane Prefecture (exhibited from 8/21-9/9)

Fig 9 Important Cultural Property
Seated Yakushi Nyorai (Medicine Buddha)
Heian period, Kezo-ji Temple, Shimane Prefecture

For more general and access information on the Grand Izumo Exhibition, click here

See also:

Izumo Taisha

Izumo Grand Shrine and the rituals

Okuninushi, kuniyuzuri and Izumo Shinko

Izumo Taisha It is not known exactly when Izumo-taisha was built, but its construction was at least no later the 10th century since a record compiled around 950 (Heian period) describes the shrine as the highest building (reaching approximately 48 meters, which exceeds in height the 45 meter-tall temple that enshrined the Great Image of Buddha, Tōdai-ji)… but it is also likely that the earliest Izumo religious structures existed by the 8th century since the Izumo Fudoki (Izumo Fuudoki 出雲風土記) or Records of Ancient Izumo, dated from about A.D. 733.

The records of Izumo describe the life and customs of the area, from present day Matsue City toward the Grand Shrine of Izumo and along the coast of Shimane. During the Nara period (710 – 794), the South-eastren side of Matsue was the center of politics, economy, and culture of the Izumo region. The Izumo no kuni fudoki contains numerous legends of deities which were, or likely were, Kunitama no kami. The records tell of “a place of outstanding bountiful land and charming people”. Source: Izumo Fudoki (Daruma Pilgrims Gallery)

New research team reports that pottery sherds from Xianrendong Cave in Jiangxi Province, China are 2,000-3,000 years older than other East Asian/Japanese pottery finds

Two of the 20,000-year-old pottery fragments found in a cave in China. Photo: AFP/Science/AAAS

A new report on pottery sherds recovered from the Xianrendong Cave in Jiangxi Province in China states that the “radiocarbon ages of the archaeological contexts of the earliest sherds are 20,000 to 19,000 calendar years before the present, 2000 to 3000 years older than other pottery found in East Asia and elsewhere.” See:

Wu, Xiaohong et al. “Early Pottery at 20,000 Years Ago in Xianrendong Cave, China“, Science 29 June 2012: Vol. 336 no. 6089 pp. 1696-1700 DOI: 10.1126/science.1218643

ABSTRACT

The invention of pottery introduced fundamental shifts in human subsistence practices and sociosymbolic behaviors. Here, we describe the dating of the early pottery from Xianrendong Cave, Jiangxi Province, China, and the micromorphology of the stratigraphic contexts of the pottery sherds and radiocarbon samples. The radiocarbon ages of the archaeological contexts of the earliest sherds are 20,000 to 19,000 calendar years before the present, 2000 to 3000 years older than other pottery found in East Asia and elsewhere. The occupations in the cave demonstrate that pottery was produced by mobile foragers who hunted and gathered during the Late Glacial Maximum. These vessels may have served as cooking devices. The early date shows that pottery was first made and used 10 millennia or more before the emergence of agriculture.

See also In Science Magazine PERSPECTIVE ANTHROPOLOGY, Gideon Shelach’s “On the Invention of Pottery“, Science 29 June 2012: 1644-1645.

On page 1696 of this issue, Wu et al. (1) report the latest of a series of exciting discoveries made over the past 20 years that have pushed back the earliest evidence for the invention of pottery by more than 10,000 years. Like their findings at the Xianrendong Cave (1), most of the earliest pottery has been discovered in south China (the Yangzi River basin and areas south of it), but evidence for early pottery is also known from the Yellow River basin, and indeed from a much larger area of East Asia that includes Japan and the Amur River basin (2–4). The early dating of East Asian ceramics refutes the idea that the beginning of pottery production was associated with the transition to agriculture. What was the societal context for its invention? …

The report has implications for Japanese pottery as scholars are interested in tracing the possible route of diffusion of pottery-making techniques into Japan (or out of Japan as the case may be).

:::

Pottery alters view of human development (June 30, 2012, smh.com.au)

Pottery fragments found in a south China cave have been confirmed to be 20,000 years old, making them the oldest known pottery, archaeologists say.

The findings, in the journal Science, add to recent efforts that have dated pottery piles in East Asia to more than 15,000 years ago, rebutting conventional theories that the invention of pottery correlates to the period about 10,000 years ago when humans moved from being hunter-gatherers to farmers.

The research also pushes the emergence of pottery back to the last ice age, which might provide new explanations for the creation of pottery, said Gideon Shelach, chairman of the Louis Frieberg Centre for East Asian Studies at The Hebrew University in Israel.

”The focus of research has to change,” Professor Shelach, who is not involved in the research, said.

In an accompanying Science article, he wrote that such research efforts ”are fundamental for a better understanding of socio-economic change [25,000 to 19,000 years ago] … that led to the emergence of sedentary agricultural societies”.

The disconnection between pottery and agriculture might shed light on human development in the region, he said.

Wu Xiaohong, professor of archaeology and museology at Peking University and the lead author of the Science article that details the radiocarbon-dating efforts, said her team was eager to build on the research.

”The paper is the result of efforts done by generations of scholars,” Professor Wu said. ”Now we can explore why there was pottery in that particular time [and] what were the uses of the vessels.”
The ancient fragments were discovered in the Xianren cave in south China’s Jiangxi province.

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China pottery dated at 20,000 years old 

Cave findings are oldest known in world, experts say

By Didi tang (AP, Jun. 29, 2012 retr. 29/6/2012, AZCentral.com)

BEIJING – Pottery fragments found in a south China cave have been confirmed to be 20,000 years old, making them the oldest known pottery in the world, archaeologists say.

The findings, which appeared in the journal Science on Friday, add to recent efforts that have dated pottery piles in east Asia to more than 15,000 years ago, refuting conventional theories that the invention of pottery correlates to the period about 10,000 years ago when humans moved from being hunter-gatherers to farmers.

The research by a team of Chinese and American scientists also pushes the emergence of pottery back to the last ice age, which might provide new explanations for the creation of pottery, said Gideon Shelach, chair of the Louis Frieberg Center for East Asian Studies at the Hebrew University in Israel.
“The focus of research has to change,” Shelach, who is not involved in the research project in China, said by telephone.

In an accompanying Science article, Shelach wrote that such research efforts “are fundamental for a better understanding of socioeconomic change (25,000 to 19,000 years ago) and the development that led to the emergency of sedentary agricultural societies.”

He said the disconnection between pottery and agriculture as shown in east Asia might shed light on specifics of human development in the region.

Wu Xiaohong, professor of archaeology and museology at Peking University and the lead author of the Science article that details the radiocarbon dating efforts, told the Associated Press that her team was eager to build on the research.

“We are very excited about the findings. The paper is the result of efforts done by generations of scholars,” Wu said. “Now we can explore why there was pottery in that particular time, what were the uses of the vessels, and what role they played in the survival of human beings.”

The ancient fragments were discovered in the Xianrendong cave in south China’s Jiangxi province, which was excavated in the 1960s and again in the 1990s, according to the journal article.

Wu, a chemist by training, said some researchers had estimated that the pieces could be 20,000 years old, but that there were doubts.

“We thought it would be impossible because the conventional theory was that pottery was invented after the transition to agriculture that allowed for human settlement.”

But by 2009, the team — which includes experts from Harvard and Boston universities — was able to calculate the age of the pottery fragments with such precision that the scientists were comfortable with their findings, Wu said.

“The key was to ensure the samples we used to date were indeed from the same period of the pottery fragments,” she said.

That became possible when the team was able to determine the sediments in the cave were accumulated gradually without disruption that might have altered the time sequence, she said.

Scientists took samples, such as bones and charcoal, from above and below the ancient fragments in the dating process, Wu said.

“This way, we can determine with precision the age of the fragments, and our results can be recognized by peers,” Wu said.

The same team in 2009 published an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in which they determined the pottery fragments found in south China’s Hunan province to be 18,000 years old, Wu said.

“The difference of 2,000 years might not be significant in itself, but we always like to trace everything to its earliest possible time,” Wu said.

Read more here

:::
Remnants of an Ancient Kitchen Are Found in China
By SINDYA N. BHANOO (NY Times, June 28, 2012, correction Jun 29, 2012)

Fragments of ancient pottery found in southern China turn out to date back 20,000 years, making them the world’s oldest known pottery — 2,000 to 3,000 years older than examples found in East Asia and elsewhere.

The ceramics probably consisted of simple concave vessels that were likely used for cooking food, said Ofer Bar-Yosef, an archaeologist at Harvard and an author of the study, which appears in the journal Science.

“What it seems is that in China, the making of pottery started 20,000 years ago and never stopped,” he said. “The Chinese kitchen was always based on cooking and steaming; they never made, as in other parts of Asia, breads.”

The crockery, found in Xianrendong Cave in Jiangxi Province, belonged to a group of mobile foragers, Dr. Bar-Yosef said. They were a hunting and gathering community; plant cultivation and agriculture probably did not arrive until about 10,000 years later.

On the other hand, plant cultivation in the Middle East arrived about 1,000 years before it did in China. Still, pottery was not used in the Middle East until much later, Dr. Bar-Yosef said.

“The kitchen of the Middle East was probably based on barbecues and pita breads,” he said. “For pita breads, you don’t have to have pottery — you can grind the seeds and mix it with water, and make it over the fire.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 29, 2012

An earlier version of this post described incorrectly the origins of pottery in the Middle East. Pottery was not used in the Middle East until much later than it was used in China, but Middle Eastern pottery developed more than 8,000 years ago — not “about 2,000 to 2,500 years ago.”

Read more:

Pottery Invented 20,000 Years Ago In China, 10,000 Years Before Agriculture (Nano Patents and Innovations, JUNE 29, 2012)

In the news: Roman glass beads uncovered in 5th century burial mound in Nagaoka, near Kyoto

Roman jewellery found in ancient Japan tomb

A 5mm diameter piece of glass jewellery believed to have been made by Roman craftsmen, was found in an ancient tomb at Nagaokakyo near Kyoto, in western Japan. The glass beads are one of the oldest multilayered glass products were believed to be made in the Roman Empire and sent to Japan, a researcher said.

Glass jewellery believed to have been made by Roman craftsmen has been found in an ancient tomb in Japan, researchers said Friday, in a sign the empire’s influence may have reached the edge of Asia.

Tests have revealed three glass beads discovered in the Fifth Century “Utsukushi” burial mound in Nagaoka, near Kyoto, were probably made some time between the first and the fourth century, the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties said.

The government-backed institute has recently finished analysing components of the glass beads, measuring five millimetres (0.2 inches) in diametre, with tiny fragments of gilt attached.

It found that the light yellow beads were made with natron, a chemical used to melt glass by craftsmen in the empire, which succeeded the Roman Republic in 27 BC and was ultimately ended by the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.

The beads, which have a hole through the middle, were made with a multilayering technique — a relatively sophisticated method in which craftsmen piled up layers of glass, often sandwiching gold leaf in between.

“They are one of the oldest multilayered glass products found in Japan, and very rare accessories that were believed to be made in the Roman Empire and sent to Japan,” said Tomomi Tamura, a researcher at the institute.

The Roman Empire was concentrated around the Mediterranean Sea and stretched northwards to occupy present-day England. The finding in Japan, some 10,000 kilometres (6,000 miles) from Italy, may shed some light on how far east its influence reached, Tamura said.

“It will also lead to further studies on how they could have got all the way to Japan,” she said.

(Bangkok Post, 22/06/2012 )

***

Further reading:

Roman Jewelry in 5th C. Japanese Tomb  by Laura Kelley. (Nara National Research Institute. Article retrieved online from The Silk Road website Aug 8, 2012)
New evidence of the power and reach of the Silk Road seems to be puzzling and mystifying scholars. Roman jewelry was recently found in in a Japanese tomb dating from the 5th Century ACE. Why this startles anyone is beyond me. The network of maritime and land traders that we now know as the Silk Road linked west and east as far back as 2000 years BCE when episodic trade between Afghanistan and China began for lapis lazuli and jade. Humans being human, news of beautiful, desirable or delicious things spread rapidly. In addition, migration, forced or voluntary (for economic reasons) was common and brought people together in unlikely combinations – Jews in China, Greeks in Timur’s Uzbekistan, Arabs in Venice, Chinese in Azerbaijan and Africa etc.

Roman Beads in Japanese Tomb

The discovery in question is three glass beads, each about 5 mm in diameter that are clearly of Roman manufacture – showing the layered glass and gilt technique common in the empire as well as natron in the manufacture of the glass. In the photos above, it is easy to see the layering – especially in the bead on the right. The flecks of gold gilt is evident on both. Beautiful indeed. One can see why they were precious even in Japan, far away from their point of manufacture.

Tests run by the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties have revealed three glass beads discovered in the Fifth Century “Utsukushi” burial mound in Nagaoka, near Kyoto, were probably made in Rome some time between the first and the fourth century ACE.

How, exactly, the beads got to Japan is not known. They could have been recent purchases, or heirlooms handed down from parent to child for centuries before their burial, or they could have come to Japan along with the many Chinese and Korean immigrants who became naturalized Japanese and held important positions at the Yamato court during the Kofun period (250-538 A.D.). The tomb itself dates back to the Yamato period of Japanese history, an era marked by inter-provincial warfare when the Imperial capitol was located in Nara.

But to be sure, the Silk Road complex of trading networks on sea and land that ran from Europe through Africa, Arabia, Persia, India, China, and Korea to Japan and back again was how they traveled from Rome to Japan. Traders did local legs of the massive voyage, stopping at market cities to sell their goods which would then be traded again a little further away and so on, until silk from China wound up adorning Roman emperors and Roman gold-flecked glassware jewels ended up the prized possession of a 5th century Japanese nobleman.

Exploring the Ancient Salt Road, Shiogama shrine (where resides the Salt God) and the ancient tradition of salt-making in Japan

What is the Salt Road?

Salt bearers Photo courtesy: JTB

The Salt Road (Shionomichi) was an ancient highway that connected that interior regions of Honshu Island in Japan with the coastal regions. Part of it was called the Chikuni-kaido that connected the castle city of Matsumoto with Itoigawa on the Japan Sea coast. The route involved the transportation of various kinds of goods, the most important of which was salt, along treacherous mountain roads. In landlocked Shinshu (today’s Nagano), salt was the most-prized among these commodities. For this reason the route was named the ‘Salt Road’.

Below are excepts from “The Salt Road” (Go Nagano! Blog):

“At the beginning of May, the Golden week holidays herald the arrival of cherry blossom season in Hakuba. Every year the Salt Road Festival celebrates the ancient salt road that passes through Otari, Hakuba and Omachi.

The Salt road runs from Itoigawa on the Japan sea all the way inland to Shiojiri near Matsumoto. Until roads were developed salt was ferried by oxen and human from the sea to the interior and sold at markets. The biggest market was in Shiojiri near Matsumoto. …

The old road winds through beautiful countryside and clusters of thatched farmhouses. Along the way local people sing folk songs, play taiko (Japanese drumming) and hand out free refreshments of tea and local sukemono (pickles). The old village of Chikuni at the half way point houses the salt road museum where you can see the history of the salt road and “Pay a toll” to the tollbooth staff for passage by getting your map stamped.”

***

Ancient legacies of the Old Salt Road travelers

Ancient steles dedicated to ancient traveler guardian and protector deities, including a number of stone Buddhist statues, may also still be found all along the Salt Road from Sano via Lake Aoki to Sanosaka and the stretch between Hakuba and Otari. Particularly numerous are the  ancient Jizo, Kannon and Batou-kannon statues.

Kazakiri Jizo: With the winds that blow down from Hakuba’s peaks, Kazakiri Jizo, a guardian deity of travellers, is said to protect crops from pests and drive away evil spirits that bring about sickness and disease.

Kannon-bara: With 33 statues from western Japan, 33 from the Kanto area, and 34 from the Chichibu area, Kannon-bara field contains 100 stone Buddhist statues. An additional 87 Batou Kannon make the total number 187, all arranged in a quad around the field.

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The city of Shiogama ( Miyagi Prefecture) owes its name to the salt-making tradition for Shiogama’s name means “salt cauldron”. This refers to an ancient Shinto ritual involving the making of salt from sea water that is still performed every July at the Okama Jinja Shrine.  The Shiogama Jinja (or Shrine) is the leading Shinto shrine in Tohoku and according to the shrine history of Shiogama-jinja, enshrined here are the triad and three pillars of Great Deities known as Shiotsuchinooji (the god who taught them how to make salt), Takemikazuchi(who had” descended to the land of Izumo” source) and Futsunushi (the martial tutelary of the warrior clan Mononobe(source)– the latter two deities are said to have come to Shiogama after they had conquered various provinces with the guidance of Shiotsuchinooji. Rebuilt in the 17C, this shrine with asymmetric roofs (Nagare-zukuri style) is composed of three buildings (Ugu, Sagu, Betsugu), each dedicated to one of the three local deities responsible for Tohoku’s prosperity: Shiotsuchi-Oji-no-Kami in the betsugu (detached sanctuary), Takemikazuchi-no-Kami in the sagu (left sanctuary), and Futsunushi-no-Kami in the ugu (right sanctuary). Shiotsuchi-Oji no kami  is the most important of the three.

Shiotsuchi-Oji no kami is also a tide god who protects fishermen and pregnant women, there being considered a link between salt and pregnancy – shio means salt but it also signifies the tide. As a Japanese folklore saying goes, babies are always born during an incoming tide, when the moon is high in the sky.

Shiotsuchi-Oji no kami is also the offspring of Izanagi and the “old man of the sea” and a kami of the sea belonging to another mythical cycle, “the Luck of the Mountains” where — the Luck of the Mountains (a.k.a. Hohodemi) was sitting on a beach balefully weeping, when Shiotsuchi-no-oji(ja) came to his aid. The tide god built Hohodemi a small ship described as being manashikatsuma, and guided him on a journey (see Encyclopedia of Shinto) to the fish-scaled palace of the Watatsumi (Undersea God) where Hohodemi married the Sea God’s daughter Princess Toyotama. (Hohodemi is venerated in shrines mainly in the southern parts of Kyushu Island, and according to recorded myth,  Hoderi’s descendants are the Hayoto who guard the palace). Following the mythical cycles, Shiotsuchi-no-Oji kami likely emerged from south, before arriving in the Kanto plain.

Shiogama jinja is thought to be one of the oldest shrines in Tohoku, and there are a variety of different rituals carried out throughout the year. Primary among these are the Salt-Making ritual held on 6 July. The ancient salt making ritual is performed at the Okama (or Okamasya) Shrine in Shiogama, the smaller shrine that is subordinate to Shiogama shrine.  According to shrine tradition, the Okama shrine is located in a place that used to be a beach called Hodenohama in ancient times, where salt was made for the first time in the nation.  The Okama shrine that deifies Shiotsuchi-no-Oji-kami, who allegedly taught them salt making, as well as Yonkono Kamigama and Ushiishi fujimuchi-sha, both of whom were also related to the process of salt making…is thus probably the oldest location of the Shiogama shrine structures.

The shrine is now merged with Shiwahiko Jinja which is dedicated to another deity, Shiwahiko-no-Kami, guardian god of agriculture, national development, higher productivity and industry.

Okama Jinja, subordinate shrine to Shiogama Shrine Photo: Bachstelze

History of Shiogama Jinja (as excerpted from Shigama Guide Map)

“The exact year in which the jinja was built is unknown.

However, it is reported that when the Japanese race moved to this area over 2,000 years ago, jinjas were established and according to ancient records, the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu-Omikami, specifically commanded two of the deities who reside here, Takemikazuchi-no-Kami and Futsunushi-no-Kami, to develop the Tohoku District (in which the jinja stands) and its culture. The third deity, Shiotsuchi-Oji-no-Kami, is said ti have guided the other two to their domain. After their arrival in tohoku, the area was guided to a state of peace, and Shiotsuchi-Oji-no-Kami is said to have taught the local people how to obtain salt from sea water. In gratitude, the people enshrined the three deities at what is now called the Shiogama Jinja. It is certainly of very ancient origin.

Further evidence of the jinja’s history is found in a record called the “Koninshiki”, compiled c.820 A.D. This states that successive Emperors offered 10,000 bales of rice to Shiogama Jinja and exempted it from state taxes. In such ways, from that period onwards, the Imperial Court showed its respect for this, the most important jinja in the showed its respect for this, the most important jinja in the Tohoku District. The jinja was also revered and protected by military leaders and powerful clans who saw it as a source of profound spiritual support. A notable example was Lord Date, who lived during the Edo Period (1603-1867). Having deep faith in the jinja, he personally served as chief priest and made generous offerings of land, swords, sacred horses and valuable gifts. The present jinja structure was also built by command of Lord Date.

Shiogama Jinja Buildings

Zuishinshinmon gate

The first buildings that can be seen after climbings the 202 steps approaching the jinja is the graceful, vermilion-lacquered gate called Zuishinmon. It takes its name from the Zuishin images that stand on the left and right of the gate. Beyond the Zuishinmon is a gate flanked on either side by corridors. Passing though this gate it is possible to see the three buildings that are the sanctuaries of the three deities, the detached sanctuary dedicated to Shiotsuchi-Oji-no-Kami being on the right side. At the center is the honden, or main sanctuary, which consists of three halls built of plain wood in a style of shinto architecture called nagare-zukuri. The three sanctuaries, on the other hand, are lacquered in vermilion, in the Irimoya style ; their construction was started in 1704 at the order of the fifth Lord of Date and they are preserved as cultural properties of Miyagi Prefecture. Before leaving the precincts of the main jinja, the dedicated to the jinja in 1185, a stone sundial dedicated in 1792 and a 14-foot high lantern of iron and copper that was donated in 1807. All are evidence of the importance of this jinja throughout is long history.

Belief and Festivals

The deities of the jinja have long been worshipped as guardian deities of seafarers, notably fisherman, and also expectant mothers. They are also considered to offer their guardianship to land developers and students of the martial arts, also those seeking longevity, success in school entrance examinations and road safety. Expectant mothers come from overseas as well as from all over Japan to offer prayers for a rich catch are offered before departure; prayers of gratitude are offered on the fisherman’s return, together with some of the catch.
A large number of festivals and observances are held throughout the year…

Reisai, July 10th: This is the most important observance in the jinja calendar…preparations begin on July 4th with a three-day rite held at a subordinate jinja, Okamasya. In this rite, salt is made from sea water in accordance with the ancient method, for presentation to Shiogama Jinja on July 10th. On that day, various religious and cultural events draw a very large number of visitors; for example, the distribution of talismans in the form of folded paper strips, and a performance of yabusame, mounted archery.”

– The above information was excerpted from the Shiogama Guide Map

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How far back does salt production and trade go in Japan?

Archaeologists know that coastal people of the  Jomon Period evaporated saltwater in pots to obtain salt. For example, salt produced by people on the Kanto lowlands was exchanged with people in the Chubu highlands for other goods of value. Kanto and Tohoku had known salt production centres.  Salt pottery was widely distributed throughout the Kanto plain. Salt pottery shards recovered from 100 inland sites outside of the salt production centres and faraway from the coast, indicate exchange networks were in place during those times.

According to Junko Habu, Late and Final Jomon layers have revealed repeatedly heated, thin-walled “evaporation pots” for salt that had salt residue on them. At several of the excavated sites, evaporation pots represented actually the majority of the artefacts recovered, leading them to be labelled as salt production sites. There were also associated pits and ash layers believed to be hearths used for salt production. Small quantities of evaporation pots were found as far inland as 100km away from coast and are believed to have been traded to those areas.

According to Goto, the disappearance of large shell mounds along Tokyo Bay is related to the emergence of salt production. Gotō (writing in 1973) supposes that large shell mounds, which developed in the Middle and the Late Jōmon periods, were made from the refuse of dried shellfish production, which was used in exchange. His theory explains that the demand for salt existed before salt production started, and that salt production replaced dried shellfish as the exchange item.

new paper (Kawashima), reconsiders the reasons why salt production centres and trade networks developed, identifying major Jomon salt production centres in the Jomon Period as located around Tokyo Bay’s shellmounds, Mutsu Bay, Sendai Bay, Lake Kasumigaura,  Sanriku Coast, and the Tokai region,  the most important among them being those on the shores of Lake Kasumigaura. The salt centres are deemed to have been geographically separate, and their technologies to have been separate developments.  Excavated salt-making pottery, salt hearths and workshops are evidence. Methods used including heating brine or seawalter as well as production of salt from marine plants (i.e. seaweed), and different methods were used at different sites.

An important conclusion of the Kawashima paper is that the Jomon salt production and trade exchange centres developed and flourished not out of the need for preservation of maritime food products, but that” Jomon salt was supplied for exchange and  use in ritualized contexts”.

The shrines and the enshrined salt deity Shiogama and other associated deities of the Shiogama Jinja, of the ancient Salt Road (Chikuni-kaido), however can be traced with certainty to written records date-able to at least the 7th century(Kojiki was presented to Empress Genmei at court in 712 but the compilations began with Emperor Kinmei in the middle of the 6th century: source: Encyclopedia of Shinto), however, the deities are regarded to be part of the Land-Pulling Myths cycle belonging to the much earlier Yayoi Period substantiated by archaeology.

The medieval old shio no michi (Salt Road) or kaidō (highway) transported salted from the ocean to the inland portions of central Honshū — salt was brought  both from the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean to Shinano Province for processing.

The road leading from the Pacific Ocean was called the Sanshū Kaidō (三州街道). Salt was initially carried from Mikawa Bay(south of Aichi Prefecture) by boats traveling up the Yahagi River and its tributary, the Tomoe River. From Toyota, the salt was carried by horse, marking the start of the Sanshū Kaidō

On the Echigo Province side of the route, the highway was called the Itoigawa Kaidō.

On the Shinano Province side, i.e. the road leading from the Sea of Japan to Shinano Province was called the Chikuni Kaidō (千国街道).

Salt production on the continent

For comparison, the oldest known saltworks on the Asian continent are:

  • The salt produced from the surface of Xiechi Lake near Yuncheng in Shanxi, China dates back to at least 6000 BC, making the Xiechi Lake saltworks one of the oldest verifiable saltworks.
  • The Poiana Slatinei archaeological site next to a salt spring in Lunca, Neamt County, Romania, is evidence indicating that Neolithic people of the Precucuteni Culture were boiling the salt-laden spring water through the process of briquetage to extract the salt as far back as 6050 BC. The salt extracted from this operation is thought to have a direct correlation to the rapid growth of the population of the Precucuteni Culture that occurred soon after its initial production began

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This next section focuses on the process of salt-making as detailed in a Japan Times news article “SO, WHAT THE HECK IS THAT?|Seaweed Salt” by Alice Gordenker, relevant excerpts provided below:

“There’s a lot we don’t know about salt-making in ancient Japan, according to Hiroki Takanashi, curator at the Tobacco and Salt Museum in Tokyo, but the very earliest method was probably burning seaweed and using the resulting ashes for their salt content. Another method seems to have involved collecting seaweed and allowing it to dry in the sun until salt crystals formed. The crystals were then washed off into vats of sea water, creating a concentrated brine that could be boiled down to yield salt.

If that sounds laborious, consider that the ancients didn’t have a choice. Unlike countries with salt lakes or rock-salt deposits, Japan has virtually no land sources of salt. It was — and still is — dependent on sea water for salt production. And unlike countries with dry climates where salt can be obtained by simply letting sea water evaporate in the sun, Japan is too wet and rainy for solar-evaporation production methods.

“The first challenge in salt-making in Japan has always been to find a way to concentrate sea water, which contains only 3 percent salt,” Takanashi explained. “It would simply require too much fuel to make salt by boiling down seawater, so through the ages Japanese people used various methods to make concentrates with as much as 15 percent salt.”

According to Shinto tradition, it was the god Shiotsuchi-Oji-no-Kami who taught people how to obtain salt from sea water. In gratitude, they built a shrine at what is now called Shiogama Jinja in the town of Shiogama, Miyagi Prefecture. Every year, starting on July 4, priests conduct a three-day ritual called moshioyaki shinji in which salt is made from seaweed according to what is believed to be the traditional method.

By the eighth century, the use of seaweed was largely abandoned in favor of a new method of concentrating sea water through the use of sand terraces built near the seashore. This process involved throwing seawater over sand and letting it dry in the sun to create sand with a high salt content. The sand was collected and seawater poured through it to make salt concentrate. This remained the dominant method of salt making for thousands of years, until 1972 when a modern method using ion-exchange was adopted. …

I went hunting for moshio and found products from four different locations around Japan: Awajishima in Hyogo Prefecture; Shiogama in Miyagi Prefecture; Kami-Kamagari in Hiroshima Prefecture; and Tsushima in Nagasaki Prefecture….

For more on this topic, including photos of moshio in the making in Shiogama, as well as a link to an English-language video on the salt-terrace method, please visit my blog at www.alicegordenker.wordpress.com. The Tobacco and Salt Museum has permanent exhibits on traditional salt production. There isn’t much English signage, but you can buy an English guide to the exhibitions in the gift shop for ¥1,000. The shop sells moshio too. The museum is a 10-minute walk from Shibuya Station, at 1-16-8 Jinnan, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo. It’s open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., last entry 5:30 p.m., and closed Mondays except on national holidays. Admission is ¥100 for adults and ¥50 for school-age children.”

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Sources, references and further readings:

The Way and the History of the Salt of Hakuba (a website of Tourism Commission of Hakuba)

Seaweed Salt from Alice Gordeneker’s What the Heck is That series (Japan Times, June 19, 2012)

Shiogama, History (Wikipedia)

Shiogama Guide Map (Shiogama Tourism and Industry Association)

Encyclopedia of Shinto (Kokugakuin University website)  Takemikazuchi page; Futsunushi page; the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki page; and the Kotokatsu kunikatsunagasa no mikoto page where Shiotsuchi no Oji kami is mentioned as guiding Hohodemi to the Palace of the Sea.

Habu Jinko, “Ancient Jomon of Japan”, Cambridge Press, 2004, Chap. 6

Boom of the barter trade (Heritage of Japan – this site)

GOTŌ Kazutami 後藤和民 (1973). Jōmon jidai ni okeru Tōkyōwan engan no kaizuka bunka ni tsuite 縄文時代における東京湾沿岸の貝塚文化について [Shell Mound Culture along Tokyo Bay of the Jōmon]. In: Chihōshi kenkyū kyōgikai 地方史研究協議会 (ed.). Jōsōchihōshi no kenkyū 常総地方史の研究. Tokyo: Yūzankaku

Nazuna Sea Salt

KAWASHIMA, Takamune, “Reconsideration of the Use of Salt in the Jōmon Period Interfaculty, Vol. 3 (2012) (Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Tsukuba)

古道 塩の道―松本‐糸魚川三十里トレイルマップ 謙信が信玄へ塩を送った道,  府川 公広 Japanese book “Old Salt Road” and its associated website: www.salt-road.com/book.html.

古道 塩の道 This website provides many detailed maps and routes of the ancient Salt Road in Japan

小谷村 塩の道 Otari Village-Old Salt Road website

The Way of the History and Salt of Hakuba (Hakuba Official website)

The Old Salt Road Museum an official website of Itogawa city

Shio no Michi (Wikipedia)/ The Salt Road

Salt Traders Nazuna Sea Salt: An ancient tradition of salt-making evidenced by “numerous earthenware vessels for Japanese salt-making date back as far as the Jomon period (8,000 B.C. – 200 B.C.].”

Shiogama Jinja / Shrine

1-1, Ichi Moriyama, Shiogama City
(15 min. walk from Hon Shiogama Station of JR Sengoku Line)
Tel; 022-367-1611

Okama Shrine

7-1 Motomachi, Shiogama, Miyagi

The Salt Museum (Shinshu Omachi, Nagano) website

Japanese Mythology (Wikipedia)

Sea Salt

Shiogama Jinja (Michelin Guide) on the connection between salt and pregnancy