More than 100,000 wooden tablets (called mokkan) have been uncovered from around 300 sites in Japan, including the palaces at Heiankyo, Fujiwara-kyo, Naniwakyo, Asuka Kiyomihara no miya and Nagaokakyo, as well as at the remote military outposts of Dazaifu and Tagajo. The largest finds were the 30,000 mokkan unearthed from the ruins of the residence of Prince Nagaya (676, 684-729).
The oldest mokkan date from mid-7th century and the dates of the artefacts continue through the 8th century.
Uses of Mokkan
Mokkan were used for many purposes – they were used as charms, as scroll tags, for calligraphy or for jotting notes. But mostly, mokkan are associated with uses as labels on tax goods; record-keeping or directives dealing with the movement of goods and people within the palace precincts, requests for commodities, summonses, permits, etc. In other words, they were important tools for administrative, logistics and mercantile and trade purposes.
The origin of mokkan
Mokkan had their beginnings in the invention of bamboo slips of the Shang dynasty in China. The mokkan were used to denote appointments or ritual promises and the writing held the power of a sacred oath and sanctified the appointments. The mokkan were then placed on ancestral altars or sunk in rivers.
Allan, Sarah (1991), The shape of the turtle: myth, art, and cosmos in early China, SUNY series in Chinese philosophy and culture, SUNY Press,ISBN 0791404609
Photos copyright: Heritage of Japan