Early Shosoin, Isonokami warehouse and shrine architecture may have had Altaic or other Central Asian influences

Shosoin Repository (Wikipedia)Shosoin Repository (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The azekura loghouse-on-stilts style of Nara’s Todaiji Shosoin Repository appears to be very similar to and may have had its origins in the Siberian log houses of the Central Asia.

The walls are constructed of horizontally stacked azeki, or cross-sections of lumber, with each cross-section being triangular (or hexagular). Compare this architectural technique with the similar one of the Western Siberian (Khanty) sacred shrine seen in the image below.

Figure 3: 'Ambarchik' containing holy idols, Yugan River

The Khanty Siberian peoples have their sacred sites with such sacred loghouses located in the forest and while they worship their high god of the Khanty called Torum, who is believed to control world-scale events, each Khanty yurt its own cult site in which is enshrined the male or female guardian spirit or god of the local area, which are worshipped in the form of large carved wooden effigies kept in the specially constructed sacred huts or in ambarchiks — store houses on stilted legs.  Similar architectural methods are seen across Russia, Scandinavia, Russia, and North America (the latter based on genetics research suggesting South Siberian origins).

Irkutsk Architectural-Etnography Museum Talzy (Museum of wooden architecture), Lake Baikal

While the Shosoin Treasury contemporaneous with Todaiji (743), was built in the middle of the 8th century, the architecture appears to have been used in earlier times perhaps since the 3rd or 4th century, emerging with the Bronze/Iron Age of Japan, and so they may have been techniques introduced from the Altai bronze-making region either by Buriat, Altai-Siberian or Tibetan immigrants (See Tibetan-Yunnan Zhongdian buildings on stilts architecture and rammed earth, stoneworks – the name of Zhongdian County, capital of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in southwestern China’s Yunnan Province was changed to Shangri-La County in 2001).

Azekura storehouse architecture differs markedly from the earlier Yayoi Period grain warehouses. The Isonokami Shrine is one of the oldest extant Shinto shrines in Japan, was highly regarded in the ancient era, and frequented by many members of the imperial family. Located at the northern end of the Yamanobe no michi, the oldest road in Japan, it played a pivotal role in Japan’s early history, especially during the 3rd to 5th centuries.

Isonokami Jingu (or Shrine)

Scholars believe that many of the kingdom’s weapons as well as sacred items and treasures, including the divine sword “Futsunomitama” and the shichishito sword gifted by a Paekche king to the ruler of Yamato, have been stored in Isonokami Shrine since at least the late 4th century. The most important buildings of shrines of the early centuries after the first millenium, were the warehouses. Entries made in the 35th year of Suinin’s reign in the Nihon shoki records say that Emperor Suinin’s eldest son had ordered a thousand swords made and stored at Isonokami.

Oldest house of Zhongdian, Yunnan

The architecture of Isonokami resembles that of Tibetan-Yunnan buildings which in turn manifest Central Asian influence. Trade intensified from around the year 250 in bronze and iron objects, and ritual or status objects, and from 350 AD, began a period of influx of continental immigrants who eventually brought continental warrior-related technology and horse gear, all of which requiring storage and therefore, the construction of sturdy warehouses built in the azekura styles.

The Isonokami practised cultic rites involving a spirit-shaking chinkonsai ritual. The main deity of the Isonokami was Futsunushi-no-Mikoto, or “the Master Shaker”, this figure appears in the chronicles as a military figure who pacifies  for the court the spirit of rebellious local deities. The keepers of Isonokami, the Mononobe clan are thought in some quarters to be of Korean lineages (kingdom of Silla) connected with the transmission of military and sericulture technologies, and shrines bearing the spirit shaking names are known to extend from Okinoshima, off the coast of Kyushu to the Inland Sea near Ise. The Silla Kingdom is particularly noted for its Scythian-style jewellery forms —  its royal crowns are said to be of Scythian design and indications of contacts with Central Asian steppe peoples. Research has shown Koreans to have lineages possessing the genetic type haplogroup A5, which is thought to have evolved in central Asia between Caspian sea and Baikal lake and have moved through Manchuria to the Korean peninsular before reaching Japan.


GUESTS IN THE HOLY FOREST: KHANTY RITUAL LANDSCAPES IN WESTERN SIBERIA ,Assemblage, the Shieffield Journal of Archaeology 4 (1998) by Peter Jordan

Ceremony: Todaiji Buddist Temple, Nara, Japan (The Pritzker Architecture Prize)

Tibetan Architecture: The Structure, Aesthetics, and Symbolism of Wood Ottawa, Friends of Tibet, Issue 2

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