Isonokami Shrine and the Seven-branched Sword
One of the oldest, and historically important, shrines in Japan, Isonokami Shrine (石上神社) can be found in the city of Tenri, in Nara Prefecture. It is located in the rich green shadows of its pine tree and bamboo grove surroundings. Numerous small shrines to various deities are also part of the shrine complex. Like many other such shrines in Japan that date back to the Yamato era, it has a peaceful tranquillity and atmosphere. It is also located close to the Yama-no-he pilgrim route (山の辺の道).
The shrine is home to one of the earliest historical artefacts, the seven-branched sword (七支刀) that is thought to date to the 3rd or 4th century AD. This inscribed sword was presented to a local king by the rulers of Paekche (Baekje) on the Korean peninsula. Paekche was one of the Three Kingdoms, and it and the other two appear to have had extensive contact with the Yamato or Yamataikoku kingdoms in Japan.
The sword was made in Korea and sent as a gift to one of the rulers in Yamato. It is thought that this was Empress Komyo, since the sword is thought to date to the early fourth century. (However, there are various interpretations of the possible date indicated on the sword, ranging from late-third century to early fifth century. An earlier date would mean that Queen Himiko could also be the recipient.) This would certainly fit with the stories from Japan’s Nihon Shoki (), which has the Empress ruling in Nara. However, the inscription on the sword is more ambiguous. Although the 8th century NIhon Shoki mentions Empress Komyo, contemporary Chinese histories from the 4th/5th century mention Queen Himiko, who is curiously absent from the later Japanese histories.
Kansai Stupendous Piles
Kansai is home to many of the largest kofun (burial mounds) in Japan. The region was home to many of the local kings, who were later incorporated into the imperial line, enshrined in some of these massive tombs. The two largest, Kondagobyoyama (425 m long) in Habikino and Daisenryu (486 m long) in Sakai are said to the tombs of Emperors Ojin and Nintoku. These are the fifteenth and sixteenth emperors in the imperial line and are thought to be the first two that are based on historical figures, rather than legend. Until they were acquired by the Imperial Household Agency in the Meiji period (in the 1870s). these mounds were often at the heart of local festivals.
These massive mounds prompted William Gowland, a British amateur archeologist working as an engineer for the Osaka Mint, to proclaim them ‘stupendous piles’. He is one of the key figures in establishing archaeology as a recognised science in Japan. His research increased awareness of the importance of kofun, and his photographs and analysis of them are now available in “William Gowland: The Father of Japanese Archaeology” published by the British Museum Press in 2003.
The Kofun Period (古墳時代) extends from the third century AD through to the late seventh century, and marks the transition of Japan being a number of Wa kingdoms to the unified state that had emerged by the beginning of the eighth century. There are few written records from the period, except for Chinese and Korean records of visits to the Wa kingdoms of the Japanese archipelago. Since there are no native Japanese records from this period, we are left to rely on ancient chronicles such as the Kojiki (古事記) and Nihon Shoki (日本書紀), compiled in the early eighth century, for stories about this period and earlier. However, even without written records, the rulers of the nascent nation were still able to construct these massive mounds, the largest of which took thousands of workers many years to complete. (The largest mounds are thought to have taken 15 to 20 years to build, assuming several thousand people worked on them.)
…meanwhile Japan continues to deny most applications for refugee status.
Even Australia manages to do better than Japan when it comes to accepting refugees fleeing persecution in their native country. Myanmar refugees and their new life in Melbourne. They even seem to doing their best to try and help them integrate into their new country.
Japan approved a mere 20 out of 20,000 political asylum applications last year. Meanwhile Amnesty Japan has agreed to stop its members visiting detention centres, and even closed down one of its teams that focused on refugee issues.
The 2018 cherry blossom viewing season is now over, but we were treated to a particularly spectacular display this year. We had almost continuous warm weather from the time the blossom bloomed until some strong winds blew away the last delicate petals a few weeks later. This meant we got a couple of weeks with various spots coming into full bloom, rather than what is usually only one good weekend.
A new home for some musings and ruminations on life in Japan for a Black Country lad, mostly in English but with occasional outbursts in Japanese.
As the last few petals of this years cherry blossoms float downstream, time to think about plans for the log hot summer…