September 14, 2016
Japanese Keyhole Shaped Ancient Tombs
Japan has some of the biggest tombs in the ancient world to rival and in area surpass the pyramids of Gaza and the mausoleum of the first Qin emperor of China, the largest being about 500 meters long 300 meters wide (see photos).
But what of the shape of these ancient Japanese tombs and which way up should they go? They are usually shown the opposite way up.
The burial chamber was in the round part with the entrance being in the triangular part so in Japanese they are termed "straight fronted round backed tombs" from the point of view of entering them. "Keyhole shaped" would appear to be a subsequent English language interpretation which again may lead to tombs being represented with the circular part positioned at the top.
Surprisingly, however, the first of these tombs is associated with the first historical Japanese emperor, Emperor Sujin, in whose record in the book of ancient mythology (The Kojiki) a "keyhole of a door" plays an important part.
A protagonist in the record of Emperor Sujin (part historical part mythical) is deemed to be of holy descent due to the following narrative.
A woman reported to her parents that she had become pregnant to a man that visited her only at night*. In order to find out the identity of this gentleman (?) the lady's parents instructed her to sprinkle red powder at the entrance to her bedroom and to attach a red thread to the clothing of her lover. This she did, and the next day the thread was found to leave three loops** before coming out through her "door's keyhole" ("to no kagi ana") and lead to the shrine of Oomononushi (an@important Japanese god) in Mount Miwa (Three loop Mountain).
A very similar myth is found elsewhere in the Kojiki, where the deity is observed transformed into a snake.
The problem with this straightforward reading is that keys and keyholes probably did not exist in Japan at the time of Emperor Sujin, in the first century BC or even at the time that myth was written. The first keys in Japan were in the eighth century, contemporaneous with writing of the myth but these were padlock type mechanisms attached to the exterior of doors. The first keys that required holes were centuries later.
So what could this "door's hole" be?
Bearing in mind
1) The shape
2) That the deity penetrated the woman in order to have impregnated her
3) That the ancient word for the female sex organ was "hoto" possibly originating in "fire door"
4) That female sex organs and the entrance to tombs are elsewhere related or convoluted
5) That Joumon burial pots are thought to have represented wombs
6) That Japanese tombs were, like the myth mentioned above, sprinkled with red powder
7) That key and keyhole (kagi and kagi ana) are symbolic of sex organs in Japan to this day
7) That fear of death may encourage anyone to wish that death is a rebirth
8) The way in which an Other woman may be created of 'a side' of ourselves.
leads to the possibility that the shape of these massive tombs, of which there are thousands in Japan, represented female sex organs. This is why I have drawn the keyhole in the above orientation, and perhaps why Japanese tombs, despite being the largest in the world, are so un-publicised.
* That the god visited the woman only at night is less strange than it may otherwise seem since there is a tradition of "night crawling" (yobai) or night time visitation in Japan, and Wales in the UK.
** This reminds me of Lacan's borromean knot
March 11, 2011
Venus in Dogu - A self-body view?
Proffessor LeRoy McDermott argues that paleolithic female figures (the paleolithic venus shape) was strangely distorted, with extremities particularly small NOT because they have been made to look particularly female, sexy, as a fertility symbol, but because they are based upon the auto-genus perspective, self-views of the self.
In other words the shape of the Dogu (jomon period figure) above appears distorted since we are used to seeing and identifying with our figure in mirrors. If you are used to the mirror image of yourself, and that third person perspective is how you see yourself, then the above figure looks unrealistic. But if in addition to seeing other people, you are also used to looking at your self, and identifying with what you see then the above will be an accurate represtation of that first person perspective. Somewhere along the line we seem to have lost our first person (auto-genus) views of self.
See the previous photo, and the riddle at the end for proof that you are not used to first-person self-views of self, and the intriguing photos in professor McDermot's paper.
I am suggesting that it is not in any way an apriori that people seem themselves as that which is reflected in the mirror, animals, children and paleolithic people (who lasted on this earth for thousands of years) may not have had a third person perspective on self. I also do not believe that the mirror supplied third person perspective is necessarily any more adaptive or true. The people who built this venus may have got it right, where as I think that I am the stranger in the mirror.
Mirror image identification - which is perhaps to identify with a symbol for self - is is a riddle worthy of representation in myth, perhaps in a myth where deities rinse, chew and spit out symbols at themselves in a mirror.
LeRoy McDermott "Self-Representation in Upper Paleolithic Female Figurines"
October 10, 2010
Eggplant and the Korean Origins of the Japanese
At these times of strife and intra-Asian discord it is nice to remember that the Japanese probably came from Korea.
It is a sad fact that in Japan, the Korean origins of the Japanese is downplayed. The Japanese say that yes, some peoples did come from the Korean peninsula but that these people were visitors from the continent, or that they interacted with the indeginous people bringing technology, and similar peaceful explanations. These explanations give the impression of a continuity between the ancient Joumon people of Japan, whose history stretches back thousands of years, and the later Yamato people that unify Japan under their rule in the 4th and 4th centuries.
There is clearly a great deal of discontinuity in form of Japanese culture at the time. Jomon culture is very different to the Yayoi and Kofun (ancient tomb) cultures that succeeded it.
The Japanese however usually explain these differencesin terms of technological changes, particularly with reference to the arrival of wet field rice technology from the mainland. The Koreans, in other words, were not the ancestors of the Japanese, but the bringers of grains of rice and the knowledge of how to grow it. The arrival of rice, it is argued, created new wealth, new leaders to emerge (from within the indeginous population) and hence the differences between the ancient Joumn and Kofun/Yayoi cultures.
For me, this theory does not hold water. The least of the theory's troubles is that, as shown by recent archeological evidence, rice was already present and consumed by the Jomon people hundreds of years before the changes that it was supposed to have brought about. The height and bone structure of the two peoples should put an end to the continuity myth alone. The genetic changes were quite profound. And the Japanese mythology mentions the importance of the Korean peninsula. When for example Jinmu Tenno set up court in Kyushu before moving towards Nara, he did so because the region was close to the Korean peninsula. The Korean author of a book on the Korean origins of the Japanese people, as traced in Japanese myth points out in the foreword that, when the Paechke kingdom was anhiliated the Nihon shoki records the people of Japan lamenting "Ah, will we never be able to vist the graves of our ancestors."
It does not bother me that the Japanese may have been invaded and conquered by Koreans, that their genes, their blood line, the culture and probably even the emperor is probably to a large extent Korean in origin. But I guess that to some Japanese this theory may sound a bit like the theory exposed by Clifford Worley to Vincent Concotti in True Romance: "You're part Eggplant." This theory wherein one in which one country overuns, rapes, dominates another is I believe, simplistic and chauvinist, and yet closer to the historical relatity of the interaction between the Joumon and the peoples of the Korean peninsula than the version of history taught in schools. The part of the story that I definately do not agree with is the chauvinism - I like eggplant. Being part Korean sounds like something to be proud of.
The more that the Japanese come to terms with this ancient history the more that they are likely to feel a sense of community with their neighbours. And that would be a very good thing.
January 10, 2004
Torii: Sacred Bird Gate
A torii is a gate with two overhead cross bars or lintels. Torii are found in front of almost every shrine in Japan. Their function is to mark the boundary between the sacred world of the shrine and the profane world outside. Shrines vary in size and design, some being over 25 metres tall and stretching over roadways. Others being just big enough to pass underneath. Indeed,. one theory to explain the etymology of the name suggests that it is related to the Japanese pass into "toori-iru."
There are several theories to explain the origin of the torii...
In front of the towers in India where the Buddha's relics are kept there is a gate resembling a torii called a Traana (sic). Since the word and the object both resemble the twin lintelled gate in Japan there is a theory that this Buddhist gate is the origin of the Shinto torii.
In front of Chinese palaces and tombs there are "kahyou" (japanese reading) which resemble torii. The Kanji for Kahyou are sometimes read as "torii" in Japan, and the same Kanji are used to describe the Japanese torii in China.
The Japanese had a long tradition of hanging shimenawa or rice straw rope between two poles. There is a theory that these "shime columns" were the origin of the torii.
When Amaterasu hid herself in the heavenly cave (ama no iwato) the other spirits arranged for the "eternal long crowing birds" (cockerels) to crow, which is one of the ways in which Amaterasu was convinced that dawn had arrived without her (that there was "another goddess as beautiful" as her). When she opened the door to the cave a little she was shown a mirror (which she presumably took for another god, but later she refers to it as herself, or her avatar on earth). Ceasing this opportunity, Amaterasu was dragged out of the cave to the relief of the assembled spirits. The place where the cockers perched may have been the origin of the torii. The use of cockerels crowing to fool supernatural things into thinking it is dawn is a theme common to other Japanese traditions.
Whether or not the torii relates to the above incident in the myth or not, since the characters used to represent torii are those of "a bird" and "to be," many interpret torii to mean a place where it is easy for birds to be and there is considerable evidence that torii have something to do with birds.
On at least two occasions in the Japanese creation (Kojiki) myth birds are messengers between the spirits and humans. In one episode a bird or bird-woman is sent by Amaterasu from heaven to Japan as a messenger. She ends up being shot through the heart with an arrow. In another, when the proto-samurai, warrior hero, Yamatotakeru dies his spirit is taken to heaven by doves. The function of birds as emissaries between spirits and humans suggests it is appropriate that they should "be" at the boundary between the sacred world of the shrine and the
profane world outside.
There is further evidence in that there are drawings in ancient Japanese tombs showing birds perched on torii-like structures, and there are wooden bird shaped items that were found at the ancient Oosaka prefectural government offices (Oosaka Fu) and at the top of and surrounding ancient tombs in Nara.
The Aka tribe of Northern Thailand have a tradition of erecting gates resembling Torii at the entrance to their villages, upon the lintels of which are placed wooden effigies of birds. The birds are said to watch out to prevent the entrance of evil spirits into the village.
April 28, 2003
Doutaku (ancient bells) Part 2
Bells in Japanese Buddhism and Shinto
The bell at Houkouji Temple in Kyoto thanks to Ukaji Masahiro's page
Joya no Kane
Japanese Buddhism has been so influenced by Shinto that it is often difficult to say whether a so called "Japanese Buddhist" ritual or custom is indeed "Buddhist" or in fact a Shinto ritual going by another name. "Joya no Kane" is one such "Buddhist" festival that appears to have a decidedly Shinto flavour. (Literally, Jo = Cast off, Ya = Night Kane= Bell, Casting off the year bell, or Ringing in the New Year). This is a ceremony held on the 31st of December, prior to the Shinto New Year Festival, aimed at self-purification (as many, if not most Shinto ceremonies are). Large bells housed in the grounds of Buddhist temples are struck 108; (nominally, often many more) times in order to purify those listening of the 108 sins that mankind are deemed to have. There are are a variety of explanations as to why there should be 108 sins. According to one theory the number 108 was the combination of Chinese lucky numbers (12 months, 24 soltices, 72 somethings) but there have been a variety of Buddhist explanations since. Buddhist explanations of this number often concentrate on multiples of the 6 senses (including the intellect) butthese explanations are probably bogus. The ceremony is said to have originated in a Song Dynasty i960-1279j Chinese custom, that was brought to Japan in the Kamakura(1192 - 1333), or Muromachi(1333 - 1573) periods.
Whatever the origin of the ritual itself, the timing of the Joya no Kane lies in the Shinto belief that the spirits (of the gods and ancestors) would return both in midsummer (now "O Bon") and mid winter. Specifically, the midwinter festival at New Year is the time of purification and rebirth, where after fasting, isolation and purification (Continued now in the traditions of eating plain soba noodles, staying at home with ones family, and listening to the bell) one would revive ones connection with the spirits at the first shrine visiting of the New Year . Having a purification ritual on New Year's Eve is, therefore, clearly of Shinto in timing, if not entirely in origin.
I have come accross no academic assertion of the kind but I am not the only person to suppose a possible connection between the Joya no Kane and the Doutaku used in the Yayoi period. I think that it is very possible that the Doutaku (which may have started off life as little horse bells) became bigger and bigger until they are now the Joya no Kane bells. In order to demonstrate a link between Doutaku and the giant "Joya no Kane" bells it would be necessary to ask the following questions. Is there any written record of bell sound prior to the arrival of the "Chinese" "Joya no kane" ritual. When it is said that Yayoi period (Giant) Doutaku did not ring, is this simply because they do not have an internal clapper or sign of having being struck internally by a peice of metal? Is it possible that they were struck with sticks from the outside and do they show any marks or dents? This Tokyo University Digital Museum page has recordings of Doutaku being struck with bones and sticks recommended). Many doutaku, have a hole or holes and signs of wear at the base.
The bells housed outside Japanese Buddhist temples are large and somewhat similar to "Doutaku" in Shape, and similar to Japanese Doutaku in that the do not have a clapper. They can be quite massive. The which is housed outside the Toudaiji Temple in Nara is 3.86 metres tall, 2.71 metres in diameter and weighs 26.3 tons. The Like all such bells it has a horizontal pole held by two pieces of rope that swings in to strike the bell like a hammer. In another big bell (OOgane) outside a temple in Nara, the hammer/pole is 4.48 metres long and weighs about 200 kg.
Yoja No Kane, and Bells used for Joya no Kane: Links
Here is a list of places to ring in the New Year in the Chiba area (in English)
Showing a photograph of people ringing in the New Year at a Temple in Nara.
Page showing a bell outside Gokurakuji Temple.
Young man striking a bell as part of the Joya no Kane ritual on this scuba diving school page, which also has an English homepage.
A Bell outside a temple being struck by a wooden stick from within.
A page showing serval people strike a bell outside Koueiji and Houryuuji Temples on New Year's eve. It is common for Buddhist temples to let visitors strike the bell, depending on its size.
A Buddhist Monk using his whole body to get the hammer to swing into a massive bell in Chion-in Temple in Kyoto as a practice ring for the "Joya no Kane" ringing the same night. A video, with sound of this belling struck by a group of monks (one of whom has to be acrobatic like in the photograph) is available on the same page as the photograph (256K, recommended). This bell was made in 1636, and at 3.3 metres high, 2.8 metres in diameter, and weighs 70 tons, it is the largest in Japan. With the bells at Toudaiji Temple (Nara, above) and Houkouji Temple (Kyoto), it is said to be one of the three great bells in Japan. The bell structure can be seen here.
The bell of Houkouji Temple (Kyoto) can be seen on this travel page. This is the diary of someone that went to ring the bell at Houkouji with their family as part of the Joya no Kane. There is a large photo of the Houkouji Temple Bell as part of a photo diary.
On a bell outside Chinzouji Temple is engraved a pictorial rendition of the legend of "The Crane Wife" shown on this travel page. (Remember that Doutaku also showed pictures of birds and sometimes people doing things).
The Bell of Kanzeonji Temple in Dazaifu City the sound of which is described as one of the 100 sounds of Japan. This is part of the Western Japanese Railway pages that show a variety of temples and tourist attractions with explanations in Japanese and in English.
Shinto Shrine Bells
Before bowing twice, clapping twice and bowing once again - the traditional way to pray at a Shinto shrine. It is common to ring the bell that is suspended above the offering box in front of the shrine, and then put some money in the box. These bells, called Suzu, are normally round and quite different in construction to the Joya no Kane bells (or Doutaku). Some pictures:
A suzu bell and rope set for hanging over the offering box can be seen on this page of a vendor.
A similar bell on the page of a vendor.
Three bells of varying sizes and one rope on the page of a vendor, also selling an offering box on the page of a vendor.
Two people ringing the bells (shown small on either side of the rope above the people) before a prayer at a shrine on a travel page.
A vendor's page showing a variety of bells and ropes for use at Shinto shrines.
Another Suzu bell on a vendor's page.
Other Shinto Bells
Shinto shrine bells are also found attached to "omamori" and other talismen on sale at Shinto Shrines.
Two Suzu bells sold as talismen by Shinto shrines. The one on the left is marked with the tree swirl taoist symbol, "mitsu tomoe" which is popular in Shinto.
Talismen with and without bells being sold by a virtual temple in Tokyo.
Sometimes Doutaku shaped (Joya no kane style) bells are found at Shrines too outside Konpira Shirine as shown being struck by a hammer on this page.
Try if for Yourself!
You can both the Joya no Kane shaped bells and the Shinto Shrine bells, and more, at this virtual Shrine. You have to move one of the four circles that surround the main circle into the main circle. The top two are, from left to right, bell ringing (Kentsuki, yellow ocre) and shrine visiting (omairi, moss green). Click on one of these two circles and while holding the mouse button down, drag the circle into the large circle in the centre and then realse the mouse button. This will activate one of the two animations showing the two types of bell.
Other Buddhist Temple Bells
Before starting to pray at a Buddhist temple or upon entering or leaving it is common to strike a bell, such as the bells in the entrance of Daitokuji Temple (page here). There are usually small bells in front of the household buddhist altar (butsudan) which are struck before commencing the recitation of Buddhist scripture on ones daily prayer.
Japanese Family Names
Incidentally, Suzuki or "Belltree" is the second most common name in the ranking of Japanese (Japanese) surnames, even more common than "Tanaka" (Middlefield) and second only to "Satou" (Helping wisteria?)
Doutaku (ancient bells) Part 1
This is rather off topic but if anyone is interested in Ancient Japan then please read on for my explanation of the origin of Doutaku, ancient bells found in the burial murial mounds (kofun) in Japan. Doutaku are bell shaped items found mainly in central Japan. They are about 30-60cm tall. You can see a picture of the most famous find here on the 5th page of this Document http://www2.pref.shimane.jp/kodai/museum_e.pdf
They seem to be found burried on slopes a little way away from settlements. The were burried to hide them or perhaps as a form of offering. It is clear that they were deliberately burried. The ones found in Japan usually have a pattern on them showing turtles, birds, fish, dragonflies, waterboatmen. Doutaku are bell shaped since they are the same shape as the small bells that horseriders attached to their clothes. But the bells are about the size as would fit in your hand. Thus Doutaku are giant bells but it would seem that they are not functional as bells. They were things that people looked at rather than heard. It is presumed that they where used in some kind of ceremony. They were found almost exclusively in central Japan leading the Japanese philosopher Wasuji Tetsuro to conclude that they originated in a culture that flourished in that area. Recently however, some have been found in Kyushu. http://museum.city.fukuoka.jp/je/html/je179_01.html http://www.trussel.com/prehist/news164.htm Indeed the mold for some of the doutaku that are found in central Japan has been found in Kyushu. So it seems that they were made in Kyushu and take to central Japan. The small, functional bells called "Shoudoutaku" = small doutaku, are found a lot in northern Kyushu but they originate in Korea and before that China.
It is not difficult to imagine why one would want to make a bell. Bells make a noise. You can tell where your horse is on a dark night, you can summon people to a meeting. But it is difficult to understand why people would make giant replicas of bells. I believe, as I mentioned in my last post, Japan was invaded during the Yayoi period, and that this took place probably from Kyushu. The people that arrived were probably of Mongol descent related to the Khans that invaded China (and everywhere else). They were taller, had had wet rice growing (paddy field) technology and iron swords. It is clear (from DNA) that they inter bred with the people that lived in Japan prior to their arrival since modern Japanese are half Yayoi invader, half Joumon. Japanese historians have a tendency to talk about this period as if the Joumon people accepted technology from the mainland. It is all very peaceful. The Japanese like to think that they are descended from peaceful farmers. E.g. here on the page quoted above http://www2.pref.shimane.jp/kodai/museum_e.pdf "In about the 3rd or 4th century BC, a watershed change appeared in the lives and societies of our ancestors. This was the emergence of a true agrarian society, with the beginning of rice farming and the propogation of metal tools (iron and bronze). Rice farming, and the customs and traditions which developed with it, originate in the Asian continent and was transmitted to norther Kyushu through the Korean Peninsula. I am thinking more along the lines of the conquistadors or the Khans in China or Vikings. I hear that Kubla Khan (the son of Ghengis Khan) had a harem so large that he only slept with a woman once. The whole of China was searched for beautiful young women who werebrought to his court. He was very fat. Personally I imagine that these Yayoi warriors, probably men, that arrived in Japan to find a peaceful hunter gatherer society decimated it, raped, pillaged, took slaves, became overloards and probably at least one wife. Their swords would have allowed them to do so and I doubt that they would have had the "morality" to give up on this opportunity. In the "Wajinden" a Chinese history book of the period it is noted that society was heavily stratisfied such that when a lord walked down a road the "small people" would move off the road to the side and hide their faces crouching down to the ground as a sign of respect. By the Kofun period the rules of Japan were having tombs made for themselves as large as the pyramids in Egypt. There are fifty thousand burial mounds in Japan They came in waves over the period of 300BC to 600AD. The earlier arrivals had small bells for practical reasons. For some unknown reason the people in Japan started making giant replicas of these bells. It is a fair guess that these giant replica bells were used in ceremonies and that they may have been some sort of symbol of power or status. But why giant non functional bells? It seems to me that the giant bells may have been symbols indicating that one is descended or related or in someway connected to the overlords that came with the bells. Imagine if a GI invaded somewhere, rearragined the lives of the people and bred. Perhaps his descendants would be making giant baseball caps which they would put on parade in ceremonies. But I doubt that this theory would be popular with Japanese historians. Japanese historians have a tendency to talk about this period as if the Joumon people accepted technology from the mainland. It is all very peaceful. The Japanese like to think that they are descended from peaceful farmers. E.g. here on the page quoted above http://www2.pref.shimane.jp/kodai/museum_e.pdf "In about the 3rd or 4th century BC, a watershed change appeared in the lives and societies of our ancestors. This was the emergence of a true agrarian society, with the beginning of rice farming and the propogation of metal tools (iron and bronze). Rice farming, and the customs and traditions which developed with it, originate in the Asian continent and was transmitted to norther Kyushu through the Korean Peninsula. I am thinking more along the lines of the conquistadors or the Khans in China or Vikings. I hear that Kubla Khan (the son of Ghengis Khan) had a harem so large that he only slept with a woman once. The whole of China was searched for beautiful young women who werebrought to his court. He was very fat. Personally I imagine that these Yayoi warriors, probably men, that arrived in Japan to find a peaceful hunter gatherer society decimated it, raped, pillaged, took slaves, became overloards and probably at least one wife. Their swords would have allowed them to do so and I doubt that they would have had the "morality" to give up on this opportunity. In the "Wajinden" a Chinese history book of the period it is noted that society was heavily stratisfied such that when a lord walked down a road the "small people" would move off the road to the side and hide their faces crouching down to the ground as a sign of respect. By the Kofun period the rules of Japan were having tombs made for themselves as large as the pyramids in Egypt. There are fifty thousand burial mounds in Japan They came in waves over the period of 300BC to 600AD. The earlier arrivals had small bells for practical reasons. For some unknown reason the people in Japan started making giant replicas of these bells. It is a fair guess that these giant replica bells were used in ceremonies and that they may have been some sort of symbol of power or status. But why giant non functional bells? It seems to me that the giant bells may have been symbols indicating that one is descended or related or in someway connected to the overlords that came with the bells. Imagine if a GI invaded somewhere, rearragined the lives of the people and bred. Perhaps his descendants would be making giant baseball caps which they would put on parade in ceremonies. But I doubt that this theory would be popular with Japanese historians.