Category Archives: JAPAN

Archaeologists unearth largest wooden ‘haniwa’ statue ever found in Japan

Archaeologists unearth largest wooden ‘haniwa’ statue ever found in Japan

The remains of a 3.5-meter-tall wooden haniwa statue were found Thursday at one of the ancient kofun burial mounds making up the Mozu-Furuichi Kofun Group, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Habikino, in Osaka Prefecture.

With the parts also measuring 75 centimeters wide and around 8 cm thick, the statue is believed to be one of the biggest wooden haniwa found in Japan so far.

According to the education board of the city of Habikino, the haniwa was unearthed during an excavation of a moat surrounding the 96-meter-long Minegazuka Kofun, which is believed to have been built at the end of the fifth century.

The statue is an Iwami-style haniwa, which “has only been found at 15 kofun tumuli in Japan so far,” according to an official of the education board.

“The haniwa is a very rare artifact as it is made of kōyamaki (Japanese umbrella pine), which was a type of wood favored by people in power at the time,” the official said.

Remaining parts of a 3.5-meter-tall wooden haniwa statue unearthed from the Minegazuka Kofun in Habikino, Osaka Prefecture | HABIKINO BOARD OF EDUCATION / VIA KYODO

The haniwa is the tallest ever found, exceeding the 2.6-meter-tall Iwami-style specimen excavated from the Ohakayama Kofun in the city of Tenri in neighboring Nara Prefecture, according to the Habikino education board.

“Wooden haniwa made out of kōyamaki, which can be logged in only a few areas in Japan, have only been found from kofun tumuli in the Kinki region and are extremely few in number,” said Hiroaki Suzuki of the Nara Prefectural Government’s cultural property preservation division, who is familiar with wooden haniwa.

“It’s possible that a figure then at the center of power was buried (at the Minegazuka Kofun),” Suzuki added.

Archeologists unearth largest rare wooden “Haniwa” Statue in Japan

Archeologists unearth largest rare wooden “Haniwa” Statue in Japan

Archeologists unearth largest rare wooden “Haniwa” Statue in Japan
Remaining parts of a 3.5-meter-tall wooden haniwa statue unearthed from the Minegazuka Kofun in Habikino, Osaka Prefecture

The remains of a 3.5-meter-tall wooden “haniwa” statue have been discovered at one of the “kofun” ancient burial mounds that comprise the Mozu-Furuichi Kofun Group, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in western Japan, according to a local education board on Thursday.

The statue is thought to be one of the largest wooden haniwa found in Japan, with parts measuring 75 centimeters wide and around 8 cm thick.

Haniwa are large hollow funerary objects. Massive amounts of haniwa, many of which were nearly life-sized, were carefully placed on top of colossal, mounded tombs known as kofun (“old tomb” in Japanese). During the Kofun Period (c. 250 to 600 C.E.), haniwa evolved in a variety of ways, including their shape, placement on mounded tombs, and, presumably, their specific function or ritual use.

The haniwa was discovered during an excavation of a moat surrounding the 96-meter-long Minegazuka Kofun, which is thought to have been built at the end of the fifth century, according to the city of Habikino’s education board.

The Minegazuka Kofun ancient burial mound in Habikino, Osaka Prefecture.

The statue is an Iwami-style haniwa, which “has only been found at 15 kofun tumuli in Japan so far,” according to an official of the education board.

“The haniwa is a very rare artifact as it is made of kōyamaki (Japanese umbrella pine), which was a type of wood favored by people in power at the time,” the official said.

According to the Habikino education board, the haniwa is the tallest ever discovered, surpassing the 2.6-meter-tall Iwami-style specimen excavated from the Ohakayama Kofun in the city of Tenri in neighboring Nara Prefecture.

Studies of kofun indicate that a powerful state had emerged by around 250 C.E. in Japan. This state is identified by various names (such as the Yamato polity) and was generally centered in what is now Nara, Kyoto, and Osaka prefectures.

Many monumental tombs (kofun) were built in the shape of a keyhole, or zenp ken fun (“front squared, rear rounded tomb”). The square section is the front, while the round section is the back and houses the deceased’s body (or bodies). Keyhole-shaped tombs were adopted as a kind of signature style of this state.

Nara prefecture is home to the majority of the earliest surviving keyhole-shaped colossal tombs from the third century.

One of these is Sakurai’s famous Hashihaka kofun, which measures approximately 280 meters in length and 30 meters in height. In comparison, the Khufu pyramid in Giza measures approximately 230m in length and 146m in height.

The earliest haniwa, from c. 250 C.E. to around the 450s, were simple forms and most were cylindrical.  While the positioning of the haniwa varied from tomb to tomb, they were frequently lined up along the outermost perimeter of the tomb surface, seemingly to delineate boundaries.

273 million-year-old living fossils found

273 million-year-old living fossils found

Species found to have existed since the Paleozoic era was found in the depths of the ocean near Japan. It has been understood that life forms that have lived on the ocean floor for millions of years existed much longer than human history, according to the fossil record, and that they managed to survive by living out of sight.

273 million-year-old living fossils found

The discovery of 273-million-year-old ‘living fossils’ was made by the discovery of two sea creatures that were found to have symbiotic life between them, 100 meters below the sea surface, near Japan’s Honshu and Shikoku islands.

According to the fossil record, it was determined that the skeletons have not been changed at all.

The researchers completed their non-invasive research using a DNA barcode to identify the species.

The researchers, who discovered that these newly discovered specimens did not change the structure of the shellfish skeletons, said that this provides a possible clue as to why they have disappeared from the fossil record for so long.

They discovered that fossils of soft-structured organisms were so rare that they could be overlooked.

“These specimens represent the first detailed records and examinations of a recent in vivo relationship between a crinoid (host) and an epibiont,” the researchers said.

Crinoids and corals shared a long, symbiotic relationship millions of years ago; Here, corals used crinoids to climb higher than the seafloor, gaining access to more food found in ocean currents.

Freckled Woman with High Alcohol Tolerance Lived in Japan 3,800 Years Ago

Freckled Woman with High Alcohol Tolerance Lived in Japan 3,800 Years Ago

More than two decades after researchers discovered the 3,800-year-old remains of “Jomon woman” in Hokkaido, Japan, they’ve finally deciphered her genetic secrets.

Freckled Woman with High Alcohol Tolerance Lived in Japan 3,800 Years Ago
A facial reconstruction of the Jomon woman, who lived about 3,800 years ago in what is now northern Japan.

And it turns out, from that perspective, she looks very different from modern-day inhabitants of Japan.

The woman, who was elderly when she died, had a high tolerance for alcohol, unlike some modern Japanese people, a genetic analysis revealed. She also had moderately dark skin and eyes and an elevated chance of developing freckles.

Surprisingly, the ancient woman shared a gene variant with people who live in the Arctic, one that helps people digest high-fat foods. This variant is found in more than 70% of the Arctic population, but it’s absent elsewhere, said study first author Hideaki Kanzawa, a curator of anthropology at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo. 

This variant provides further evidence that the Jomon people fished and hunted fatty sea and land animals, Kanzawa said.

“Hokkaido Jomon people engaged in [not only] hunting of … land animals, such as deer and boar, but also marine fishing and hunting of fur seal, Steller’s sea lions, sea lions, dolphins, salmon and trout,” Kanzawa told Live Science.

“In particular, many relics related to hunting of ocean animals have been excavated from the Funadomari site,” where the Jomon woman was found.

Who is Jomon woman?

Jomon women lived during the Joman period, also known as Japan’s Neolithic period, which lasted from about 10,500 B.C. to 300 B.C. Though she died more than three millennia ago — between 3,550 and 3,960 years ago, according to recent radiocarbon dating — researchers found her remains only in 1998, at the Funadomari shell mound on Rebun Island, off the northern coast of Hokkaido.

But Jomon woman’s genetics have remained a mystery all these years, prompting researchers to study her DNA, which they extracted from one of her molars.

Last year, the researchers released their preliminary results, which helped a forensic artist create a facial reconstruction of the woman, showing that she had dark, frizzy hair; brown eyes; and a smattering of freckles.

Her genes also showed that she was at high risk of developing solar lentigo, or darkened patches of skin if she spent too much time in the sun, so the artist included several dark spots on her face.

“These findings provided insights into the history and reconstructions of the ancient human-population structures in east Eurasia,” said Kanzawa, who was part of a larger team that included Naruya Saitou, a professor of population genetics at the National Institute of Genetics in Japan.

Now, with their study slated to be published in the next few weeks in The Anthropological Society of Nippon’s English-language journal, Kanzawa and his colleagues are sharing more of their results. Jomon woman’s DNA shows, for example, that the Jomon people split with Asian populations that lived on the Asian mainland between 38,000 and 18,000 years ago, he said.

It’s likely that the Jomon people lived in small hunter-gatherer groups, likely for about 50,000 years, Kanzawa noted. Moreover, the Jomon woman had wet earwax. That’s an interesting fact because the gene variant for dry earwax originated in northeastern Asia and today up to 95% of East Asians have dry earwax. (People with the dry earwax variant also lack a chemical that produces smelly armpits.)

Despite her differences from the modern Japanese population, Jomon woman is actually more closely related to today’s Japanese, Ulchi (the indigenous culture of eastern Russian), Korean, aboriginal Taiwanese and Philippine people than these populations are to the Han Chinese, Kanzawa said.

Japan’s 1,000-year-old ‘killing stone’ said to contain an ancient demon cracked open

Japan’s 1,000-year-old ‘killing stone’ said to contain an ancient demon cracked open

According to the legend, the 1000-year-old killing stone trapped the spirit of a malevolent being. Now, due to rainwater, the rock has split open, sending believers into a state of frenzy.

The legend warns anyone who comes in contact with the stone will die. This volcanic rock, which is officially called Sessho-Seki, is rumoured to contain the mythical Tamomo-No-Mae, also known as the Nine-Tailed Fox.

Tamomo-No-Mae was an ancient demon from Japanese mythology that took the form of a beautiful woman.

The creature was storied to be a part of a plot to kill Emperor Toba, ruler of Japan from 1107 to 1123.

The volcanic rock is actually a popular tourist attraction, located in the mountainous northern region of Tochigi, near Tokyo.

The region is famous for its sulphurous hot springs.

Japan's 1,000-year-old 'killing stone' said to contain an ancient demon cracked open
Japan’s 1,000-year-old ‘killing stone’ said to contain an ancient demon cracked open

According to folklore, this killing stone earned its named by spewing poisonous gas at people.

However, since the rock cracked open, visitors have been fearful of approaching the site.

Some users online have even expressed fears the evil spirit has been unleashed once again.

Lily0727K, a user on Twitter, shared an image of the split rock, writing: “I came alone to Sesshoseki, where the legend of the nine-tailed fox remains.

The nine-tailed fox from Japanese mythology

“It was supposed to be, but the rock was split in half and the rope was also detached.

“If it’s a manga, it’s a pattern that the seal is broken and it’s possessed by the nine-tailed fox, and I feel like I’ve seen something that shouldn’t be seen.

“I’m getting really scared.”

According to local reports, the rock had actually begun cracking a couple of years ago. Most likely, rainwater seeped into the rock, degrading it over the years until it finally split open.

The rock was split open by rainwater

Local officials are now figuring out what to do with the rock’s remains and are looking into whether they could attempt to restore it. Others have commented on the split rock, saying: “Here I thought 2022 couldn’t get worse.

“Now a furious Japanese spirit is freed from its ‘killing stone’.”

But another joked: “My guess is the demon is going to look around at 2022 and want to go back into the rock for another millennium.”

The Japanese newspaper quoted a tourism official as saying he would like to see the Sessho-Seki restored to its original form.

Hopefully, the rumoured demon within the stone would be restored to its rocky prison as well. The killing stone was registered as a local historical site in 1957 and was also mentioned in Matsuo Basho’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

The site has inspired a Noh play, a novel and an anime film.

The mystery of a 300-year-old mummified ‘mermaid’ with a ‘human face’ and tail has baffled scientists

Mystery of a 300-year-old mummified ‘mermaid’ with ‘human face’ and tail has baffled scientists

Japanese scientists are probing a mysterious 12-inch creature, which was allegedly caught in the Pacific Ocean, off the Japanese island of Shikoku, between 1736 and 1741. The baffling mummified creature is now kept in a temple in the city of Asakuchi. Shaped like a mermaid, the creature has hair, teeth, nails, and a lower body with scales.

Mystery of a 300-year-old mummified 'mermaid' with 'human face' and tail has baffled scientists
It’s not yet clear how or when the mummy came to the Enjuin temple in Asakuchi.

With a grimacing face, pointed teeth, two hands, and hair on its head and brow, it has an eerily human appearance – except for its fish-like lower half.

Researchers from the Kurashiki University of Science and the Arts have taken the mummy for CT scanning in a bid to unravel its secrets, as per an NYT report.

Hiroshi Kinoshita of the Okayama Folklore Society, who came up with the project, told NYT the bizarre creature could have religious significance.

“Japanese mermaids have a legend of immortality,” he added.

“It is said that if you eat the flesh of a mermaid, you will never die.”

“There is a legend in many parts of Japan that a woman accidentally ate the flesh of a mermaid and lived for 800 years.”

“This ‘Yao-Bikuni’ legend is also preserved near the temple where the mermaid mummy was found.”

“I heard that some people, believing in the legend, used to eat the scales of mermaid mummies.”

“There is also a legend that a mermaid predicted an infectious disease,” Hiroshi stated.

Also, a historic letter from 1903, apparently penned by a former owner, was stored alongside the mummy and gives a story about its provenance.

“A mermaid was caught in a fish-catching net in the sea off Kochi Prefecture,” the letter states.

“The fishermen who caught it did not know it was a mermaid, but took it to Osaka and sold it as unusual fish. My ancestors bought it and kept it as a family treasure.”

It’s not yet clear how or when the mummy came to the Enjuin temple in Asakuchi.

But chief priest, Kozen Kuida, said it was put on display in a glass case some 40 years ago and is now kept in a fireproof safe.

“We have worshipped it, hoping that it would help alleviate the coronavirus pandemic even if only slightly,” he told The Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper.

Kinoshita, however, takes a more pragmatic view of the creature.

One claim of the origins is that it might be a hoax and the creature may be an article of the show meant to be exported to Europe, according to another report.

The findings of the scientists are expected to be published later in 2022.

Possible Traces of 8th-Century Imperial Pavilion Found in Japan

Possible Traces of 8th-Century Imperial Pavilion Found in Japan

Postholes and other archaeological remains that are believed to be from a dwelling for the empress at the Japanese imperial family’s official residence have been found in the ancient capital of Kyoto.

The remains appear to have been from the Tokaden pavilion, which served as a dwelling for the empress and female palace attendants, and is also mentioned in Heian literature, including “The Tale of Genji” and “The Pillow Book.” It was part of the emperor’s official residence located in the ancient Japanese capital and administrative centre of Heian-Kyo, as Kyoto was known during the Heian period (794-1185).

The postholes and other remains are thought to be from the time that the capital was moved to Heian-Kyo toward the end of the 8th century. It is the first time that remains from a building that was evidently part of the Heian-Kyo imperial residence have been discovered.

Possible Traces of 8th-Century Imperial Pavilion Found in Japan
The Mainichi Postholes and stone arrangements that served as ditches, which are believed to be remains of the Tokaden pavilion of the ancient Heian-Kyo residence of the imperial family, are seen in Kyoto’s Kamigyo Ward, on Aug. 11, 2015, in this image…

The remains were unearthed during excavation work in the city’s Kamigyo Ward, carried out in 2015 by the Kyoto City Archaeological Research Institute, ahead of the construction of a group home, and the institute compiled its findings in a report.

The emperor’s private residence is said to have stretched for about 182 meters from west to east, and some 226 meters from north to south, comprising 17 pavilions, among other structures.

The excavation took place in the northwest part of the residence, which is believed to have housed the Tokaden pavilion as well as the Kokiden pavilion situated to its south.

During the excavation, five holes with diameters of between 1.2 and 1.5 meters were found running from the north to south, with a distance of around 3 to 2.1 meters between each of them.

According to the investigation, the holes were used to bury pillars in the ground without placing foundation stones.

The research institute consulted a document from the Edo period (1603-1867), which detailed the positioning of the palace buildings, and determined that the holes had been located at the southwest section of the Tokaden pavilion, which extended about 12 meters from west to east, and about 27 meters from north to south.

Furthermore, an arrangement of stones forming an L-shaped ditch, which was used to carry off rainwater from the roof, was discovered in the southwest corner of the Tokaden, and a similar ditch was also found in the northern part of the Kokiden pavilion.

A foundation stone was placed between the stone ditches, which may be traces of a corridor that connected the two buildings. The ditches are thought to be remains from the 10th century or later after the original building was rebuilt using the method of placing pillars on foundation stones.

Emperor Kanmu, who established Japan’s capital at Heian-Kyo in 794, was devoted to the culture of the Tang Dynasty in China.

It is accordingly believed that major buildings at the time were constructed by placing pillars on foundation stones, which was a method that was introduced in China.

READ ALSO: 2,000-YEAR-OLD SCALE WEIGHTS IDENTIFIED IN JAPAN

The investigation at the site indicates that the Japanese traditional method of not using foundation stones was also adopted for Heian-Kyo.

A representative of the research institute commented, “There is great significance in finding remains from a building from the time of the establishment of the ancient capital in Kyoto. This is first-class material.”

The postholes and other archaeological remains that were found have already been backfilled.

Parasite eggs in old toilet came from pork eaten 1,300 years ago

Parasite eggs in old toilet came from pork eaten 1,300 years ago

Nara Prefecture–Denizens of the Asuka Period (592-710) feasted on pork and may have done so routinely, archaeologists deduced from parasite eggs excavated from a toilet structure found in the ruins of the ancient capital of Fujiwarakyo. 

The eggs, which serve as scientific evidence of pork consumption because humans are infected with parasites after eating undercooked pork, are one of the oldest findings in the country, researchers from the Archaeological Institute of Kashihara, Nara Prefecture, reported. 

It is possible that immigrants from the Chinese continent ate pork regularly, they added.

The institute excavated the ruins of Fujiwarakyo, which served as the imperial capital between 694 and 710 in Sakurai, also in the prefecture, in the year ending in March 2019. It found a toilet structure in the northeast of the remains of the Fujiwara no Miya palace, the centerpiece of the capital.

Masaaki Kanehara, a professor of environmental archaeology at Nara University of Education who also serves as a collaborative researcher at the institute, and his wife, Masako, head director of the Cultural Assets Scientific Research Center, a general incorporated association, analyzed soil samples.

According to the researchers, there were five egg shells found in the soil. The eggs were apparently laid by a parasite known as a pork tapeworm, which infects humans when they eat pork.

Although bones of boars or pigs possibly raised by humans had been found when the institute conducted a survey at Fujiwarakyo in the year ending in March 2001, no pork tapeworm eggs were discovered at the time.

Similar parasite eggs had also been found in toilet structures of the ruins of Korokan in Fukuoka, which is referred to as the “ancient guest palace,” and Akita Castle in Akita. Both structures apparently date to the Nara Period (710-784), meaning that the eggs were younger than those found at Fujiwarakyo.

Previously, what appeared to be pig bones were found from an archaeological site dating back to the Yayoi Period (c. 1000 B.C.-250 A.D.). But parasite eggs provide more direct evidence for pork consumption.

Professor Kanehara said that the parasite eggs were excreted by humans after they ate undercooked pork. It is also possible that they ate pork on a routine basis because the eggs were found in the remains of the toilet facility used on a daily basis.

In the late seventh century, just before Fujiwarakyo, believed to be Japan’s first full-scale capital laid out in a grid pattern on the ancient Chinese model, was built, the Baekje and Goguryeo kingdoms in the Korean Peninsula both were conquered. It is thought that many of the emigrants fled to Japan.

The parasite eggs show that people who came from the food cultures of the Chinese continent and Korean Peninsula lived in Fujiwarakyo, the institute said in its report released in the spring.

“(The parasite eggs) are important pieces of information to shed light on a meat-eating culture in the history of eating habits in Japan because many facts about pig breeding and the regular consumption of pork at the time remain unclear,” said Masashi Maruyama, an associate professor of zooarchaeology at Tokai University’s School of Marine Science and Technology who studies the history between humans and animals from the standpoint of archaeology.

“Unlike cows and horses, pigs don’t require pastures. It is quite possible that they were bred inside Fujiwarakyo.”

‘CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE’ OF PORK CONSUMPTION

Various pieces of “circumstantial evidence” indicate that pork had also been consumed even in older times.

Excavated from a Yayoi Period site in Oita was what appeared to be a pig skull. With similar bones also having been unearthed at other Yayoi Period ruins, they are collectively referred to as the “Yayoi pig” to differentiate them from wild boars. It is possible that there were people who raised pigs and ate them.

Meanwhile, the word “ikainotsu” is mentioned in one section in “Nihon Shoki” (The Chronicles of Japan), a book of classical Japanese history compiled in the eighth century, which is dedicated to the period of time when Emperor Nintoku reigned. It suggests that there were people whose jobs were to breed boars.

Another entry shows that the meat from cows, horses, dogs, monkeys and chickens were forbidden from consumption in 675, just before the capital was relocated to Fujiwarakyo. However, there are no direct mentions of pigs and boars. The practice of eating animal meat became increasingly shunned with the spread of Buddhism, which prohibits killing.

However, according to Maruyama, the meat of pigs and boars were eaten in Edo (present-day Tokyo), Osaka, Hakata and Nagasaki’s Dejima island, on which the Dutch trading post was located, in the Edo Period (1603-1867). Animal bones were also excavated from historical sites in each region.

The Tokyo-based Japan Pork Producers Association states on its website that pig and boar breeding became widespread in Japan after techniques were presumably brought into Japan by immigrants from the Chinese continent and Korean Peninsula between 200 and 699.

But it makes it unclear as to exactly when livestock breeding began, citing there are varying opinions.