Ishi-no-Hoden: Japan’s Colossal Floating “Anti-epidemic” Megalith
Ishi-no-Hoden is one of Japan's most mysterious and bewildering monuments, a gigantic stone structure in the shape of an old tube TV almost 6 meters (20 ft) high and 500 tons (560 US tons) in weight that seems to float over a pond in the city of Takasago, Hyogo Prefecture. You will now take part in our trip to this amazing stone monument and learn everything about what is believed to be a work of the gods Ookuninushi and Sukunabikona, who accepted the challenge of building an entire castle on Hodenyama mountain in a single night but ended up leaving it unfinished because of a rebellion led by a provincial god.
In these Covid-19 pandemic times, despite the recommendations to avoid leaving the house as much as possible, Ishi-no-Hoden has been attracting more pilgrims and devotees than usual, who come here in search of hope. That's because the legend says that more than two thousand years ago, at a time when an unknown epidemic was raging in Japan and decimating the population, Ookuninushi and Sukunabikona appeared in Emperor Sujin’s dream and said: "If you consecrate us, the country will be protected." The consecration was made, and the “epidemic of epidemics” stopped completely.
The Ishi-no-Hoden encircled by a shimenawa rope, which in the Japanese Shinto religion marks things that are sacred. (Claudio Suenaga)
The Background and History of the Ishi-no-Hoden
Ishi-no-Hoden (literally "Stone Treasure Hall") is one of the biggest and oldest puzzles in both Japan's history and archaeology. It is a colossal megalith located in the Kansai region, in the Amidacho neighborhood, in Takasago city, Hyogo Prefecture, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Asuka, in the province of Nara, a place that has the same style of sculpture from the Jomon period (the oldest known Japanese prehistoric civilization, 14,000-200 BC, which is also connected to the oldest ceramics discovered on earth). Asuka’s equally colossal Masuda-no-Iwafune (“Masuda Stone Ship”), which I have also written about, has similarities and connections to the Ishi-no-Hoden worth noting.
The equally mysterious Masuda-no-Iwafune megalith in Asuka, Nara Prefecture. (Saigen Jiro / CC0)
Carved out of hyaloclastite, a type of hydrated stone rich in black volcanic glass, formed during underwater or subglacial volcanic eruptions 70 million years ago, Ishi-no-Hoden is one of the three most mysterious or “weird” stones in Japan. The other two are Ama no Sakahoko and Yonku no Shinkama. Ama no Sakahoko, according to legend, is a spear planted on top of Takachihonomine Mountain, Miyazaki province, by the gods Izanagi and Izanami themselves, creators of the islands, rivers, seas, vegetation and human life of the Japanese archipelago, as well as the most popular Japanese gods. Yonku no Sinkama consists of four strange stone vats at Okama Shrine in Shiogama City, Miyagi Prefecture, whose waters, they say, never overflow, never splash , never dry out, and change color in certain situations, such as when earthquakes occur.
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The Ishi-no-Hoden stone is 5.6 meters (18 ft) high, 6.5 meters (21 ft) wide, 7.5 meters (25 ft) deep and weighs 500 tons (560 US tons). This makes it bigger than any of the stones used in the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza, of which the largest one weighs 80 tons (90 US tons), while the typical blocks of this pyramid weighed between 6 and 10 tons (6.7-11.2 US tons).
The mountainous area where the stone is located is called Hodenyama, which is home to an ancient quarry from which Yongsan stone has been extracted for centuries. Yongsan stone was used as material for sarcophagi and stone bridges. Excavators, cranes and large machines continue to extract this stone, which is still used as construction and landscaping material. In October 2014, the Yongsan quarry was designated as a historic site and a Japanese National Treasure.
The mystery of the Ishi-no-Hoden lies in answering the question of how it was sculpted. No stone tools have been found on the site, nor any inscriptions or engravings of any kind that indicate process, who built it, and for what purpose.
A closeup of the Ishi-no-Hoden surface. Note the amazing bevels at the bottom and on the left side. (Claudio Suenaga)
My Journey to See The Ishi-no-Hoden
On a hot summer Saturday in early August, accompanied by my indefectible co-worker, the adventurer Alexandre Akio Watanabe, we left Fukumachi Station, where I reside, and got off at Osaka. From there we took the train express to Kakogawa, from where we finally board the local train to Hoden Station, the closest to the mountain. The journey for those who walk on foot to the mountain takes about 20 minutes and is not the most pleasant, as the narrow streets without sidewalks, with heavy traffic, were not designed for pedestrians or cyclists, but for motorized vehicles, which impatiently pass close, in relentless haste.
Japanese civilization developed steadily over the centuries in the Kansai area and a Shinto shrine, Ooshiko-jinja Shrine, was built around the Ishi-no-Hoden stone to worship and honor the god Onamuchi-no-kami (better known as "Ookuninushi," that is, "Great Master of the Earth"), ruler of the invisible world of magic that bequeathed knowledge in the fields of agriculture and medicine.
The challenge of building an entire castle on the spot in a single night failed because the local god of Harima rebelled against Ookuninushi and Sukunabikona, like the old Jewish myth of the fallen angels who rebelled against Yahweh.
Thus, the stone palace from which the nation of “Japan” would be governed, remained unfinished or semifinished, with the appearance of a fallen house. The official version, however, belies the myth and says that the rock was meant to be simply a tomb or sarcophagus, in this case a very large one whose body cavities were missing. Anyway, at the back of the sanctuary office there is a hall of worship for the divine couple, Ookuninushi and Sukunabikona.
The story is cloudy in this sense and is not very different from the legend. But if the above version does overlap with historical facts, then Ishi-no-Hoden would be more than two thousand years old.
Records state that in the fifth year of the reign of the 10th Emperor of Japan, Sujin, who lived from 148-30 BC, and reigned from 97 BC to 30 BC, an epidemic hit the country and half the population died. The following year, the peasants left the fields and there was a general rebellion.
In the seventh year of his reign, Emperor Sujin decided that he should consult the gods, so he made a trip to the plain of Kami-Asaji or Kamu-Asaji-ga-hara. Princess Yamato-to-to-oi-momoso-hime, daughter of Korei, the 7th emperor of Japan, acting as a sibyl, was possessed by a god who identified himself as Ookuninushi and he said the land would be pacified if he were worshiped. Sujin complied, but there was no immediate change.
Subsequently, the emperor had a dream in which he was instructed to look for a certain Otataneko and appoint him chief of priests. Another version says that the two deities believed to reside in Ishi-no-Hoden to this day, Ookuninushi and Sukunabikona, would have appeared to him in the dream and said: "If you consecrate us, the country will be protected." That done, the plague subsided, the earth calmed down and the five grains matured.
The tale of the Ishi-no-Hoden is told in the Harima Fudoki (an ancient historical record about the province of Harima, compiled from the year 713 AD onward) but the salient details of how and why remain unanswered there too. (Public domain)
Historical Records And Legends About the Stone
The existence of the stone is documented in Harima Fudoki (an ancient historical record about the province of Harima, compiled from the year 713 AD onward). The Harima Fudoki is said to have been created by Mononobe no Moriya during the era of Prince Shotoku (574-622 AD), also known as Prince Umayado or Prince Kamitsumiya, a semi-legendary and influential politician from the Asuka period (538-710). However, in the actual record the exact details of the Ishi-no-Hoden are not confirmed nor is a reason given for why the stone was made.
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Records from the history of the city of Takasago confirm that the Ishi-no-Hoden was already a well-known place during the Nara period (710-794 AD). Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796-1866), the German physician, botanist, naturalist and explorer who entered then isolated Japan disguised as a Dutchman and introduced Western medicine to the country, stopped at the stone site during his journey from Nagasaki to Edo (now known as Tokyo) in 1826.
He made detailed sketches of the Ishi-no-Hoden, which he published in the first volume of his book Nippon, a richly illustrated ethnographic and geographic work on Japan. Siebold also wrote six additional parts, the last published posthumously in 1882.
The Bibliotheca Japonica, co-written with fellow countryman Johann Joseph Hoffmann (1805-1878), a scholar of the Chinese and Japanese languages, and Kuo Cheng-Chang, a Javanese of Chinese origin, who had traveled together with Siebold from Batavia. It was published between 1833 and 1841. This work contained a survey of Japanese literature and a Chinese, Japanese and Korean dictionary. Siebold's writings on Japanese religion and customs have remarkably shaped modern European conceptions of Buddhism and Shinto and have notably suggested that Japanese Buddhism was a form of monotheism.
The path leading to the top of the small mountain where the Ishi-no-Hoden stands in its sacred compound within a Shinto shrine. (Setouchi Finder)
Ishi-no-Hoden As A Naval Of Planet Earth
We begin the ascent of Mount Hoden, which rises 65 meters (213 ft) above sea level, by the steep stone stairs that connect the foot of the mountain to the Shinto sanctuary of Ooshiko. Although it is possible to get there without risk and without difficulties by a slightly inclined paved road, we did not want to deprive ourselves of the experience of the sacred (hierophany) and the profane (theophany) of the climb up the mountain.
The religious traditions of the great monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) reinforce this cosmic conception of the mountain and their role as an omphalos, a “navel of the world.” The spiral circular path that led to the sacred top of a mountain is also a representation of human life. At the top is virtue, beatitude, peace.
To properly reach the top of Mount Hoden and from there to contemplate the shrine and Ishi-no-Hoden and have a panoramic view of the Harima plain, it is necessary to climb up stairs carved directly into the rock.
Upon reaching the top, we descend other stone steps that lead to the sanctuary courtyard where Ishi-no-Hoden is. As with many sacred objects in Japan (including natural objects such as trees), the megalith Ishi-no-Hoden is adorned with a sacred rope of rice straw known as a shimenawa, used in Shinto purification rituals.
At first glance, the surface of the megalith, quite worn by time, with certain parts broken off, appears to have been roughly and artistically hewn, but there are no traces of blows from stone axes, chisels or other hand tools. Would the lack of these traces in the rock indicate the use of unknown “machines” or sophisticated instruments?
There is a section in the form of a prism, as if it were a quartz crystal, cut on one of its vertical sides, which suggests that the monument could have been turned downwards on this side.
And when you look at it from the side, you can't help thinking how much it looks like an old television set or CRT computer monitor. Memories of the future?
The grooves on the sides and the two hollowed out areas not visible on the planed top, hidden under trees that grew on them, connect Ishi-no-Hoden to another Japanese mystery stone, the Masuda-no-iwafune. This megalithic stone is carved from a single block granite weighing about 800 tons (900 US tons) on top of a hill in the middle of a residential neighborhood in the village of Asuka, Nara. It has the same grooves on its sides and the same two cavities, which are, in this case, visible in the flattened top of the stone.
Here one can see the stone “floating in the air” above the mysterious waters that rise and fall with the tides and are said to cure all disease. (Alexandre Akio Watanabe / Claudio Suenaga)
The Floating Stone and The Mysterious Waters Below It
The entire structure of Ishi-no-Hoden has been ingeniously designed to look like it is floating above a pond, so it is also called Uki-Ishi ("Floating Stone"). The large stone reservoir or ditch in the form of a tray under the monolith, according to temple records, never dried up, even during periods of prolonged drought.
It is said that water levels increase when the tide comes in (the sea is visible from the mountain), which is why this water is considered to be magical. Since the beginning, the Ishi-no-Hoden waters have been known to be effective against any type of disease.
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This “magical” water that covers the base of the megalithic Ishi-no-Hoden then acts to connect the stone to the earth, though it appears to be suspended in the air.
Would this aspect reinforce the thesis of the proponents of the ancient alien’s theory that Ishi-no-Hoden could actually represent a kind of spaceship or antigravity vehicle? Anyway, this visual effect casts a powerful image on the whole experience of the stone.
The Takasago City Council, together with the Otemae University History Laboratory, conducted studies on Ishi-no-Hoden in 2005-2006. Three-dimensional measurements were made, and the characteristics of the surrounding rocks were also analyzed. Unfortunately, traditional archaeologists and historians failed to come up with any other hypotheses on what tools were used to carve the stone and why it was created.
We can only be sure that Ishi-no-Hoden was made by a technologically developed and sufficiently advanced civilization that had no difficulty in chipping away hundreds of tons of rock to make it. They also seemed to understand that the monument would withstand the relentlessness of time and weather, and thus last forever.
There are geometric patterns and implicit meanings similar to those of other monuments around the world in Japan’s Ishi-no-Hoden. And it remains a single unique piece in an immense puzzle that only now, thanks to advanced technologies, we may eventually understand completely.
Top image: The mysterious and immensely heavy Ishi-no-Hoden megalithic stone of Japan. Source: Claudio Suenaga
By Claudio Tsuyoshi Suenaga (text and photos)
The photos in which Suenaga appears were taken by Alexandre Akio Watanabe
Claudio Tsuyoshi Suenaga is a Brazilian historian, with a master's degree in history at Universidade Estadual Paulista (Unesp). A writer with four published books and several still unpublished, he has extensive experience in the journalistic field, having collaborated with numerous vehicles in Brazil and abroad and published hundreds of articles in newspapers and magazines. Since March 2016, Suenaga has lived, worked and researched in Osaka Prefecture, Japan.