All  
A tile inscribed with the character for “flight” goes on display in a Japanese museum. The tile is from the site of Japan's first Buddhist temple (Yoshinori Toyomane)

Tiles inscribed with 'flight' from Japan's first Buddhist temple go on display

Print

Examples of some of the oldest kanji, or Chinese characters written in Japanese, inscribed on tiles, have gone on display to the public. They were found years ago at what scholars believe is Japan's first Buddhist temple.

The temple is Asukadera, now a historic site in the village of Asuka in Nara Prefecture. Tiles found there include one with the character for “flight.”

Asahi Shimbun reports :

'The tiles are thought to date to the temple's founding sometime between the end of the sixth century to the early seventh century [AD]. The characters written on them are some of the oldest of their kind seen in Japan. The kanji for "flight" is also the first character representing the name "Asuka," and the tile bearing this kanji could be the oldest written material to refer to the temple. The temple was built by Soga no Umako (?-626), a wealthy noble during the Asuka Period and an ardent supporter of Buddhism. Monks and craftsmen skilled in making tiles and other items were dispatched from the kingdom of Baekje on the Korean Peninsula to Japan to construct the first clay-tiled building on these shores, according to "Nihon Shoki" (The Chronicles of Japan).'

The finest of the tiles are being displayed at the Fujiwara Imperial Site in Kashihara through September 13, 2015.

Researchers have excavated many tiles from the ruins of the temple complex. This January scholars examined them again and found that 11 had written characters probably incised with a tool before the clay dried. A tile found in 1992 that is 10 cm (3.9 inches) by 11 cm (4.3 inches) has the word “flight” inscribed on it.

The megalithic tomb of Emperor Sogo no Umako; most Japanese tombs of this era are buried, but scholars believe his was uncovered because he was unpopular for raising taxes. (Wikimedia Commons)
The megalithic tomb of Emperor Sogo no Umako; most Japanese tombs of this era are buried, but scholars believe his was uncovered because he was unpopular for raising taxes. ( Wikimedia Commons )

“Other written characters verified in addition to 'flight' include two characters that read 'megawara,' meaning 'flat tile'; three characters that read 'shirakabe,' thought to be the name of an artisan's group or clan involved in producing goods; three characters that could be the rank of a monk; and six characters—four identical characters meaning 'many' and two identical characters meaning 'name'—apparently etched by someone practicing their writing,” says Asahi Shimbun.

Asuka seems to have been a particularly important town of ancient Japan. Recently there has been a flurry of announcements about archaeological finds in the town. Recent fascinating discoveries include pyramid-like structures and multiple carved granite stones in peculiar shapes dotted across the region.

Archaeologists in January 2015 said they unearthed a huge stone-paved moat in Asuka, which they believe is part of a burial mound. The remnants of the moat, which were found at the archaeological site of Koyamada, measure 48 meters (158 feet) in length and 3.9 (13 feet) to 7 meters (23 feet) in width. The moat is lined with 40 centimeter (15.7 inch) quartz diorite boulders along its northern slope, while the southern slope is covered with flagstones stacked in a staircase pattern, and the bottom is covered with smaller rocks.

The ruins have been preliminarily dated to the mid-seventh century, and based on its location, size, age, and unique construction method, archaeologists believe the tumulus is a tomb for an ancient emperor or statesman, possibly either Emperor Jomei (ruler 593 - 641 AD) or Emishi, son of Umako.

In 2014, archaeologists discovered that a large mound in the village of Asuka in Nara Prefecture contains a pyramid-shaped tomb underneath. The tomb was dated to the latter half of the sixth century.

Experts said that the pyramid-like burial, which has been named the Miyakozuka tomb, is a terraced pyramid made of multiple stone layers. So far, researchers have excavated stepped layers made of stones packed with soil on three sides of the mound. Based on the height of the mound, it is believed that the tomb consists of seven or eight stone layers.

While archaeologists have not yet identified the tomb’s owner, one hypothesis is that it belongs to Soga no Iname, a Yamato Dynasty leader who died in 570 AD. Soga no Iname was a statesman who acquired great power from his control of immigrants from China and the Korean Peninsula, who brought cultural and technological advances with them to Japan.

The star chart at the Kitora Tomb in Asuka (Wikimedia Commons)

 
   

The star chart at the Kitora Tomb in Asuka ( Wikimedia Commons )

 Also earlier in 2015, a star chart discovered in ancient Asuka is based on much older celestial observations made in China, The Asahi Shimbun reported. The star chart was discovered in the Kitora Tomb in Asuka village in 1998, a site dated from the late 7th century to early 8th century, making it the oldest existing star map of its kind in the world.

The chart, carved in stone, features 68 constellations in which the stars are depicted using gold discs. The movement of celestial objects is also represented in the form of three concentric circles with another circle depicting the movement of the sun. The Polar Star is depicted at the center.

Featured image: A tile inscribed with the character for “flight” goes on display in a Japanese museum. The tile is from the site of Japan's first Buddhist temple ( Yoshinori Toyomane )

By Mark Miller

 

Next article