Unravelling the Lesser-known Laser-sharp Cuts of Megalithic Japan
A hurdle in the way of many Western researchers of megalithic Japan is the mystique that surrounds the history of the combined 6,800 islands that piece together the archipelago of Nippon - a place where the Sun originates.
Whether this is due to the rather protected, insular tradition that was practiced up until 1853 when US Naval Commodore Mathew Perry led the first official diplomatic mission into Japanese waters, the idea that the history of ancient Japan has to be blanketed, one hopes, should start to fade and allow more independent research to investigate the wonderful cultures that flourished across the islands thousands of years ago.
Maybe due to the vast amounts of sheer labor and frantic funding that went into the systematic industrialization and total reconstruction following the 1940s and 50s - an effort which clearly bore fruit (as of March 2020, Japan retains the third strongest economy in the world [Silver, March 2020]) - there seems not to be much room for study and deeper understanding of these brilliant monuments that lay scattered throughout the land.
Speaking to people from across Japan, one gets a sad sense that the Japanese government does not care much about these monuments. Fortunately, many of these misunderstood megaliths are protected to this day by their adoption as sacred sites by the numerous ancient religions practiced to this day - Buddhism, Shintoism and Taoism, to name a few.
It would be remiss to discuss megalithic Japan without first paying homage to the eerie underwater imagery of sharp stone angles, apparent causeways and unexplainable shapes that comprise the Yonaguni Monument site. Since being discovered in 1987 by a local scuba diving instructor named Kihachiro Aratake, two things make this place so unique: the, what appears to be so apparent, strange nature of the rock formations and patterns that make up the site and the sheer controversy that surrounds the site.
The first point was tackled head on by researcher Hancock in his 2002 TV documentary-series (see below), aired on the UK’s Channel 4, titled Underworld: Flooded Kingdoms of the Ice Age, where he dived on a series of sites around the ancient city of Dwarka on the northwest Indian coast in the state of Gujarat, before turning to the Yonaguni Monument (named after the westernmost inhabited island of Japan closest to it) - a 150-meter-long (492-ft), 400-meter-wide (1312-ft) stone site, lying within the East China Sea only a little bit over 100 kilometers (62 mi) off the east coast of Taiwan.
Whilst in the show, and in his publication by the same name, Hancock, Professor Maasaki Kimura - a geologist from the University of the Ryukyus, and Sri Sundaresh - a marine archaeologist working out of India’s National Institute of Oceanography, all dived at the site and believed it was largely altered by humans. Among other factors, they pointed to two megaliths with completely straight edges, and a trench that features two 90-degree angles. Considering it’s now up to 25 meters (82 ft) underneath the surface this would suggest it was created when the water level had last receded, thousands of years ago.
However, in keeping with the second point regarding controversy, a German geologist by the name of Wolf Wichman also accompanied them but took the contrarian view. Further, the renowned geologist famous for his initially controversial re-dating of the Great Sphinx of Giza - Robert Schoch (normally not one to shy away from a controversial non-mainstream perspective) believes the site is a naturally occurring geological formation after diving with Hancock in the late 90’s. However, Schoch does speculate that “it is possible that they [the ancient locals] "touched up" parts of the rock close to the shoreline… making them appear artificial” (New Scientist, 25 November 2009).
A diver inspecting the underwater site of Yonaguni, a key site in megalithic Japan. (hoiseung jung/EyeEm / Adobe stock)
Just like waters off Yonaguni Island during typhoon season, the debate still rages. Yet, proving there was a culture capable of such feats of megalithic masonry, occupying Japan thousands of years ago, may offer some sway to the argument.
We truly begin our journey in the Hyōgo Prefecture of the Kansai region. Whilst it’s spring, you may witness the picturesque scene of cherry blossoms on the surrounding trees, gently blowing across the foreground of Himeji Castle, the air filled with subtle blush-pink snowflakes. However, that is not what we have come to focus on.
Laying approximately 11 kilometers (7 mi) to the southeast of Himeji Castle, near to the town of Takasago, is the aptly named Stone Sanctuary. Admittedly, “laying” does Ishi-no-Hoden no justice - the close to 500-ton megalith miraculously has the illusion that it’s “floating” upon its watery base, providing the basis for the local name - Uki-ishi - meaning Floating Stone. It’s true that the weathered megalith appears as if some strange force is allowing it to balance breathlessly upon the open, spring-fed water (believed to be the case since the shrine's records state it never dries up, even in drought).
However, upon closer inspection, the only strange force at play is the precision-cut engineering that’s allowed the excess rock to be cropped away, suspiciously tight to the megalith’s base, providing a steep internal gradient to the edge approaching the surrounding water.
An important site in megalithic Japan is the ancient Ishi-no-Hoden megalith or Floating Stone, which can be found in the Hyōgo Prefecture of the Kansai region. (z tanuki / CC BY 3.0)
First mentioned in western works by Philipp Franz von Siebold, this intrepid German doctor found himself facing this behemoth after disguising himself as a Dutch merchant in order to gain access to the tightly controlled Japanese islands in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. A talented artist, his beautifully illustrated work entitled “Nippon” depicts the strange, angular design of Ishi-no-Hoden in all its raw, un-doctored form (Siebold, 1832, p. 24).
Ishi-no-Hoden megalith or Floating Stone. (Image: With permission Nippon Atlas. n.5" Kyushu University Library Collections)
Close to two centuries later, through 2005 to 2006, the University of Otemae and the local town council “conducted three-dimensional laser measurements and carefully studied the nature of the surrounding rock”, concluding it was formed of hyaloclastite, a form of volcanic accumulation from activity millions of years ago (Pavlik, 2018). Whilst there are no clear tooling marks around the stone itself, one can only wonder how long it’s been sitting there, and what type of weathering erosion may have worked away at it over the suspected thousands of years since its initial alteration by man.
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The Shinto shrine, which has amalgamated with the mysterious megalith may hold some clues, albeit vague ones, to the genesis of the stone.
Shinto shrine at Ishi-no-Hoden. (z tanuki / CC BY 3.0)
The shrine tells how the kami known as Okuninushi (“Onamuchi-no-kami”) once ruled over the land of Izumo, modern day Shimane Prefecture, approximately 115 kilometers (71 mi) to the northwest of the home of Ishi-no-Hoden.
Kami are traditionally divine spirits (natural and anthropomorphic) in the Shinto religion. However, they are also represented in the earliest Japanese folklores, and it is known, rather intriguingly, that there is an “ancient association with kami activity and epidemic diseases, floods, and drought” (Chilson & Swanson, 2006, p. 19). Could this suggest a connection between these divine figures appearing after, or immediately surrounding, ancient catastrophes?
Amaterasu, one of the central kami in the Shinto faith. (Utagawa Kunisada / Public domain)
Further, archaeological findings indicate that beliefs and reverence of kami were taking place well into the Jomon Period (ibid, p. 144), which we know potentially spanned all the way back to 14,500 BC, before the catastrophic Younger Dryas Boundary - the beginning of the end of the Earth’s last ice age.
Adding to this interest is the fact that Okuninushi was known to have been a great builder god, one who retained secret, seemingly hermetic knowledge, fabled for his abilities to heal and encouraging marriage to take place. This is extremely similar to symbolism alluded to in previous articles, with myth depicting other sage-like gods throughout the world, including Cecrops in ancient Greece, Kukulkan (or Quetzalcoatl) of Mesoamerica and Oannes from the Fertile Crescent of ancient Mesopotamia.
The local Shinto myth notes how Okuninushi was in the early stages of creating a magnificent monument, with Ishi-no-Hoden being the first piece shaped and put into place, when a neighboring rebellion left him distracted and his work unfortunately remained unfinished.
Standing (okay - floating) at 7.4 meters (24.3 ft) tall, the stone has a width of 6.5 meters (21.3 ft) and whilst it is mentioned in the Harima Fudoki (one of Japan’s earliest written records dating from 714 AD), it is mere speculation as to who created it - when and how are still a firm unknown.
The connection Ishi-no-Hoden has to other unexplained megaliths from across the world is certainly amplified when, once again, we find out about a potential astronomical alignment it holds.
I got in touch with Amelia Sparavigna, a physicist working out of Turin, Italy, and a member of the renowned American Physical Society (APS), who is a prolific investigator of potential astronomical alignments of various ancient sites around the world, including China and Italy. Having recently cited her research in a theory I proposed for the original purpose of Sigiriya, Sri Lanka (published in last month's AO Digital Magazine), I was intrigued to see what she thought of Ishi-no-Hoden.
Sigiriya or Lion Rock in Sri Lanka. (Richie Chan / Adobe stock)
Amazingly, Sparavigna determined that there is a viable alignment resonating through the Floating Stone.
Admittedly a lot of the astronomical vernacular was hard to grasp, however, using a combination of Google Earth, The Photographer's Ephemeris and an experienced eye for astronomy, Sparavigna made clear that due to the ancient lunisolar calendar system, the alignment present at Ishi-no-Hoden (which lays across a 108° north-south axis) may represent an orientation to an interval that when “evaluated according to the sunrise on days of new Moon at the beginning of spring” is aligned to “the second new Moon after the winter solstice.” The new Moon of spring happens on a day, which is ranging between the 22 January to February 19.
The alignment of 108° along the north-south axis, which Sparavigna first ascertained before conducting further, in-depth astronomical research. (Provided by the author)
May this suggest that the people who created this megalith had been well aware of these astronomical alignments, and thus had the astronomical knowledge readily available to allow this alignment to take place? This is certainly intriguing given the surrounding myth of the stone’s kami creator, Okuninushi, revered all these hundreds, if not thousands of years earlier for his hermetic-style knowledge.
Moreover, the lunisolar calendar is unique in that it tracks both time through the solar year (like a regular solar calendar - of which the currently used Gregorian calendar is based off) as well as indicating the current moon phase - predicting what constellations the full moon will appear close to.
Next, she used The Photographer's Ephemeris software to get an understanding of the potential astronomical alignments, and then used her expertise in the field to understand what they mean. (Provided by the author)
Whilst we are now beginning to realize that methods for tracking lunar phases have been around for over 34,000 years (Soderman, NASA; Macey, 1994, p. 75), it's also well established that ancient cultures tracked the passage of the Moon in order to ascertain low and high tides for maritime travel. We further learn that when “the Sun, Moon, and Earth are in alignment (at the time of the new or full Moon)” [boldness added for effect], this creates “extra-high, high tides, and very low, low tides” (National Ocean Service, 2005).
Thus, the alignment that Ishi-no-Hoden has is directly connected to the time of year where extra high or low tides, also known as “spring tides”, occur. This would have of course been of vital importance to any civilization with maritime capabilities.
Hopes for the Future of Megalithic Japan
This opens up an interesting connection to one of my earlier articles, where I mentioned the evidence for Japanese maritime voyages in the Jomon Period, spanning out across the Pacific as well as into Eastern Europe.
Was this megalithic culture, whoever it may have been, responsible for the spread of culture into the Pacific Islands?
Could these, those with no name and little historical evidence to boot, have been the ones responsible for Yonaguni, if the underwater site really does turn out to have been altered by humans as the alternative theory suggests? Only further funded research will tell, which I can only hope will come.
Surely a country can have all of the economic prestige in the world, but if it does not truly seek to find out about its own storied past, when all is said and done, the possibility that the monetary system is devalued, technology has failed and all that’s left is the myths of the past, what good will all that industrialization do then? No, we are all products of the past, knowing it is vital.
I hope this is not the case for Japan - I’m hopeful it’s not. As we explore these mysterious, strange, and in some cases, quite out of place sites, Ishi-no-Hoden may hold the key to understanding other Japanese megaliths, and is for sure one to keep an eye on as research on unusual sites continues to slowly spread throughout Japan.
I’d like to thank Amelia Sparavigna for her patience, kindness and much-appreciated enthusiasm lent to me during our many discussions, as well as my Japanese students who really sparked my interest in this spirited, unknown and yet so historically-rich part of the world.
Top image: The mystique of megalithic Japan is largely misunderstood, and it seems that the government does not care to find out more. From Yonaguni to Ishi-no-Hoden, let’s delve deeper into the unknown. Pictured: Divers inspecting the underwater site of Yonaguni in Japan. Source: nudiblue / Adobe stock
By Freddie Levy
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