Skip to comments.Japanese Royal Tomb Opened To Scholars For First Time
Posted on 04/28/2008 2:33:40 PM PDT by blam
Japanese Royal Tomb Opened to Scholars for First Time
Tony McNicol in Tokyo
for National Geographic News
April 28, 2008
A rare visit by archaeologists to a fifth-century imperial tomb offers hope that other closely guarded graves in Japan might soon be open to independent study.
This month a group of 16 experts led by the Japanese Archaeological Association released results from their February visit inside Gosashi tomb.
The event marked the first time that scholars had been allowed inside a royal tomb outside of an official excavation led by Japan's Imperial Household Agency.
Archaeologists have been requesting access to Gosashi tomb and other imperial sites since 1976, in part because the tombs date to the founding of a central Japanese state under imperial rule.
But the agency has kept access to the tombs restricted, prompting rumors that officials fear excavation would reveal bloodline links between the "pure" imperial family and Koreaor that some tombs hold no royal remains at all.
Although the team's visit didn't lay any of those issues to rest, experts celebrated it as a first step toward expanded access to the mysterious tombs.
"The main achievement of the occasion was that for the first time we could enter to do [our own] research," said Koji Takahashi, a Toyama University archaeologist and spokesperson for the group.
Gosashi tomb in western Japan's Nara Prefecture is revered as the resting place of Empress Jingu, the semi-legendary wife of the country's 14th emperor.
Jingu is thought to have ruled as regent for her son starting around A.D. 200.
During their two-and-a-half-hour visit, the team was allowed to explore the lower part of the 886-foot-long (270-meter-long) burial mound. The archaeologists weren't allowed to excavate, but they did find previously unknown terra cotta haniwa figures on the tomb's eastern side. These funerary statues were believed to help tend to the elite after death.
In addition to overseeing Jingu's tomb, the Imperial Household Agency looks after some 896 sites said to contain the remains of imperial family members.
Of those, around 70 are kofun tombs dating to before the seventh century. These keyhole-shaped mounds surrounded by moats are some of the largest and most historically important burial sites in Japan.
"It was during the Kofun period [in the third to seventh centuries A.D.] that the Japanese nation was established on the Japanese archipelago," Takahashi said.
"The tombs hold the key to unlocking details of the Kofun period."
While the Imperial Household Agency shares the results of its research, the agency has been reluctant to give independent archaeologists access.
In a fax to National Geographic News, the Imperial Household Agency's Tombs and Mausolea Division wrote: "Imperial Household religious ceremonies continue to take place at tombs and mausolea. As they are objects of remembrance and veneration for the public and imperial family, preserving their peace and dignity is of paramount importance."
The agency added that although they will consider further research requests, "excavation is not permitted."
Takahashi, however, believes the agency is reluctant because excavation might threaten bureaucrats' control over the tombs.
Of the oldest, most significant tombs under the agency's jurisdiction, very few can realistically be proven to contain the remains of imperial family members, he said.
Nevertheless, the status of the tombs is all but set in stone. The last time that the agency changed an imperial tomb's designation was in 1881.
Other experts have suggested that the hesitation is because courtiers and conservatives fear excavation will uncover blood ties between the supposedly pure Japanese imperial line and the Asian mainland, specifically Korea.
But Walter Edwards, professor of Japanese studies at Tenri University in Nara, argues that the "Korean bones" issue is a red herring.
"Blood links between Korea and the Japanese imperial family are documented from the eighth century," he said.
"Even the current emperor [Akihito] has said that he has Korean ancestry." Edwards suggests that the agency's attitude has more to do with trying to maintain the imperial family's dignity.
But faced with the costs of keeping up hundreds of sites, the reputedly cash-strapped Imperial Household Agency may eventually allow more access as a way to get more public funds, he suggested.
The agency may now try to handle the tombs as both national heritage sites and as private graves of the imperial family.
"The problem is how to strike a balance between the two," Edwards said.
In the meantime, high on archaeologists' wish list for access is the fifth-century tomb of Emperor Nintoku in Osaka Prefecture.
In the past the agency has refused access to the tomb on the grounds that the boat to cross its moat is too old and unsafe.
At 1,594 feet (486 meters) long, the mausoleum is the largest in Japan.
"[It is] almost as large as the biggest of the Great Pyramids [of Egypt] in volume," Edwards said, "and like the latter it is a truly monumental work from the ancient period."
Findings by American anthropologist C. Loring Brace, University of Michigan, will surely be controversial in race conscious Japan. The eye of the predicted storm will be the Ainu, a "racially different" group of some 18,000 people now living on the northern island of Hokkaido. Pure-blooded Ainu are easy to spot: they have lighter skin, more body hair, and higher-bridged noses than most Japanese. Most Japanese tend to look down on the Ainu.
Brace has studied the skeletons of about 1,100 Japanese, Ainu, and other Asian ethnic groups and has concluded that the revered samurai of Japan are actually descendants of the Ainu, not of the Yayoi from whom most modern Japanese are descended. In fact, Brace threw more fuel on the fire with:
"Dr. Brace said this interpretation also explains why the facial features of the Japanese ruling class are so often unlike those of typical modern Japanese. The Ainu-related samurai achieved such power and prestige in medieval Japan that they intermarried with royality and nobility, passing on Jomon-Ainu blood in the upper classes, while other Japanese were primarily descended from the Yoyoi." The reactions of Japanese scientists have been muted so. One Japanese anthropologist did say to Brace," I hope you are wrong."
The Ainu and their origin have always been rather mysterious, with some people claiming that the Ainu are really Caucasian or proto-Caucasian - in other words, "white." At present, Brace's study denies this interpretation.
They got any Bass in that lake?
By who--(Japanese who didn't exist since Japan didn't exist?) Or by Koreans?
Most people believe that the Ainu are descended from the Jomon People.
I believe FReeper Muawiyah has some other ideas...I've pinged him.
Let's look at the Jomon/Ainu thing. It's pretty obvious to any researcher that there's little difference between the two "categories" of people. In fact, both belong to a branch off the main East Asian type.
On the other hand, there are substantial cultural and historical differences between them. The Jomon may also be identified as the Emeshi people who lived in Northern main islands and along the East Coast.
These are the people whose culture is on display in those Japanese children's cartoons featuring ghosts, magic badgers and regular looking pottery (distinct from the modern era).
During the development of the Empire, roughly 600 AD to 1300 AD, the Royal family battled with the technologicaly equal Emeshi and finally reduced them to a subordinate class we know as the Samurai. At the end of the period the Emeshi/Samurai were relocated to Western Japan ~ roughly to Fukuoka ~ for the purpose of providing Imperial punch throughout this most developed and wealthiest part of the near-Empire.
With the coming of Tokugawa, the Samurai were demilitarized but were then appointed to replace any pre-existing lower nobility throughout the country.
There was a price for relocating the Emeshi. For one there was the question about who would guard the Northern approaches to the Main Islands. Apparantly NOBODY got that job so the mainland dwellers we now know as the Ainu moved in!
They had not been as technologically advanced as the Jomon/Emeshi, but they were sufficiently powerful they could develop a widespread seaborne trading empire of their own. When you see bears involved in those cartoons about medieval Japan, that's the Ainu.
Japan also had a population drawn from Mainland Asia that can be called the Yayoi ~ there's some concern that older views of the Yayoi are wrong ~ that is, that the idea that the Imperial family, the Daimyo and the lower nobles were just a Yayoi upperclass was not all consistent with the ancient tombs and archaeological findings.
Recently it was finally established that the Emeshi people had developed agriculture and hadn't been just a bunch of wandering fishermen with large razorblades!
At the same time ideas about the Yayoi have begun to change. The old view was that the Impeial families and the Daimyo rose up from the broad masses of the Yayoi.
The reality seems to be that whatever was going on with the Yayoi, they had simply faced the same fate as the Emishi in the Middle Ages at the hands of an invading Royal family albeit a couple of centuries earlier due to their proximity to Korea.
More recently a major discovery was made regarding the identity of the Royal family (or the invaders most represented by the Royal family). That is that they were NOT KOREAN although they came from Korea. In fact, they conquered Korea during the early period of the Dark Ages (535 AD or thereabouts), and went on to conquer the wealthier Southern parts of Japan shortly thereafter.
The question now is where do these guys come from ~ and it's a humdinger.
Remembering that we somehow have to get otherwise illiterate Buddhists into Korea to then cross over to conquer Japan on horseback, we have to find some illiterate Buddhists!
Ain't no easy task ~ Buddhism and literacy go hand in hand in East Asia. Most Buddhists have vast quantities of scriptures and it requires literate people to copy them over and keep them in shape so the religion, culture and philosophies can be spread to others.
The biggest bunch of illiterate Buddhists turn out to be the Yakut or Sakha people in the region of Siberia and Manchuria. They also were very warlike, herded all sorts of animals, and were quite aggressive.
Today there are about 25 million Yakut ~ after 200 years of fairly close contact with European Russians they constitute quite a racial mixture so if you look up their pictures you're going to see some "white folk" ~ and RED HAIR. Some of the "red hair" is also of ancient origin in India.
Way back in Buddha's day, the Sakha or Saka, lived in Nepal and those parts of the North Indian plain near the Nepalese foothills.
They'd come into that region from Manchuria (their original home) sometime in the distant past. During the period of their ascendancy, a Sakha Prince we call Buddha, achieved satori in real time (enlightenment) and set about reforming Hinduism.
Although he had some success, the Sakha began to lose power as yet other invaders came into India (which has been going on since time began), and some time about 200 AD the Sakha were driven from North India and Nepal by the resurgent Hindu Revival. The Sakha fled North and East across China and right back into Manchuria and Siberia.
For a variety of reasons they lost all their masters at writing, but they did keep some of their records.
Archaeologists and historians are working this stuff over, plus all the DNA tests these guys will let them take, and their "history" since their flight from Nepal has been blocked out a little better.
Note, this group took with it plenty of large bosomed Indo-European and Dravidian type women, and today those same large bosoms (let's call them "bazoombas") show up occasionally throughout the Japanese population but most specifically among the families of the former nobility, the Samurai and, lo and behold, the Royal families!!! (Ta-Da)
Otherwise Japanese women are known for their very flat curvature.
In the end, although the "hips don't lie", the teeth tell a tale. Roughly 60% of today's Japanese have teeth typical of the Chinese. Roughly 40% have teeth typical of those found among the Jomon, Ainu, Emeshi and some other groups here and there in hidden valleys and high mountains in the Himalayas.
There are also some Japanese who have teeth just like the white folks in the Punjab. The population is mixed enough after centuries of human slavery, feudalism, warfare and class consciousness that you can find all the major toothtypes in the islands in individual families.
The Yayoi turn out to have been a mixed population of people from all over East Asia. They came with rice culture. They are also the source of basic Japanese language grammar and vocabulary. During the late Middle Ages the Japanese really did bring in literate Buddhist monks and artisans to beef up their technology and culture. Those monks came mostly from Korea and they added a major portion of Japanese language vocabulary and even influenced the grammar.
The Emeshi language became lost to history as it was swamped in a vast tide of Yayoi and Korean words.
The conclusion is that the Ainu have little to do with the modern Japanese population whereas their cousins, the Emeshi, are still a powerful presence (genetically speaking). The illiterate Buddhists from Nepal who ran the country up until recent modern times found their history, religion and language supplanted by Korean "servants" shipped in to improve the economy.
Not sure I agree with any of that, but I do recall that the Aum Shinrikyo cult had some obsessions with the Lost Tribe of Israel theory. I’ve also read that the Aum Shinrikyo may actually be a direct descendant of the “Black Dragon Society”—a pre-WW2 group of Japanese officers and officials that claimed Ainu descent. I am fuzzy on a lot of this, but I do recall that the Society was one of the reasons why Hitler believed there was some racial affinity between Germany and Japan.
The whole race, language, ethnicity obsession was all in all pretty widespread in Eurasia, and extremely popular through the 19th century and to the end of WW2. I don’t know whether the Ainu are actually caucasians or used to be, but I don’t know why this should be surprising—several other central asian groups were “caucasian” (the Ainu are widely believed to be central asian in origin).
Good report, thanks.
Thanks Blam. The island looks like a silhouette of a South Park character. ;')
· Mirabilis · Texas AM Anthropology News · Yahoo Anthro & Archaeo ·
· History or Science & Nature Podcasts · Excerpt, or Link only? · cgk's list of ping lists ·
For the ultra-polite Japanese, that is equivalent to, "Eat $&*t and die!"
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.