Category Archives: Jomon

Paleolithic and Jomon Obsidian Production

Obsidian exhibit at Togariishi Museum of Jomon Archaeology.

Upper Paleolithic Blade Technology

This is a continuation of our previous post on Jomon obsidian. The first blade technology emerged in the Upper Paleolithic, around 36,000 years ago. The Upper Paleolithic was from around 38,000 to 16,000 years ago; the Jomon period was from around 16,000 to 2,800 years ago.

“The Japanese Paleolithic is unique in that it incorporates one of the earliest known sets of ground stone and polished stone tools in the world, although older ground stone tools have been discovered in Australia. The tools, which have been dated to around 30,000 BC, are a technology associated in the rest of the world with the beginning of the Neolithic around 10,000 BC. It is not known why such tools were created so early in Japan.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_Paleolithic

“Prehistoric Human Activities Around Obsidian Sources in Central Japan”

This journal publication by Kazutaka Shimada contains a great deal of information about prehistoric obsidian sources in Central Japan. His Figure 2 is a detailed map of obsidian mining sites in the Central Highlands. Many Jomon sites have been found near obsidian mines in the mountains of the Central Highlands at altitudes between 1,200 to 2,000 m. We may think that the Jomon were hunter-gatherers, but they lived a semi-sedentary existence with lithic technology higher than we may have imagined.

Obsidian is distributed along volcanic zones, and sources of obsidian in the Japanese archipelago are therefore limited. Around 200 obsidian sources have been identified in Japan, the three main regions being northeastern Hokkaido island, central Japan of Honshu island, and northern Kyushu island.

During the Upper Paleolithic, the technique for the production of obsidian blades were done in lithic workshops. Early on, obsidian was gathered from the surface, and by the Jomon period, the people mined underground deposits by digging pits. The Central Highlands served as a “hub” of the Jomon residential areas, and its obsidian was widely distributed.

“The Jomon exchange networks reflect both the establishment of the local group(s) who exclusively managed the source areas and controlled obsidian circulation, and the emergence of highly sophisticated social relations among the regional Jomon societies of central Japan.”

This thoroughly documented paper offers a window into the lifestyle of the Jomon. We recommend you study it if you have any interest in the obsidian industry of Jomon Japan.

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Obsidian in the Central Highlands

Obsidian pendant from Togariishi Museum in Nagano.

Jomon Obsidian

When we were in Nagano last year, we visited the Togariishi Jomon Archaeological Museum in the city of Chino. There I bought a black obsidian pendant. Ever since then, I have been curious to learn more about obsidian. Why was the museum selling obsidian pendants? What has obsidian to do with the Jomon of prehistoric Japan? We answer these questions in a two-part post.

What is Obsidian?

Obsidian is a volcanic glass, predominantly glossy black, that forms as igneous rock through the rapid cooling of magma. It has been used for cutting tools with sharp edges such as arrowheads and knives, and also as jewelry. Because it is shiny, it is like a mirror and is thought to expose hidden truths. Allowing negativities to be cleansed, obsidian is known for physical, emotional, and spiritual healing.

Obsidian in Japan

Obsidian has a long history in Japan and is found in many places throughout the archipelago. It is called kokuyo-seki (黒曜石; koku is black and seki is stone). Obsidian has been mined from many sites in the Central Highlands since Jomon times. What are the Central Highlands? They cover the prefectures of Nagano, Yamanashi, and Gifu.

“It is believed that there are more than 100 obsidian mining sites in the Japanese islands, extending from Hokkaido in the north to Kyushu in the south. Among these, much of the obsidian from sites in Nagano Prefecture is of high quality, features sharp fracture intersections, and is easy to work and shape. For this reason, Nagano obsidian was the preferred material for making arrowheads, knives, and other stone tools and was widely used by the people of that period….Over a period of several tens of thousands of years from the Paleolithic to the Yayoi period, Nagano obsidian—obsidian only produced in Nagano Prefecture—was distributed in large quantities across a wide area.” https://jomon.co/en/story/

“30,000 years ago, obsidian was transported as raw stone, but 20,000 years ago, stone tools were made at the place of origin and transported to various places. In archeological sites such as Takayama and Mangakukura in Nagawa-cho, Nagano Prefecture, materials and fragments that are traces of stoneware processing have been found. ” https://www.asahi.com/articles/ASL9H46V9L9HUOOB003.html

Obsidian in Shinshu

Shinano Province or Shinshū (信州) is the traditional name for Nagano Prefecture. Located in central Honshu—the primary island of Japan—Shinshu flourished in ancient times as a cultural crossroads between Eastern and Western Japan. With the easy access from Tokyo and the fame the 1998 Winter Olympics brought to Nagano, Shinshu is today a popular tourist draw for people from both within and outside Japan. Bordered on the west by the Japanese Alps, a range of 3,000-meter class mountains, Shinshu provides excellent opportunities for such activities as skiing at Hakuba and hiking in Kamikochi (the Upper Highlands) as well as beautiful mountain views and other natural scenery.  https://www.jreast.co.jp/e/shinshu/

“A historic ruins from the mid-Jomon period, located on the plateau on the west foot of Mt. Yatsugatake at an elevation of 1,070 meters. An archeological survey was carried out in 1930 by a local researcher, Fusakazu Miyasaka, which resulted in the excavation of numerous pit dwellings and hearth remnants, along with earthenware and stoneware revealing mid-Jomon culture and settlements that flourished in the Chubu Highlands. It was designated as a National Historic Site in 1942, and as the first Special Historic Site from the Jomon period in 1952. Moreover, north of the Togariishi Ruins and across a shallow valley with flowing natural spring water, the Yosukeone Historic Ruins were also added to the designation in 1993.” https://www.city.chino.lg.jp/site/togariishi/

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Togakushi and Togakushi Jinja

Opening of the heavenly door by Tajiikarao as Ame-no-Uzume dances and myriad of kami welcome the emerging Amateru

Togakushi

Togakushi Village and the nearby Togakushi Shrine are situated in the north of Nagano within the Joshinetsu National Park, a 45-min drive from Nagano City. This volcanic area is at an altitude of 1,200m at the foot of the two volcanoes, Mt Togakushi 戸隠山 (1,904m) and Mt Iizuna 飯縄山 (1,917m).

Deeply steeped in mystery, Togakushi is part of the Ama-no-iwato Hirake myth, the opening of the Heavenly Cave Door. Ama-no-Uzume danced and Tatikarawo (Tajikarao) opened the Amanoiwato, and the door flew to Shinano/Nagano. Togakushi means hidden door.

Togakushi Jinja 戸隠神社 N 36.76, E 138.07, Alt 1289m 

Togakushi Jinja consists of five shrines at three shrine locations: the lower, middle, and upper shrine areas. The lower area has shrines 宝光社 Hōkō-sha  (Treasure of Light) and 火之御子社 Hino-miko-sha. The middle site has the 中社 Chū-sha (Middle Shrine). The upper area consists of the 奥社 Oku-sha (Deep Sanctuary) and 九頭龍社 Kuzuryu-sha.

Togakushi Jinja may have originated at Achi Jinja in southern Nagano. Togakushi’s Chū-sha and Achi Jinja both enshrine Omoikane.

Oku-sha 奥社

First torii to Oku-sha; map showing route from first torii through path of cedars up to Oku-sha; arrival at Zuishinmon gate before the upwards climb

Oku-sha, the oldest of the five, is the sanctuary of the shrine high up in the mountains. The Oku-sha enshrines Amateru and Tatikarawo (Tajikarao). The map shows the long path from the first torii to the Oku-sha. We went as far as the Zuishinmon Gate. The rest of the way would be all uphill. This site is considered a power spot and is immensely popular with those visiting the shrine as well as the walking-impaired who could enjoy the smooth walkways through nature.

Genbu.net has this to say about Oku-sha. The original kami of this sha were nine dragon-kami who dwell in rock caves. Dragons are associated with water and will relieve tooth decay problems if one prays to them. The legend of Tajikarao was introduced later.

Zuishinmon Gate of Togakushi Oku-Sha

Chū-sha 中社 Center Shrine

Chū-sha
Haiden of Chū-sha
Sazare-taki

Chū-sha means middle or center shrine. It is physically located in the center of the array of five Togakushi shrines. The second Togakushi sha (after Oku sha) to be establlished was Hōkō-sha, and Chū-sha was created midway between the two. Chū-sha enshrines the kami Omoikane. It is commonly said that Omoikane is “the kami who organized the kagura dance performance in front of the cave”. We have yet to find this reference in the Hotuma Tutaye Wosite document. However, the document tells us that Omoikane is the father of Tatikarawo who opened the cave door. Also known as Achihiko in Wosite history, Omoikane is a great-grandson of Toyoke Takamimusubi and he held the post of Hiyomi-no-miya, Master of the Solar Calendar, for Amateru. Omoikane is generally considered to be a kami of wisdom. The full story of Omoikane can be found in the Wosite documents.

Sacred tree

Hinomiko Sha 火之御子社, 日之御子社

Hinomiko Sha enshrines Ame-no-Uzume, the female kami whose dancing lured Amateru out of the cave. Also enshrined are Takamimusubi, Oshihomimi (son of Amateru), and his daughter Takuhatachichihime. In Wosite history, the best-known Takamimusubi is the grandfather of Amateru. It is said that the name Hinomiko refers to a kami of fire (hi), which seems rather out of place here. If the word Hinomiko were written with the character for sun (hi) instead of fire, 日之御子社, Hinomiko would mean the son of the kami of the sun, namely Amateru. This would make more sense.

Genbu.net has a comment on the name and the enshrined kami. Based on Oku-sha’s kami Tajikarao and Chu-sha’s Omoikane, Genbu says that Hinomiko sha’s kami Ame-no-Uzume is in error and she should have been named elsewhere.

Hōkō-sha and Kuzuryu-sha

We were unable to visit two of the five Togakushi sha. Hōkō-sha enshrines Ama-no-Uwaharu (another son of Omoikane) and a guard in the tenson korin myth. Kuzuryu Jinja Nine Dragon Shrine enshrines a water kami known as Kuzuryuu no Ookami from ancient times, or Benzaiten from later Buddhist times. In Japanese thought, dragons are associated with water, as is Benzaiten. We missed these two because we were unable to park the car at the Hōkō-sha, and the other is located at the top near Oku-Sha.

Kuzuryusha sits next to Okusha, and has been the central deity for the Togakushi worship as the local deity since the old time. As the deity who presides over the water, it is worshiped by the people engaged in agriculture in the wide area along Torii, Kusu and Susobana rivers, as well as the Echigo region, which is connected through the underground water.
Though the date of foundation is unknown, it was enshrined as the local deity before the enshrinement of Ame-no-tajikarao-no-mikoto. It is worshiped for its divine virtue of realization of wishes. It is also worshiped as the god of [dental] caries as well as of matchmaking.

From http://en.nagano-cvb.or.jp/modules/sightseeing/page/376
Togakushi Jinja plaque at Chū-sha

The comment about the original deity of Togakushi being a dragon-water being can lead one to regard the Togakushi shrines as being ancient sacred places honoring kami of nature such as water and fire. Later, historical figures were added, and even later some Buddhist elements were incorporated. There is still much that remains a mystery about Togakushi.

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Suwa Taisha Harumiya and Akimiya

Harumiya kagura-den in front of heihaiden

Harumiya and Akimiya, Lower Suwa Shrines

The Lower Shrines are on the north side of Lake Suwa. They are the Harumiya and the Akimiya, whose enshrined kami is said to be Yasakatome, spouse of Takeminakata.

Harumiya, Spring Shrine

Harumiya means Spring Shrine. It is in a shady location, and it has a sugi tree as goshintai. It has a haiden prayer hall but no honden containing a sacred object. The lack of a honden and having a sacred sugi tree indicate that this is an exceedingly old shrine, pre-Shinto, related to nature reverence. Having learned that this is where Yasakatome resides in the spring, we could feel her serene presence. It is said that she moves to Akimiya in the autumn. In the previous post we had learned that Takeminakata comes to visit her in wintertime.

Heihaiden prayer hall

A guide to Harumiya precinct can be found here.

Akimiya, Autumn Shrine

Temizuya with hot spring water

Akimiya means Autumn Shrine. It has the ichii tree as goshintai; there is no honden containing any sacred object. Akimiya has an exceptionally hot water temizuya for hand washing. Beware!

Heihaiden of Akimiya

When we approached the heihaiden prayer hall, the priest was performing a ritual (photo left below). After that, just before 5 o’clock, the priest conducted an additional ritual. There was chanting and the heavy beat of the taiko drum. We realized that this was a closing ceremony when we turned around to visit the shrine office to buy an amulet and found the windows being closed. We felt it was a privilege to be at the shrine at that dusky time of day. Somehow the kami seemed to be nearer…

A guide to Akimiya precinct can be found here.

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Suwa Taisha Honmiya and Maemiya

Suwa Region

The Suwa region surrounding Lake Suwa lies at the foot of the Yatsugatake mountains in Nagano. It is steeped in mystery and legend from prehistoric times. The presence of kami and nature spirits can still be felt today. Suwa is dominated by the presence of Suwa Taisha, the grand shrine of Suwa, noted for its exciting Onbashira festival. The four shrine locations of Suwa Taisha each have four of these giant pillars.

Wosite and Lake Suwa

We wanted to visit Suwa because it connects with our Wosite research of Jomon Japan through the son and grandsons of Sosanowo (Susanoo), brother of Amateru. After Sosanowo, his son Onamuchi governed the land of Izumo. Although his people lived well, Onamuchi ignored the unification sought by Amateru in the central land. Onamuchi, popularly called Omononushi and Okuninushi, had two sons of note in this story. Kusuhiko received the title Kotoshironushi and he became the second Omononushi.

When Kusuhiko advised his father Onamuchi to give up Izumo to unify with Amateru, Onamuchi didn’t comply right away. Kusuhiko’s brother Takeminakata resisted on their father’s behalf, and was chased by the central force led by Takemikazuchi from Izumo to the umi (lake) of Shinano. There, Takeminakata surrendered, saying Suwa! Alas! Thus this umi is known as Suwako, Lake Suwa; it is the largest lake in Nagano prefecture.

Suwa Taisha 諏訪大社

Suwa Taisha is ichinomiya first shrine of Shinano. Gosaishin enshrined kami are: Takeminakata, his wife Yasakatome, and Yaekotoshironushi (Kusuhiko, Takeminakata’s brother).

Wikipedia has something curious to say about Suwa Taisha: “Although these [Takeminaka and Yasakatome] are the official identities of the shrine’s gods, most of its rituals are actually not so much concerned with their identities but with their character as Mishaguji , local agricultural and fertility deities. The name ‘Takeminakata’ in fact does not appear in historical records of the Upper Shrine’s religious rites; rather, the focus of worship in these rituals are often identified as the Mishaguji.”

And about Mishaguji:  “Believed to be spirits that inhabit natural objects like trees or rocks that could also be called upon to possess  humans or objects during religious rituals, Mishaguji are also thought to be god(s) of boundaries and protector(s) of communities. Worship of the Mishaguji occupied a central place in the religious beliefs of the Suwa region in Nagano prior to the arrival of the Yamato state iin the area. “

There are four Suwa sha shrines, two north of the lake, two south. These are ancient shrines; i.e., they were sacred places to the ancient people long before Shinto shrines were built. Honmiya has Mt Moriya itself as its goshintai sacred object. The Maemiya or earlier shrine has a honden containing a sacred object within. These two sha on the south side of Suwako are called the Upper Shrines. The kami is Takeminakata.

The other two sha are called the Lower Shrine; they are on the north side of Lake Suwa. Their enshrined kami is Yasakatome, spouse of Takeminakata. The Harumiya Spring Shrine has a sugi tree as goshintai,  and Akimiya Autumn Shrine has the ichii tree; they indicate prehistoric nature reverence.

Suwa Taisha Honmiya

The Honmiya is the main shrine with large grounds and is immensely popular. It is comprised of a number of halls.

Suwa Taisha Maemiya 前宮

Maemiya means former shrine, and it must be the first of the Suwa shrines. It is much more modest and charming. On a hillside, the Maemiya felt cool and refreshing.

There is a lovely brook at the base of this shrine where people can fill up their plastic bottles with cold, pure mountain water.

You can read about Suwa Taisha here. Our report on Suwa Taisha continues in the next post on Harumiya and Akimiya.

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Togariishi Jomon Museum

Togariishi Jomon Museum

The Togariishi Museum of Jōmon Archaeology is a municipal museum located in the city of Chino, Nagano prefecture, in the foothills of Yatsugatake mountains (2,899 m) on the east on the border with Yamanashi prefecture. The Yatsugatake Mountains 八ヶ岳連峰 are a volcanic mountain range. Thousands of Jomon people lived in these highland areas around 5,000 years ago. In this area of rich deposits, they mined obsidian for making sharp tools, and they traded and prospered. 

This museum specializes in artifacts of the Jōmon period found at nearby sites. Amongst its holdings are the famed Jomon Venus (middle Jomon ca. 3,000–2,000 BCE) and the Masked Goddess (late Jomon 2,000 BCE) doki (clay) figures. There is a multitude of vases and other artifacts, as well as a mineral collection. It is adjacent to the Togariishi (togari-ishi, pointed rock) archaeological site where you can see reconstructed Jomon houses. While it seems out of place in the woods, it is an impressive modern museum. It is not far from Suwa Taisha’s Maemiya.

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SHINANO: Where Earth and Spirit Meet

Shinano

2019 May found us on a field trip to the Kanayama Megaliths in Hida (Gifu Prefecture). After, we visited the adjacent former province of Shinano, now known as Nagano Prefecture. We had several reasons for our visit. We wanted to see the other, Eastern, side of the Hida mountains which border Hida and Shinano, and which form the Northern Japanese Alps. There is a map of provinces in time of Ieyasu. The map above is cropped from the insert and it shows Hida and Shinano separated by the Hida mountain range. We are interested in the watershed river systems and the cool lakes. We wanted to pray at Shinano’s ancient shrines, which were sacred places before they formally became shrine sites. And we had heard about the museum which houses the Jomon Venus and the Masked Goddess clay figures unearthed from the Jomon Period thousands of years ago. Although the two prefectures are adjacent on a map, they are not easily crossed from one to the other because of the mountains which separate them. For example, it takes five hours to travel from Hida Kanayama to Nagano City by limited-express train via Nagoya (348 km), compared with only 95 min from Tokyo (222 km) via Shinkansen. Below is the route from Nagano station to Kyoto station.

Nagano – Kyoto route by Google Maps

Japanese Alps

The Japanese Alps run through the center of the main Japanese island of Honshu. They are comprised of the mountain rainges:

Northern Alps: the Hida Mountains (飛騨山脈 Hida Sanmyaku), containing such important mountains as Ontake ( 3,067 m), Norikuradake (3,026 m), and Tateyama (3,015 m).

Central Alps: the Kiso Mountains (木曽山脈 Kiso Sanmyaku), including Mt Ena (2,191 m).

Southern Alps: the Akaishi Mountains (赤石山脈 Akaishi Sanmyaku).

Map centered on Lake Suwa in Nagano prefecture, shows the mountain ranges in shades of red. From Japan Atlas, A Bilingual Guide, Kodansha International, pp 20-21. Hida range NW of Suwa, Akaishi SE, and Kiso range between.

View of Mt Ontake from N36.03, E 138.05, Alt 815 m

We wanted to see Mt Ontake 御嶽山, Ontake-san, which straddles Gifu and Nagano prefectures. The elevation of this mountain is 3,067 m, the second highest volcano after Mt. Fuji. Indeed, this mountain is partly the reason why the prefectures are divided this way along the mountain ridges. The peak of Ontake could be seen from the lookout at a michinoeki, a good place to stop for lunch of the local kamameshi steamed mixed rice (1080 yen).

Mt Ontake, 3,067 m

Kiso River System 木曽川流域

The Kiso River (木曽川, Kisogawa) is 229 km long, flowing through 長野県 Nagano, 岐阜県 Gifu, 愛知県 Aichi, and 三重県 Mie prefectures into Ise Bay. The source of its waters is Mt Hachimori (2,191 m) in Nagano prefecture. It is the main river of the Kiso Three Rivers together with the Ibi-gawa and Nagara-gawa. The source of the Ibi is Mt Kanmuri in Gifu, and that of the Nagara is Gujo, also in Gifu. In our post at Yamanomiya, we showed the whirlpool in the Kiso-gawa at Kawakami Jinja in Yaotsu town in Minokamo. The Kiso River basin (including Shiga prefecture) is 9,1000 square km, the fifth largest in Japan.

Kiso River, viewed facing west at Michinoeki
Kiso River System. The Kiso River (blue line) flows through Nagano (upper right), Gifu (yellow), Aichi (lower right) and Mie (lower left) before pouring into Ise Bay.

Kisokoma Highlands  N 36.85, E 137.76, Alt 1036 m

Mt Komagatake ( 2,956m)

We started our visit at the Kisofukushima station in the southern part of Nagano. Kisofukushima is well-known through Hiroshige’s woodblock print, Fukushima-juku, in the series Sixty-nine Stations of Kiso Road, the Kisoji. The seventeenth century daimyo took this scenic road to Edo, the capital.

We learned that this region is called Shinshuu, in the highlands of Kisokoma . The name 木曽駒高原 Kisokoma Kougen is a composite of 木曽 for Kiso River, 駒 for Komagatake Mountain, and kougen 高原mountain pass. In case you’re wondering about the word 駒 koma which means small horse, the Kiso uma are famous. The tall mountains were still capped with snow in late May. Yet here at the Morino Hotel on the slopes at 1,000 m altitude it was a warm spring day with many wildflowers and green all around. It was hard to believe we were less than a half hour away from the station. Dinner was a gourmet treat of trout, tempura, chawan mushi, artisan tofu, misoshiru, and the tender Shinshuu gyu beef with hoba miso on a tabletop grill. We added a clear Kisoji sake. Dessert was a light raspberry-mango cream cheese. We would head out the following morning. We next present a series of reports on the places we visited.

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Tanabata — A Jomon Festival

mikasafumi-namekoto-no-ayaNamekoto no Aya by Yasutoshi Waniko, courtesy Japan Translation Center

Tanahata (Tanabata)

Tanahata is a matsuri of the Jomon people, as told by the Wosite documents of Jomon Japan. The Law of Universe is explained in terms of a weaving metaphor. Tanahata is a weaving loom. When weaving, one uses a shuttle to connect horizontal threads with vertical threads. In a similar manner, Ame Cosmos interacts with Tuti Earth, just as wo Male with me Female. The result is Hito, a human being, like you and me. Tanahata connects us with time and space — and with each other. Tanahata is an event that fosters family, global and cosmic relationships. 

Tanahata Maturi, Hosi Maturi

In the 7th month of the year, the heat of summer is softening and there is even a breeze tonight. It is the seventh day, the first quarter of the moon, so that the night sky is dark and stars twinkle. The Amanogawa Milky Way is an awesome spectacle. A ceremony is held, the Woto Tanahata no Hosi Maturi. Cotton and hemp are woven, and lotus rice is offered to Amemiwoya, the Cosmic Parent.    [Namekoto no Aya, see below.]

qraud-kochi.jp:activity:weaving:o

Shuttle of a loom

Weaving.  The Tanahata ceremony was sacred. Weaving was sacred work entrusted to women, for weaving makes the Way of Universe visible in form. The weaving itself represents the unity of Universe and Earth, of man and woman, and their intersection is a person like you and me. This is explained in the Kituyoji teaching recorded in the Wosite document called the Mikasahumi.

Stars. Stars are honored as ancestors. Breath of spirit, breath of life, come from Ame Miwoya. Miwoya is like the pole star, and ancestors are like the stars that rotate around it. Ancestors, too, are a source of life to each one of us. We look up at stars and feel gratitude for the life with which we are blessed. Our Jomon ancestors felt moved at the beautiful sight in the night sky. Their souls connected with ancestors and they started this tradition. Hearts filled with joy and gratitude, they danced. 

Time and Space.  Another effect of ori weaving of Tanahata is connecting toki-tokoro, time and space. The vertical threads represent time, the horizontal threads space. Tanahata is an observance of time and space. The Tanahata festival was originated by wise ancestors of Wosite Jomon times. Tanahata connects us with time and space, with Universe and Earth, with each other. 

Modern Tanabata Festival

“Tanahata is a festival already ancient in Jomon times.”

http-::yokosojapan.co.jp:tanabata-time:

The Tanahata (Tanabata) star festival of the Weaver was traditionally held on the seventh night of the seventh lunar month. The lunar year did not begin on our January first, so the seventh month is not July but likely to be in our August. Tanabata Matsuri is held in July or August in modern times, and it has become a story of two lovers meeting once a year at the Milky Way. While many think erroneously that the Tanabata Festival is of Continental origin, it was celebrated by Jomonese long before Continental contact. It was not about love relationship, but rather about relationship of humans with others, with ancestors, and with Universe. When you participate in the Tanabata Festival, remember how it originated in Jomon Japan and remember your connections with the stars. 

Obon Odori

The dancing of the Jomon Tanahata has spun off into the Bon Odori, the folk dancing a week later when people in their later Buddhist faith welcomed the spirits of deceased ancestors.

Namekoto no Aya

The Wosite passage at the top of this page is from the Jomon-period Mikasafumi document, Namekoto no Aya. It mentions Tanahata in the third line below. A glossary is given in an appendix.

ahumi matu     /     hume ni yawasite

kaze to nasu     /     yumi hari ni umu

iu to asa     /     woto tanahata no

hosi maturi     /     moti ha miwoya to

iki tama ni     /     yena no hasuke no

me-wo a-e ha     /     a-ogi odori te

i o ukuru

Discussion

In the annals of the Wosite documents of Jomon Japan, annual festivals of the first, third, fifth, seventh, and ninth lunar months are mentioned as follows:

1/1     Hatsuhi, New Year’s Day

3/3     Momo no Sekku Peach Festival of Girls Day (Hinamatsuri)

5/5      Aoi Matsuri, Hollyhock Festival of Kyoto

7/7     Tanahata Matsuri, Star Festival

9/9     Kiku-kuri Matsuri, Chrysanthemum-Chestnut Festival

These are all Jomon festivals, kept alive to today.

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Milky Way, by Brunier

Jomonese were keen observers of the skies, day and night. When the moon was in its first quarter on the seventh night of the seventh lunar month, they would have seen the summer Milky Way, which they called Amanogawa, the Cosmic River. They would remember the Kituyoji teaching and contemplate toki-tokoro time-space. They could imagine weaving amongst the stars, weaving time and space. And so they called this observance Tanahata Maturi, Hosi Maturi, and we would say Tanabata Festival, Star Festival.

Appendix – Glossary

ahumi, 7th lunar month

hume ni yawasite, the heat is softening

kaze, breeze

yumihari, first quarter of the moon

iu, cotton;  asa, hemp

hosi, star

maturi, observance

Miwoya, Cosmic Parent

hasuke, food offering

odori, dance

sc155955

Weaving on a Loom, by Kitagawa Utamaro 1798

 

Update 2018.09.12.  Matocayamato, another Wosite blogsite, has published a similar post, entitled, Origin of Tanahata and the Origin of Bon Odori.

We have also published a new post on the Tanahata festival of Sendai, August 2018.

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Sendai Tanabata Matsuri, August 6-8, 2018

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Sendai Tanabata

Sendai Tanabata festivals have been popular events since the time of the first lord of Sendai and hero Date Masamune (1567 – 1636). Two million visitors have been attending in recent years. The civic center and business areas are festooned with colorful streamers representing light coming from stars. To adjust for our modern solar calendar, Sendai observes Tanabata in August. This year, the dates were August 6, 7, and 8, 2018. Tanabata has become a romantic story of two Milky-Way-crossed lovers who meet once a year on this night. This adjunct to the original weaving theme probably came from China in the 8th century, and was further enlarged upon by Sendai merchants in the 17th cenury. So it is now a far cry from the simple nature-based Jomon festival.

Tanahata Maturi of Jomon Period

The Tanabata Hoshi Matsuri goes far back to Jomon times, when it was called Tanahata Hosi Maturi, the weaving loom star festival of the seventh night of the seventh lunar month. This is the night of the first quarter moon of our eighth month. On that night, Jomon people would look up at the Milky Way and thank ancestors for providing food and shelter and clothing. As part of the ceremony, they would perform ritual weaving on the tanahata loom. And in their gratitude and joy for all their blessings, they would dance all night. Weaving is a metaphor for the orderliness of Universe, where warp and woof threads are properly aligned and balanced. And where warp and woof represent male and female, without their meeting there would be no children.

This is one of the many seasonal maturi described in the the Hotuma Tutaye and Misakahumi ancient documents written in Wosite characters.

Modern Tanabata Decorations

These photos were taken on August 8, 2018 in Sendai. Note the kusudama balls below which streamers of washi paper float in the breeze. The traditional tanzaku strips of paper have wishes written on them and are hung on bamboo branches. There were many modern designs as well. And, as usual, there are decorations of thousands of origami cranes for peace.

Enjoy these cheerful works of art as you send your prayers of gratitude to your ancestors.

 

 

 

 

Photos by (c) C.N.

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Power Places and the Kanayama Megaliths

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Megaliths as Power Places

Earth and Celestial Energies.  Humans have long held a deep relationship with Earth and its energies. Even as hunter-gatherers, early man knew places of power as sacred places. They gathered at these sites to honor and venerate life-giving energies of Earth and Sky.

People became aware of fluctuations of these terrestrial energies, and they realized that these earth cycles were related to celestial cycles, the movements of Sun, Moon, and stars in our sky. They knew how to live in harmony with these energies.

Megaliths.  Soon, humans learned that these energies could benefit the health and welfare of people and society, that these energies were associated with naturally occuring megaliths. They learned, as they settled down and began cultivating crops, how to improve their lives. At first, they utilized megaliths to mark significant places. Then they assembled them into megalithic structures, often moving huge boulders from far away, to these special sites — how we do not know. Thus, energies were enhanced. Energies could be redirected to areas where needed, for example, to their crop fields. Megalithic structures could be erected to tamp excessive earth energies such as those due to earthquakes.

As modern research technologies have advanced, and our minds have been opened to new ways of viewing early societies, we have come to better understand early man. These megalithic places served multiple purposes, the least and the last of which was to serve as cemeteries. Through more accurate dating of materials, we know that the structures were built in the 4,000 BCE time-frame, that they were later and only occasionally re-purposed as burial sites.

Purposes of megaliths.  As mentioned, megalithic sites served to mark sacred places; they were developed to manage earth and celestial energies to benefit society. And, finally, megalithic structures were designed and built and operated to serve as observatories. They could then provide accurate data for calendars and for predicting future celestial phenomena, to know when there would be significant changes in energy.

Each of these megalithic observatories investigated the celestial body pertinent to that particular site. Although these observatories were a late development, there are not so many that are known to us today. 

In summary, let’s list the purposes of megaliths and megalithic structures, in roughly chronological order.

+ Identify locations of sacred sites,

+ Hold sacred ceremonies to venerate life-giving force of Universe,

+ Control and manage energies for beneficial purposes,

+ Learn periodic fluctuations of celestial energies affecting earth energies,

+ Observe celestial phenomena in specially-built observatories to determine more exactly the timing of special energies,

+ Determine an accurate calendar of the year/years.

Kanayama Megalithic Observatory

Deep in a mountain forest on the main island of the Japanese archipelago lies a megalithic solar observatory. This site has recently come to the attention of those outside of Japan as the source of a super-accurate solar calendar. This calendar of the tropical year is based on sunlight observation and is 15 times more accurate than our modern calendar. The megaliths were shaped and assembled more than 5,000 years ago. We know, because later humans deposited ashes that have so been dated.

Japanese news media have termed this solar observatory a “power spot”. People have been coming from near and far to experience this remarkable achievement from long ago. They are amazed at the ancient people’s knowledge of astronomy, of their skill in shaping 100-ton and 200-ton blocks of stone, of moving them with precision into desired — and well-planned — configurations. These configurations enable a human observer to accurately track sunbeams and their patterns over the course of the year. at special times, special phenomena are observed. These times of observation determine the solar calendar.

This sun-tracking station is situated amidst tall trees in the mountains near a rushing river. To track the sun would have been simpler if the site were on a flat plain as in most other calendrical observatories. However, the site was cleverly chosen so that it could operate in winter as well as in summer, throughout the entire tropical year.

What’s also remarkable is that two non-specialist researchers have, in less than 20 years, decoded the purpose of this megalithic site. Actually, it is a system of three sites which cooperate to produce all the needed observations, and more. These modern researchers in fact have accomplished their own feat of reverse engineering. They have deduced, from what they themselves have observed, what the original purpose of each megalithic solar event was, and the functions of each megalithic structure.

And to top it off, they are able to explain to the large tour groups how it all works, in language that is simple and direct, uncluttered by scientific jargon. They have already published a fully-illustrated guidebook to the site and have a more technical bi-lingual book in preparation.

The Kanayama Megaliths are a living example of an ancient scientific system. To young children and adults alike it teaches basic astronomy ‘in the field’ so that everyone can experience being a sun tracker in megalithic times.

Concluding Remarks

Megaliths are found all over the globe. They are well-known in Europe, less evident in the Far East. This post was inspired by the article of Martin Gray  about megaliths of Europe. We then related it to our own research at Kanayama Megaliths.  Photo of a tour group at Kanayama Megaliths by Okunomichi.

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