Friday, January 05, 2007


Maybe There Will Be Mummies


In my Japanese art history classes with Mineko Murase, we often used to joke that the old Imperial tombs of Japan would never be opened because we would all learn that the founders of Japan were . . . Korean.

But now, the government is poised to do just that. I'm not sure I ever thought I'd see the day!

Here's a little background for you.

Textbook history states that Japan’s emperors have existed in an unbroken line since Jimmu, the great-great-grandson of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu Omikami. Many historians suspect that, because of repeated intermarriage between Japan and present-day Korea and China, the imperial bloodline could be somewhat more continental.

I did notice the last time I went to the museums in Nara and Kyoto that there seemed to be a greater effort to link Japanese art history to the greater cultures of Asia. I don't remember this being the case ten or twenty years ago and I wondered at the time if it hinted toward a change not only in academic circles, but official (government) as well. I'll be very curious to see how the findings, if any, are revealed.


In the meantime, we can speculate. Maybe there will be something like this gorgeous Korean crown, full of shamanistic meaning, and, not coincidentally, a national treasure of Korea.


Or consider the magatama bead. Made of various stones, magatama are commonly described as "comma shaped" and appear in Japanese tombs from the Jomon Period (1000 BCE) and up to the Kofun era (250-538 AD). Often associated with the Yamato dynasty, for which there is enormous nostalgia in Japan, magatama are considered to have magical and mystical properties and may have been the precursors to modern prayer beads.

Magatama have also been found on the Korean Peninsula, and many archaeologists believe that the beads originated from Korea, with one scholar protesting that they actually originated from Japan. I was taught that the shape might originate from a bear's claw, which suggests an even older origin from Siberia which venerated the mighty animal.

More recently, magatama have resurface as phone charms, which you can purchase for yourself. Anime, manga and video game fans probably recognize them from various games and shows, including Inuyasha.

Or perhaps there will be something unexpected, some tomb painting or sculpture not seen in Japan before. Whatever the case, I'll be watching this closely, eager to see what develops.

On a final note, when I gave the news to my mother this morning, she grumbled that the tombs should be left alone. She hoped that the archaeologists hired a good priest to "pay" for disturbing the dead.

Posted over at Japundit.

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