Megaliths of Kanayama
Added In: Articles › History
William Slifko & Kikuko Funabashi
There are a group of ancient stones that are considered to have qualities that border on mysticism and prehistoric science and philosophy. Located in Kanayama-cho, Gero City in Gifu Prefecture, the appearance of these structures will amaze you with their size and construction.
The megalith ruins consist of three groups: Iwaya-Iwakage, Senkokuishi, and Higashinoyama. Recent surveys have revealed that this seemingly offhand construction is a functional calendar. It was erected to show seasonal changes to coincide exactly with the yearly solstice and equinox periods. Unlike the more famous, similar calendars such as Stonehenge and the Aztec calendar stone, the Kanayama Megalith accurately includes a leap year calculation.
Until just one decade ago, the megalith was nearly entirely buried under centuries of earth and hidden by an undisturbed forest. The amateur but avid naturalist who discovered the structure was intrigued by lines cut into the stone that he later determined are the lines used to mark the calendar. His attention was drawn initially because he often expresses similar markings in his artwork. After further careful study he discovered ellipsoidal shapes and this find convinced him of the archaeological significance.
This naturalist, Yoshiki Kobayashi, began his first dig around the Senkokuishi ruin group. Because he is neither an archaeologist nor the owner of the land where the ruin sits, he was often interrupted by officials from Kanayama-cho and Gifu Prefecture. Fortunately Mr. Kobayashi has a champion in the office of the mayor of Kanayama-cho. The mayor reacted favorably to his research so he ordered the purchase of the mountain so that full-scale operations could be undertaken.
Now Mr. Kobayashi was able to redouble his efforts and soon discovered that Senkokuishi consists of 3 large stones. The stone that has the carved lines and ellipsoidal shapes that first caught his attention, and two additional stones that serve the purpose of creating a focal point for the rays of the sun show the calendar period. This is when he learned that he needed help to document his discovery. He brought in Ms. Shiho Tokuda who is a professional photographer and who also shares the same level of enthusiasm for this project as does Mr. Kobayashi. Her dedication and enthusiasm was made obvious when she left her previous employment in photography in Nagoya. She has now worked for ten years recording his discoveries.
Their collective work was recently rewarded by a request to present this discovery in an archaeological conference in England, and now also appears in school texts in Kyushu. This research has firmly established, for the first time, archaeoastronomy as an area of research in Japan. The study of archeology and astronomy offers a glimpse into the scientific lifestyle of the ancient people of Japan. It also shows the high level of their wisdom and almost certainly a strong spiritual connection to nature.
This structure is believed to date back to the early Jomon period, possibly 10,000 or more years ago. The Jomon period is believed to have been an era of peace, with little signs of struggle, since no artifacts to that effect have ever been found. Even as long ago as this structure was built, the knowledge of seasonal changes is evident. Three megaliths were constructed in order to follow the sun through the sky, each megalith dedicated to a particular season according to the height of the sun.
As mentioned previously, an interesting theory is held where the people who lived during the Jomon period did take practice warfare. No evidence has ever been found that would suggest that Jomon period people suffered periods of unrest. The typical archaeological evidence of warfare, such as weapons and skeletal remains showing traumatic injury, have never been found in Jomon period remains. History supports this theory, in that the Jomon people did not own land until after the arrival of rice cultivation, which was introduced by the Yayoi people from modern-day Korea. Rice cultivation led to the capability for food storage, so the early rice farmer felt the need to protect the land where they grew crops. Land ownership followed and the era of peace for the Jomon began to disappear. Fortunately the Kanayama Megalith, being deep in the mountains, remained undiscovered for centuries until Mr. Kobayashi happened upon it.
There are two lesser-known megaliths in this area, both among my favorite places for hiking. The first is Maruyama-jinja located in Nakatsugawa City. This stone is at the back of the shrine and was carved in the shape of a fish. The name of this stone is Funa-iwa and is seven meters long by 5 meters height and width. It has a glaring eye and caudal fin but the most interesting fact is how carefully balanced Funa-iwa sits upon another large stone. There are many other stone carvings that are very interesting in this small shrine. Mr. Kobayashi has just recently begun an archeological investigation of this stone, but his initial theory is that this stone also has some capabilities that can be used to observe the sun and stars.
The last of the three stones takes us to Kasagiyama, which sits between the cities of Ena and Nakatsugawa. There is a road that will take you to a parking area that is just a 30-minute walk to the summit. The path to the top is littered with many large stones, several of which have petroglyphs carved into their facing. The summit of Kasagiyama is at 1,128m and has a stunningly beautiful view of the surrounding area. This mountain is also famous for its many pyramids that are unmistakably man-made. The shrine at the summit has a rare moss that is called hikarigoke (luminous moss). It glows a greenish-gold color when seen in dark places, like something out of an old fairy tale! But it is beautiful to look at just the same and has been labeled as an endangered species.
Looking at a map of Japan, you will see that this entire area sits right in the middle of Japan. The central Japan area of Gifu is believed by many to hold some spiritual significance, and that great amounts of energy can be felt there. Spiritualists believe that the ancient people, with their more nature-based culture, had a stronger connection to the Earth and nature than we are capable of now. They believe that the persons who placed these stones, structures and pyramids did so to mark this area as a spiritual center. It is said by the locals that Kasagiyama is struck by lightning extremely often. Some may believe that it is simply because this mountain sits high above the rest of the area, while others say that it is a message from nature.
The people of the Jomon period are the roots of modern-day Japanese, and through the study of their artifacts we can learn something about their lifestyle and wisdom. These people lived with nature, adapting to their environment without introducing changes that can be considered destructive, certainly not on a wide scale. Mr. Kobayashi feels that the Jomon era people have sent us a message with these megaliths and other artifacts. He believes that there are ways to live with nature rather than manipulating nature according to our desires. The Jomon people studied nature and used that knowledge to live in peace. Quite different from what we have in our world today.
The trip to this area has a feel of mysticism about it. It is a refreshing journey and you can observe the megaliths and can even see Senkokuishi point out the summer solstice. There is a tour that runs from 19 – 23 June between 5:30 am – 5:30 pm. You are also welcome to make the trip without the tour groups and then join the groups during discussions at the megalith sites.
One last thing that I would like to mention is that Mr. Kobayashi has paid for all of his research from the profits of his restaurant. Ms. Tokuda is unpaid as well. If you visit this area, it is recommended that you visit his restaurant not simply because of his wealth of knowledge on the Kanayama Megalith, but also because his soba alone is worth the trip!
Gallery Oofuku (owned and operated by Mr. Kobayashi):
2974-16 Kanayama, Kanayama-cho, Gero-shi, 509-1622 Gifu-ken
Tel / Fax: 0576-34-0073 (Japanese)
Soba Restaurant “Oofuku-ya” (next door to the Gallery)
Tel : 0576-32-2362 (Japanese)
Here at the end of this article I truly want to express my sincere appreciation to Ms. Shiho Tokuda. She gave me so much interesting information and I was completely impressed by her enthusiasm.