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May 06, 2020

Kanayama Megaliths – The Making of a Documentary, Part II

by Celine Marks *

Follow-up account by Japan-Insights Guest-Expert Celine Marks, when she led the Double Circle Tokyo team of documentary filmmakers on a production for BBC Future's Japan 2020 about the Kanayama Megaliths in Gifu prefecture. These three sites, built five thousand or more years ago by the Jomon people in close proximity to each other, serve as observatories for the passage of the sun during its annual cycle.

Celine Marks

October brings wreckage and disruption as typhoon Hagibis makes waves across Japan, rippling through my scheduled visit to the Kanayama Megaliths with a friend to see the first light of winter. Luckily there is a window of three days to catch this alignment of sun and stone and we will make the last.

Double Circle Tokyo – Justyna Feicht and Miyazu Susumu ©Double Circle Tokyo

I connect with Justyna Feicht and Susumu Miyazu in Nagoya and we take the slow road through small towns, rolling in past the Iwaya Dam to the southern tip of Gero, Hida-Kanayama at dusk.

Iwaya Dam, ©Justyna Feicht

An evening of getting to better know Kobayashi Yoshiki and Tokuda Shiho and acquaint with the town. An old bathhouse idling dry, maintains a warmth while crisp free-flowing mountain water can be found outside in shimizu, a partitioned stone basin that keeps vegetables cool in summer. This evening in autumn, playing to gatherers in the street, a wind ensemble.

Old Showa Bathhouse, ©Justyna Feicht
Shimizu, ©Justyna Feicht

I learn over dinner that tomorrow morning’s destination of Higashinoyama (East Mountain), the third megalithic site, lives up to its name.

Though aware of the translation, I failed to anticipate a mountain and came with only a light jacket and low-cut sneakers. I am sportingly informed of the 35-degree incline, lack of path, and terrain riddled with leeches. They get in everywhere!

At some dark and cold hour that night I am unceremoniously kicked out of slumber, my head reeling with visions of writhing haplessly up a leech-infested landslide. Eventually released from the hook, I descend into a vivid dream where I am warmly welcomed into a gathering of friends. I reawaken buoyed and free of leech to a morning brimming with sun.

Located on private property, Higashinoyama was discovered by Kobayashi who, through observations at the Senkoku-Ishi and Iwaya-Iwakage sites, surmised the presence and location of this third and followed his finger up the mountain into a megalith.

Today Sugisaka Kazuo leads our forty-minute scramble to the top. The ground has dried from typhoon and our group is bushwhacked by a lone leech. Beyond a slight thinning of trees, the area is untouched. One by one, we arrive in quietude before a downward diagonal corridor of stone.

Sugisaka Kazuo, ©Justyna Feicht

Perched on the end of the megalith where a seat has been carved for an aligned view of the Sun, I bask in what I rack up to be the dividends of my investment in hand-written letters that snail through a world Morsing frenetic with text and tweet. Immersed in communication so slow, clear and unprecedentedly direct, my heart is won. Here, there is no ink to fade or paper to parch; no score to copy or interpret along any lineage, translation does not apply. Devoid of emblem or aesthetic belonging to culture or religion, it expounds plainly the Sun and stars, the trajectory of the Earth. Three points, focal turned vantage, these messengers give way to message, occurring in the same real time as 5000 year ago and tomorrow.

Higashinoyama, ©Justyna Feicht

A swift descent to lunch at the Senkoku-Ishi and Iwaya-Iwakage site. On my previous visit, I learned the shrubs around the base are tea and noted this as but one of many details. I take this moment to introduce my constant reminder to look closer, dig deeper - cinematographer and documentarian, Justyna Feicht who turns passing description into enthusiastic group inquiry; each of us rummaging up our two leaves to contribute to the pot. Soon we have a better collective understanding of how tea is grown, the recognition and harvesting of seeds and leaves, as well as processes for making different kinds of tea. In a cup at my window are ten seeds, sitting out for a year before planting.

Tea seeds, ©Celine Marks

With only a few hours of midday warmth, the hill is bustling. Tea pickers, salamanders, a butterfly passes through; moss on rock, wind through trees and birds. Spiders cast their lines and in a glint, I am suspended in a heterophonic haze as, kith to the nested cycles of the gamelan, Sun slow above and we transient beings below sound out our call and response through the colotomic support of the megaliths.

Megalithic Cycle, ©Tokuda Shiho
Colotomic Cycle

At onsen before parting ways, Justyna and I exchange impressions, concluding to express the megaliths and awarenesses they potentiate, through film. The following week news comes that her pitch of the Kanayama Megaliths was selected for BBC Future’s Japan 2020.

Despite there being not a trace of yellow in the forecast, the sun shines plenty upon the first week of December. Plentiful also is wind and cold and I will never see a winter scene on screen the same way again. It is remarkable and engaging to see Justyna and Susumu, co-founders of Double Circle Tokyo, at work; navigating the elements, equipment, people, and multiple languages, under the obfuscations and revelations of a one-way sun and shifting clouds. On sound, when not partnering the boom mic, I am free to roam and record the stonescape and its tidings.

Higashinoyama site, ©Celine Marks

Originally constructed by the Jomon, it is through the labours of Kobayashi and Tokuda as dedicated researchers and stewards that we are today able to access the megaliths of Hida-Kanayama and have an understanding of their workings. I am so glad that through Japan 2020, the world will meet the people behind those four hands that dug for two years and continue to carry forward this fragment of knowledge bequeathed by our ancestors.

Their story is children’s dreams made manifest through simple precepts adults strive to remember and live by - go with your gut, observe and pay attention; probably there’s more than first meets the eye so follow up the mountain, dig deep and daily.

Kobayashi Yoshiki and Tokuda Shiho, ©Justyna Feicht

I have to leave ahead of schedule and am disappointed to miss out on Kobayashi san’s soba dinner. My last lesson is that this time of year, buckwheat flour is fresh enough to be prepared as an appetizer and it is very good!

Walking back through the empty wood-furnished station, a train is waiting with open doors. One foot in and I realize I haven’t checked to be sure this is my train so pause to pull out my phone. With a smile, the conductor assures my other foot aboard, the doors slide shut and I am gone.

The documentary Uncovering the mystery of Japan's Stonehenge is produced by Double Circle Tokyo , founded by Justyna Feicht and Miyazu Susumu, in collaboration with Celine Marks.
The production team expresses its gratitude to the Kanayama Megaliths Research Centre for the great support on location.

Read Harriet Natsuyama's Japan-Insights article on Jomon Astronomy – and also her Japan-Insights blog postings here:
Jomon Calendar and Wosite Documents
Megalithic Calendar System in Gifu Prefecture
October at the Kanayama Megaliths

Celine Marks lives in Tokyo, working in editing and English education while studying Wild Goose Qi Gong. Weaving together practices of movement and writing, she collaborates in exploration and creation with others along the way. In 2016, she produced Free Play Tokyo for visiting author and musician, Stephen Nachmanovich. Currently in her second year of the Feldenkrais Professional Training Program, she returns annually to North America.

April 20, 2020

Visiting the Izumo Folkcrafts Museum

by Sophie Richard

Japan-Insights Expert Sophie Richard is a freelance art historian based in London. She was educated at the Ecole du Louvre and the Sorbonne, Paris. Over the last twelve years, she has travelled to Japan many times. In Japan-Insights.jp she published Portraits of Museums, Exploring art museums in Shimane Prefecture , a detailed research on the museum offerings of West Honshu for international visitors.

Sophie Richard

I was happy to return to the Izumo region in Shimane Prefecture a few months ago and I would like to share one visit that particularly enchanted me, that of the Izumo Folkcrafts Museum. Being a self-confessed Mingei fan, I am always curious to visit local crafts museums and I was excited to see this one for the first time.

Approaching the Izumo Folkcraft Museum

A short drive from Izumo city, the museum is located in a leafy residential area. It is housed in parts of a beautiful Edo-period compound still today the residence of the Yamamoto family (not open to the public).

The walk towards the entrance

Visitors enter via a grand gate that was built over two and a half centuries ago by some of the carpenters who worked at Izumo Taisha, one of the most ancient and important Shinto shrines in Japan. Below the gate’s roof I noticed numerous wooden tablets bearing inscriptions. Upon asking I was told that these were hung during the Edo period to protect the house and ensure its prosperity. Members of the family would have them made while visiting temples and then bring them back so that they could be nailed to the gate.

Entrance gate

Detail of votive tablets nailed to the gate

The Izumo Mingei Association operates the museum, managing its collection and supervising the three buildings that are accessible to visitors on this site: the entrance gate and two kuras, or storehouses, that have been turned into display galleries. Turning right past the gate, visitors will find the museum’s main gallery which was once used to store large quantities of rice.

Towards the museum’s first gallery

Inside, the presentation is pleasantly uncluttered and elegant. A second floor was created when the museum was open in 1974, in order to make more space for the display of ceramics, textiles, lacquerware, and furniture. On view are mostly local Mingei artefacts, but there are also objects from other parts of Japan. The display rotates occasionally, particularly the works in glass cases, while the larger pieces such as wooden chests and hanging textiles are permanently on view.

Inside the first gallery
Gallery view

Among those are many indigo pieces that formed part of a bride’s trousseau. For example, on the photograph below, the rectangular textile in the centre was used as a towel for babies. The crane and turtle that decorate it are auspicious symbols of longevity and the red triangle in its top corner, obtained with bengara dye, was reserved for the face.

Textiles on display in first gallery

Upstairs are a variety of chests for storing household goods, including some with locks for keeping money.

View of the upstairs gallery

The impressive wooden beams that criss-cross the ceiling bear the names of the carpenters who built the kura in the 19th century.

Wooden beams seen from the upstairs gallery

Retracing my steps towards the entrance gate, I walked towards the museum’s second viewing space. The various tools and objects made of wickerwork arranged on the outside walls are a reminder that this building was once used as a barn.

Walking along the gate towards the second gallery
Entrance to the second gallery

On display are practical and beautiful objects illustrating the creativity and practicality of craftsmen. Among the many objects are paper kites (still made today in the small Takahashi shop near Izumo Taisha), ceramic warmers for hands, or for cooking eels.
At the time of my visit a special exhibition focused on dobin, small tea pots used for pouring tea or broth; they were tastefully presented throughout the space, including on the stairs of a step chest.

Inside the second gallery
Temporary display

I warmly recommend a visit to the Izumo Folkcrafts Museum, a very peaceful and atmospheric place. Its temporary exhibitions are worth seeing and while there is little English information provided, this should not deter foreign visitors.
An interesting shop with craftwork from local artisans completes the visit.

Leaving the Izumo Folkcraft Museum

Related websites:
Izumo Heritage Museums
Izumo Folkcrafts Museum, Izumo Mingei Kan (Japanese)

© all photos Sophie Richard

Sophie Richard introduced a selection of Shimane museums in her article Portraits of Museums, Exploring art museums in Shimane Prefecture at Japan-Insights.jp!

April 01, 2020

Jomon Calendar and Wosite Documents

by Harriet H. Natsuyama

Japan-Insights Expert Harriet H. Natsuyama ,  visiting Scholar at the Kanayama Research Center shared her research on calendar systems - such as the one she presented in great detail at Japan-Insights.jp in her eassay Jomon Astronomy, the Solar Calendar of the Kanayama Megaliths .

Harriet H. Natsuyama

Mt. Kasagi, Mt. Ena, and Achi Shrine in the Nakatsugawa region, bordering the prefectures of Gifu and Nagano ©Google Maps


This article extends the recently reported findings of Kobayashi and Tokuda about the solar calendar of the megaliths in Hida Kanayama, Gifu prefture.

Viewed from Nakatsugawa, the 2,191m Mt. Ena straddles the border of Gifu and Nagano prefectures

Possible System of Megaliths: From Mount Kasagi in Gifu to Achi Shrine in Nagano

The thesis about the megalithic calendar system of the previous post may be supported by ancient Jomon documents. The three locations – Mt. Kasagi, Mt. Ena, and Achi Shrine – play an important role in the Jomon civilisation. They are centered around Nakatsugawa and cover an east-west spread of about 90 kilometers. The blue route has a driving distance of 58 kilometers.

Koyomi, meaning calendar, written in Wosite characters

Wosite Jomon Documents

In addition to my work with the Kanayama Megaliths, I have studied ancient documents written in the Wosite language of the Jomon period. These documents are not well known in Japan, even less in Western countries. The Wosite documents Hotuma Tutaye (also written Hotsuma Tsutae) and Hutomani (Futomani) are at least 2,000 years old. They represent a possible connection between the solar calendar of the megaliths and the ancient Jomon calendar. The Wosite word for calendar koyomi is still in use today.

Looking west to the winter solstice sunset from the Ena Jinja lower shrine

Omoikane Achihiko, Jomon Calendar Maker

The Wosite documents quote a prominent scholar of his day, Omoikane Achihiko. He was appointed as the first Hiyomi no Miya, whereby hiyomi refers to the solar calendar (koyomi), and miya indicates a high social position.
Omoikane took responsibility for the transformation of the lunar calendar into a solar calendar. He is remembered as a deity in shrines around the towering 2,191m Mt. Ena, which borders the prefectures of Gifu and Nagano.
The enshrined gods (kami) of Ena Jinja are Isanami and Isanagi, the parents of his wife Wakahime. The inner shrine, okumiya is located on the top of Mt. Ena and the more accessible lower shrine is on the western foothills of the mountain. The prayer hall of the latter faces a notch in the mountain ridge which indicates the direction of the winter solstice sunset.

Middle shrine of Togakushi Jinja

Omoikane no Kami

The great Togakushi Jinja in northern Nagano enshrines Omoikane, who is considered the god of wisdom, learning, and scholarship, and his two sons: the first, Tajikarao, in the Oku-sha and the second, Uwaharu, in the Hoko-sha of Togakushi.

Maemiya shrine of Achi Jinja, the memorial to Omoikane Achihiko. © Watari Kayo, November 2019

Achi Jinja

It is said that Omoikane Achihiko's found his final resting place in the Achi Jinja shrine in the town of Achi, southern Nagano, to the east of Mt. Ena. This shrine is considered to be the original one built before Togakushi Jinja.
The original location of Achi Jinja was the Motomiya, also called Okumiya, an ancient place of worship. There is an Iwakura stone to which the revered kami are said to descend. The stone is said to be aligned with the four cardinal directions and the winter solstice sunrise. The kami are Ame no Yakokoro Omoikane no Mikoto and his son Ame no Uwaharu no Mikoto.

Concluding Remarks

In modern Japanese, there are completely different variants for the writing of the names Omoikane, Ena, and Achi. These inconsistencies indicate that these names must be very old, originally written in Wosite characters. It must have been much later that different ways of writing them in kanji developed. Perhaps it was Omoikane Achihiko himself who established the Jomon megalithic solar calendar system. That is why we are enthusiastic about Kobayashi's and Tokuda's findings as reported in previous articles and the Japan-Insights topic on Jomon Astronomy. Carrying out fieldwork and analysis, running astronomical software, researching ancient documents, and learning about the history of shrines lead to revelations about the broad and deep extent of Jomon knowledge and achievements.

Additional information about Wosite and Omoikane can be found here:

© all photos Harriet Natsuyama (spring 2019) unless stated otherwise.

Learn more about the Kanayame Megaliths by reading Harriet Natsuyama's article Jomon Astronomy, the Solar Calendar of the Kanayama Megaliths. at Japan-Insights.jp!

March 07, 2020

Megalithic Calendar System in Gifu Prefecture

by Harriet H. Natsuyama

Japan-Insights Expert Harriet H. Natsuyama ,  visiting Scholar at the Kanayama Research Center shared her research on calendar systems - such as the one she presented in great detail at Japan-Insights.jp in her eassay Jomon Astronomy, the Solar Calendar of the Kanayama Megaliths .

Harriet H. Natsuyama

Funa-iwa megalith at Maruyama Jinja

Megaliths in the Area

I would like to show some photos from our field trip to several megalithic sites in the south of Gifu Prefecture in May 2019.

Based on the experience of twenty years of research on the Kanayama megaliths and the Jomon solar calendar, Yoshiki Kobayashi and Shiho Tokuda had established a theory about a possible system of megaliths designed and built by the Jomon people thousands of years ago to determine a solar calendar.

I have translated parts of their report The Kanayama Megaliths and Funa Iwa Solar Observation System of Gifu Prefecture , Kobayashi Y. and Tokuda S. J. Astro. Archaeol. Soc. Japan, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1-9, 2019 (in Japanese). and published in two parts on the Iwakage site: Part 1 , Part 2 . This post is the third part of this series.

The sites visited are all located in southern Gifu Prefecture, south-east of the Kanayama Megaliths . Together with Kobayashi Yoshiki and Tokuda Shiho, the program director of the TIFO Japan-Insights project – Mr. Shirai Makoto, Ms. Funabashi Kikuko, and Mr. Sugisaka Kazuo we started from Maruyama Jinja, and then went on to visit the sites in Sengeyama and Kasagiyama.

Maruyama Jinja is labeled in black, somewhat to the right of center. The range of sunrise directions from solstice to solstice is shown in pink.
Not far northeast of Maruyama Jinja is Sengeyama, with a blue arrow indicating the direction of sunrise of the summer solstice.
At the top center is the site of the Iwayama megaliths, with a blue arrow indicating the direction of sunrise of the equinox.
Kasagiyama is located about 12 km west of Maruyama Jinja, where blue arrows indicate the equinox and winter sunrise directions.
Note also the many archaeological sites in Jomon, which are marked with red dots.

Maruyama Jinja

This shrine is located on a 330m high hill in a village in the middle of an agricultural plain, surrounded by mountains in the distance.

We approached the shrine by climbing the steps from the west side
Near the top there is a row of red torii gates leading to an Inari shrine. On the right is an unusual megalith. This photo shows Kobayashi Yoshiki leaving the path to go to the Funa-iwa, as this megalith is called.
Funa is a kind of river fish
Kobayashi Yoshiki at the wedge-shaped opening pointing east towards sunrise
View of Kasagiyama in the west seen from the top of the steps of the shrine


Next we drove to Sengeyama, which is quite close to Maruyama. This mountain is covered with loose volcanic rock which makes climbing difficult. I decided to wait and gave my camera to Shirai san who then took the following picture.

Kobayashi Yoshiki and Tokuda Shiho in front of the flat surface of the megalith, which is oriented towards the sunrise of summer solstice ©Shirai Makoto


Kasagiyama is a sacred mountain of 1,137m height, 12 km west of Maruyama Jinja.

We climbed part way up from the east side. Aren’t these megaliths magnificent?
Sugisaka, Kobayashi, and Shirai at the megalith of interest. The groove at the bottom of the megalith is aligned with the winter solstice sunrise.
Kobayashi examines the opening to a small chamber. Maruyama Jinja in the east should come into sight if the trees blocking the view were removed.

The photos shown are snapshots from our trip. They are not meant to document a scientific investigation – which it really was; rather, they are meant to complement the photos that Tokuda Shiho presented in her journal paper mentioned at the beginning.

© all photos Harriet Natsuyama unless stated otherwise.
Special thanks go to Tokuda Shiho for sharing her map

Learn more about the Kanayame Megaliths by reading Harriet Natsuyama's article Jomon Astronomy, the Solar Calendar of the Kanayama Megaliths . at Japan-Insights.jp!