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January 17, 2020

Kanayama Megaliths – The Making of a Documentary, Part I

by Celine Marks*

This is the first installment of two accounts by Japan-Insights Guest-Expert Celine Marks on her visit to the Kanayama Megaliths in Gifu prefecture. 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 led a team of documentary filmmakers who produced a clip about this unique place for BBC, the world's leading public service broadcaster.

Celine Marks

The air in my lungs will have to last a while longer.

I am protecting a cable from my coat sleeve that terrorizes to express the movement of my ribs. A surfeit of stillness – possibly – but this is my first time working a boom mic and sound collected this morning is slated for the BBC.

The wind cuts through and I exhale into it, wiggling warmth back into my fingers. What was captured is lost and we will have to start over.

Though first learning of the Kanayama Megaliths through an editing assignment two years earlier, it was the instinct to support and contextualize an understanding of where I am currently in the cycle of my own life that compelled me to the Jomon-laid stones for the spring equinox concurring with the full Worm Moon of March 22, 2019.

The weather forecasts bright yellow circles all week save for the equinox itself, depicted in bulbous grey and strike-down blue. Bearing optimism, homespun Japanese and small gifts for the two researchers I will soon meet, I board a night bus from Tokyo to Nagoya where I catch the local train to Hida Kanayama, arriving March 21.

The sole passenger to debark and ahead of schedule, I am met by an empty wood-furnished waiting room, save for the man behind the ticket counter. Wandering a few steps each way leading from the station, I settle on a bench outside to let the country air impress itself upon me.

A car pulls up and donning a blaze orange jacket reading HIDA KANAYAMA TOURISM ASSOCIATION, a woman makes her way past me into the station to look out the window, over the tracks.

I wager an approach. Tokuda san?

Beneath blue sky, a laughter-dappled drive to the megaliths. I am not a man and other stories.

Pulling over to the side of the road along a running brook, Tokuda Shiho doesn't miss a beat, drawing me and other visitors up the hill, through woodslat gates into the Iwaya-Iwakage megalith, a stone chamber peppered with clusters of incense used to convey light by smoke. We have gathered to observe a beam of light cross the floor as the sun passes overhead, pouring in through an aperture where stones meet. Tomorrow's crossing marks the beginning of spring.

While waiting, I am introduced to discoverer of the megaliths – Kobayashi Yoshiki along with two staunch regulars – a woman from Tokyo who makes full moon visits by motorcycle and from the neighbouring prefecture, Sugisaka Kazuo.

Kobayashi Yoshiki

A spot of light emerges on the wall just above the ground and begins its descent launching Tokuda into animated discourse. My understanding of the content is partial, but I am moved by the form – her words and actions direct and clear, resonant. Postures and movements, shaped by the information she is conveying as well as the space itself elicits a repertoire of squats and bends with arms extending, creating clear lines through the body, emanating outward into the space. After twenty years of repetition, a dance.

Tokuda Shiho, ©Justyna Feicht

Words spoken and photos taken, we watch time proceed slow and steady across the floor, then disappear.

Outside, the setup is attended but unprescribed – a grassy hill hosting cedar, pine and camellia, shrubs of tea, a few field flowers and two megaliths.

Iwaya-Iwakage marks the vernal and autumnal equinox and Senkoku-Ishi serves as a summer solstice observatory. Four stones that form a ring, it was Senkoku-Ishi that first caught Kobayashi's attention on an afternoon walk through the woods when he spotted a grouping of three circles with two lines etched in stone and suspected their maker was some other than wind and rain.

While designated sacred land, prohibiting substantial excavation, there has been some at Senkoku-Ishi. I learn that after the local mayor purchased the land in support of Tokuda and Kobayashi's efforts, they spent two years digging by hand.

With Tokuda at work onsite and in town, I have the afternoon free to myself. Sugisaka and the moon maven have set up base out the back of his van with folding chairs, table and kettle around which we warm up to each other over coffee and tea. The air is languid and expectant. Here we've arrived, pilgrims of no clear prayer or perhaps festival goers with front row seats for exceedingly slow rock.

The rest of my time is spent with the stones, sitting in various places to watch or listen, to touch. There are signs to explain but math can wait.

The stones have motifs of broad smooth surfaces joined by soft and cut edges, triangles and ovals giving the impression of stability and friendliness, community. Being there among them is not entirely unlike coming across a troop of mushrooms in a forest and getting caught up in their silent and invisible sporic exchange.

Eventually I settle on soft ground above Iwaya-Iwakage under a camellia tree, removed from passersby, a little dejected. Now I have read, I have seen, and even I am here sitting direct on top of it, but feel unable to comprehensibly connect with something existing on such a different scale. Above the pinks and browns of decomposing camellia, I stare at my hands, the borders of my fingers translucent in the sun.

Your hands, thicker than mine, probably. Did they know what they were doing? Were they privy to the logic, or did they haul heavy to pay your part in faith good or bad or not at all? What was your morning like before you came here to make a megalith? Are you happy? Who are you?! Can you imagine that I am sitting here today remembering you?

Time evaporates as a drop falls from your brow, down my cheek to the brook below where it is babbled away to the Maze river.

Strike-down blue comes true.

Grey comes in bulbs and shrouds and anything it can get its hands on to keep the sun out. With not much to do but keep warm, an underlying agenda sidles up to the front burner – to spend the night at the megaliths.

Though it seems neither plausible nor even particularly desirable in the wet and cold, I scout around the stones and surrounding area for someplace dry. Everywhere is soaked through and through until finally – my little desert in the oasis – under Stone B of Senkoku-Ishi, a crevice my size, bone dry.

The rest of the day is lived along two lines. The melody of whatever is going on at the moment coupled with the unwavering drone of how I will get back at night.

After onsen is dinner at the Kanayama Megaliths Research Centre – a recently renovated gallery in town where Kobayashi, a soba maker by profession has prepared a handmade soba dinner. We are joined by a friend, introduced as a Kabuki caller who arrives a few steps ahead on sake and is moving beautifully tonight.

Clearing up to go around the corner for drinks, I recognize my moment and wager my second approach to Tokuda.

These are the good old days! once said a friend.

The next twenty minutes I am witness to and actor in future fond memory as, with the thespian support of Kabuki caller, we journey from the most vehement nai nai nai's to bundling into Kobayashi's car with his sleeping bag, a parcel of food and small bottle of sake.

After a car ride of few syllables, we step out into the last drops of rain as a warm front rolls in. Warm greetings also from Sugisaka who brings a hot water bottle and two foam mats.

I show them my spot.
A clap on the back from Kobayashi as Tokuda looks up to the first few stars coming out from behind fast-moving clouds Jomon spirits are watching tonight!

After the tail-lights and Sugisaka's headlamp have all dispersed

Wandering a few steps each way

Now what?

Feeling up in my lines, I move into the centre of Senkoku-Ishi and extend my arms outward to touch the air. A short Qi Gong series follows after which, not feeling to continue movement of any form or style, I sit and try to be receptive, but my body feels to move so I begin with an action from many corners of my dance training as well as cultural movement practices and spiritual traditions around the world – to drop weight through my feet into the ground. This leads into an hour and a half of uninterrupted, repetitive cyclical movement, gradually morphing to include the whole body in loops and arcs. During this time, a flickering of light in the sky before me as cloud continues to sweep across the sky until finally, Worm Moon. In this time, there is a kind of disappearing, an unbecoming into pulsing circulation.

And then it's over.

I crawl under my rock and go to sleep.

March 23 returns to Hida Kanayama, the sun and with warm goodbyes, me to Tokyo. There, I share these experiences with a friend and after tallying up schedules, we plan a trip together in October for the first light of winter.

Part two will be published with the documentary's release on BBC Reel's Japan 2020

Read Harriet Natsuyama's article on Jomon Astronomy – and also her Japan-Insights blog contribution here!

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.

© all photos Celine Marks unless otherwise indicated

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