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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.