Evidence for Ritual Development and Overseas Exchange

The sacred island of Okinoshima, situated between the Japanese archipelago and the Korean peninsula, has long attracted the devotion of the local population in the Munakata region, who possessed advanced nautical skills.
 Large-scale rituals utilizing an enormous quantity of precious votive offerings were conducted on the island to pray for safe ocean voyages from the 4th to the 9th centuries, a period of more than 500 years during which overseas exchange occurred frequently in East Asia.
 Ritual sites bearing witness to the successive phases of ancient rituals that chronicle the formation of indigenous beliefs in Japan have survived to the present almost intact, because the island of Okinoshima, as an object of worship, has been protected by established taboos strictly limiting access to the island.
Okinoshima
Okinoshima
Okinoshima has been worshipped as a sacred island from that time onward, and its ritual sites have survived almost intact to the present day. Archaeological investigations have revealed the changes in rituals connected to nature worship over a period of some 500 years. Rituals on the island were first conducted atop gigantic boulders, then in the shadows of these boulders, and finally in flat open-air parts of the island; in the process, faith in the Three Goddesses of Munakata began to take shape.
 As ritual styles evolved over time, ritual offerings including precious objects from abroad also changed.
 Approximately 80,000 votive offerings have been collectively designated as national treasures of Japan, further illuminating how these rituals underwent changes, and the nature of overseas exchange at that time.

Rituals Performed Atop Huge Rocks

Site17
Site17

By the middle of the 5th century an altar had appeared set atop a boulder, with a large stone in the center, surrounded by pebbles arranged in a square conguration.
 Offerings of flat iron ingots that the Yamato court procured from the Korean peninsula also reflect something about the nature of overseas exchange at that time.

Rituals were first performed atop these boulders in the late 4th century, when overseas exchanges were occurring frequently.
 Offerings were arranged neatly in small spaces between them and covered withstones.
 These artifacts are similar to many burial objects found in mounded tombs dating to that period, including bronze mirrors,iron swords and other weapons, and comma-shaped beads.
 The combination of mirrors, swords, and beads (also called "jewels"), which constitute the imperial regalia of Japanese mythology, characterize ritual offerings spanning several centuries.
Triangular-rimmed deity-and-beast mirror
Triangular-rimmed deity-and-beast mirror

Rituals Performed Atop Huge Rocks

From the second half of the 5th century onward, rituals were performed in the shadows of boulders. Offerings from this period include iron weapons, miniature knives and axes, and highly ornamented gilt-bronze harnesses.
 These objects were crafted using advanced technologies from the Korean peninsula at that time. In particular, a gold ring that bears a striking resemblance to those found in the royal Silla tombs is an important piece of evidence for the active exchanges that were taking place at this time.
 Shards of Persian glass have also been discovered on the island, presumably brought to Japan by way of the distant Silk Road.
 Those who engaged in dangerous ocean voyages laid out these treasures on the ground beside boulders as offerings to the gods.

Gold ring
Gold ring
Many fine offerings from Silla, including a gold ring and gilt-bronze harness, were found at Site7 to the right of the boulder and at Site8 to its left.
Many fine offerings from Silla, including a gold ring and gilt-bronze harness,
were found at Site7 to the right of the boulder and at Site8 to its left.

Rituals performed partly in shadow

Site 22
Site 22

During this period the Sui unified the long-divided Chinese continent; the Tang then replaced the Sui and grew increasingly powerful.
 The Yamato court sent envoys to cultivate relations with the Sui and Tang rulers.
 After the Tang toppled Baekje, which had long been allied with Yamato, however, Yamato sent in troops and suffered a huge defeat by Tang-Silla allied forces in 666.
 After the loss, Yamato accelerated its efforts to establish a centralized government modeled on the Tang.

In the early 7th century, as the period characterized by rituals performed in the shadows of boulders came to an end, offerings shifted from items resembling burial objects found in mounded tombs to gilt-bronze miniature spinning and weaving tools, human figurines, and other objects.
 In the late 7th century, rituals were performed only partly in the shadows of boulders, but mostly out in the open.
 Artifacts crafted especially for these rituals include gilt-bronze miniature spinning and weaving tools and pentachords, pottery, and other items.

Site 22
Site 22
Gilt-bronze dragon head
Gilt-bronze dragon head

Written records of ancient rituals in Japan appear only from the 8th century onward, so the ritual sites on Okinoshima are an essential source of information about the formative stages of indigenous faith in Japan.

Rituals in Okinoshima appear to have changed with the times.
 The ritual style that confirmed in this period became the basis of indigenous Japanese ritual practices that still survive today.
 These gilt-bronze artifacts resemble the divine treasures still in use today at Ise Shrine.

Fragments of Tang-style three-colored bottle-shaped vase with long neck
Fragments of Tang-style three-colored bottle-shaped vase with long neck
Site 5.Arrangement of pottery as investigations have confirmed that it was used in rituals.
Site 5. Arrangement of pottery as investigations have confirmed that it was used in rituals.
Gilt-bronze miniature pentachord
Gilt-bronze miniature pentachord

Open-air rituals

Shapes of people
Shapes of people
Shapes of ships
Shapes of ships
Shapes of horses
Shapes of horses
Site 1
Site 1

In the 8th century rituals began to be performed in flat, open areas, some distance away from the group of boulders where they had been performed unil that time.
 The remains of a stone altar with a large rock at its center were discovered, with an abundance of votive offersings deposited in the surrounding area.
 Rituals were performed continuously on this site for about 200 years, until the end of the 9th century.
 Offerings consisted mainly of a wide variety of pottery and steatite objects in the shapes of people, horses, and ships.
 While these offerings share some common features with those associated with the new ritual style that prevailed at that time in Japan, some ritual objects—such as those made of pottery perforated with holes—are characterized by shapes and materials unique to the Munakata region.
 Rituals with a local flavor were performed within the new framework of the state.

Tang-style coloring techniques.
Nara-style three-colored small jar made in Japan,modeled on Tang-Style coloring techniques.

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