The Buddhist temple Koreans built in Japan
Posted by ampontan on Friday, March 20, 2009
THERE’S NO TELLING what’ll turn up when someone sticks a spade into the ground in Japan. In Okinawa, as we saw in this recent post, the diggers might strike undetonated bombs or artillery shells buried since the Second World War. More often, however, what they’ll uncover are fascinating glimpses of periods dating back more than a millennium.
That was demonstrated again last week when the Education Committee of Hirakata, Osaka, and the city’s cultural treasure research and survey association announced they had discovered a trench used to cast iron and bronze utensils at Kudara-ji, a Buddhist temple in that city.
Here’s where it gets interesting: The temple was built in the latter half of the 8th century by members of the Baekche royal family from the Korean Peninsula who fled to Japan. In fact, it was named for them: the Chinese characters for Baekche (百済) are read Kudara in Japanese.
One of the three ancient Korean kingdoms, Baekche was located in the southwestern part of the peninsula, an area that still maintains close ties with Japan. It wound up the loser in frequent battles with Silla and Goguryo, the other two kingdoms. Some members of its royal family dashed across the Korea Strait after the kingdom’s defeat by Silla and their Chinese allies. Japan sent a substantial military force to fight with Baekche, and it’s estimated that as many as half of that force did not return home after being beaten. Meanwhile, the transplanted Baekche royal family is credited with introducing the Chinese writing system, Buddhism, and the advanced technology of the period to this country. Indeed, one of the Baekche kings, Muryeong, was born in Kyushu. (He ascended to the throne after his elder brother was assassinated.)
The researchers think they’ve discovered the remnants of the facility used to build the temple and make the implements used there. Only a handful of these facilities have been unearthed nationwide, so scholars consider the find important because it may shed light on the structure of the temple buildings of the time.
The committee said they found a pit 2.5 meters in circumference at the northeast section of the site used for the placement of casting molds. In addition to iron and bronze utensils nearby, they found about 300 shards from a melting furnace which is thought to have been used for casting.
They also found the remains of six posts, which they think formed a gateway at the northern wall. About 500 meters to the north of that gate is the site of ruins in Kinyahon-machi. The researchers say the find tends to confirm the close connection between the latter district and the Baekche royal family, which was given preferential treatment by the Japanese state at the time–including intermarriage with the Imperial family.
City officials noted that in addition to aiding research into temple structure of the period, the discovery is important because it provides further support for the idea that the Baekche royal family enjoyed great influence in that area from the Nara period to the Heian period (covering the 8th century).
There is another significant aspect to this story that city officials might have mentioned had they been disposed to do so. Namely, some ungenerous expatriate foreigners in Japan, as well as some South Koreans misinformed by the political and media axis in that country, labor under the belief that Japanese do not care to be reminded of their ancient ties with the Korean Peninsula and the impact those ties had on their culture.
Yet this story about a temple named after Koreans was openly and widely reported in the Japanese news media. The reports also noted that archaeological excavations have been conducted at this site since 1932.
Or, to take it to another level of detail, the Baekche kingdom itself was founded by people who headed south down the peninsula from Manchuria. So who’s your daddy, daddy-o?
All of which suggests that the Nippo-crits might be less informed on this subject than the Japanese public they hold in such disdain.