Until about two decades ago, the megaliths lied undisturbed in the forest. The sites were discovered in the late 90s by an amateur naturalist Yoshiki Kobayashi. His attention was initially drawn to the lines cut into a stone that were later found to be the lines used to mark the calendar. After further exploration and a support from the officials, more megaliths were found in the area and Mr. Kobayashi was then joined by a professional photographer Shiho Tokuda, who began recording his discoveries. The research is still ongoing, and in February 2015 the researchers determined a 128- year cycle of the solar calendar, which makes the Kanayama calendar one of the most accurate in the world.
“Kanayama Megaliths reveal fact, truth and essence about ancient Jōmon people and their relationship with the sun.”
-Ms. Shiho Tokuda
You can visit their comprehensive website of this fascinating solar observatory here.
The Kanayama Megaliths consist of three groups. The Iwaya-Iwakage megaliths (also called boulder chamber) and Senkoku Ishi megaliths (or megaliths with a marked stone) are located in the Iwaya valley, while Higashinoyama megaliths group (also called eastern mountain) is located on top of the nearby Higashinoyama mountain.
Iwaya-Iwakage means in the shade of the cavern or in the shade of the rock, as the word “Iwaya” (岩屋) translates as either a cavern/grotto or a rock, or even a sanctuary. It is the most elaborate of all 3 Kanayama sites, measuring different solar events during the year, especially in winter. There are three Shinto shrines in front of the Iwaya-Iwakage megalithic group, indicating that people have considered this site a sacred place.
The group consists of three big megaliths and an interior chamber/cavern approximately 10 meters wide and 7 meters long, open to the south. The stones are several meters high and are not native to the area, indicating they had been intentionally transported from somewhere for this purpose.
The site also appears to be connected in alignments to other major ancient sites around the world, including the Giza pyramids, sacred sites in South America, China, and multiple ancient sites in Japan, as explained in the video below (from 2:57-5:46):
The huge megalith in the center allows the winter sun to shine into the Iwaya cavern. The small megalith in the right foreground points to the direction of the sun as it rises above the mountains on the morning of summer solstice (see the pictures here).
The Iwaya Iwakage also allows observation of the so-called leap year. This blog shows the leap year observation from October 2015. Many archaeological artifacts of the ancient Jōmon era have been excavated at this site.
The group consists of several approximately 7 meters high megalithic stones within a radius of 30 meters. The carvings on the marked stone consist of an eye-shaped mark and two deep parallel lines. The group has different summer solstice alignments, and also measures the whole period of midsummer.
A detailed depiction of the different solar alignments of this monument can be seen here.
A video showing Iwaya-Iwakage and Senkoku Ishi megalithic group. The marked stone of the Senkoku Ishi with the inner space underneath that gets illuminated during the summer solstice can be seen from 5:10 to 5:20 of the video:
This megalithic group is located east of the Iwaya valley. It consists of two 9-meter long megaliths lying on the ground, aligned with winter solstice sunrise over the mountain.
Unlike the other megalithic sites, the Kanayama Megaliths are located in the mountains, which makes it impossible to observe the sun on the horizon. However, the elaborate design of these structures allows to determine the solstices and equinoxes, as well as other solar events by observing the rays of the sun hitting certain points of the megaliths or shadows cast on the rocks. A detailed overview of the three megalithic groups with their alignments can be seen here.
The Ancient Jōmon Culture and the Search for Harmony
The Kanayama megaliths date back to the Jōmon period (12 000 BCE to 300 BCE) – the oldest known prehistoric culture in Japan, which is believed to have been very peaceful as no warfare artifacts (such as weapons or skeletal remains showing traumatic injury) have ever been found from that time.
The Jōmon people did not own the land (the land ownership only came with rice cultivation in the following Yayoi period) and lived in closeness and harmony with nature, adapting to their environment without introducing any destructive changes. Their culture was characterized by pottery decorated with cord-pattern impressions or reliefs, as well as the enigmatic Shakōki-dogū figurines that come exclusively from the Jōmon period and are sometimes described by scholars as looking like “spacemen”.Japanese archaeologist Mizuno Masayoshi, who studied the Jōmon as well as the later Yayoi settlements, paints the following picture of the Jōmon culture:
“Faithful and loyal, convivial and amicable, loving others on every side, aiding each other and sharing possessions among one another, a society without theft or rebellions, one in which the wise and the capable took care of the settlements – this is the image of Jōmon society, a society that may well be termed a ‘commonweal’. Jōmon society had its existence as a society that progressed along a path intrinsically different from that of urban centres; and its ideals are to be identified in the denial of the urban, seeking, as it did, and at the same time valuing, the birth and rebirth of its own ‘commonweal’”.
– Nelly Naumann: Japanese Prehistory: The Material and Spiritual Culture of the Jōmon Period
In the middle Jōmon period, stone pillars symbolizing men and clay figurines symbolizing women were found, suggesting the principle of harmony and cooperation between men and women in this period. The pillars were usually standing within a circle, either within the pit cave dwellings (the smaller pillars), or placed in circular public areas of villages in case of the large-scale ones. According to the researcher Y. Kobayashi, the pillars within the stone circles often served as sundials.
Even later cultures after the Jōmon period still kept their spiritual connection to the sun and nature, which they believed was inhabited by gods and spirits. The beauty of nature invoked a sense of awe and wonder in them and this adoration later formed the basis of the Shinto faith, with the sun goddess Amaterasu being the most important deity. Her name literally means “that which illuminates heaven” and is seen as the highest manifestation of the unseen, transcendent yet immanent, spirit of the universe.
“The fact that religions in later period were concerned with the sun as expressed in terms such as the sun goddess Amaterasu, the emperor (hi no mike), or the “way of the sun” shows a continued interest in the sun from the Jōmon period.”
– Kazuo Matsmura in his book “Mythical Thinkings: What Can We Learn from Comparative Mythology?
The Area and Directions
The area of central Japan with its natural beauty full of lush forests, majestic waterfalls and pristine creeks is believed by many to hold a spiritual significance. You can see a short presentation of the Gifu prefecture, the area where the Kanayama megaliths were found, in the following video:
Other megalithic stones have also been found in the area, one of them being the Funa-Iwa – a fish- shaped stone, which forms the back of a small shrine full of carvings, located in Nakatsugawa City. The area is also a home for many pyramid-shaped stones, scattered in the forests of the Kasagiyama mountain (located between the cities Nakatsugawa and Ena).
There are many large, carved stones on the path to the top of this mountain, which is believed to be sacred and has a shrine on its summit at 1128 m. A rare form of luminous moss (called Hikarigoke) grows in the area of the shrine that glows with green-gold color when in the dark. The mountain offers stunning views, is aligned to the solstices and some believe it to be a pyramid in itself. You can see a picture of this mountain, as well as one of the pyramid-shaped stones here.
The road to the Kanayama megaliths leads along the beautiful Mazegawa river, with villages with rice and tea fields, flowers and majestic mountains around. Mazegawa is also a home to the rare Japanese giant salamander, which is restricted to streams with clear and cool waters. The megaliths are open to the public and there is also a possibility of joining one of the organized tours to Senkokuishi megalithic group, which run at the time of summer solstice, from19-th to 23-rd. June, between 5:30 am to 5:30 pm.
More information on the transportation can be found in the following websites:
Visiting Kanayama Megaliths
The Kanayama Megaliths and Archaeoastronomy in Japan
Article and research by Lucia Beznik. Edited and co-researched by Jenny Resnick.
Iwaya-Iwakage of Kanayama Megaliths
The Kanayama Megaliths and Archaeoastronomy in Japan
The Kanayama Megaliths and Archaeoastronomy in Japan — Midsummer
Megaliths as Ancient Shrines
Megaliths of Kanayama
The Kanayama Megaliths and Archaeoastronomy in Japan — Advisors’ Corner
Kazuo Matsmura – Mythical Thinkings: What Can We Learn from Comparative Mythology?
Nelly Naumann – Japanese Prehistory: The Material and Spiritual Culture of the Jōmon Period