Stories: Hata Clan: Israelites-Christians in Japan by Mark A. Riddle
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|Mark A. Riddle served in NFEM 1965 – 1968. He spent many years doing research on the alleged connection between ancient Japan and ancient Israel.
Having retired from Japanese language teaching, he is now writing on this subject. The following is his piece on ancient Japan and ancient Israel.
In the eighth year of the Emperor Chuuai (198 AD according to the traditional chronology, but more likely just prior to the advent of the Oujin dynasty in 346 AD, according to the revised chronology currently accepted by scholars) a King Kouman immigrated to Japan from China at the head of 18,670 people organized into 92 political units. They settled in what is now the Kyoto area and because they were skilled weavers, at the time of Emperor Yuuryaku (457-479 AD) they were granted the yago (house style name) ‘Uzumasa.’ The meaning and origin of this word is uncertain. They were also given the kabane (family title name) ‘Hata,’ (alt. archaic pronunciation ‘hada’) written with the kanji pronounced in Mandarin ‘Qin,’ the family name of the royal house of the First Emperor of China (Qin Shi Huangdi, 259-210 BC; unified China by conquest in 221), whose descendant King Kouman claimed to be. In old Japanese the meanings for ‘hata’ include loom, flag, ceremonial cloth, fringe, and the number 20, but its meaning in this case is unclear. It has been assumed that because the immigrants were skilled weavers, their name came from ‘hata’ meaning loom, and that the kanji for Qin was used to write the name because of their claim to descent from the Qin kings, but even then the reason for this unique combination of kanji and reading remains a puzzle. Even more peculiar is the use of the kanji compound Tai Qin to write the immigrants’ name Uzumasa, but a look into the old Chinese dynastic histories’ accounts of Han era Chinese contacts with the Roman Empire will provide some clues to solve these mysteries.
For centuries Chinese silk made its way to Rome over the Silk Road, by way of intermediaries, caravans of merchants traversing the deserts and mountains of Central Asia and the Kushan and Parthian empires.
Rome and China learned of each other by word of mouth, but the first Chinese embassy to Rome, dated 97 AD, was turned back by Parthians eager to protect their position as middlemen, and it wasn’t until Rome conquered Parthia and controlled the Persian Gulf that the first Roman ambassadors, sent by Marcus Aurelius, arrived in China in 166 AD, bringing ivory, rhinoceros horn and tortoise shell to the Chinese Emperor Huandi. The kanji compound the Chinese histories use to refer to the Roman Empire is Da Qin, which word we encounter in Japan as the way a name given to the Hata immigrants was written (the characters ‘tai’ and ‘da’ being interchangeable; see Toudou p.307). In volume 88 of the Chinese dynastic history Houhanshu, the country Da Qin is described and it is said that travelers on the long road to Da Qin must carry weapons to protect themselves from the bandits and fierce tigers and lions in the mountains along the way.
Some Western scholars have argued that Da Qin refers not to Rome but to Antioch or Alexandria, but the Chinese history Hohanshu refers to Da Qin’s King ‘Andun’ (Anthony); it’s likely that the Chinese did not distinguish between Italy, Syria and Egypt, and referred at times to all three as Da Qin. From the time of the Han Emperor Lingdi (beginning soon after Marc Anthony’s embassy arrived), merchants from Da Qin began to arrive in China in increasing numbers, coming by way of (according to the Chinese history Liangshu) Cochin (India) and Funan (Mekong Delta).
In the fourteenth year of the Japanese Emperor Oujin, 359 AD in the revised chronology, a King Yuuzuu (also known as Yuzuki no kimi, the Prince of Yuzuki), claiming to be a 15th generation descendant of the first Chinese Emperor, immigrated to Japan from the Korean kingdom of Baekje (Paekche) at the head of a group divided into 127 units. However, the traditional account has Yuzuki’s people starting out in Central Asia and fighting their way along the Great Wall and through Korea to get to Japan. One of King Yuuzuu’s sons, King Shindou received from Japanese Emperor Nintoku (r. 395-427, revised chronology) the kabane ‘Hada,’ written with phonetically-read kanji to indicate a non-Japanese word. King Yuuzuu was also an ancestor to the Hatauji, the Hata clan referred to frequently in subsequent Japanese histories.
The member of the Hata clan most famous in Japanese history is Hata no Kawakatsu, who established a temple, the Uzumasa-dera (now a Buddhist temple known as Kouryuu-ji in the Uzumasa area of Kyoto) in 603 AD at the behest of his friend Prince Shoutoku, arguably the most memorialized character of Japanese history—his likeness today graces the 10,000-yen note of Japanese currency. Our first clue to unlock the identity of the Hata is this name Uzumasa, written with kanji also used to mean the Roman Empire. Our second clue is the existence at Kouryuu-ji of a shrine to King David of the OT.
The Oosake Shrine, now (the author last visited in 1992) located NE of Kouryuu-ji in the Usumasa area of Kyoto, is a small shrine to three Hata ancestor deities—Shin no shikoutei (Japanese name of the first Emperor of China), Yuzuki no kimi (the name kanji also read Yunzu no kimi), and Hata no sake no kimi (Prince Sake of the Hata), who achieved their current leading rank in the official Shinto pantheon, hierarchy of gods, in 1068. According to the official shrine guide (1992), the word ‘Oosake’
( ) was originally written with different kanji ( ). It was Oxford-educated Japanese scholar Saeki Yoshiro (1872-1965; aka Paul Y. Saeki, internationally-known scholar of ‘Nestorian’ Christianity) who first recognized, in 1907, the earlier kanji combination as a version of ‘Dabi’ ( ), the name used for David in Tang-era versions of the Chinese OT. (Assyrian [‘Nestorian’] Christianity officially came to China in 635 AD and flourished there until an Imperial Edict proscribed them, along with Zoroastrianism and other foreign religions, in 845.) Japanese scholar Okino Iwasaburo (1876-1956) claimed to have seen the signs for the Oosake Shrine at Kouryuuji still written with the kanji used for David’s name before the signs were changed into the current kanji in the early Taishou period (circa 1914), just a few years after Saeki published his discovery in 1909.
The official written guide of the Oosake Shrine (dated 1984) preserves the following Hata family traditions: King Kouman arrived with his followers in Japan in the 8th year of Japan’s Emperor Chuuai (356 AD by their calculation), escaping unrest in their Chinese homeland. Prince Yunzu, a son of Kouman, arrived from Kudara (Korean Baekje) in the 14th year of the Emperor Oujin (372 AD by their calculation). Prince Sake was a grandson of Prince Yunzu; he engaged in sericulture and contributed silk to the Imperial Palace, for which he was granted the kabane ‘Uzumasa’ (written now with kanji read phonetically indicating a foreign loan word, a way of writing the name also attested in ancient records).
The Hata also brought from the continent advanced techniques in farming, brewing, civil engineering, carpentry, and musical instruments. A stone stele at the shrine memorializes “the ancestral deity of weaving, music instruments and dance,” which certainly brings to mind the harp-playing David, who “danced before the Lord” (2 Samuel 6:14) and the Hebrew machol, the music and dance performances integral to religious ceremonies in ancient Israel, especially those of the temple. Zeami Motokiyo (c1363-c1443), the leading Noh actor and playwright of medieval Japan, credited Hata no Kawakatsu with having introduced kagura (Shinto music with ritual dance) to Japan (Wikipedia, “Hata”).
The shrine tradition is that it was a part of the original Uzumasa-dera built by Hata no Kawakatsu in 603, then was moved some time thereafter to a site within the nearby Katsura Imperial Compound, then moved to its current location in 1868 as part of the Meiji reforms. Kouryuu-ji’s famously enigmatic Ushi-matsuri (Ox Festival) performed in October each year, was originally a festival of the Oosake Shrine, dating back to the time when it was the garan-gami, or tutelary deity, of Buddhist Kouryuu-ji.
The founder of Oosake Shrine, Hata no Kawakatsu, was a descendant in the 6th generation of Prince Sake. In 701 AD his descendant Hata no Imikitori founded the Matsuo Shrine (still extant near Arashiyama in Western Kyoto) and in 713 his descendant Hata no Irogu founded the Fushimi Inari Shrine (home base of the Inari faith of Japan, famous for its fox deity and vermillion trorii gates; Inari shrines are now found throughout Japan).
At the western boundary of Kouryuu-ji is a well called “the well of Isarai.” The author first found an older well in 1982, and in 1992 noted the well’s supersructure had been rebuilt on the same site; scholars going back to British comparative religionist Mrs. E.A. Gordon in the late 19th Century have labeled this “the well of Israel.” When the author visited Kouryuu-ji and inquired about the well in 1982, the shrine office provided a hand-written explanation, as follows (the author’s translation):
Called “Isarai” [two ways of writing the name are shown; in both cases the ‘i’ ending
is the kanji for ‘well’], it is said that the well has been here since the founding of
Kouryuu-ji. Of course, it was built and named by the Hata people of that era. If it
were a well dug by the Hata, it should have been called “the Hata well,” so we do not
know the reason why it was called “Isarai” (which is said to mean ‘the well of Israel’).
For this reason, the question arises whether the Hata were Israelite. In the past there
have been many scholars who advocated the theory that [the Hata] were Israelite, but
in the absence of conclusive proof, the matter is unresolved, and today Japan and Israel
are called the world’s two puzzles.
The Isarai of Kouryuuji appears, from the fact that it was the subject of a poem by Sei Shounagon (966-1017) to have had a long history of cultural significance (cited in Takeuchi, Nihon no Kirisuto Densetsu, p.193). The author believes that by itself, the name of the well proves nothing; but taken together with other evidence, it becomes one of many interesting pieces of a very large puzzle.
Yearly on October 12, the Oosake Shrine of Kouryuu-ji holds its Ushi-matsuri (Ox Festival). At night, the way lit by bonfires, the deity Madara-jin, in the form of an actor wearing a white mask, comes riding to the temple on an ox, accompanied by four actors, the Shitennou or gods of the four quarters, dressed in white and wearing red and green masks with fangs (miniatures of these masks are in the possession of the author), who walk around the temple precinct carrying tridents. The procession makes its way to the temple’s haiden (hall of worship), and there, after circumambulating it thrice, Madara reads a strange text in a jesting fashion, with the four Tennou chiming in while the on-lookers heckle the performers. When the reading of the text is finished, the five actors quickly retreat into the hall. None of the aspects of this festival—the name of the deity, the masks, the ox, the tridents, the text—resemble anything else the author has ever seen at other temples or shrines in Japan.
When the first ‘Nestorian’ missionary arrived at the Tang court in China in 635 AD he was welcomed by the Emperor and he and his companions quickly established churches called by the Chinese Da Qin Si, meaning ‘temples of Da Qin (Rome)’ and written with the same kanji the Japanese used to write ‘Uzumasa’ in the earliest records. But Hata no Kawakatsu is supposed to have founded Uzumasa-dera in 603, some three decades before the earliest known arrival of ‘Nestorian’ Christians in China; this has led some scholars to assert that Christianity was known in both China and Japan well before the arrival of the Assyrian Church’s first missionaries in 635.
For additional evidence of this we return to the story of the founding of Uzumasa-dera found in the Nihon Shoki, the earliest (720 AD) official Japanese history. In the 11th year of the Empress Suiko (602) the regent Prince Shotoku convened a council of the leading figures of the realm and asked whether any one of them would accept and worship a Buddhist statue which had come into his possession. Evidently the prince himself was unable to perform the service because the statue was not an orthodox Buddhist image. Hata no Kawakatsu came forward and accepted the prince’s offer, subsequently founding, in order to properly house it, the Uzumasa temple in Kadono, the Hata homeland. Still housed at Kouryuu-ji today, it has been designated a National Treasure.
Because the wood from which it was carved is not native to Japan, and because a very similar image of Miroku is found in the Seoul National Museum, the Kouryuu-ji Miroku is believed to have come to Japan from Korea long ago. ‘Miroku’ is the Buddha Maitreya, a future Buddha of this world in Buddhist eschatology whose return to earth to save its inhabitants is prophesied in Buddhist scripture. Western scholars believe the Maitreya concept was influenced by the cult of Mithra, the Zoroastrian Saoshyant, the Jewish Messiah and by Christian eschatology. If Hata no Kawakatsu was heir to a Jewish and/or Christian tradition, he may have embraced Miroku as a Buddhist version of his own faith.
A legend of Kawkatsu’s origin has him saved like Moses, found as an infant in a jar plucked from a river in front of the Oomiwa Shrine (in what is now Sakurai, Nara Prefecture). An expert musician, tradition has him teaching kagura music at the courts of the emperors Kinmei (r. to 571), Bidatsu, Youmei, Suushun and Empress Suiko (r. from 592). He is also credited with having introduced accounting practices to the court. But, fleeing for his life from Yamato after the assassination of the only son of the deceased regent Prince Shoutoku (d. 621) in 643, Kawakatsu is said to have taken refuge in the Sagoshi Bay area, in Western Hyougo Prefecture, where local tradition has him dying in 647 AD, aged over 80 years. He was buried on Ikishima, a small isle in the bay, and festivals of the Oosake Shrine in nearby Sagoshi actively commemorate his fame to this day. It was at Sagoshi in 1907 that Japanese scholar Saeki Yoshiro discovered the Chinese name for King David used to memorialize Hata no Kawakatsu.
Preserved at the Oosake Shrine in Sagoshi is an ancient wooden mask said to have been brought to Sagoshi by Kawakatsu and worn for performances of kagura music and dance. It’s called the Koou Mask, meaning the mask of a barbarian (Japanese ‘ko,’ Chinese ‘hu’) king. The Hu were ethnically non-Chinese “barbarians” on China’s Northwestern frontier, the area from which Prince Yunzu’s people claimed to have come to Japan. The mask is remarkable for its non-Japanese facial features, including large round eyes and an enormous nose, and for the four-winged angel (cherub) which sits atop.
The frequent use of the number 12 (twelve ships, twelve stones, twelve offerings) at the Oosake Shrine in Sagoshi is also of significance (Joseph, Lost Identity, p.6).
So, these themes of Kawakatsu’s life—a foundling like Moses; a musician like David; the use of the name David to remember him; the belief in Miroku, a savior to come at the end of time; the connection with Rome and with Christianity in important place names linked with him; his origin from ethnically non-Japanese immigrants to Japan—all these combine to suggest that Hata no Kawakatsu was what Saeki Yoshiro claimed he was—an Israelite and a Christian whose ancestors hundreds of years before him came from far away to take refuge in Japan.
Japanese chronology before the 6th Century is uncertain.
The granting of these court title names by Yuuryaku suggests that the Hata were ethnically assimilated, probably by intermarriage with the Yamato Japanese, within about a century of their arrival in Japan, but that they were also still a distinct cultural or lineage group.
Da Qin is also described in volume 30 of the Chinese history Sanguozhi.
Toudou says (p.304) it referred to Roman Empire during the Han era, the land of Christianity during the Tang era, and Baghdad during the Sung era.
Cochin (now Kochi, Kerala) was the center of Indian spice trade for centuries, known to the Yavanas (Greeks), Romans, Jews, Arabs and Chinese since ancient times (Wikipedia).
Archaeological discoveries at the Oc Eo site, a Funan-era port in the Mekong Delta area, included a Roman coin dated 152 AD.
The Miroku of Kouryuu-ji may be viewed at: http://www.taleofgenji.org/koryuji.html .
On Maitreya, see http://www.butuzou.co.jp/english/mirokubosatsu.html .
A photo of the Koou Mask is in Teshima, 1971, frontispiece; copy in possession of the author.
Much of the information in this paper comes from Okino, Iwasaburou (1876-1956), from pp.122-152 of his Nihon Jinja Kou: Nihon Shuukyoushi no Yomikata (1952). Okino follows the early official histories Nihon Shoki (720 AD) and Shinsen Shoujiroku (815 AD). Information about the Sagoshi Shrine and area comes from the shrine’s yuishoryakki, obtained in 1999 and now in the possession of the author.
Other sources cited:
Joseph, Ken Jr. Lost Identity, at www.keikyo.com/LostIdentity.pdf
Takeuchi, Yutaka Nihon no Kirisuto Densetsu (Tokyo: Tairiku Shobou, 1976)
Teshima, Ikuro “Uzumasa no Kami” in Seimei no Hikari Number 250 (July 1971) pp.1-23
Toudou Akiyasu, Kanwa Daijiten (Gakken, 1978)
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