One of the Earliest Japanese Letters
found at Shikoku, on a Memorial Stele dated 291 A.D

Nobuhiro Yoshida

Chairman of the Japan Petrograph Society

At an ancient memorial site  of Ohjin Tenno, in Shodojima Island, Kagawa Prefecture,
dated 291 A.D.,
  letters engraved on a stele were found by Hiroaki Hayashi on March 19th 2000.

Ohjin Tenno

The stele at the memorial site of Ohjin Tenno (Photo: N. Yoshida)
The Kanjis at the top of the stele have been engraved around 1000 A.D.  It reads from right up to left :
"Ohjin Tenno (emperor)  On (valuable) Koshi-kake (rested upon) Ishi (rock)."

It was rainy, and the wet surface of the stele helped him notice the letters.

The  pre-kanji inscriptions discovered on the lower part of the stele

In one of the oldest Japanese history books, Nihon-shoki, it is writen that
Ohjin Tenno came to the island of Shodojima. He is said to have rested on the stone
for a while with his bow leaning against a rock nearby. It was in September 291 A.D.,
and is memorialised by local historians, carved in the stone as now  seen.

Although it is difficult for us to know which letter-code one should use
in order to decode the inscriptions, one can be sure that
even before the introduction of ‘Kanji’ (Chinese characters) into Japan,
there were local alphabets or syllabaries to record and carry messages.

Most Japanese archaeologists, linguists and language professors used to deny this fact,
insisting that there had been no specific letters nor alphabets in earliest Japan.
To our surprise, they refuse to admit the real existence of inscriptions, petroglyphs, or engravings
 even given the global occurence in human culture of letters and rock art.
This might result of their fear that if they admit such an ancien human literary and spiritual heritage,
they will lose their authority or pride which had been gained through an antiquated presumption
or belief that there were no signs, no letters, no alphabets but only oral tradition
in those days before 'Kanji' were officially introduced into Japan
by the Kinki dynasty, in the 650’s A D.

Why such presumption ? 
How could they be so stubborn in these days when so much
rock art and petroglyphs have been found worldwide ?



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