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Turtle-shaped stonework at Osaka temple dates to 7th century: study

Stonework dating back to the 7th century is seen in this photo taken at Shitennoji Temple in Osaka's Tennoji Ward on April 25, 2019. The stone turtle back and head at right were made in later years. (Mainichi/Yusuke Komatsu)

OSAKA -- An examination of ancient turtle-shaped stonework at Shitennoji Temple here found that the object was created in the 7th century, apparently for use in state rituals, the temple announced on April 26.

The academic study, a first, was conducted by the Gangoji Institute for Research of Cultural Property in Nara as part of preparations for the 1,400th anniversary in 2022 of the death of prince Shotoku Taishi. The prince, renowned for modernizing the government administration and promoting Buddhism in Japan, founded the temple in what is now Osaka's Tennoji Ward in the country's west.

The stonework at the temple's Kameido hall is made up of two turtle-shaped objects facing each other, and was built around the same period and is similar in scale and structure as a carving at the Sakafuneishi ruins in Asuka, Nara Prefecture, in western Japan. The Asuka ruins, excavated in 2000, are believed to have been a ritual site for Empress Saimei (reigning 655-661).

As Shitennoji Temple is believed to have been inside Naniwakyo, the capital at the time, "the stonework is a first-grade object suggesting that state rituals using water were carried out," according to the Gangoji Institute.

Kameido hall is to the northeast of primary temple structures including the Kondo main hall and the Gojunoto five-story pagoda. The stonework is about 1.5 meters below ground level, where it has access to ground water.

Today, water gushing from the "mouth" of one turtle flows into a stone reservoir that is also turtle-shaped. The former is 122 centimeters long and 154 centimeters wide, while the latter is 215 centimeters long and 152 centimeters wide. The stonework is used even today in a ritual in which sheets of wood bearing the posthumous names of ancestors are floated on the water to commemorate their souls.

The stone tank and the upper turtle's base are carved from single pieces of Tatsuyama stone, a variety of tuff. While the base of the upper structure used to be a tank, it was covered by granite in the shape of a turtle head and back in later years. Its feet were added at that time, according to the study.

(Japanese original by Yukiko Hayashi, Osaka City News Department)

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