ASUKA, Nara -- Seventh century Japanese emperors are believed to have performed religious services at a then-pioneering garden in this western Japan historical village situated south of the ancient capital of Nara, according to new findings.
The Archaeological Institute of Kashihara announced on Aug. 8 that the structural remnants of a water channel have been discovered at the ruins of the garden of Asukakyo, which is believed to have been an ancient imperial residence.
The garden, said to have been built in the 7th century, is regarded as the first full-scale one of its kind in Japan, and has been under excavation since 1999. The remnants are thought to show that water once flowed from a spring toward lower land via a ditch at the facility constructed from stone blocks.
The garden, consisting of two artificial ponds to its south and north, was previously thought to have been built mainly for aesthetic appreciation. But the prefectural institute in Kashihara believes the flowing water had a strong connection with religious services such as the purification of emperors, and the new findings are likely to give researchers cause to reconsider the garden's intended purpose.
The water facility was discovered in the northeast part of the north pond. The place believed to have been a spring-water well is enclosed by stone blocks, and its square-shaped pool measures around 80 centimeters to a meter in both length and width.
The water is thought to have then traveled down a channel ranging from 30 to 80 centimeters in width and runs about 11.5 meters away from the pool. Stone-paved floors are set on either side.
Other ruins where religious services using water are thought to have been held have already been discovered near the site of Asukakyo, where imperial palaces for five emperors are believed to have been located. Researchers believe that the newly found water channel is of the same origin as other such ruins around the area.
Kenkichi Ono, a professor of Wakayama University, who specializes in the history of Japanese gardens, commented on the findings, "In ancient times, places where water sprang from underground were thought of as mysterious places linked with another world. It's possible that ancient nobles used to enjoy seeing the beauty of the garden's southern part after performing religious services in its north facility."
The newly found water channel is set to be opened to the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Aug. 10. For inquiries, call the institute on 0744-24-1101 in Japanese.
(Japanese original by Hiroshi Fujiwara, Kashihara Resident Bureau)