12th-century Shinto deities found in ditch at shrine site
BY MITSUO UENO, THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
Five wooden deity figurines excavated in Shiga Prefecture. The two at top left and bottom left are believed to be male gods. The others are thought to be goddesses. (PHOTOS BY TADAHIKO ARAMOTO/ THE ASAHI SHIMBUN)
NISHI-AZAI, Shiga Prefecture--Five palm-sized wooden Shinto deity figures believed to date back to the late 12th century have been excavated from the ruins of a shrine here, the prefectural board of education said Monday.
It is the first time more than one such statue has been unearthed in the same dig, officials said.
The figures, 10 to 15 centimeters high, were found in a ditch by researchers from the Shiga Prefecture Cultural Properties Protection Association as part of an excavation carried out along with river upgrade work.
Their forms suggest two are male gods, and the others goddesses.
Roof tiles, cypress bark and other building materials also were found, officials said, adding the statues were likely buried when a shrine hall crumbled during a natural disaster such as an earthquake.
The shrine site is a key part of the Shiotsu port ruins at the northern tip of Lake Biwako, a major hub for water transport in the past.
The figures are damaged after remaining buried for centuries, but the male figures appear to be clad in formal court noble attire with kanmuri headgear, while the females are dressed like court ladies with long hair.
Ancient Shinto followers did not traditionally worship icons, but divine figures in human form--priests, nobles, warriors or children--were created from the late eighth century under the influence of Buddhism, the officials said.(IHT/Asahi: November 12,2008)