Hyogo: Floating Rock Becomes Spiritual Power Spot

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Ishi no Hoden appears to float on the water at Oshiko Shrine in Takasago, Hyogo Prefecture.

TAKASAGO, Hyogo — At the Oshiko Shrine in Takasago, Hyogo Prefecture, there is a megalith of mysterious origin with an estimated weight of 465 tons that appears to be floating on water. Though not actually levitating, it has been called the Floating Rock for ages, and has become a spiritual destination for many people.

The Floating Rock is deified as the spirit deity of the shrine named “Ishi no Hoden” (stone treasure hall). It is 5.6 meters high, 6.5 meters wide, 5.6 meters deep and is revered as one of “three mysterious wonders” in Japan.

However, it is not clear who built the giant structure, when or why.

Looking at the Harima no Kuni Fudoki, a record of the local customs of Harima Province compiled around 715, you can find a description of the rock consistent with its current appearance. Harima is the old name of a province that refers to the southwestern part of what is now Hyogo Prefecture.

The document says that it was built by Mononobe no Moriya, one of the strongmen of the 6th century, during the reign of Prince Shotoku, who has been considered one of the greatest figures in Japan’s ancient political history. But there is no mention of what it was for.

However, the entries in the records are in conflict because, for example, Moriya died in 587 before Prince Shotoku came to power in 593.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Oshiko Shrine overlooks the city of Takasago.

■ Structure for coffin?

In medieval Japan — the 12th through 16th centuries — people believed a deity was the creator of the megalith. Even at present, there are more than 40 theories. One theory links it to a battle between two powerful ancient clans: the Soga clan supporting Buddhism and the Mononobe clan supporting Shintoism. Meanwhile, Seicho Matsumoto, a modern novelist, has advocated a theory that it was a kind of Zoroastrian altar.

From an archaeological perspective, one dominant theory is that it is a structure meant to store a coffin.

Hiroshi Nakamura at the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Archaeology said the megalith was built in the mid-7th century, about 50 years before the Harima record. It was fashioned out of tuff, and the area surrounding the shrine is known as a stone quarry used to provide materials for coffins since the Kofun period — about 1,700 years ago.

“They attempted to carry it out from here, but it may have been left due to physical and social reasons,” said Nakamura.

However, a radar survey of the interior conducted in 2008 did not confirm the existence of any holes or cavities, which would be necessary for housing a coffin.

■ Yet to be pulled up?

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A local tries to get power from the huge rock.

The side facing the shrine is considered the Ishi no Hoden’s front side. On the opposite side, there is a roof-shaped protrusion, which makes the entire rock look like a tipped-over house.

Some people are even now arguing over the theory that the huge structure was initially intended to be pulled up. But would that even be possible?

The megalith appears to be floating on the pool of water surrounding it, but it is actually in contact with the ground below. To be more precise, it sits atop solid material, as there is a crack in the rock that was created by volcanic activity. If you look at the area below the protrusion, you can see the crack.

“If you use this crack, you could roll it up by using the principle of leverage,” said Kazuhiko Takaoka, a fan of local history. Takaoka, 74, is the leader of the Ishi no Hoden “research team,” consisting of amateur historians like him. “Legend has it that the stonemasons of the time built it with that in mind.”

■ Longtime tourist attraction

The shrine became a popular tourist attraction in the late Edo period (1603-1867), after the manuscripts of the Harima no Kuni Fudoki became known to the public. Until then, the ancient documents had been in the possession of a noble family.

In addition to feudal lords from western Japan, Philipp Franz von Siebold, a German physician who introduced Western medicine to Japan in the late Edo period, also visited the site and provided sketches in his book.

Even now, the Ishi no Hoden still attracts many visitors.

“The Ishi no Hoden has been here since before the shrine was founded. It is not a tomb, but a palace built by a deity,” said Hisashi Higashi, 82, the chief priest of the shrine. “I hope people will feel power from it.”