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Monday, April 14, 2008

Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo

島根県立古代出雲歴史博物館

Opened in 2007, this new 9,000 square meter museum, located next to the Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine, is well worth a visit.

Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo

With the explosion of archeological work done in Japan in the last 50 years, our understanding of ancient Japan has grown tremendously, and the scale and importance of the ancient civilization centered on the Izumo area has begun to be understood. The museum showcases some of the major finds in the Izumo area of recent years.

Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo

There are galleries for temporary exhibitions, an exhibition including animated movies suitable for kids on Izumo's ancient myths, a gallery on daily life in Izumo from ancient times to the present that includes materials relating to Lafcadio Hearn, well-landscaped grounds that include replicas of Haniwa, but the heart of the museum is the permanent collection divided into several sections.

Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo

There is a section on the grand shrine of Izumo taisha. In the tenth century a visiting monk from Kyoto wrote in his journal that the shrine at Izumo rose to a height of more than 50 meters. Since then this had been mostly dismissed as an exaggeration, until excavation in 2000 unearthed the base of three huge pillars bound together with iron straps. It was probably the tallest wooden building in the world, and the foyer of the museum has the excavated pillars on display. There are also models of how the shrine may have looked back then, as well as many other materials illustrating the shrine history.

Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo

Next is a section on the Izumo Fudoki. Fudoki were gazeteers compiled at the request of the new "central" government in the early eighth century, and as such are a mine of historical materials. Fudoki were compiled for all of Japan's provinces, but only the Izumo Fudoki has survived intact.

The section on bronze goods, swords, and ancient ceremonial objects contains the centre-piece of the whole museum, all 358 bronze swords that were excavated at the nearby Kojindani site. Bronze ceremonial swords were buried for ritual and religious reasons.

Before the Kojindani discovery, only 355 of these swords had been discovered in all of Japan, so when more than that were discovered at one single site in Izumo, a rethinking of Izumo's importance in ancient Japan was necessary. The display consists of one huge wall displaying all the swords and above them replicas of the swords as they would have appeared new.

Other items in the museum that I found particularly interesting were, an iron sword from the early 5th Century inscribed with kanji, making it the earliest known example of writing in Japan, some gold and silver jewelry recovered from a kofun (tomb) near Matsue. These are the only gold and silver grave goods in all of Japan, and one of "Himiko's" mirrors, a gift from the Emperor of China to the ancient 3rd century Japanese kingdom of Yamatai, further confusing the long-standing debate among historians as to exactly where Yamatai was.

The museum is located right next to Izumo Taisha shrine, and can be reached by the Ichibata Railway from either Matsue or Izumo City. Alternatively take a bus from Izumo Station.

Open from 9am-5pm, admission is 600yen to the permanent exhibition, but there is a 50% discount for foreigners. Free digital audio guides are available.

Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo
99-4 Kizuki-higashi
Taisha-cho
Izumo City
Shimane
Tel: 0853 53 8600

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