The Japan Times
April 29, 2000

HEIAN-PERIOD DISCOVERY AT IZUMO

Unearthed pillar suggests 48-meter shrine

MATSUE, Shimane Pref. (Kyodo) A pillar with a diameter of 3 meters has been unearthed within the compound of Izumo Shrine in the town of Taisha, Shimane Prefecture, the town's local education board said Friday.

The board said the pillar — three giant tree trunks tethered together — is the thickest of Japan's ancient wooden architecture and the first discovered in which several trunks were used.

It suggests that within the shrine's grounds stood a 48-meter structure — the equivalent of a 14-story building according to the board.

The pillar was thought to have been one of several that supported the shrine's main building in the ancient complex, which was built in the late Heian Period (794-1185).

The discovery of the pillar could revise existing theories on the history and development of Japan's architecture, the board said.

While admitting difficulty in determining the building's actual height, the board said the discovery appears to offer concrete evidence backing up a legend passed down through the centuries that the shrine used to stand 48-meters tall.

Blueprints of the complex that have been kept by the shrine since the Heian Period mention a 3-meter diameter pillar made using three trees, which appears quite similar to the one unearthed.

The remains of two of the three trees excavated are 1.2-meters long and 1.35-meters in diameter. Traces of red paint were also found on the trees' surface.

A large number of stones were found around what is believed to be the pillar's base, indicating that the stones roughly the size of human heads — were used to stabilize it and keep it in place.

Historical documents have often mentioned that the shrine used to have an extremely tall wooden building.

If true, the Heian building would have been twice as tall as the current main building of the shrine, which would make it the tallest example of the country's historical wooden architecture, with the exception of some five-story pagodas at Buddhist temples.


AN IMAGE produced by Obayashi Corp. of the legendary 48-meter-high structure at lzumo Shrine features pillars measuring 3 meters in diameter. A pillar of the same diameter was recently discovered at the shrine's compound in Shimane Prefecture. KYODO PHOTO