Was the King of Na gold seal made in the Edo period?

I think the King of Na gold seal is very famous historical material as it can be seen in all Japanese history textbooks.

In Houhan Shu, a historical record of the Later Han Dynasty, which ruled China from the first century to the third century, it is described that a mission from a country “Na” in Japan (“Wa”) came with a tribute in AD 57.

At that time the Emperor Guangwu gave them inju. In is a seal and ju is a piece of string attached to a seal.

This means that Japanese in the Yayoi period went to China and negotiated with the Chinese Emperor. It is the first record of Japanese diplomacy.

There is a theory that Houhan Shu was written later (in the third century or the fifth century) and that it is unreliable.

However, in 1784, in the Edo period, a gold seal carved with the words “Kanno Wano Nakokuno O (the King of Na)” was discovered in Shikanoshima Island, Fukuoka Domain. Kamei Nanmei, a scholar of a domain school in Fukuoka Domain investigated it and determined that it corresponded to what was written in Houhan Shu.

That is to say, he proved that Japan and China had diplomatic relations in the Yayoi period.

However, a dispute over the authenticity of the gold seal arose. One of the reasons for this dispute was the unnatural situation in which the gold seal was discovered. Only the gold seal was discovered by a farmer while he was farming in a rice field, and there were no remains of the Yayoi era around there.

Furthermore, in the Edo period, usually there was only one domain school per domain, however, there were two in Fukuoka Domain. The gold seal was discovered in the year the two domain schools were established, and Kamei Nanmei who belonged to one of them quickly made the conclusion about the seal.

The suspicion is that Kamei plotted to gain advantages by showing his abundant knowledge using a counterfeit gold seal.

In 1966, however, the gold seal was accurately measured and confirmed that the average side length of its face is 2.347 cm. This length is the same as a unit of a ruler found in a grave of the Later Han period, and at that time, the side length of the seal’s face was same as that unit, “sun.” For these reasons, the gold seal was confirmed to have been made in the Later Han period.

However, about 10 years ago, a theory that the seal is a counterfeit arose again. They said that scholars in the Edo period had detailed knowledge of Chinese books and certainly knew the unit of the ruler and seal size in the Later Han period. That is why they insisted that the gold seal was made in the Edo period.

On examination, I found that the academic study level of scholars in the Edo period was amazing. They knew about various knowledge systems in ancient China, and for intellectuals at that time, the unit size in the Later Han period was common knowledge, and the side length of seal face was that unit.

So, can it be concluded that the gold seal was made in the Edo period because of the unnatural situation of its discovery and Kamei Nanmei’s circumstances? Of course not.

It is just reasoning. It may be interesting as historical romanticism; however, reliable and detailed information is necessary to discuss historical materials.

I therefore began detailed research on the shape of the gold seal, which had been scantly conducted.

It was impossible to replicate the King of Na gold seal in the Edo period

First, I focused on the dachu, the handle of the seal. Da means snake which was designed on the handle. However, at first glance, it is difficult to find a snake. Looking carefully, we can find a snake with a coiled-up body and head turned around.

However, it is just the top of the handle. The bottom of it does not seem to be a snake at all although there is a hole for string at the middle of it.

Looking closely, there are round shapes before and behind the hole for the string, which as a whole look like a four-footed animal bending its knees. Furthermore, looking from straight behind, another side of the snake head, there are hind legs at both sides.

Some pointed out that this is the body of a camel bending its knees. That is to say, it can be thought that the handle was originally designed as a camel, however, for some reason, only the top of that was reworked as a snake.

On examination, I found that camel-shaped handles were often made in the Later Han period.

Furthermore, designs of snakes turning their heads around were not seen at all in Japan, but from the Former Han to the Later Han period, there were many items designed as dragons or tigers turning their heads around. In other words, at that time, they were popular designs in ancient China.

Is it natural to think that it was originally made as a camel-shaped handle and then the upper half of it was reworked as a snake shape in the Edo period? Moreover, it is not easy for Japanese to recognize the snake shape as a snake.

I also conducted a detailed study of the font type of the seal.

Font types of seals have different characteristics depending on the era. For example, a Chinese researcher said when a seal was made can be determined by the letters on its face. The letters, Kanno Wano Nakokuno O, also have several characteristics of an era on various parts of them.

For example, looking carefully, a part of a letter “Kan,” sanzui, which is the shape of water, the top of the vertical lines form arches and the top left one’s shape is a reversed “L.”

Actually, in the Former Han period, the shape of sanzui looked like three “S”s. However, in the period of Wang Mang, between the Former Han and the Later Han, the curve of three lines became very shallow as a whole and the top of the left one had a projection on its lower end.

After that, vertical lines became straight without any curve in the Later Han period. The four other letters are same as above, which means all the letters of “Kanno Wano Nakokuno O” have the characteristics of the era from Wang Mang to the early Later Han period.

So, did people in the Edo period know about that? For example, some pointed out that Tou Teikan, a scholar in the Edo period, was engaged in the counterfeiting of the King of Na gold seal. Admittedly, Tou Teikan was one of the top scholars at the time who had a deep knowledge of Chinese books and likely to be able to instruct on how to make a counterfeit.

For example, in Wei Shi Wajinden, it is written that the Emperor of Wei gave Himiko, the Queen of Wa, the Shingi Wao gold seal. Tou Teikan got information that the gold seal was found in China, and he introduced the face of it in his book.

However, it was a counterfeit. It has become clear in research of recent decades that the letter “O” on the seal is not that of Wei, but has characteristics of the Former Han, which was 300 years before Wei.

What I mean is the change of fonts had not been researched until recently, as counterfeiters in the Min and the Ching did not know about it, which indicates that even Japanese top-class scholars in the Edo period never knew about it.

In the Edo period, when no one knew about it, it would have been miraculous to carve “Kanno Wano Nakokuno O” with letters which have all characteristics of the early Later Han period.

There is more to be pointed out. However, only the two points, the handle and the letters, clearly show that in the Edo period, it was impossible to replicate the gold seal made in the Later Han period.

To share reliable and detailed information

When considering history, not all information remains as it was. That is because there are various ways of thinking and interpretations for any one thing.

Therefore, it is important to have constructive discussions by using reliable and detailed information. If there are different grounds for reasoning, it is just insistence which never leads to a conclusion.

Not only for historical studies, but it is also the same for politics or things around us, I think.

So, what is reliable and detailed information? Recently, it is called scientific bases or evidence. For example, on the Internet, there is a flood of information, including fake news or pseudoscience.

To detect reliable and detailed information, first of all, collect various kinds of information and compare them. Know different ways of thinking from your own. And you will find new things what you have not known. Then you might say “Wow!”

It is really important. “Wow!” brings you joy and pleasure knowing things what you have not known. Then you will want to examine out of curiosity if the information is true or not.

If you examine the information, you will find out if it is fake, pseudoscience, or has evidence or not. What makes you understand is reliable and detailed information.

Reliable and detailed information is certainly able to be shared with many people.

Of course, after that, people may consider differently. Then new reliable and detailed information may be found and provided. It brings a new conversation. In this way, our discussion becomes deeper and deeper.

So please value the sense of “Wow!” It is really important to get reliable and detailed information to discover new things without bias or perverseness.

* The information contained herein is current as of November 2021.
* The contents of articles on Meiji.net are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
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