There is still a lot of mystery surrounding Asuka's dense history but it is stone structures of Asuka that baffle historians the most. These stone structures are believed to originate from as far back as the Tumulus Period with haniwa figures like the Saru-shi (monkey stones) displaying different characteristics to more popular Buddhist structures. Hunting for the stone structures when exploring Asuka is an enjoyable experience in itself. However, if the weather is playing up check out the impressive museums in Asuka for some good insight into what is known about Asuka's strange stone structures.
Possibly the most famous stone structure in Asuka is Kame-ishi (Tortoise Stone), a must-see attraction and cherished site amongst locals. This massive granite sculpture with the face of a smiling tortoise is a sort of representative of Asuka - even the local Kame bus is named after it. Like almost all of the stone structures in Asuka, there is little knowledge on when, why or who created Kame-ishi. Legend has it that Kame-ishi used to face east instead of southwest and if the structure was to turn west (in the direction of Nara) the entire Yamato area would sink in mud.
Historians estimate that Kame-ishi was created in the 7th century and has certain links to the other stone structures found in Asuka. Just around the corner from the Asuka-dera Temple is another tortoise-shaped structure called Kamegatasekizoubutsu. In addition, the lattice-shaped indentations visible on Kame-ishi are like those found on Masuda no Iwafune. Masuda no Iwafune, a stone structure believed to be an ancient astronomical observation site, is possibly the most bizarre giant stone in Asuka.
On the grounds of Kinmei Imperial Mausoleum, there are four statues called "Saru-ishi", literally meaning "monkey stone". The number of statues is actually five in total, but the fifth structure stands alone at the Takatori Castle Ruins in Takaichi district (just a few kilometres south of Asuka).Although it is assumed that all Saru-ishi were created around the same time, each structure is unique with a variety of expressions.
There are still great gaps of information as to why Asuka has over 20 stone structures. Shumisen- seki is an exception, with historical records housing evidence that this stone structure is a 7th century fountain. Shumisen-seki, meaning Mount Sumeru stone, is made up of three stones with mountain patterns carved onto the surface. Each stone has an inner cavity that would have drawn up water through the bottom of the lowest stone and trickle down the side of Shumisen-seki. Seki-jin-zou, located in front of the Asuka Historical Museum, is another stone structure believed to be an ancient fountain.
Further information on the mysterious stones, ancient ruins and this ancient capital can be discovered in the Asuka Historical Museum, a research institution located in the northeast corners of Asuka. In the museum gardens, there are reproductions of some of Asuka's main stone structures surrounded by cherry blossoms in spring and hydrangeas in the summer.
There is the Nara Archaeological Institute for protecting important archeological remains of Nara prefecture in the vicinity of Unegoryoumae Station (Kintetsu Kashihara Line) which advanced three north from Asuka Station.
Asuka Historical Museum
The Mysterious Stone Structures of Asuka
NAVITIME TRAVEL EDITOR