Saidaji grounds – Mokkan bearing Isonokami Yakatsugu’s name found amongst cache

17 Jan

A cache of official, administrative-use mokkan (木簡; wooden tablets) was found in a gutter uncovered at the old grounds of Saidaiji (西大寺), a temple located in Nara city.

One of the mokkan, measuring 29.7 centimeters long, 2.75 centimeters wide, and 0.46 centimeters thick, lists the titles and positions of an aristocrat named Isonokami Yakatsugu (石上宅嗣; 729-781).

An official of the Nara period known for his love of learning and perspicacious character, the highest position he attained during his lifetime was Dainagon (大納言), senior third rank (正三位), although he was posthumously given the senior second rank (正二位). He is credited as establishing Untei (芸亭), Japan’s first “public library,” which housed non-Buddhist works (geten 外典). In his later years, he remodeled his mansion into a temple called Ashukuji (阿閦寺), and it was one section of this temple that he devoted to his library.

(Picture source)

The tablet reads:

[1]参議 [2]従三位 [3]式部卿 [4]常陸守 [5]中衛中将 [6]造東内長官 [7]石上朝臣

[1] Sangi: The next position after the Dainagon and Chūnagon, to which individuals of the fourth rank or higher could be assigned

[2] Junior third rank

[3] Shikibukyō: The head of the Shikibushō (式部省; Ministry of Ceremonies)

[4] Lord of Hitachi (常陸)

[5] Chūe Chūjō (中衛中将): Lieutenant general of the Chōefu (中衛府), which headed imperial palace security, together with the Konoefu (近衛府)

[6] Head of the construction of Tōin (東院)

[7] Isonokami no Asomi, “asomi” (朝臣) being the second highest of the eight kabane (yakusa no kabane 八色の姓). In order from highest ranked, the eight kabane are as follows: Mahito, Asomi/Ason, Sukune, Imiki, Michinoshi, Omi, Muraji, and Inagi.

This mokkan is believed to be an ishogaki (位署書), which was an official document used by administrative officials to reference the positions and titles of aristocrats — an established listing order was strictly observed and forgetting any of them was a serious offense.

(Picture source)

An ishogaki such as this would have a full listing of a person’s ranks and positions, but would not be complete until the person in question signed the remainder of his name at the bottom, and the document received a stamp from the imperial seal (gyoji 御璽). In Isonokami Yakatsugu’s case, the administrative official would write the foregoing list on the mokkan and Isonokami would have signed “Yakatsugu” after the final notation, Isonokami Asomi (石上朝臣).

Many more administrative-use mokkan turned up in the Saidaiji ditch. One says “太政官謹奏,” which means “[I], the Daijōkan (太政官), reverently (謹んで) report to the Emperor (奏する) . . . . ” The emperor in question here is none other than Empress Shōtoku (称徳天皇), who had a hand in establishing Saidaiji. To complement this find, the Shoku Nihongi (続日本紀) records that during this time (spanning the construction of Saidaiji), Empress Shōtoku made many visits to the temple. This is not the first time a mokkan has been found referencing Empress Shōtoku: A recently uncovered mokkan is believed to even announce her passing.

Saidaiji was very Chinese in flavor, which reflected Empress Shōtoku’s own predilections. A plate bearing the name of a Chinese  bureaucrat has even turned up from a Saidaiji site.

For more information and pictures, see the following links:

木簡に「石上宅嗣」の名 西大寺旧境内で出土
2009/12/03 20:00   【共同通信】

大和発掘物語:西大寺旧境内/中 溝に大量の公文書木簡 /奈良
石上宅嗣(いそのかみやかつぐ)(729~781)。役人としてナンバー3の大納言になり、日本で最初の公立図書館とされる「芸亭(うんてい)」を開いた文人としても知られる。溝から出土した長さは29・7センチの木簡には「参議 従三位 式部卿 常陸守 中衛中将 造東内長官 石上朝臣」の文字が並んでいた。
毎日新聞 2010年11月17日 地方版

Article retrieved 2010/11/29

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Posted by on January 17, 2011 in Uncategorized


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