J a p a n e s e    C u l t u r e

Modern and Traditional Japanese Culture: The Psychology of Buddhism, Power Rangers, Masked Rider, Manga, Anime and Shinto. 在日イギリス人男性による日本文化論.

Monday, March 23, 2015


Curved Jewels as (Internal) Ears

Magatama Curved Jewels as (Inner) Ears

Children and adults can make curved jewels at the Yoshinogari museum of ancient Japanese culture in Saga (吉野ヶ里歴史公園) for about 2USD a jewel. My children enjoyed making one each this weekend.

Curved jewels (magatama) are one of the few things mentioned in Japanese mythology that are also found in reality.

As 'transitional object' in both myth and reality, they form one of the three sacred items symbolic of the Japanese imperial lineage the other two being a mirror, of the Sun Goddess, and the sword, that was found inside the tail of a multi-headed snake.

In Japanese mythology, the Sun Goddess is wearing a necklace of curved jewels when she meets her brother Susano who takes some of these jewels, puts them into his mouth, chews (onomatopoeically "kami-kami") them to bits and spits them out into the 'central well of heaven' to create other gods (kami) and imperial ancestors.

This act continues the Japanese mythological theme of "creation via dripping" often onto a reflective surface. The creative act of chewing symbols and spitting them out onto a mirror making the noise of what one is making ("kami" or deities), struck me as being a pagan expression of creation via the word - we speak to internalised other in the mirror of our mind, thereby making the world, speciated, en-wordified.

In Japanese mythology this act of creation, however, ends in disaster. Susano commits all manner of "sins" and his sister the Sun Goddess is lost to the world, since she hides in her cave. When the sun goddess has hidden in her cave, Amenouzume (lit "the headdress wearing woman of heaven) the founder of Japanese masked theatre (and I believe Susano in drag) wears a special headdress including curved jewels, to encourage the sun goddess to come back out of her cave by performing an erotic dance on top of a drum which made all present laugh, which encourages the Sun Goddess to come out of her cave again.

[My interpretation is that this is Susano attempting to return from the hell of the narrative self, by enacting it as an erotic solo, transsexual, auditory - hence the drum - dance to achieve enlightenment through satire and humour. Derrida represents the tragedy in a book of self addressed loving, erotic postcards. Japanese mythology and dance is more behavioural. ]

The curved jewels are said to have first have been made by deity by the name of "Parent of the Jewels" whose shrine is about 20 km from where I live in Yamaguchi Prefecture near Hōfu City (Tamanooya Jinja 玉祖神社).

This brings me to the occurrence of curved jewels in reality. They are found widely in ancient Japanese Joumon (lit. "string pattern" [pottery]) archaeological sites and in ancient burial mounds and in ancient archaeological royal sites from Korea.

The Japanese claim that the curved jewels spread from Japan to Korea, whereas Koreans claim that they spread from Korea to Japan. In Korea they are called gogok or comma shaped jewels and are found paired with mirrors on the regalia of Korean Kings in decidedly ear shaped forms, hanging from a tree shaped crown (similar that worn by Ameno-Uzume, the head-dress-woman, my "Sunsano in drag").

The fact that they hang from a tree has suggested that they represent a fruit.

[A fruit reminds me of Adam's apple, which gets stuck in our throat. I would also be inclined to suggest that the tree crown may also have had a practical purposes as a primitive "selfie-stick" to enable its wearer to see himself reflected, and echoed, in mirrors and jewels, there dangling.]

There are several other theories as to the significance of the shape of curved or comma jewels, all of the following from Wikipedia.
The shape of an animal tusk
The shape of the moon
The shape of a two or three part tomoe (as represented in the above image top row)
The shape of the moon
The shape of the soul
The shape of ear decorations

I had liked the part tomoe (Taoist and Shinto symbol) interpretation, for no good reason, but the ear decoration theory is more persuasive.

According to recent research (Suzuki, 2006) on curved jewels unearthed in Korea and Japan, curved jewels are found alongside "nearly circular ear jewellery split into two halves. The visual evidence for ear jewellery as the origin of curved jewels appears to be strong (see the above link and bottom left in the above image).

This interpretation does not conflict with the tomoe or soul interpretation. Various scholars (Mead, Bakhtin, Freud, Lacan, Derrida) claim that the self is dependent upon the assumption of an ear into the psyche. As such, a fitting together (either as a circle or tomoe) ear-shaped or ear-associated jewel may have represented a transitional, partial-self-object.

It is known that mirrors were given to others as remembrance tokens or keepsakes by the ancient Japanese from poems in the Book of Ten Thousand Leaves (manyoushuu). Looking at a mirror presented by a loved one, one might feel their gaze. Hearing the sound of the clinking of a curved jewel, made from the earring of ones mother or girlfriend, one might imagine the attention of their loving ear.

I have also claimed that headless deformed Venus figurines, including ancient Japanese dogu and and ancient Jewish Ishtar idols, may have represented the represented part of an autoscopic visual self. 'The ancients' may have known more about the parts from which the self is created, or at least been more fully aware that the self is created from parts. Moderns may have become more prudish, and lost our sense of humour.

In Japanese mythology, when Susano chewed the Sun Goddesses' curved jewels and spat them out into a reflective surface (in which he may have been reflected as his sister, I claim), she took his sword and chewed it and spat it out likewise into the well of heaven. The curved jewels therefore form a pair with swords. In a myth parallel to that in which the sword (Kusanagi no Tsurugi) was found in the tail of a snake, the sword is associated with the naming of its owner. Indeed it could be argued that the sword that Susano finds in the snake is his symbolic self-representation. If jewels represent internalised ears, then it would be appropriate that they be paired with swords as self symbols or names. Mirrors can represent the perspective/gaze, and the transitional, part-self image that is gazed at, and the world-heart in which it takes place.

It seems to me that my self-narrative and any internal ear take place on or in the mirror of my consciousness which sees as it is seen.

In China, "nearly circular" earrings (I thought that they were "butt" shaped earrings in an earlier version of this post!) are sometimes represented as a snake or dragon biting its own tail. Out out damn butt (! I jest, ketsu, 玦) snake! My self narrative is gay.

That in Japan the "incomplete circle" 玦 "pig dragon" earrings are broken into two, and worn as necklaces seems to me to represent the way in which language and the linguistic self in Japan does not form an "incomplete circle," completed by the reality of the ear or face, nor go around in Japanese people's minds but is broken. The linguistic self, the "I" of the cogito, is in Japan, as Mori claims, broken, a "you for you."

Under this reading, the myths of Susano - with his sister and in Izumo - are about how one form of selfing defeated another: in Japan the paradoxical circle of light defeated the incomplete snake circle of speaking. Or paraphrasing the myth from Guam, some humans managed to escape from hell to live in the light of the sun, without physically or imaginatively nailing themselves to a tree.

Perhaps I should dress up in drag and dance in front of a mirror. I did in fact recommend dancing in front of a mirror to a schizophrenic many years ago. That patient showed remarkable but only temporary improvement.


Suzuki, K. 鈴木克彦 (2006) "縄文勾玉の起源に関する考証."『玉文化』3号.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.