SOKENDAI Review of Cultural and Social Studies


vol.16 (2020)

Recognition of Boundaries in the 8th Century:
Focus on Yamato

KUBA Tomoyo

Department of Japanese Studies, 
School of Cultural and Social Studies, 
The Graduate University for Advanced Studies, SOKENDAI

Key words:

8th century, boundaries, ancient road, ritual at the boundaries, recognition of space

This paper discusses the boundaries in Yamato from both artificial and natural perspectives. The following two points are discussed.

First, the relationship between the natural terrain and traffic routes is discussed. In ancient Japan, mountains and rivers were considered to be boundaries, as in the case of the boundaries of Kinai referred to in Kaishin no mikotonori in Nihon-shoki. The boundaries, however, were not clearly indicated lines, but served as landmarks representing directions. In the case of Yamato, Mt. Nara, Mt. Matsuchi, Mt. Ikoma and Mt. Tatsuta were considered to be boundaries in the north, south and west respectively. All these mountains are located on the traffic route from Heijo-kyo. The boundary on the east side of Yamato is not clear because people had to go south before heading east. It might have been difficult for people performed boundary recognition based on the traffic route to have a sense of going east.

Second, the relationship with rituals held at the boundary is discussed. One such ritual is Tamuke, a prayer safe travel at the major points on the road, for example, in the mountains. According to Man’yoshu, the mountains around Yamato are mentioned above were places for rituals.

It has been pointed out that the rituals were conducted on the boundaries of the capital and Kinai, because Ekijin (gods that bring illness) were considered to enter through the traffic route. Furthermore, the places where the rituals were thought to have been conducted correspond to the mountains that were regarded as boundaries. It is obvious that boundaries used for rituals were the basis for the traffic routes.

When a specific point was recognized as a boundary, it did not mean that the boundary was simply a natural feature, but provided certain situations when people travel on the traffic route. The boundaries in those times were of ambiguous width, unlike today’s clear lines. It is assumed that the recognition of space was based on people’s experience and perception.