One of the greatest discoveries in the history of archaeology was made off the Ryukyu Islands in the westernmost region of Japan. There, spread over an amazing 311 miles on the ocean floor, are the well-preserved remains of an ancient city or, at the very least, a number of closely related sites.
These clusters of islands were once part of a vast trading network extending between Japan, China and Java throughout the late prehistoric time (circa 8000 BC). Scattered at a depth of approximately 5 to 25 metres are sharp-edged limestone platforms and stone concentrations resembling coastal terraces.
Widening their search, divers found other structures nearby. The ruins beheld long streets, grand boulevards, majestic staircases, magnificent archways, enormous blocks of perfectly cut and fitted stone – all harmoniously welded together in a linear architecture unlike anything they had ever seen before.
One of the more contentious discoveries in recent years is found underwater at Yonaguni, where an ancient temple was located a decade ago offshore by divers that – if artificial – could only have been built prior to the rise of ocean levels! Supporting this hotly debated discovery and theory has been the other apparently man-made ruins also found off the Ryukyu Islands between Japan and Taiwan, the largest of which is Okinawa. Respected shamans on these islands still talk about their ancestors and the lost continent of Mu. In Japanese, the word mu means, that which does not exist or no longer exists, just as it does in Korean.
These sunken structures cover the ocean bottom (although not continuously) from the small island of Yonaguni in the southwest to Okinawa and its neighbouring islands, Kerama and Aguni, some 311 miles. The locations vary at depths from 100 to only 20 feet, but are all stylistically linked, despite the great variety of their architectural details. They comprise paved streets and crossroads, huge altar-like formations, grand staircases leading to broad plazas and processional ways surmounted by pairs of towering features resembling pylons.
- Traditional history: The Anui, Samurai and Shoguns
- Legendary history: Jimmu, Temmu and Kamu
- Mythological history: Kojiki, The Nihongi and Kami
- Alternative history: The Pure Land, Mount Fuji and the Seven Generations of the Age of The Gods
On land, there are gusukus that are remains of ancient castles that dot the islands. The underwater structures resemble ancient buildings on Okinawa itself, such as Nakagusuku Castle, dated to the early centuries of the first millennium BC, although its identity as a religious site is older still. Its builders and their culture remain unknown today. Okinawa’s oldest sacred buildings are found near Noro, where burial vaults designed in the same rectilinear style are still venerated as repositories for the islanders’ ancestral dead. Very remarkably, the Okinawan term for these vaults is moai, the same word that Polynesians of Easter Island, more than 6,000 miles away, used to describe their famous, large-headed statues dedicated to their ancestors!
Some of the sunken features bear even closer comparison to heiau found in the distant Hawaiian Islands. These are linear temples of long stone ramparts leading to great staircases surmounted by broad plazas, where wooden shrines and carved idols were placed. Many heiau still exist and continue to be venerated by native Hawaiians. In terms of construction, the Okinawan examples comprise enormous, single blocks, while the heiau are made up of far more numerous, smaller stones. They were first built, according to Hawaiian tradition, by the Menehune, a red-haired race of master masons who occupied the islands long before the arrival of the Polynesians.
Okinawa’s drowned structures find possible counterparts at the eastern limits of the Pacific Ocean, along Peruvian coasts. The most striking similarities occur at ancient Pachacamac, a sprawling religious city a few miles south of the modern capital at Lima. Although functioning into Inca times, as late as the sixteenth century, it pre-dated the Incas by at least 1,500 years and was the seat of South America’s foremost oracle. A provocative architectural theme linking South America to Japan through Polynesia and suggesting a lost intermediary culture is the sacred gate. Tiahuanaco, for instance, has two massive ritual gates.
On the Polynesian island of Tonga stands the Burden of Maui, a 15-foot-high stone gate weighing some 109 tons and aligned with sunrise of the summer solstice. Japan is covered by many thousands of such gates, most of them wooden, but all used to define a sacred space, known as Torii. This word appears in proto Indo-European languages and still survives in the German word for gate: Tor.