Friday, May 25, 2007

Grim Foundations

When the men repairing Edo Castle after the earthquake of 1923 lifted one of the foundation stones, they found a group of human skeletons crushed beneath it. The skeletons were lying with their hands in an attitude of prayer, and gold coins were scattered over their heads and shoulders.

The skeletons were those of servants of the Tokugawa shoguns, the most powerful family in Japan. When the castle was built (it was finished in 1640) the servants had volunteered to be buried alive in the belief that a building constructed on living flesh would be impregnable.

A Frenchman, Francois Caron, reported in the 17th century that: 'They go with joy to the designated place and, lying down there, allow the foundation stones to be laid upon them.' Many similar stones may still be seen today by the castle's Hirakawa Gate. But nobody knows how many bodies lie beneath them or beneath Japan's other castles and temples.

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