The Sakafuneishi Archeological Site (酒船石遺跡)

The Sakafuneishi Archeological Site is a dig consisting of several pieces of stonework located in Oka, Asuka-mura, Nara Prefecture.

In addition to Sakafuneishi which had been known, several pieces of stonework of turtle-shape and coin-shape excavated in 2000 and the other remains found in the surrounding area collectively became known as the Sakafuneishi Archeological Site. It was christened by the Asuka Village Board of Education but some researchers have made strong arguments questioning the relationship between Sakafuneishi and those pieces of turtle-shape stonework and some say this name is inappropriate.


Sakafuneishi is a piece of granite stonework located on the top of a small hill. Sakefuneishi is 5.5 meters long, approximately 2.3 meters wide and 1 meter thick with part of the northern and southern sections missing. Carved on the top face are few dish-like indentations that are connected by grooves. There are various explanations such as that it was a tool for making sake or for making medicine but they remain uncertain. As earthen pipes and stone troughs considered to be used for irrigation were found as well, it is also said that a garden used to exist in this area. It seems that the missing parts were later used for some other purposes and there are visible signs of breaking the stone in a manner which disregarded the form of top surface. In the areas that had been chipped away, there are marks made by arrowheads used as a tool to break the stone and, similarly, signs of stone breaking are also visible on Oni-no-Manaita Stone (The Devil's Chopping Board). It seems that part of Sakefuneishi was chipped away to use for building stone walls when Takatori-jo Castle was being constructed.

Turtle-Shape and Coin-Shape Stonework and Other Items

In 1992, stone walls were found on the north slope of Sakefuneishi that are presumed to be the remains corresponding to the construction which was mentioned in Nihonshoki (the Chronicles of Japan) during the era of Emperor Saimei. 'The palace' in the sentence which read, 'Walls were built by piling stones on the mountain to the east of the palace,' mentioned in Nihonshoki means the ruins of Asukakyo and 'the mountain to the east (of the palace)' is the hill on which Sakefuneishi is located.

In 2000, a large-scale excavation was subsequently performed and a sump water system made by gravel stones and the pieces of coin-shape and turtle-shape stonework were found one after the other.

It is assumed that these two pieces of stonework were used as tanks to collect water. Additionally, next to those two pieces of stonework are gutters lined with stones and stone steps with stone walls and stone paving surrounding all of them.

The turtle shape stonework is made of granite measuring 2.4 meters long and 2 meters wide which was carved to form the shape of head, tail and legs of a turtle. The part of the carapace measuring 1.25 meter in diameter and 20 cm in depth was hollowed out to form a basin. It seems that water entered through the hole in the turtle head and exited from another hole in the tail. Water could be pooled by plugging the tail. The coin shape stonework measuring 1.65 meters long, 1 meter wide and 20 centimeters deep could also be used to pool water with its drain being connected to the turtle head.

Evidence shows that these pieces of stonework were originally created during the era of Emperor Saimei and was in use until the Heian period for approximately 250 years. It is assumed that they are the remains of the ritual site where some kind of religious service was performed but it has yet to be substantiated. There is also an opinion that it may have been the structure related to Futatsuki no Miya (Futatsuki Palace) of Emperor Saimei.

The turtle shape and coin shape stonework are situated virtually at true north of Sakefuneishi but the relationship between these two remains unknown.

After this section was found, grand-scale public tours were offered. At present, there is a charge for the tour of the turtle shape and coin shape stonework under the pretext of donation for cultural property conservation. Sakefuneishi can be viewed at free of charge as in the past.

Demizu no Sakafune ishi Sculptured Stone
While not included in the Sakefuneishi Archeological Site, 2 pieces of stonework were found on the banks of Asuka-gawa River approximately 400 meters away bearing grooves that seem to have been used to run water in whereby they are named Sakefuneishi as well. To distinguish, one may be referred to as Sakefuneishi of Demizu while the other Sakefuneishi of Oka. Having been relocated to Kyoto City, the original pieces of stonework are no longer available for viewing but there are replicas on display in the exhibit area at the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties.

Cultural Facilities in the Area
Nara Prefecture Complex of Manyo Culture
Asuka Folklore Museum

Approximately 3 km to the east of Kinki Nippon Railway Company Kashiharajingu-mae Station
Buses and rental bicycles

Parking is available at the Nara Prefecture Complex of Manyo Culture nearby

[Original Japanese]