moated kofun of Princess Kibi in the ancient Japanese capital of Asuka,
there is a small rise with a torii gate and a wrought-iron one.
Behind these gates stand four peculiar fellows.
Actually part of a group of five--their
missing companion is about five kilometers away, at the site of a ruined
castle--these stones have come to be called the Saruishi or
"Monkey Stones." They were excavated in a field in the
Edo period and moved to where we see them today. They may have
been tomb guardians, as they were found near a mausoleum, and ancient
records mention such artifacts. Others speculate that, given their
obvious--uh--attributes--they may have been some kind of
fertility fetish. In fact, local women "pray" to these
statues for easy and safe delivery of children.
Like many of the "mysteries"
of Asuka, by the way, these stones bear similarities to others found in
I have shown them from left to right,
as seen from outside the gate. Three of them are said to have
faces on the back, which we can't see in their current position.
Some say the two figures on each stone are male and female (reinforcing
the fertility idea); others claim those are monsters on the back.