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Jomon to 8th century magatama
Magatama ( or ), are curved beads which first appeared in Japanmarker during the Jōmon period.

They are often found inhumed in mounded tumulus graves as offerings to deities (see grave goods). They continued to be popular with the ruling elites throughout the Kofun Period of Japan, and are often romanticised as indicative of the Yamato Dynasty of Japan. They are mainly made of jade ( ), agate ( ), quartz ( ), talc ( ), and jasper ( ). Some consider them to be an Imperial symbol, although in fact ownership was widespread throughout all the chieftain of Kofun Period Japan. It is believed that magatama were popularly worn as jewels for decoration, in addition to their religious meanings. In this latter regard they were later largely replaced by Buddhist prayer beads in the Nara period.

In modern Japan, the magatama's shape of a sphere with a flowing tail is still the usual visual representation of the human spirit (hitodama).

Yasakani no Magatama

The most important magatama is the Yasakani no Magatama (八尺瓊曲玉, also 八坂瓊曲玉), which is part of the Imperial Regalia of Japan, added some time around the Heian period. The Yasakani no Magatama stands for benevolence, and is one of the three items used in the ceremony of imperial ascension. In Japanese mythology, the jewels, along with the mirror, were hung on the tree outside of Amaterasu's cave (where she had hidden) to lure her out. It is believed to be a necklace composed of jade magatama stones instead of a solitary gem as depicted in popular culture. It is believed to be enshrined in Kokyomarker, the Japanesemarker Imperial Palace.


Necklace of jade magatama from a Japanese burial

The consensus among Japanese archaeologists is that magatama originated in Jōmon Japan before spreading to the Asian continent through the Korean peninsula. It is claimed that the earliest Korean prehistoric magatama date to the Early Mumun (post-850 BC) and are generally found in the southern part of peninsula in proximity to Japan. Charles Keally, an archaeologist who has conducted research on magatama, states:

"The magatama's origins are more controversial.
These curved jewels of jadeite are common in Kofun Period burials, and they are common also in Korean sites of the same age.
But magatama are found in Yayoi sites, too, and unquestionable true magatama are reported also in Jomon sites in Tohoku as early as about 1000 B.C., long before true magatama appeared in Korea."

The magatama is found also on early Korean royal gold crowns and has long been considered a sign of royalty in Korea as well as being a connection with Shamanistic elements.

See also


  1. The Japanese Enthronement Ceremonies By Daniel Clarence Holtom, Sophia University, 1972, and other books regarding Magatama.
  2. magatama - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  3. Bulletin No.27
  4. Kofun Culture

External links

  • Jadeite by the Canadian Institute of Gemmology

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