Japan was 'more cosmopolitan' 1,000 years ago than thought: Ancient wood suggests a Persian official worked there

  • An ancient piece of wood used for writing was discovered in the 1960s
  • Infrared imaging revealed previously unreadable characters on the wood 
  • It showed the name of a Persian official who worked in the country's former capital, Nara, who may have been teaching maths 1,000 years ago

While Japan now welcomes over 10 million visitors every year, it has not always been so cosmopolitan. 

But new evidence has surfaced, which suggests that ancient Japan may have been more multicultural than previously thought.

New testing on an artefact that was discovered decades ago suggests that a Persian official worked in the country's former capital, Nara, more than 1,000 years ago.

Present-day Iran and Japan were known to have had direct trade links since at least the 7th century. But new testing on a piece of wood - first discovered in the 1960s - suggests broader ties

Present-day Iran and Japan were known to have had direct trade links since at least the 7th century. But new testing on a piece of wood - first discovered in the 1960s - suggests broader ties

JAPAN'S CHANGING CAPITAL

Traditionally, the home of the Emperor was considered the capital. 

Nara was the capital of Japan from around 710 AD to around 784 AD. 

From 794 to 1868, the Emperor lived in Heian-kyo - modern day Kyoto. 

After 1868, the seat of the Government of Japan and the location of the Emperor's home was Tokyo.

Present-day Iran and Japan were known to have had direct trade links since at least the 7th century.

But new testing on a piece of wood - first discovered in the 1960s - suggests broader ties.

Infrared imaging revealed previously unreadable characters on the wood - a standard writing surface in Japan before paper - that named a Persian official living in the country.

The official worked at an academy where government officials were trained, said Akihiro Watanabe, a researcher at the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties. 

The official may have been teaching mathematics, Mr Watanabe added, pointing to ancient Iran's expertise in the subject.

'Although earlier studies have suggested there were exchanges with Persia as early as the 7th century, this is the first time a person as far away as Persia was known to have worked in Japan,' he said.

'And this suggests Nara was a cosmopolitan city where foreigners were treated equally.'

 While Japan now welcomes over 10 million visitors every year, it has not always been so cosmopolitan. But new evidence has surfaced, which suggests that ancient Japan may have been more multicultural than previously thought. Pictured is Mount Fuji

 While Japan now welcomes over 10 million visitors every year, it has not always been so cosmopolitan. But new evidence has surfaced, which suggests that ancient Japan may have been more multicultural than previously thought. Pictured is Mount Fuji

Nara was the capital of Japan from around 710 AD to around 784 AD before it was moved to Kyoto and later present-day Tokyo.

The discovery comes after another team of researchers last month unearthed ancient Roman coins at the ruins of an old castle in Okinawa in southern Japan.

It was the first time coins from the once mighty empire have been discovered in Japan, thousands of kilometres from where they were likely minted.

ANCIENT ROMAN COINS FOUND IN JAPAN

The discovery of 10 bronze and copper coins, the oldest dating from about 300-400 AD, at a castle in southern Okinawa caught researchers by surprise.

The sub-tropical island chain hosts a cluster of US military bases and thousands of troops. 

'At first I thought they were one cent coins dropped by US soldiers,' archaeologist Hiroki Miyagi said.

The discovery comes after another team of researchers last month unearthed ancient Roman coins at the ruins of an old castle in Okinawa in southern Japan 

The discovery comes after another team of researchers last month unearthed ancient Roman coins at the ruins of an old castle in Okinawa in southern Japan 

'But after washing them in water I realised they were much older'.

An X-ray analysis of the dime-sized coins showed some were embossed with Roman letters. 

They even possibly show the image of Emperor Constantine I and a soldier holding a spear.

Several others dated from a later period, the 17th century Ottoman empire.

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