Similarities Between the Minoan and the Japanese Cultures

· Convergence

Updated on December 06, 2015

The Minoan, the ancient Greek, and the Japanese cultures share many similarities that are worth exploration. The following list is intended to provide a comprehensive resource for scholars who are interested in Minoan/Japanese studies. For the moment, however, it is simply a parking lot for observations. What have prominent scholars and others had to say about the similarities between the two cultures? See References to the Similarities Between the Minoan and the Japanese Cultures.

Apiculture (beekeeping): The bee is a prominent symbol in Minoan art. Likewise, many Japanese universities have departments devoted to this science.

Architecture:

  • Fortification: Japanese gusuku share features with fortifications found at Cretan sites (see Pax Minoica and the Okinawan Peace).
  • Layout: The layout of the palace of Knossos is believed to have inspired the legend of Theseus within the labyrinth. A passage in James Clavell’s Shogun, a novel about feudal Japan, may give a sense of this labyrinthine construction. Within castle walls, “the road turned left immediately, down a vast avenue lined heavily with fortified houses behind easily defended greater walls and lesser walls, then doubled on itself into a labyrinth of steps and roads. Then there . . . [were] new twistings and turnings until Blackthorne, who was an acute observer with an extraordinary memory and sense of direction, was lost in the deliberate maze” [1975: 181].
  • Measurement: The Japanese shaku is all but identical to the Minoan foot (see The Minoan “Seki”).

Beekeeping (see Apiculture)

Black lacquer: Both ancient Greece and Japan are known for their black-lacquered decoration.

Botany:

  • Cyprus: The cyprus tree, which once blanketed Crete in large forests, has largely disappeared through deforestation and resulting erosion. Cyprus wood was not only prominent in Minoan construction but was also an exported commodity. Likewise, the Japanese cyprus is an ornamental tree that provides high-grade lumber in the construction of shrines, temples, and theaters.
  • Japonica rice: A subspecie of oryza sativa “cultivated rice”, Japonica has been the main cultivar in Greece since at least the first millennium BCE and is the main rice cultivar in Japan, as indicated by its common name.
  • Poppy (opium): A prominent symbol in Minoan art, the poppy is the source of opium, which has long been used in Japan for medicinal purposes.
  • Tea Olive (Osmanthus fragrans): This olive tree has been cultivated in Crete since 3500 BCE and is common in Japan. Due to its longevity and its gnarled shape, this tree may have inspired the art of bonsai.

Cosmetics: Both Minoan and Japanese women have been known for their white face powder.

Counters (josushi 助数詞): In linguistics, counters belong to the class of determinatives, which are prominent in both LinA and LinB. Modern Japan uses numerous counters for many commodities.

Diet: Both the Cretans and the Okinawans claim diets that promote uncommon longevity.

Fertility festival: Both ancient Greece and modern Japan have celebrated fertility festivals that have featured giant phalluses and genitalia-shaped objects (see also Mino: The Fertile Island).

Funerary practices:

  • Clan tombs: The tholos tombs throughout Greece may be compared to the clan tombs of Japan. Sir Arthur Evans makes a similar observation in an early presentation (see References).
  • Tomb treasures: Japanese lore includes the sword, the mirror, and the jewel–the three sacred treasures of the imperial family.  The origin of these treasures is controversial, but similar objects have been recovered from tombs of the Kofun period.  Cf. Christos Tsountas’ description [McDonald 1967:94-95] of the contents of the Vaphio cist grave, which included a bronze sword, a mirror disk, and amethyst beads and engraved gems.

Hygiene (see Ritual Purification)

Matrilineal descent: While Minoan descent is presumed to have been matrilineal, in Japan, descent has traditionally been matri-lineal.

Minotaur: A hallmark of Minoan culture is the legend of the Minotaur. Likewise, Ushi-Oni, the white Minotaur, is a popular subject in Japanese folklore. (See also Mino: The Fertile Island.)

Name seals: Sir Arthur Evans began his excavations of Crete in pursuit of the origin of Cretan name seals. In Japan, name seals are known as hanko. Both cultures have used hard materials such as semi-precious gems to create these seals. In Japan, hanko carving is an art.

Peak Sanctuaries: Both the Minoans and the early Japanese people worshipped in peak sanctuaries.

Pottery: The Minoans were known for their wheel-thrown pottery. Similarly, the culture that is thought to have founded early-modern Japan featured wheel-thrown pottery. Modern Japan is renowned for the artistry of its pottery.

Quality of Life: There appears to be a similar preference among the Cretans and the Japanese for honor in death rather than dishonor in life, as exemplified in the ancient Japanese practice of seppuku “ritual suicide”.

Ritual purification: Minoans had an appreciation for cleanliness as is evidenced by the bathtubs (larnakes), lustral basins, and a sophisticated sewage system. The Japanese have a similar appreciation for cleanliness, and ritual purification is central to Shintoism.

Sacred ritual: As in Minoan society, in Japanese society, priestesses (nori) perform the sacred rites.

Swordmaking: Minoan swords are said to have been “the finest in all of the Aegean“. Likewise, Japanese swords are said to be among the finest in the world.

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