Naru Kanashi: Paradise Across the Ocean

· Archaeology, Legends

Updated on December 7, 2014

The Ryukyuans have a legend that refers to the Other Realm, an island paradise, which they call Nirai Kanai (ニライカナイ) [Atsushi]. The orientation of this paradise depends upon the cultural source of the legend and is, alternately, east or west across the ocean. Nirai Kanai is the source of life, fertility, and wealth [“Nirai”]; of grain (especially rice); of both good and bad fortune [Atsushi]; and of the sun as well as of fire [Kunio 1950:239]. Most importantly, Nirai Kanai–or Neriya Kanaya [“Wind”] and Niruya Kanaya [Atsushi]–is the place from which the Okinawans originated [Reichl 62]. Observes Perez [1998: 2], “Third- and fourth-generation city dwellers, when asked where they are “from”, still name the furasato (“old home”) of their ancestors. . . . [T]he Japanese think of themselves as members of an ancient village.”

Between 1918 and 1919 CE, Stephen Xanthoudidis excavated a two-storeyed site on the north shore of Minoan Crete, 13 km east of Heraklion and just east of Amnisos. He published his findings about Nirou Khani in 1922 [“Nirou”]. Considering the relative luxury of the construction, the forty-room villa is thought to have belonged to a high priest. It is believed that Nirou Khani–the “Minoan Megaron”–was built during the 16th century BCE (MM III). The villa was finally abandoned after it was destroyed by fire in the 15th century BCE (LM IB) [“Minoan Megaron”]. This fire appears to have been part of an event horizon that destroyed many Minoan sites, including the palace at Haghia Triada [“History”]. Moreover, this destruction may be the source of the bad fortune that is mentioned in the legend of Nirai Kanai.

Among the LinA texts, there are variable references to Nirou Khani. Notably, there are two texts from Palaikastro (PK) that respectively include and ka.[ ].ja.

  • (ti) [PK Za 11]
  • ka.[na].ja.(si) [PK Za 12]

There are also two texts which suggest Neriya Kanaya:

  •  * [HT 115]
  •  nu.ri.ja [PK Zc 13]

And there are multiple texts that elide /ra/,/ri/,or /ru/ so that NA.R[U] is represented as /na/. Three from unique sources are included here:

  •  na [KO Za 1]
  •  na [PK Za 8]
  •  na [TL Za 1]

Research suggests that, not only can the Ryukyuan Nirai Kanai be identified with Knossos of Minoan Crete, but also that Knossos was likely an outpost of the Khâtian trade empire, which was centered in Anatolia.

In 1903, around the time that Sir Arthur Evans was exhibiting his archaeological finds in London [“Evans”], Gaston Maspero’s History of Egypt was going to press. In his book, Maspero describes the male characteristics of a particular culture, as depicted by the Egyptians: The men were short and squat. In youth, they had broad, full shoulders, but, in maturity, they tended toward obesity. They had long, heavy heads; flattened foreheads; prominent eyebrows, noses, and cheekbones; small, oblique, and deeply set eyes; fleshy mouths that were framed by deep wrinkles; and moderate chins. Their flesh was “a yellowish or reddish white but clearer than that of the Phoenicians or [the] Amurru.” While they shaved moustaches and beards, they grew their hair, which they “divided into two or three locks and [which they] allowed to fall upon their backs and breasts.” Their costumes comprised (1) “a sort of loin cloth, [which was] more or less ample according to the rank of the individual,” and which was bound with a belt; (2) sometimes a short-sleeved shirt; (3) a red or blue “scanty mantle”, which was “fringed like that of the Chaldeans” and which “they passed over the left shoulder and brought back under the right”; (4) “thick-soled shoes with upturned toes”; and (5) gloves that extended “halfway up the arm.” The king wore a tall, pointed hat, which rather resembled “the white crown of the Pharaohs”. Altogether, their dress material was better and thicker than that of the Egyptians or the Syrians [Maspero 1903]. The mantle, as described by the Egyptians, appears to be identical to the Greek ἱμάτιον (imation), which has been described as “a square piece of cloth thrown over the left [shoulder] and brought round over or under the right shoulder” [L&S 1846: 2nd ed.]. Compare LinB i-ma-di-jo [PY Ea 29].

Those who are familiar with the Minoan type will recognize the dolichocephalic shape of the Minoan head, the ubiquitous loin cloth, the upturned shoes (see also Hood [1971:98]), and, ultimately, the distinctive hair style. However, Maspero is describing not the Minoans but the Khâti (Khâtti or Hatti), a tribe “of doubtful race and language” who dwelled among the Amanus and Taurus mountains in southern Turkey. So extensive was the Khâtis’ territory that it was called the greater Khâti by contemporaries of Thutmosis III. Moreover, “Khâti the Great” has been compared with Khani-rabbat, an Assyrian term, which appears to refer to “Khani the Great” or part of Cappadocia [Maspero, Part B]. The Khâti would later be absorbed by the Hittites, who retained the name, Land of the Hatti [“Hatti”].

Compare “Khani the Great” not only with Nirou Khani but also with the Minoan root,, and the Japanese kuni (国), which means region, country, or home or home country, or, archaically, land or earth. Here, it also may be noted that, in Japan, Kinai is a term for an ancient division that comprised five provinces [“Kinai”] around Nara, Japan’s imperial capitol [“Nara, Nara”]. Moreover, the significance of Khania in western Crete should also be examined in this context.

There are two interesting side notes that should be considered when evaluating the Japanese/Anatolian association: first, the Japanese kanji for Turkey (土) also means soil, earth, or ground; second, both Nihon (日本), the Japanese name for Japan, and Anatolia (from the Greek ἀνατολή), are derived from references to the rising sun. Indeed, Japan is the Land of the Rising Sun, from sun (日) + origin (本).

Assyrian Trade Routes

It has been speculated that the Khatian center of influence was Kaneš (Kanesh) [“Hatti”]. Central to the success of Kanesh was the large merchant quarter (karum) [“Kultepe”]. The Turkish word for institution or agency is kurumu. Wood [1996:211] states that, as early as 1800 BCE, Assyrian kings understood that luxury and surplus revenue could be gained through the control of both trade and natural resources, such as metal [“Chariot”]. Likewise, the Khâti were known for their metalworking [Kassian 2010:311]. While Wood has speculated that the Mycenaean Knossos comprised “tiny foreign [perhaps Anatolian] communities”, it is more likely that Knossos provided a refuge during and after the Hittite invasion when the Khatians moved their merchant organization from Anatolia to Crete. The Kultepe period, ca. 2150-1950 BCE [Dayton 1971:62], coincides with the rise of Knossos [Mellersch 1970:62], with the entry of the Greeks into Greece [Palmer 1961:20], and with the appearance, ca. 2000 BCE, of the first Minoan writing system, as evidenced on stone seals [Gordon 1958:245]. Consider, also, genetic evidence that may provide further support.

The prominence of in the LinA libation texts befits Knossos, inarguably the grand center of the Minoan “paradise”. Compare to the LinB ko-no-so [e.g. KN Ak 626] and ko-no-si-jo [e.g. KN Am 600+]. While the Athenians did not adopt ω (long O, or omega) until the archonship of Euclides (403 BCE), the Ionians, who were descendants of the Mycenaeans [Giusepi], sometimes used ω for α (alpha) [L&S 904]: thus, the shift from to ko-no-so. Phonetically, the LinA /si/ consistently shifts to the Japanese /shi/, since Japanese does not recognize /si/. Consequently, would likely have been pronounced kanashi. In Japanese, kanashi refers to Kanash, which appears identical to the Anatolian Kanesh.

It is significant that the majority of LinA texts have been found at Haghia Triada, while the majority of LinB texts have been found at Knossos. What conclusions are to be drawn from these facts? If Minoan Crete was, indeed, a Kultepian (or Kaneshi) outpost, perhaps Haghia Triada, which was occupied as early as EM I [“Hagia Triada”], was the site of the original settlement. Further support for this hypothesis may be found in the Haghia Triada (HT) texts, which contain countless references to toponyms in what appear to be trade itineraries. Perhaps Haghia Triada, too, was called Kanashi before the palace at Knossos overtook it as the center of the island’s prosperity, following the former’s destruction during the 15th century BCE. Another significant fact is that none of the texts that contain references to comes from either Knossos or Haghia Triada.

As for the Greek meaning of Knossos, according to Liddell and Scott, κνώσσω (knosso) means “to sleep” [L&S 439]. When compared to similar Japanese definitions, which follow, sleeping may be construed as sloth or complacency. Plato offers a clue about these alternate constructions in his discussion about Atlantis in Critias: “[They] practiced mildness united with wisdom. . . . and contentedly bore . . . . the mass of gold and other property; nor were they deceived by the intoxication of luxury or rendered intemperate through wealth” [adapted quote in Mellersh 1970:30-31]. Mellersh adds that, when the day came “when they could no longer uphold these divine and lofty virtues, . . . Zeus visited upon them their just retribution.” Whether Atlantis is an allegory about Minoan or Mycenaean Crete is a question that will not be debated here. Nevertheless, as enlightening as is Plato’s allegory, the preceding definition of Knossos is not wholly satisfying, because it appears to be a reanalysis.

A more satisfying analysis begins with Mellersh [1967:98], who states that “Crete was by tradition the birthplace of metal-working.” While Mellersh appears to be on the right track, the preceding discussion suggests an earlier Anatolian origin for metalworking, which employed copper, electrum, gold, iron (more valuable than gold), lead, and silver. However, tin for bronze-making was likely imported. Anatolian metalworking processes included cloisonné and filigree, granulation, chasing and repousse, lost-wax casting, metal inlay, and sweating and soldering [“Anatolia”]. Indeed, it is believed that the early Minoans, between 3400 and 2200 BCE, were influenced by the middle Anatolian bronze age, as evidenced by the findings at Knossos [“Prehistory”].

Nevertheless, Mellersh’s assertion is aligned with at least two related Japanese definitions and at least five related Greek definitions. The first is the Japanese kanashiki (金敷) “anvil”. At the root of the word is the kanji (金) for both kane “metal; money” and kin “gold”. The second, kanashibari (金縛り), has two definitions–(1) “sleep paralysis” and (2) “being tied down with money”–at least one of which echoes the Greek reference to sleep. Compare, further, the Japanese kane with the Greek καναχή (kanakhe) “the clash or ring of metal” and γανάω (ganaw) “to gleam, to shine”  (of metals).

A third Greek term, κνησί-χρυσός (knesi-khrusos), refers to scraping or gnawing gold [L&S 439]. However, knesi may be compared to Neša (Nesha), the Hittite name for Kanesh [“Kultepe”]. The Hittites were known as the Nesi. So, knesi khrusos may literally mean Kaneshi gold. As a reanalysis, however, knesi khrusos likely refers to engraved (carved) gold, via γράφειν (graphein) “to scratch, scrape, or graze” [L&S 169].

The fourth and fifth Greek definitions, ξόανον and χόανος, pertain to the notion of carving, which may be understood in the art of statuary. Chadwick [1976:101] states that, in classical times, there were “many references to wooden statues of very great antiquity known as xoana,” a word that is derived from ξόανον (xoanon). While Euripides describes xoanon, generally, as an image or a statute, Xenophon describes the same as “an image carved from wood” [L&S 540]. That these images were exclusively carved from wood appears to be a modern assumption. Donohue [1998] asserts that xoanon is etymologically associated with a manufacturing process rather than with a specific material.

However, debate centers around whether xoanon is rooted in ξέω (xeo), “to shave” or in ξύω (xuo) “to scratch or scrape” [Donohue 1998:11]. While the latter root appears to mirror the definition of knesi-khrusos, there is no difference between shaving and scraping, so the debate between xeo and xuo amounts to hair-splitting. Compare ξόανον with χόανος (khoanos), from χεῶ (kheo) “to pour”.  Xωνεύω (khoneuo), a derivation of khoanos, means “to cast into a mold” [L&S 1846: 2nd ed.].

A comparison of knesi-khrusos, xoanon, and khoanos suggests that the materials were later associated with the manufacturing processes or with general workmanship. Consequently, while the Minoan (kanashi), the Japanese kane, the Anatolian Kanesh, and the Greek khoneuo appear to have strong associations with metal, these terms may generally refer to workmanship, as suggested by the Greek knesi. Likewise with xoanon, which appears to primarily be associated with imagery or representation, whether worked or unworked. As the testimony [Donohue 1998:1-48 of 403] demonstrates, xoana [as agalmata (statue)] were “bound and nailed and fastened, melted, filed, sawn, polished, [and] carved” [44] and comprised a variety of materials or guises:

  • ivory [7];
  • a grape vine [26];
  • wood and quicksilver [30],
  • wood, generally, or pear wood; a spear; or a mixture of bronze, gold, iron, lead, silver and emerald, hematite, sapphire, and topaz [44];
  • stone, generally [46]; and
  • “stones or bronzes” [48].

Compare, also, [HT 97], which, as the Japanese kanuchi, means “smithing; blacksmith”. While it is not yet clear to which place refers, it is enough for the moment to have a foundation for research. Knesi also suggests the verb, to knead, which, in its broad sense, means “to manipulate”. Indeed, the Japanese word for knead is neru, which, in this context, may mean “to refine or to temper”. Moreover, neru, in its broad sense, refers to becoming: “to attain, to succeed, to bear fruit, and to be exchanged for”. has some related definitions that emphasize sound: “to resound; to ring”. However, neru, with its similarity to the Greek Nirou Khani, suggests “refinement” as the most likely meaning of Consequently, with the emphasis on metalworking, Naru (Neru) Kanashi may simply mean “refined [metal] workmanship”. This definition does not rule out the possibility that naru is a reanalysis that refers to the sound of industry.

Here, it should be noted that, while references to or na typically include the prefix /u/, its lack of emphasis in this discussion should be regarded not so much as an oversight but as a relegation to lesser status, since unaru is reminiscent of the earlier reference to sound–to buzz or to hum–and uneru is distantly reminiscent of the earlier reference to kneading in its application to roads or to landscapes–to wind, to surge, to swell, and to undulate.

Turning again to phonetics, as with the phonetic shift from /si/ to Japanese /shi/, initial and medial /ti/ shifts to Japanese /chi/. Consequently, the variation, (kanachi) [PK Za 11], may be perceived as a spelling error. However, final /ti/ may also shift to /tou/, which, in a place name, is a suffix that designates an island (see Therefore, may be pronounced either kanachi or kanatou. Pronounced in the former manner, kanachi may be a transitional word: kanashi > kanachi > kanuchi. Pronounced in the latter manner, however, may be kanatou (kanato), perhaps “island of Kana”, which brings the discussion full circle to Kanai and which may refer to its metalworking industry.

Momentarily returning to the legend, the Okinawans state that Nirai Kanai was the source of rice in Japan. Certainly, it has long been presumed that China had been Japan’s source of rice and rice cultivation. However, until 1969, Japonica, a subspecie of oryza sativa “cultivated rice”, has been the main cultivar in Greece since at least the first millennium BCE [Ntanos 2001] and is the main rice cultivar in Japan, as indicated by its common name.

While this discussion has taken a somewhat cautious tone, I fully anticipate that the support for the hypothesis–regarding Knossos as an outpost of the Anatolian Kanesh–will only grow as scholars explore the implications raised in the analysis.

Post script: This discussion would be incomplete without emphasizing the frequency with which LinA words yield Japanese personal names, surnames, and toponyms. This phenomenon is no less true for the words in the preceding analysis. Consequently, Japanese names include Kanashi, Kanaashi, Kanachi, Kanayashiki (from ka.[na], Kanuchi, Naru, and Nuriya. Packard [1974: fn 17] observes that personal names are often derived from both toponyms and occupational terms; for further discussion, see The Treatment of Anthroponyms in the Linear Scripts.


  1. The Minoan “Seki
  2. Mino: The Fertile Island
  3. Toponyms in Linear A Texts
  4. Toponyms in Linear A Texts: KU-RU-MA


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