Updated on December 10, 2015
With References to the Ancient Greeks
During the past century, since the excavation of Minoan sites on Crete, there have been numerous references, by Minoan and other scholars, to the similarities between the Minoan and the Japanese cultures. Until now, however, no one has explored the possibility that Japan is an extension of the Minoan civilization.
It is true that, when viewed in singular context, each of these references may be easily dismissed as little more than scholarly musing; however, it is also true that the cumulative weight of these musings foreshadows a convergence of evidence too great to be indefinitely ignored. Meanwhile, the list of references grows.
One of the greatest ironies pertaining to the decipherments of the linear scripts is that, in his role as a military code breaker during WWII, John Chadwick received training in the Japanese language [“John Chadwick”] and specialized “in the translation of decrypted Japanese naval messages” between Berlin and Tokyo [Robinson 111]. His training is reflected in his numerous references about the linguistic similarities between LinB and Japanese.
- John Chadwick. Wikipedia.org. Ret. on 28 Apr 2012.
For a comprehensive list of similarities between the two cultures, see Similarities Between the Minoan and the Japanese Cultures.
Butler, Alan | Chadwick, John | Driessen, J. M. | Evans, Arthur J. | Frost, Honor | Hall, H. R. | Hawes, Harriet Boyd | Hawkes, Jacquetta | Knight, Christopher | Ledyard, Gari | MacGillivray, J. A. | Platon, Nicolas | Richter, Gisela M. A. | Stanley–Baker, Joan | Websites | Willetts, R. F. | Woodard, Roger D. | Yamagiwa, Hanako Hoshino |
Arthur J. Evans
Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London. Second Series. Vol. XX. No. II. London: J.B. Nichols and Sons, November 24, 1904, to June 29, 1905.
Evans is reading a paper about the tombs of Minoan Knossos before The Society of Antiquaries of London. Here is an excerpt from that meeting:
“Professor Gowland* inquired as to the orientation of the Minoan tombs; there was, according to Dr. Evans, a general tendency toward the east, but early tombs in Japan were definitely [oriented] to the south. The second type [that Evans] described (a simple rock-hewn chamber) corresponded to those in Japan dating from the second and third centuries AD, which no doubt rose independently; this form, with a dromos or entrance passage, was after all very natural. There were also terra-cotta sarcophagi in the Japanese tombs, with covers of precisely the same form as those from Crete, but the former stood on more than four legs. The loops in the Minoan specimens were perhaps not so much for tying on the cover as for carrying the sarcophagus, as in Japan, where projections served the same purpose. The last type of Minoan tomb (with ante-chamber) resembled one form of the chamber tomb in Japan; the interment in the chamber was always in a stone or earthenware sarcophagus” [pp. 177-8].
* William Gowland (1846-1922) is known as the “Father of Japanese Archaeology”.
Christopher Knight and Alan Butler
Megalithic Pint, Anyone? Red Ice Creations. com. 2008. Ret. on 25 Dec 2011.
“[The Japanese shaku] is almost indistinguishable from the Minoan foot. It follows that 366 megalithic yards is almost the same as 1,000 Japanese shaku, with a fit accuracy of 99.8 per cent.”
Notes: For more information regarding this comparison, see The Minoan “Seki”.
Galloping Along With the Horse Riders: Looking for the Founders of Japan. The Society of Japanese Studies. The Journal of Japanese Studies. Vol 1, No. 2 (Spring 1975): 217-254.
“It seems clear that [around 240 BCE] the Wa, and the Yayoi culture in general, extended from the southern coast of Korea through Kyushu and eastward to the Kinai region. . . . It was essentially an area connected by water, not by land, and one of the most common scenes must have been people going back and forth in their boats (as in some of the wall paintings in Kyushu tombs). It was a maritime state, and to describe it I have adopted a term of that meaning, ‘thalassocracy‘, originally applied by classical-Greek writers to the early Minoan civilization on the island of Crete. Rather than a land-based society [that] spread to the nearest water, the Wa, imaginatively at least, were a sea-centered people who spread in all directions to land” [p. 231-32].
Gisela M. A. Richter
Cretan Pottery. The Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 7, No. 2 (Feb. 1912): 28-35.
“[T]he Middle Minoan III period . . . marks the beginning of the naturalistic style of decoration when the designs imitate natural objects and are applied freely on the field of the vase. . . . Favorite motives are curvilinear strokes, sometimes combined with daubs, interlaced lines, and the drip pattern familiar in Japanese art” [pp. 32-33].
See also H. R. Hall.
Notes: These motifs include “the lily, the iris, the crocus, grasses, and tendrils, as well as the octopus, the nautilus shell, and seaweeds” [p. 34]. See also Harriet Boyd Hawes.
Hanako Hoshino Yamagiwa
Japanese Parallels to Ancient Greek Life. The Classical Journal. Vol. 31, No. 9 (June 1936), 546-558.
“There is not a single likeness in everyday clothes between the [ancient] Greeks and [the] Japanese, but Greek armor [had] shapes quite similar to ancient Japanese armor. Below the breastplate, there was attached a short skirt [with] several sections, [which] were made with . . . iron plates woven with leather” [p. 555].
“We can find many similarities between Greece and Japan in the mere external details of daily life. If we consider the philosophical side, there is no doubt but that we may find more similar points. In such a case, the suspicion arises that these may not be mere coincidences, [which] may not be due merely to the primitive character of the Greek and [the] Japanese peoples. Direct or indirect influence seems possible” [p. 558].
Notes: The parallels in Yamagiwa’s article are too numerous to mention, here, but certainly suggest more than a relationship between conquerer and vanquished, as has been suggested by popular theory. On the contrary, these parallels suggest an intimacy that can only arise from, perhaps, centuries of living in proximity to another people. For interested readers, Yamagiwa’s primary reference is Gullick, Charles Burton. The Life of the Ancient Greeks. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1902.
Entry added on 31 Dec, 2013
Harriet Boyd Hawes
As quoted in Mellersch, H.E.L. Minoan Crete. Life in Ancient Lands. Edited by Edward Bacon. New York: G.P Putnam’s Sons, 1967.
“The Cretan potter’s first appreciation of nature was subjective; not distinguishing clearly between himself and the world in which he moved. . . . The line left on the sand by receding waves, the ripple on water as the wind crossed it, the mysterious inner markings of a shell, the thousand varieties of spirals in shells and in tendrils, the shadow cast on his path by interlacing twigs, the stir of leaves and [the] bending of branches, the flight of petals and seed vessels, and the whirl which is . . . the basis of so many forms of motion, gathering particles to one focus and flinging them forth again–these attracted him. The artist was awakening to nature; his aim, however, was not to imitate what he saw but to record an impression, somewhat in the spirit of a Japanese artist” [p. 94-95].
See also Gisela M. A. Richter.
The following is a general reference to bronze-aged harbors, the discussion of which includes some Minoan harbors. The reference to Japan is analogous.
Under the Mediterranean: Marine Antiquities. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1963.
“[Pere] Poidebard’s elucidation of Tyre and Sidon has led me to speculate on similar unknown harbours, where reefs were put to use as quays, where rock-cut channels suggested the possibility of artificial currents. . . , or where currents may ingeniously have been deflected. In conception, these Bronze Age ports are like sophisticated Japanese gardens, which look natural only because they are designed by men who have a deep understanding of natural laws.” [p.
The Civilization of Greece in the Bronze Age. New York, NY: Cooper Square Publishers, 1970.
“[R]ougher pots were in vogue, sometimes with a decoration imitating the ‘trickle’ of oil down the outside of the vase. We see the same idea carried out in glaze on some Japanese vases” [pp. 128-9].
Notes: Compare seto ware.
“[O]f all of the Minoan pottery, that of MMIII would most please a Japanese connoisseur” [p. 131].
“[I]n the presumably royal tombs of Zafer Papoura were found some of the finest examples of Minoan bronze weapons. . . [Bronze] spearheads. . . of characteristically beautiful shape, almost Japanese in their fineness of line and curve, very different from the ordinary leaf-shaped weapons elsewhere and of later days in Greece” [p. 197].
J. A. MacGillivray, et al.
L. H. Sackett, and J. M. Driessen
with contributions by C. Doherty, D. Evely, E. M. Hatzaki, D. Mylona, D. S. Reese, A. Sarpaki, G. Shipley, S. M. Thorne, S. Wall-Crowther, and J. Weingarten.
Palaikastro: Two Late-Minoan Wells. The British School at Athens. Supplementary Volumes, No. 43 (2007): iii-xv, 1-250.
McGillivray describes a distinctive pottery style that was prevalent in the LM IIIA1 period:
“The distinctive large circular pattern [of the dipped-disk style] formerly part of Bosanquet and Dawkins’s blot-and-trickle style, was created by holding the vessel on its side and dipping it into dark wash, which, because of the rotund form of the pot, left a circular pattern. The vase was then lifted, either upright so that a drip ran from the disk to the base, or in a sideways motion so that the drip ran into the next dipped disk [FN 6 > Maren Kuether-Ulberg informs me that there is a similar style in Japanese ceramics to commemorate Amaterasu-o-kami-wa, goddess of the sun. The result is a red disk, which recalls the rising-sun motif of Japan. Perhaps the Cretan potters were inspired by a similar notion, as Palaikastro is where the sun rose first and illuminated the Minoan world on its journey across Crete”] [p. 146].
Note: Anatolia is derived from the Greek ἀνατολή (anatole) “rising [sun]”. For more information about the Anatolian association, see Naru Kanashi: The Paradise Across the Ocean.
See also J. M. Driessen.
The Dawn of the Gods. New York: Random House, 1968.
It is worth noting that Hawkes’ index includes references to the “Japanese culture”. One reference is included, here, but two others–on pages 206 and 263–may later prove significant.
“To say that a culture [such as the Minoan] is dominated by the feminine principle does not necessarily mean that women will dominate men in the society concerned–still less that the men will be effeminate. There is much that is feminine in the Japanese culture, and, to a lesser extent in its Chinese parent. The love of nature, the intense identification with it found in the poetry of the haiku, the strong sense of the seasons, the cult of the children and the delight in making toys, the aestheticism and secular ceremonial of domestic life–all of these could be said to be feminine in spirit, and, yet, outwardly, Japanese women were subservient to their husbands. On the other hand, it may be significant that, in this other famous island, the supreme divinity remained feminine, a rare state of affairs under civilization” [p. 149].
Note: Compare the egalitarian, matrilineal Okinawan society and the roles of women as priestesses. Compare also Amaterasu, the central deity and sun goddess in the Shinto religion.
J. M. Driessen
Earthquake-Resistant Construction and the Wrath of the “Earth Shaker”. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (JSAH). University of California Press: Vol. 46, No. 2 (June 1987), 171-178.
“[I]t is reasonable to ask whether the Bronze-Age Minoans, whose architects displayed a remarkable architectural skill, knew how to protect themselves and their houses [from earthquakes], perhaps in a way similar to medieval Japanese, 18th-century Calabrians, or present-day Californians” [p.179].
“[T]raditional anti-seismic techniques are still in use in Turkey, South America, and regions of Japan. . . . The aim of this paper is to illustrate some of these techniques and principles with examples from Minoan Crete” [p. 180].
See also J. A. MacGillivray, et al.
Japanese and Linear A. AegeaNet.com. 09 Jan 2013.
Stanley-Baker is responding to a post in which I propose Japanese as the underlying language of LinA. Spelling and punctuation have been edited for the sake of clarity.
“[L]ong ago, I wrote a paper (unpublished) on the Feminine Characteristics in Art — citing neopalatial Crete and comparing it with Heian-period Japanese aesthetics. The points of coincidence [are] astounding — even though the leap may have been too large in those days. But, from archaeological evidence on Minoan Crete (in contrast to Mycenaean Crete), a student of Japanese art history would be startled by the similarities.”
Although John Chadwick was primarily concerned with LinB decipherment, these references have been included, since philologists seek bases of comparison between LinA and LinB, as well as Cypro-Minoan. One of the greatest ironies pertaining to the decipherments of LinA and LinB is that, in his role as a military codebreaker during WWII, Chadwick received training in the Japanese language and specialized “in the translation of decrypted Japanese naval messages” between Berlin and Tokyo.
As quoted in Robinson, Andrew. The Man Who Deciphered Linear B: The Story of Michael Ventris. New York: Thames & Hudson. 2002.
Robinson is recounting the initial correspondence between Ventris and Chadwick. To Ventris’ concern about the absence, in Mycenaean, of the classical-Greek definite article, Chadwick replies on July 17, 1952:
“[B]eing a philologist, I am not the least worried by inexplicable words, as there are plenty in much later inscriptions, or by curious spellings and survivals. A further point is that I am familiar with Japanese, which uses to supplement the Chinese ideograms [logograms] with a syllabary very similar in form to the Cypriot and, of course, [which lacks] signs for L: e.g. Apollo appears as a-po-ro. The definite article ought not to be present, as it is not fully developed in Homer. I should have been much more worried if you had found an article.” Chadwick welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with Ventris [p. 112].
In Robinson, see other references to the Japanese language on pp. 66, 109, and 111.
Entry added on 06 May 2012
The Decipherment of Linear B: The Key to the Ancient Language and Culture of Crete and Mycenae. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1958.
Although they occur 52 pages apart, these first two quotes appear related.
“[In Linear B,] [i]t is easy to guess that single signs standing alone are . . . ideographic . . . [and signs] used in groups are . . . either syllabic or alphabetic. [These signs] number about eight-nine–the exact total is still disputed, because some are very rare, and it is not clear whether certain forms are separate signs or variants of others. But the number is significant; it is far too small for a wholly ideographic system, and it is much too large for an alphabet. It must therefore be . . . a fairly simple . . . syllabary like [that of] the Cypriot or [the] Japanese [rather than] the more complicated systems of cuneiform script” [p. 43].
“At this point, it will be as well to deal with an objection that has frequently been made: that no one is likely to write the same word twice, both in the syllabic script and by means of ideogram. This is true of scripts [that] are genuinely ideographic, though readers of Japanese newspapers will know that rare ideographic signs are regularly accompanied by the reading in syllabic signs” [p 94].
Note: See George Sansom’s An Historical Grammar of the Japanese Language (1928) for his clarification regarding the logographic, rather than the ideographic, character of the Chinese system.
“The greatest number of variations in words . . . was to be found in their endings. . . . Now these variations might be due to adding unrelated suffixes, like the Japanese ‘postpositions’, which behave much as inflected endings: ‘nominative’ hito-ha, ‘genitive’ hito-no, [and] ‘accusative’ hito-wo. But if it is a true inflexion, it is more likely to follow the pattern of Latin: domin-us, domin-i, domin-o. The Japanese hito is a word that can stand alone; but in Latin there is no independant domin–it must be completed by the grammatical ending. If the Latin forms are written in a syllabic script, the termination[s] will thus read –nus, -ni, [and] -no; that is to say [that] the consonant of the alternating suffixes, being part of the stem, remains unchanged. The existence of a number of different types of inflexion pointed to the second possibility; in Japanese, all nouns show the same limited set of suffixes, and there is no true inflexion” [pp. 54-5].
Entry added on 09 Feb 2012
Updated on 30 Jun 2012
Linear B and Related Scripts. Trustees of the British Museum. London: British Museum Press, 1987.
“Mixed [phonetic] systems are not uncommon: that is, ones where some signs are ideographic and some phonetic. When we read 1st as first, and 3rd as third, we are using ideograms with a phonetic complement. This serves to prevent us [from] giving the wrong sound to the ideogram and, in some languages, allows us to indicate inflected forms. Examples of mixed scripts are Hittite (a cuneiform script) in antiquity and, in modern times, Japanese” [p. 13].
Note: As a mixed script, Japanese uses three writing systems, two of which are phonetic and one of which is ideographic. The phonetic systems, though equivalent, are called hiragana and katakana and are respectively used for writing Japanese words and foreign words. The ideographic system uses kanji and is said to have been derived from the Chinese logographic system.
Entry added on 28 Apr 2012
Updated on 30 Jun 2012
The Mycenaean World. London: Cambridge University Press, 1976.
Chadwick is speculating about the consistent order of Cn 608 and Vn20, two identical LinB documents:
“Now the consistent order might arise in several ways: it could be an order of importance, but the [table shows] that the town with the highest figures (6 and 100) is not the first, and there is no sort of grading by magnitude. It might again be ‘alphabetical order’, if we imagine the Mycenaeans to have had a standard, if arbitrary, order for the syllablic signs, like our A B C. . . .The Japanese have such an order for their syllabary: i ro ha, etc.” [p 42].
Chadwick is discussing the meanings for words that appear to be personal names:
“[W]e can at least feel confident that some [names in Linear B] are so transparently Greek that it would be absurd to challenge them. The woman’s name Alexandra, already quoted, is a good example, and the same tablet gives us Theodora. Among men’s names we may instance Amphimedes, Eumenes, Euruptolemos, Opilimnios, and Philowergos. All of these are not only recognizable as Greek; they [belong to] a special type . . . called compound names, so that each name can be decomposed into two significant parts. This type is so wide-spread in the Indo-European language that it is hard to believe [that] it is not a common inheritance. But it is also found elsewhere, and many Japanese surnames are rather similar” [p. 64].
Crete. Cleveland, Ohio: World Publishing Co., 1966.
“On the whole, Minoan civilization bears a curious resemblance to Sino-Japanese civilization, although there was never any contact between the two. This is probably due to a similar attitude [toward] nature” [p 16].
Note: Compare the historical time frames for the “demise” of the Minoan culture (15th century BCE) and the “commencement” of the modern Japanese culture (after 1000 BCE). Evidence suggests that these cultures were not concurrent.
See also R. F. Willetts.
The Civilization of Ancient Crete. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1977.
“It is scarcely surprising, adds Platon, that the Palace of Minos was remembered as a labyrinth in later legends connected with Crete. Minoan architecture more than any other (except, perhaps, Japanese, which sprang from a similar conception of the sacred quality of nature) preserved the closest possible links between man and the natural world, and there seems to be no reason to doubt that this unique style of palace architecture, in fact, originated in Crete” [pp. 74-5].
See also Nicolas Platon.
Roger D. Woodard
Greek Writing from Knossos to Homer: A Linguistic Interpretation of the Origin of the Greek Alphabet and the Continuity of Ancient-Greek Literacy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1997.
“A syllabic writing system [such as Linear A] consisting almost entirely of V and CV symbols would be quite well suited for representing languages such as Japanese and those of the Polynesian branch of the Austronesian linguistic family: that is, languages in which closed syllables and consonant clusters occur infrequently or are absent altogether. Japanese is, in fact, written syllabically (at least in part), and the Kana syllabaries used for this purpose consist almost solely of V and CV characters. The Greek language is quite a different matter, however; the phonotactics of Greek are such that closed syllables and consonant clusters abound. Greek is not a language for which one would expect a syllabary consisting only of V and CV characters to be most naturally devised. It would clearly seem to be the case that the Greeks adopted syllabic scripts which had been originally designed for writing a language, or languages, phonotactically quite unlike Greek” [p. 9].
Minoan Art. Ancient Greece.com. Ret. on 14 Oct 2014.
“Western art and sculpture [was] derived from Roman art, while, in the East, Alexander the Great’s conquest gave birth to Greco-Buddhist art, which has even had an influence as far as Japan. . . .”
Entry added on 14 Oct 2014
- Leonhardt, Gretchen E. References to the Similarities Between the Minoans and the Japanese. Konosos. 2011. Ret. on [date]. <konosos.net>.