Jewish bath found in the basement of the Sagara clan’s castle

(ORDO NEWS) — Japanese scientists are arguing about who used the strange small pool in the secret premises of the residence of a powerful daimyo – Jews or Buddhists.

Hitoyoshi Castle was built by the samurai Sagara Nagayori at the end of the 13th century on the Japanese island of Kyushu.

Later, already at the beginning of the Sengoku period (XV-XVI centuries), the building was rebuilt. The Sagara clan was considered one of the most powerful in Japan until the Meiji Restoration.

During the Meiji Restoration, many Tokugawa castles were destroyed, including Hitoyoshi. It is located in the mountains, and its excavations began only at the very end of the 20th century.

The castle gave the archaeologists a surprise. First, it had a basement, a rarity in Japanese architecture of almost any period. Secondly, in the basement there was a completely non-Japanese-looking bathhouse.

Jewish bath found in the basement of the Sagara clans castle 2
This is the bathhouse in the basement of Hitoyoshi Castle

The basement itself is very small – only six by 5.2 meters, and, according to scientists, it could not be used as a warehouse. The bath is even smaller, but deep enough – up to 2.3 meters.

A stone staircase leads to it. Nothing like this was found in Japanese castles. The last reconstruction of the castle was carried out by the head of the Sagara clan, Seibei Yorimori, who lived in 1568-1655.

At the same time, according to archaeologists, a basement with a bath was built. But for what?

Based on the size and structure of the bath, the researchers suggested that it was a mikveh – a Jewish bath intended for ritual purity – that is, for ablutions, after which you can participate in worship. Not the most expected place for such a find, you see.

Mihoko Oka from the University of Tokyo (Japan) believes that in the XV-XVI centuries, until the beginning of the Edo era, Christian missionaries lived in Kyushu, as well as merchants from Portugal and Spain.

Among the latter there were quite a few Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity in order to do business in Europe. Some of them could keep the faith of their ancestors.

Jewish bath found in the basement of the Sagara clans castle 3
And this is a Jewish mikvah of the XII century in Speyer (Germany)

But what does the Spanish merchants and a high-ranking samurai have to do with it? Oka believes that there was a mixture of religions.

She claims that initially Seibei Yorimori was an adherent of the Myoken religion , one of the branches of Buddhism in which the heavenly bodies in general and the North Star in particular are deified.

The researcher provided evidence that the head of the Sagara clan invited Suzuki Huang from Kyoto, who was somewhere between a scientist and a fortuneteller.

Suzuki, in turn, was familiar with Jewish rituals and initiated the samurai of Hitoyoshi Castle into them. Well, he built a bath necessary for religious purposes, so unusual for Japanese architecture.

Not all scientists agree with this explanation. Kenshi Matsuo from Yamagata University believes that the point here is in Buddhism, and not in Myokene, but in its other branch – Risshu.

He said that the Buddhist monk Eison brought the teachings of Risshu to the island of Kyushu during the period of the Kamakura shogunate (1185-1333).

But the monks of this sect reached the greatest influence just in time for the beginning of the 16th century.

In Risshu, as in Judaism, the practice of ritual ablution is used, but usually the baths for this were made of wood – in the shape of a barrel.

In addition, if the head of the Sagara clan was a Buddhist, he had no reason to arrange a bath in a secret basement: Japan of that time perfectly combines different religions, with the exception of Christianity.

In addition, similar finds should be found elsewhere, since Buddhism has spread widely on the islands.

Christianity, along with European merchants, becomes undesirable in the Land of the Rising Sun with the coming to power of the shogun Tokugawa.

And if the bathing room was intended for Jewish rituals, then the secrecy is all the more understandable: from the point of view of the Japanese of that time, Christianity is a direct development of Judaism, and this religion does not really adorn the reputation of the head of a powerful clan.

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