National TreasureObjects from the Grave of Fumi no Nemaro

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  • 文祢麻呂墓出土品
  • Excavated from the Grave of Fumi no Nemaro, in Yataki, Haibara Town, Uda County, Nara Prefecture
  • Nara period/Keiun 4(707)
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • J-39201~J-39203

This group of objects comes from a grave of cremated remains that was discovered by a farmer plowing a field in the province of Yamato (present-day Nara Prefecture) in 1831. The circumstances of this discovery were written about in detail in a report made by the local magistrate's office, which said that from the grave was excavated a bronze box and a gilt-bronze container surrounded by charcoal. Within the box was a bronze plaque with an engraved epitaph, and within the container was a green glass urn filled with ashes.

From the epitaph, we know that this was the grave of Fumi no Nemaro, who died in the ninth month of Keiun 4 (707). According to two eighth-century histories, the Chronicles of Japan (J. Nihon shoki) and the Continued Chronicles of Japan (J. Zoku Nihongi), Nemaro was a warrior from a migrant clan from the continent, the Kawachi no Aya. During the Jinshin Rebellion of 672, he helped Prince Ôama, who later became Emperor Tenmu (r. 673-686), defeat the forces of his nephew Prince Ôtomo. Because of his valorous service at the time of the conflict, Nemaro was posthumously granted the upper senior fourth rank.

The custom of cremation was transmitted to Japan along with Buddhism and eventually came to include the Chinese and Korean practice of placing an epitaph in the grave. This is the earliest reliably datable example of an epitaph accompanying cremated remains. It consists of the following inscription engraved on the cast-bronze plaque: "General of the Jinshin Year, Commander of the Guards Department of the Left, Upper Senior Fourth Rank, Fumi no Nemaro. Died on the twenty-first day of the ninth month of Keiun 4 in the junior fire-sheep year."

The gilt-bronze outer container has a body with a low base, and a lid fitted with a knob shaped like a Buddhist jewel; inside are fragments of a cloth that had been used to wrap the glass urn. The urn itself has a low, flat body, and its lid is also fitted with a jewel-shaped knob. The practice of placing cremated remains in a glass container wrapped in cloth and placed in an outer container is based on the treatment of Buddhist relics. The rare use of green glass for a funerary urn, along with the superior quality of the gilt-bronze outer container, seems most appropriate for the burial of a hero of the Jinshin War.