Turkic “Balbal” in Japan By Mark A. Riddle
At the Rakan-ji Temple in Houjou-chou, Kasai City, in western Hyougo Prefecture, are some unusual stone sculptures. The entire collection is called the “Go-hyaku Rakan,” (‘five hundred arhat’ — an arhat is an advanced disciple of Buddha), and some of the sculptures at Rakan-ji are very much like Buddhist statuary seen elsewhere throughout Japan. But others are very unusual — they are not typical “Rakan;” they are not like the stone images of Jizou found everywhere in Japan; and they are unlike the douso-jin stone sculptures of Japan.4They are very unlike the tolharubang (‘grandfather figures’) found on Cheju Island, Korea, and the very similar figures of Hayato-zuka, in Aira-gun, Kumamoto Prefecture. Indeed, Japanese photographer–author Wakasugi Kei judged the unusual “rakan” sculptures of Houjou-chou to be unlike anything else seen anywhere in Japan, unlike any rakan statuary found anywhere else in the world, and questioned whether they were really rakan at all — and in that, he was right. So, what are they? Actually, the unusual “rakan” sculptures of Houjou-chou are very similar to, indeed quite the same as, Turkic balbal found in Central Asia. The purpose of this essay is three-fold: (1) to present the evidence supporting this identification of the unusual stone sculptures of the Rakan-ji of Houjou-chou as Turkic “balbal”; to offer additional evidence that shows the presence of ethnically non-Japanese people in the Kibi/Harima area of early Japan; and to explore the implications of this evidence.