Japan's King of Na's gold seal has been reproduced with techniques used to recreate it

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Japan's King of Na's gold seal has been reproduced with techniques used to recreate it

The King of Na's gold seal, a national treasure Japanese schoolchildren learn about from history textbooks, dates to the first century.

After a successful attempt to reproduce this seal with techniques employed back then, I went to see the result at Fukuoka Prefectural Fukuoka High School.

It was tiny but surprisingly heavy, and its handle felt unexpectedly soft to my fingertips.

The original seal is believed to have been bestowed by Emperor Guangwu of the later Han dynasty on a diplomatic envoy sent from the Na state of Wa Japan. The artifact was discovered on Shikanoshima island in Fukuoka Prefecture in the late Edo period 1603 -- 1867. Its authenticity is challenged by some experts due to the dubious circumstances under which it was found.

The reproduction was done by Kyushu Chukin Kenkyukai Kyushu metal casting research group, made up of archaeologists and engineers, and led by Yohei Miyata, 62, a professor of technical art at the University of Teacher Education Fukuoka.

The team tried experimenting with old techniques beginning four years ago, including a lost wax process. With each failed attempt, they melted the bullion to raise the precision.

Kiyoshi Endo, 72, a metal casting artist, was surprised by how much the level of perfection differed between the seal handle and face.

The face was engraved with great precision with five Chinese characters that indicate that the seal was given to the King of Na state of Wa by the Han dynasty.

The handle, which is in the shape of a coiled serpent, is hardly refined.

Endo understood why when he heard the theory that the seal maker had mistakenly thought that Japan lay north of China, he first used the design of a camel, and then refashioned it into a serpent after learning that Japan lay south of China.

As I scrutinized the stout serpent on the handle, it began to make perfect sense when I reminded myself that the creature was originally meant to be camel. The serpent's scales looked as if they were carved in great haste.

I could almost imagine hearing the seal maker cursing himself, Darn. Japan isn't a northern country. This may have been a harmless diplomatic blunder for the superpower of 2,000 years ago. As for the Japanese envoy who traveled all the way to the capital city of Luoyang, I am sure he could never have imagined that the golden seal presented by the emperor was the result of a rush job.

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that covers a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. The column, written by the veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, provides useful insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.