Tonight’s episode, “A Spaceship Made of Stone,” focuses on the Ishi-no-Hōden (“Stone Treasure-House”) megalith in Japan, a large roughly cubic rock carved out of the side of a hill between 500 and 700 CE, and it is said to hold the spirit of the deity of the Jinja Shinto shrine in which it sits. It weighs about 500 tons, and its most impressive feature is the clever way its base was carved into a narrow pedestal to give the illusion that it floats above the water atop which it sits. The monument has been known to the West since at least 1832, when Philipp Franz von Siebold, a German who disguised himself as a Dutchman in order to sneak into an isolationist Japan, published a picture of it in the first volume of his Nippon. The monolith appears on tonight’s show because last year, when the current batch of episodes was being planned out, an article and video about the cube made the rounds of the fringe history message boards and spam sites, where Ancient Aliens gets all its ideas.
The first segment starts with current Japanese technological breakthroughs, and the show contrasts Japan’s high-tech culture with its traditionalist ways and ancient monuments. The show then reviews a flap from a decade ago in which some Japanese officials announced that they believed in aliens and that UFOs are real. Two years later the prime minister’s wife said she was abducted by space aliens and taken to Venus. Nick Pope says that Americans don’t take this seriously because of an ethnocentric bias (which is true) and that if an American official said the same thing it would be news on every channel. Maybe that would be the one thing that Trump could say to actually make his Republican enablers think something wasn’t quite right with him.
After this, the show introduces us to Shintoism and alleges that the Shinto deities are space aliens. This leads into the Ishi-no-Hōden, but not until the commercial break has passed.
The second segment takes Giorgio Tsoukalos to Japan to visit the Ishi-no-Hōden in the company of a Japanese ancient astronaut theorist from Mu Magazine. The show chooses not to share with viewers the fact that house-shaped stone coffins were popular in the sixth century, and this is merely the greatest example of the type. Informed speculation holds that it might have originated as the planned coffin for Mononobe no Moriya, a clan leader, and that it might have remained unfinished upon his assassination. Instead, we hear that the Japanese believe that a god flies around in a giant stone spaceship. The god of this monument was a flying rock god, but more correctly, the myth they cite holds that a different god, Nigihayahi no Mikoto, descended from heaven in a boat carved from rock called Ama no Iwafune. The story, though, is less than it seems: It was likely inspired by a rock that resembled a ship at the Iwafune Shrine, where Nigihayahi no Mikoto is worshiped. Of course ancient astronaut theorists argue the reverse—that actual flying ships led them to choose this rock to represent them.
Then Ancient Aliens shows us the ancient Jomon statues of bug-eyed humanoids, which have been part of ancient astronaut lore since the 1960s. Somehow the ancient astronauts needed goggles like a World War I flying ace in Japan, but elsewhere they didn’t need goggles. Odd. Odder: The Jomon also made realistic phallic statues, so obviously the aliens were well-endowed. Spending no time on this, Giorgio Tsoukalos demands to know why the public cannot see the imperial regalia of Japan, three objects that the Nihon Shoki, written in 720 CE, says that Ninigi no Mikoto (a god not to be confused with the deity in the paragraph above) gave to the first emperor of Japan.
In the third segment, we get a repeat from earlier episodes of claims that imperial and aristocratic tombs have a keyhole shape so that aliens can see them from space. Jason Martell tells us that there is “definitely a connection” to a random geological formation on Mars, which he says is probably to tomb of “a lost extraterrestrial god.” Tsoukalos visits a sixth century megalithic tomb, and he denies that wooden sleds could have been used to transport its heavy blocks, arguing that the stones’ weight would crush any wood it sits atop. (He doesn’t seem to understand the idea of distributing weight. How does he think a person can lay atop a bed of nails?) I’m also a little amused by the claim of everyone on this show that such tombs are from “prehistoric” times when the gods walked the Earth—a period when Justinian reigned in Constantinople, when Gregory of Tours was writing in France, and we have acres of documents in which Europeans and Near Easterners recorded no interactions with gods or aliens. Apparently the aliens are allergic to literacy and stay far away from anyone who can write.
The fourth segment tells the story of Japan’s most famous ancient UFO, a round disc-shaped object known as Utsuro Bune that descended in ancient times and carried a god within, or so Ancient Aliens says. In reality, the story actually is from 1803, repeated twice in subsequent decades, and is a folktale about a beautiful girl encountering foreigners in a strange ship that washed ashore. The style of the ship is a traditional Japanese round boat, embellished with Western details like glass windows to sound exotic. The location where the ship allegedly floated ashore is fictitious. Again: The story is from 1803.
Tsoukalos visits the Iwafune Shrine, which is a ship carved from stone. Tsoukalos thinks that it looks like a spaceship, but I don’t see it.
The fifth segment alleges that a Japanese legend of a giant crow, sometimes depicted in a circular disc, which guided the first emperor on his journey across Japan was a winged jet of some kind just because anything with wings must be an airplane. We then hear that the Japanese legend that the imperial family descended from the Shinto goddess Amaterasu via Ninigi-no-Mikoto is actually the story of space aliens fathering a master race of royals. David Childress tells us that the Meiji Restoration led to Japan’s technological progress and rapid industrialization by reconnecting the country to space aliens and their superior technology, a connection that has created Japan’s current cutting-edge progress in robotics and other technologies today. I guess the aliens just decided to skip the whole World War II period.
The segment finishes with claims that UFO sightings around Japanese nuclear plants represent the aliens’ “concern” over the use of atomic power and the narrator’s speculation that the UFOs are under the control of the emperor’s distant space alien cousins.
The sixth segment suggests that Japanese scientists are purposely targeting the star Altair with messages because they are trying to reach one of their ancient gods, who was symbolized by that star. Several talking heads conclude that the Japanese can only have better transportation and robots and machines than America because space aliens are giving it to them. There is a lot of subtext there about American anxiety about not being number one, but it’s late. Let’s just leave it there.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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