Miyazaki Masakatsu, retired professor, Hokkaido University of Education
     Maps: Andrew Andersen Georg Egge and George Partskhaladze / 2007-2010







“People on the Island of Zipangu (Japan) have tremendous quantities of gold. The King’s palace is roofed with pure gold, and his floors are paved in gold two fingers thick.” So wrote the Venetian merchant Marco Polo (1254-1324). Because of his book, The Travels of Marco Polo, Europeans believed that “Zipangu” was a land of gold, and Columbus later sailed across the Atlantic in search of it.


The legend of Wāqwaq, the land of gold: It started with gold panned in rivers in Japan

Gold was first discovered in Japan in 749, in river deposits. In that year, about 38 kg of gold from the Oshu region in northeastern Honshu was presented to the capital city of Nara, to help gild a statue of the Buddha being built there. When the Great Buddha was completed in 752, about 439 kg of the gold covering it had come from Oshu. The glittering Buddha, measuring 15.8 meters in height, was viewed as an impressive display of Japan’s wealth by official delegations from the Kingdom of Silla (Korea) and Buddhist monks from Tang China and India.

After work on the Great Buddha was finished, Oshu continued to send gold to the capital, although in lesser quantities (about 22 kg each year). Before long, gold panned from Oshu rivers was being used also to pay for a program organized by the government—sending envoys, students, and student monks to Tang China on a regular basis. China was perhaps the most advanced country in the world in those days, and the purpose of those visits was to introduce Chinese civilization into Japan. There is a record showing, for example, that when a Japanese delegation of about 500 people left for China in 804, the ambassador and his deputy were given about 7.5 kg and 5.6 kg of gold, respectively, to use for their living expenses in China. Students and student monks were also members of the delegation, and they needed large amounts of gold for their long stays learning about the Tang civilization.

So it was natural that, over time, legends about the enormous riches of the country of Wakoku (Japan) would spring up in the capital of Tang China. The legends were picked up by Muslim merchants in the Chinese port of Khānfū (Guangzhou), and then spread as far as western Asia. The merchants were naturally keen to learn more. In those days, many Muslim traders were doing business with China, using sailboats called dhows, and about 120,000 of them lived in Khānfū. In the second half of the 9th century, the Muslim geographer Ibun Khurdādhbeh repeated reports from China saying that, in the golden land of Wāqwaq (Wakoku = Japan), dog chains and pet monkey collars were made of gold. Stories about Wāqwaq later evolved into the legend of Zipangu, the land of gold.


How did Marco Polo learn about Japan’s gold?

As during the 1905 revolution, the Georgian revolutionary organizations behaved during the trying circumstances of 1917 with moderation and public spirit. They lent their influence to keeping the peace, preventing inter-communal strife, and bringing about social and economic reforms in the midst of the war conditions and general upheaval. The leading Georgian SocialDemocrats renounced for the time being the extremist slogans of Bolshevik class war and came out on the side of national unity.

'The present revolution,' Zhordania declared on 18 March 1917, 'is not the affair of some one class; the proletariat and the bourgeoisie are together directing the affairs of the revolution. . . . We must walk together with those forces which participate in the movement of the revolution and organize the Republic with our forces in common.' 93

The March revolution brought again into the forefront all the old social and economic problems which the Tsarist government had failed to tackle. First and foremost was the agrarian problem. This, obviously, could not be settled overnight. Accordingly, peasants and landowners in many parts of Georgia adopted an interim solution, whereby share-cropping peasants settled on a landowner's estates simply ceased handing over the master's share of the crop, the so-called gala, amounting to between one-quarter and one-half of the total. Having no one to cultivate them on their behalf, the nobility found their domains slipping from their grasp, while the peasants were now endowed with both their own former small-holdings and those portions of their former lord's estates which they had formerly cultivated as share-croppers. Access to communal woodlands and pastures, monopolized by the landed proprietors under the terms of the liberation decrees of 1864 onwards, reverted to the peasantry. Plantations, forests and vineyards owned by members of the former Russian imperial family were confiscated and nationalized. Small farms belonging to the lesser squirearchy, a numerous category in Georgian rural society, were relatively little affected.