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Ancient Yayoi period ruins discovered on Tokyo condo development site – The Mainichi

An archeological dig site is seen at a site formerly a part of the British Embassy grounds and now slated to become a condominium in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, on Oct. 25, 2023. (Mainichi/Akihiro Kawakami)

TOKYO — A piece of Japan’s ancient past has run up against the realities of the present after remains of a Yayoi period (between about the 9th century BC and 3rd century AD) settlement were uncovered on the former British Embassy grounds, now set to become a condominium, in central Tokyo.

According to Chiyoda Ward officials who spoke to the Mainichi Shimbun, 28 pit houses including some dating back to the even more ancient Jomon period have been confirmed so far at the site being redeveloped by parties including Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Estate Residence Co. However, preservation of the remains is unlikely, as the property is set to be backfilled after an ongoing archeological survey allowing construction to proceed. There will not even be an information session held on site.

According to the Chiyoda Ward Office and other sources, 21 pit dwellings from the 1st to 2nd centuries had been found on the site as of late October. Three more were from the preceding Jomon period, one of which contained discarded mollusk shells. There were also four dwellings that have not been dated. Yayoi and Jomon earthenware were also discovered, plus a wooden water pipe, a well and a cellar from the early modern period.

Ruins of a pit dwelling from the Yayoi period excavated at a site formerly a part of the British Embassy grounds and now slated to become a condominium in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward are seen in this photo provided by the ward government.

The archeological survey will run until March 2024, covering some 7,700 square meters, only about 3,700 of which have been examined so far, raising the strong possibility that more remains will be found.

Meiji University archaeology professor Hideshi Ishikawa said, “I was surprised by this discovery in the center of the city. Few settlements from the first half of the late Yayoi period with this many dwellings have been discovered in the southern Kanto region. It’s academically important because it gives us an idea of how people lived in those days.”

The Chiyoda government also considers the ruins to be a significant discovery. However, at this point it appears unlikely that they will be designated a national historic site with the accompanying protections, so the ward plans to merely record the details before the land is filled.

Chiyoda’s government and Mitsubishi Estate did discuss retaining at least a portion of the ruins and holding an on-site information session after publicizing the excavation. However, negotiations ended after the ward could not obtain the company’s consent. Developers’ and landowners’ wishes are given priority when dealing with excavated remains, and similar cases are apparently common.

The British Embassy, which sold a portion of its grounds to Mitsubishi Estate Residence Co., is seen in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward on Dec. 1, 2023. (Mainichi/Akihiro Kawakami)

Normally, developers and other parties must bear the cost of archeological site surveys, and Mitsubishi Estate is paying for this one. A company spokesperson said, “We are handling the matter in consultation with administrative authorities in accordance with the law and ordinances.”

Mitsubishi Estate purchased the 9,259-square-meter parcel of land on the south side of the British Embassy from the British government in April 2022, and launched the redevelopment project with another real estate company and other partners.

Observers noted the property had not been excavated since the beginning of the Meiji Era (1868-1912), so it was possible that ruins were hidden beneath the surface. With this in mind, the Chiyoda Ward government conducted an exploratory excavation on site this February with Mitsubishi Estate’s consent, revealing the ancient settlement. Construction was postponed, and the survey began in June.

(Japanese original by Akihiro Kawakami, Tokyo City News Department)

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