The Gold Seal was discovered in Fukuoka’s Shikanoshima Island in 1784. At the time, Japan was in its Edo Period. The Gold Seal is one of Fukuoka’s major cultural assets.
The Gold Seal is made up of the knob section and the seal section, which has engraved Chinese characters. The knob has a design of a snake twisting its body sideways and lifting its head to look back. A circular pattern is engraved on the body with a burin (graver), displaying the scales of the snake. Excluding the two eyes, there are 125 circles. The seal with engraved Chinese characters is practically square shaped. The average length of a side measures 2.347 cm. The length matches the unit length of “issun” used in the early Late Han Dynasty of China. Including the knob and seal sections, the Gold Seal measures 2.236 cm tall. It weighs 108.729 grams, equivalent to 24 Japanese 10 yen coins. It is made out of gold. Its material quality ratio of gold, silver and bronze is 95.1:4.5:0.5(±0.5%). The base of the knob has a hole to let a string called“ju” pass through.
The five Chinese characters of “漢”, “委”, “奴”,”国” and “王” are engraved on the seal surface in Tensho style. Ever since the Gold Seal was discovered, there have been different assertions as to how to read the characters “委” and “奴”. Major assertions call for the characters to be read as “Ito” or “Yamato” or “Wa no Na”. Today, the mainstream calls for the character, “委” to be associated with the character “倭” and read as “Wa no Na” and the five characters as “Kan no Wa no Na no Kokuou” (The King of Na of Wa of Han Dynasty).
In the Chinese historical chronicle “Records of the Late Han Dynasty”, there is a notation that in the year 57 A.D., the Chinese Emperor Kuang-wu presented a seal to visiting envoys dispatched by the King of Na of Wa. Furthermore it is written in the historical records of “Kan-en” (翰苑) compiled in China’s Tang Dynasty that a “purple ribbon was conferred in the period of Chugen (between 56 A.D. and 57 A.D.)” Because it was customary for “purple ribbons” as mentioned in the “Kan-en” to be used with golden seals, we can ascertain that the “seal” the King of Na received as recorded in the “Records of the Late Han Dynasty” was made of gold. The golden seal as referred to in these historical records is assumed to be the Gold Seal unearthed in Shikanoshima Island.
In ancient China in the Qin Dynasty, a system was in place where different types of seals and ribbons were determined by rank. The Han Dynasty continued this system. The Han Dynasty had Emperors, Empresses and feudal lords with domains use “璽” (Ji, meaning imperial seals). Anyone below such ranks used seals called “印” (In) and “章” (Sho). Material quality was white gem for Kings and Empresses, gold for feudal lords with domains and generals, silver for high ranked bureaucrats such as controllers and bronze for all others. The shape of the knob was different as well. White gem imperial seals had the shape of a hornless dragon entangled with a tiger. Those for princes and high ranked bureaucrats were turtle shaped while feudal lords with domains were in the shape of a camel. Ribbons for gem imperial seals were yellowish red and green for gold imperial seals. Gold seals had either red or purple ribbons, silver seals had blue ribbons and bronze seals black or yellow ribbons. We can therefore see that in such a system the golden seal and purple ribbon enjoyed a high ranked status.
The seal system of the Han Dynasty symbolizes a diplomacy of integrating different ethnic people within an order, which places the Emperor at the helm. Meanwhile, the Gold Seal for the Kingdom of Na was proof of its first entry into East Asian diplomacy centered on the Han Dynasty.