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Russia meteor explosion shines light on Aichi’s ‘cape of stars’

Chunichi Shimbun

The second-oldest meteorite in Japan, the Minamino, is housed in Yobitsugi Shrine in Nagoya.

The town of Hoshizaki has seen meteorites fall three times in the surrounding area, and given its location near the coast of Aichi Prefecture, it is known as “the cape of stars.”

The town is under the spotlight after the Feb. 15 meteorite explosion in Russia’s Ural Mountains. The “Owari meisho zue,” a historical document that describes famous places in Owari Province, present day Aichi Prefecture, in the Edo Period, gives an account of the Minamino meteorite.

According to the document, Rokube Murase was drying salt on his farm on the night of Aug. 14, 1632, when he noticed the moonlight suddenly turning dark. In a matter of seconds, the farm was flooded with bright light and the ground shook as a thundering sound filled the skies and a ball of fire fell into the salt farm.

The account further describes how the meteorite fell 500 meters west of Yobitsugi Shrine. Murase dug up a meteorite piece and took it home with him. His descendants donated it to the shrine in 1829, where it has been kept ever since.

Yobitsugi Shrine representative Yukio Kagami, 76, said he saw the piece of meteorite eight years ago as part of an examination. “I managed to touch it wearing gloves. It was triangular and it was extremely heavy when I tried to hold it,” he said.

Katsuhiko Igami, 46, who became head of the shrine last year, said: “The meteorite piece is an object of worship, so it cannot be taken out for no reason. Actually, I have never seen it myself.”

Accounts from a number of documents written in the late Edo Period reveal that meteorites had fallen around Hoshizaki on two occasions prior to the Minamino event, in the 940s and 1200s. A star-shaped mark can also be found on the roof tiles of another shrine located in the vicinity.

“It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to say that this town is the sacred land of meteorites,” said Makoto Kano, 56, an expert on local history.

A stone monument indicating the spot where the meteorite landed has been erected inside the metal factory of Murakami Seiki, which is located close to the shrine.

It was the idea of the firm’s late president, Naoji Murakami, in 1977. He was quoted as saying that he “wanted to tell future generations about the meteorite.” He built the monument to celebrate the opening of a cafe run by his wife, Etsuko, on the premises of the company.

“This is not the exact spot on which the meteorite fell, but more an estimate of where it might have fallen,” his wife said, adding that many customers come in asking whether the stone monument is in fact a piece of the meteorite.

The stone monument has increased in popularity since the recent meteorite explosion in Russia.

“It has been 10 years since my husband passed away, but if he were still alive, I’m sure he would have said to me that it was a good call to build a monument on that spot,” she said.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Feb. 22.