In ancient Greece and Rome there were
boundary markers which we know of as 'terms' or 'herms'. They were stone
pillars often topped off with the head of the god Terminus or Hermes
and with no other adornment than an erect phallus prominently
featured. In Roman mythology Terminus was the god of boundaries and
landmarks. As such these markers played a religious or quasi-religious role.
Although I can not imagine that there is
any possible direct connection between the carved stone tablets known as
kōshinzuka (庚申塚 or こうしんずか) which marked the boundaries between villages
in Japan and the terminus markers used in Greece and Rome there may have
been a very tenuous link via an ancient Indian/Chinese connection. This
should be resolvable by tracing back to the earliest such stone
markers and seeing whether they were in use in this form prior to the
introduction of Buddhism into Japan.
"BY THE VILLAGE road, and more often at
the dividing line between two villages there stands a koshin-zuka or
a koshin stone tablet.... As it usually stands on a village road, it
is regarded as the guardian of the road or the protector of travellers. But
originally it was the guardian deity for the local people." According to
Mock Joya the Buddhist priest Dengyo (767-822) engraved a kōshin
tablet with three monkeys, a motif he had brought from China. If this is
true it would have married a local tradition with a new one motif.
If I understand it correctly a
koshinzuka is a shintai, i.e., an object
in which the spirit of a kami or god resides. Therefore the stone markers
found along the roads were there to act as protectors of travelers.
Brian Bocking in his A Popular
Dictionary of Shinto (NTC Publishing Group, 1997, p. 172) state that
shintai are "Kami-body, sacred substance. An object in which the kami
inheres. A term best left untranslated, shintai is respectfully referred to
as go-shintai or in 'Japanese' reading mi-tama-shiro or yori-shiro. A
shintai may be a natural feature such as a rock, tree,
mountain...volcano crater, waterfall, or well or it may be a manufactured
object such as a mirror, sword, painting..." etc.