If you want to experience historical structures during your trip to Japan, you might think of visiting temples and shrines as the main attractions. However, there are even older structures in Japan – the tombs of ancient rulers made of earth. These are called “Kofun.” These tombs, created approximately 1700 years ago, can still be found scattered throughout various regions in Japan. In this article, we will introduce four recommended Kofun sightseeing spots in the Kansai area.
What the Kofun?
Kofun, which were built approximately 1700 years ago between the 3rd and 6th centuries AD, are ancient tombs that were common in Japan. They were mainly used to bury emperors, powerful clans, and nobles of that time. These kofun are quite massive, with the largest one measuring about 486 meters in length. To put it in perspective, even the famous pyramids associated with powerful rulers, like the largest pyramid of Pharaoh Khufu, have a total length of about 230 meters. This makes kofun some of the largest tombs in the world. Additionally, the size of a kofun was believed to symbolize the level of power held by the individual buried within.
There are various shapes of kofun, but the most common one is called “zenpoukouenbo,” which has a keyhole-like form. Other types include round circular kofun, scallop shell-shaped hokora-style kofun, and square houfun. Basically, they are constructed by piling up soil to create a raised mound, and stones are often placed on the slope. The surroundings of the tomb are often surrounded by a moat filled with water.
Kofun can be found all over the country, but the larger ones are concentrated in the Kansai region of Japan, especially in Osaka and Nara. This is because around 1700 years ago, the Kansai region was home to Japan’s first unified state.
Four Recommended Kofun Sightseeing Spots in the Kansai Area
Now, let me introduce four particularly recommended kofun among those found in the Kansai area for tourists.
- Nintoku Emperor’s Tomb (Osaka）
- Sakai City Museum (Osaka）
- Imashirozuka Kofun (Osaka）
- Goshikizuka Kofun (Kobe）
Emperor Nintoku’s Tomb (Osaka)
First, let me introduce Emperor Nintoku’s Tomb. It is located in Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture. Emperor Nintoku’s Tomb is also known as “Daisenryo Kofun.” With a total length of 486 meters, it is the largest kofun in Japan and one of the largest tombs in the world. It is believed to be the burial site of Emperor Nintoku, who lived approximately 1500 years ago. The tomb has a keyhole-shaped design known as “zenpoukouenbo.”
In July 2019, the “Mozechi and Kokubu Kofun Group,” which includes Emperor Nintoku’s Tomb, was registered as a World Cultural Heritage site. Although you cannot enter the interior of the tomb directly, considering it’s the world’s largest tomb and a World Heritage site, it’s definitely worth a visit. Moreover, near Emperor Nintoku’s Tomb, there are several other tombs, as well as cafes and souvenir shops related to the ancient burial mounds, so you can enjoy your time exploring the area.
|Name||Emperor Nintoku’s Tomb (Oshayama Kofun / Daisenryo Kofun)|
|Address||Osaka, Sakai Ward, Daisen-cho, Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture.|
|Opening Hours||All day.|
|Nearest Station||Get off at “Mozu Station” on the JR Hanwa Line, and it’s an 8-minute walk.|
Sakai City Museum (Osaka)
While not a kofun itself, there is a place I would highly recommend for those interested in ancient burial mounds. It’s the Sakai City Museum, located right near Emperor Nintoku’s Tomb that we mentioned earlier. This museum showcases not only the historical sites excavated from Emperor Nintoku’s Tomb but also a wide range of exhibits related to ancient burial mounds.
In general, it’s quite rare to have the opportunity to directly see what’s inside any kofun, making it a valuable experience to learn about their contents. You have the option to learn about ancient burial mounds and the culture of that time before visiting them, or you can also choose to visit first and then learn about them later. Feel free to immerse yourself in the culture at your own pace!
|Name||Sakai City Museum|
|Address||Located within Daisen Park in Yūguncho 2-chome, Sakai-ku, Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture.|
|Opening Hours||Opening hours: 9:30 AM – 5:15 PM (Last entry at 4:30 PM)|
|Admission Fee||200 yen.|
|Nearest Station||Get off at “Mozechi Station” on the JR Hanwa Line and it’s an 8-minute walk.|
Imashirozuka Kofun (Osaka)
Next, let me introduce Imashirozuka Kofun, located in Takatsuki City, Osaka Prefecture. What sets this kofun apart is that it’s the only known tomb of an emperor where you can actually enter inside the moat (burial mound). The site has been turned into a park, and there are nearby bakeries and other amenities, making it a perfect spot for a picnic-like visit.
Not only in Imashirozuka Kofun but also in other tombs of that time, there was a custom of placing clay figurines called “haniwa” around the burial mounds, depicting animals and humans. At Imashirozuka Kofun, they have recreated these haniwa with replicas. There are nearly 200 of them displayed, and it’s truly an impressive sight. It’s a recommended spot for those who want to experience the culture up close.
|Name||Imashirozuka Kofun Park|
|Address||Gunke Shinmachi, Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture|
|Opening Hours||All day.|
|Nearest Station||Approximately 25 minutes from JR Settsutonda Station. |
2-minute walk from JR Settsutonda Station, take the “Nasahara” bound train, and get off at “Imashirozuka Kofunmae” stop
Goshikizuka Kofun (Kobe)
Finally, let me introduce the Goshikizuka Kofun in Kobe. This kofun, too, allows entry inside since the occupant remains unidentified. The most remarkable feature of this ancient burial mound is the breathtaking view from the top. Facing the sea, you can also catch sight of the world’s second-longest suspension bridge, the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge.
Also, including the ones I introduced earlier, modern kofun, in general, are surrounded by trees and resemble forests. However, Goshikizuka Kofun stands bare and allows you to see its entire structure, which is also a recommended aspect.
|Address||4 Goshikiyama, Tarumi-ku, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture|
|Opening Hours||9:00 am – 5:00 pm Closed every Monday from December to March (or the following day if Monday is a public holiday).|
|Nearest Station||15 minutes on foot from JR and Sanyo Dentetsu Tarumi Station.|
Summary: It is recommended to check the entire view on Google Maps before visiting.
In this article, we introduced recommended kofun (ancient burial mounds) in the Kansai region. Kofun are generally so large that when you visit them, they may appear like mere hills or ponds. However, as culturally significant structures built over 1700 years ago as tombs, we hope you’ll consider visiting them at least once to experience their historical value.
Furthermore, you can use Google Maps to see the entire view of the ancient burial mounds. Especially in the vicinity of Sakai City in Osaka, there are numerous kofun scattered around, making it fascinating just to explore the map. Before visiting the kofun, I recommend checking the entire view on the map. This way, you’ll have a sense of walking through history when you’re actually there, making your journey even more intriguing. Give it a try!