There are many key shaped burial mounds, or Zenpokoen-Fun, in Kansai region, especially Nara and Osaka. However, the public is completely barred from entering them. Surprisingly there is a single exception in Osaka, Imashirozuka Kofun. This 350m large size key shaped kofun, considered as the tumulus of the 26th emperor Keitai, let you come in and you can even climb the top of the kofun for free.
The Mystery of Japanese Archaeology
Being such an ancient country, you’d assume Japan knows a lot about its ancient roots. Sadly, this isn’t exactly true. While there is a decent amount of information about the lifestyles of ancient people and how Japan’s government emerged, there is a lot we don’t know. Sometimes this lack of knowledge is related to progression of time, but some of it is purely bureaucratic.
Specifically in the case of key-shaped kofun, we don’t know a lot about them. This is because those kofun are likely the final resting places of emperors, or at the very least people with strong ties to an emperor. The moment anyone finds any trace of archaeological remains relating to the imperial family, the Imperial Household Agency comes in and seals everything off. This includes confiscating tangible findings from researchers. For this reason, Japanese archaeology can feel mysterious, or like it has gaping holes in it. It must be a very frustrating area of research.
Imashirozuka Kofun and Ota Chausuyama Kofun
So,why is it then that entrance into Imashirozuka Kofun is ok, but all other kofun are off limits? The answer is quite easy: Imperial Household Agency made a mistake. Because of damage from an earthquake, people did not realize Imashirozuka Kofun was such an important kofun. What historians long thought was Ota Chausuyama Kofun, located near Imashirozuka Kofun, was the actual grave of the 26th emperor, Emperor Keitai.
However, when archaeologist found artifacts in Ota Chausuyama dating to the mid-5th century they knew something was wrong, for you see Emperor Keitai died in the 6th century.
A while before it became a park in 1997, curious researchers excavated Imashirozuka Kofun, assuming it wasn’t an an emperor’s grave. However, after the excavation they not only found out this was in fact a key shaped kofun but also many artifacts to indicate the presence of emperor’s burial mound. Many of these artifacts date back to the in mid-6th century, historians now think that Imashirozuka Kofun is the true grave of Emperor Keitai.
Getting to Imashirozuka Kofun
Imashirozuka Kofun is located in Tonda, a historic town famous for sake brewing. To get to Tonda from Osaka, take Hankyu or JR for Kyoto and get off at Tonda or Settsu Tonda station respectively. Kofun is located 20 minutes north from the station on foot.
Imashirozuka Kofun is only 20 minutes from the station, but it might seem like it is a bit hard to find it because it is a residential area. Today the kofun is a park and many families enjoy spending time there.
Unfortunately,the earthquake badly damaged the burial chamber and, to date, no one has found the emperor’s remains. However, there is evidence to suggest that at one time there were several burial chambers. Maybe several people here?
Haniwa are clay dolls placed in kofun. They come in various shapes; some of them look like animals while some of them are men. The purpose of those haniwa is unknown, but typically an emperor’s kofun has lots of haniwa. For researchers, haniwa play an important role in deciding in what year a kofun was built through carbon dating.
In the case of Imashirozuka Kofun as many as 200 haniwa, clearly indicating it is an imperial grave.
If you live in Takatsuki or Ibaraki or maybe interested in Japan’s ancient history, you should the museum near Imashirozuka Kofun where you can learn even more about kofun!
Read up on additional details about the park on their website!
Points of Interest
Imashirozuka Archaeological Museum
If you want to learn even more about these interesting burial mounds, be sure to stop by and check out the Imashirozuka Archaeological Museum. It is just a few hundred meters away from the park and there is no entrance fee.
A 10 minute walk from Imashirozuka Kofun, are the Shin-ike Ruins. These ruins contain the oldest and biggest haniwa factory, dating to 450 C.E. Evidence also suggest that ancient people made the haniwa in Imashirozuka Kofun here.
Coming next time, Arashiyama Monkey Park!!
The adventure continues…