Japan Mozu Kofungun (Ancient)

Although small in scale, Nonaka Kofun is one of the few kofun that has been investigated among tombs of the Furuichi Tomb Cluster. While the identity of the interred is still shrouded in mystery, the presence of technologically advanced weapons and armor imply military power, the wide range of tools and farming implements suggest productive and technological strength, and a truly enormous amount of highly prized iron goods reveals economic power. Nonaka Kofun can thus be interpreted as the epitome of the elements that made possible the construction of the Furuichi Tomb Cluster.

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Mozu-Furichi tumulus – Japan

Japan – Mozu-Furuichi tumulus clusters


It is located in the northern part of Sakai city, it is said there was more than 100. 44 of tumuluses such as, mausoleum of emperor Nintoku(the length of the tumulus is 486 meters), mausoleum of emperor Richu(the length of the tumulus is 365 meters), Itasuke mausoleum at east side(the length of the tumulus is 146 meters), Gobyouyama tumulus(the length of the tumulus is 203 meters), Nisanzai tumulus(the length of the tumulus is 290 meters),mausoleum of emperor Hanzei(the length of the tumulus is 148 meters) are at Daisen park at the present time. Most of them are huge large keyhole-shaped tomb mound which was built as a great king of grave in the end of the 4th century or beginning of the 5th century~end of the 6th century. From “Nihon-shoki” ,the name Mozu is renamed when people built mausoleum of emperor Nintoku, deer jumped into the people who worked for the construction and those deer collapse and die. The butcher – bird flew away from deer’s ear which ate and tear inside of ear.


“Aerial photos to show the keyhole tombs locations”



Kofun are an important source of data for studying the formation of the ancient state in Japan. The Mozu-Furuichi Tomb Clusters were built on the Osaka Plain in the 5th century, but some of the largest zenpō-kōen-fun had already been built in the Nara Basin from the middle of the 3rd century to the 4th century.


In the 4th and 5th centuries, East Asia was going through a time of upheavals, with new states coming and going in rapid succession. After the turbulent times of the Period of Sixteen Kingdoms (304 – 439 A.D.), China saw the foundation of the Northern Wei Dynasty in the north and the Southern Sung Dynasty in the south during the 5th century, thus beginning the period of the Wei Jin Southern and Northern Dynasties. Meanwhile, on the Korean Peninsula, a number of states – Goguryeo to the north, and Baekje, Silla, and Gaya to the south – vied for supremacy while maintaining diplomatic negotiations with the Southern and Northern Dynasties of China.

Nonaka Kofun is a hōfun (square tomb), 37 meters long on each side. It was built near Hakayama Kofun, which spans at total of 225 meters in length. Nestled in a residential neighborhood, what is now known as Nonaka Kofun was simply called urayabu(a backyard grove) by local residents until an excavation revealed its identity as a burial mound.

The 1964 excavation by the Japanese History Laboratory of Osaka University revealed that this small kofun offered some important clues for the investigation of foreign interaction and the sociopolitical environment of the Kofun period. The fruits of subsequent research were compiled in Kawachi Nonaka Kofun no Kenkyū (Report of the excavation of the ancient burial mound at Nonaka in Kawachi country) (The Japanese History Laboratory of Osaka University, 1976).


Despite its small scale, Nonaka Kofun was found to contain an extraordinary number of funerary accessories, including iron weapons and numerous sets of armor, advanced tools and farming implements, ceremonial stone objects, and pottery evidencing exchange with various regions of the Korean Peninsula. Let us take a closer look at these artifacts and the deep historical significance that each possesses.


From Konda-maruyama Kofun , one of these subsidiary tombs , the gilt-bronze horse trappings were reportedly  excavated in 1984 , which are decorated with dragon motif of openwork carving . The gilt-bronze horse trappings are stored in the Konda Hachiman-gu Shrine which the Emperor Ojin-tenno is enshrined within , and located adjacent to the south of Ojin-tenno-ryo Kofun .


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There are about 30,000 keyhole-shaped tombs or kofun (of which around 5,000 can still be visited) have been discovered over a vast area from Kyushu to Honshu. The larger ones (over 200m) are concentrated in the Kinki region – where the center of the ancient state of Yamato emerged.


On the continent, 13 keyhole-shaped tombs dated to the latter half of 5th century to the first half of 6th century – have been found in Korea, all located in South Cholla province in the area of the Yongsan River basin — six of these have been excavated. All 13 tombs were surrounded by moats with many Korean-made “haniwa” (埴輪)-like cylindrical potteries placed on top of these mounds. The tombs also had corridor-style stone chambers, some of which with walls that are painted with red coloring…closely resembling corridor-style tombs in North Kyushu dating to the 5th and the 6th century.
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Did keyhole tombs originate from Korea?

Archaeological evidence suggests that it is unlikely that Japanese keyhole shaped tombs originated in Korea’s South Cholla, for these reasons:

1) The South Cholla tombs were built from the latter half of the 5th century to the first half of the 6th century, but keyhole shaped kofun mounds were first constructed first in the the second half of the 3rd century in the Kinai region (Nara and the vicinity) then spreading to other parts of Japan, with the tombs reaching massive sizes in the 4th century and into the 5th century. Since the keyhole tombs emerged much later than the largest of the keyhole tombs in Japan, it is hard to hold that keyhole tombs emerged in Korea spreading to Japan.

2) In Japan, mound tombs had already existed from the Late Yayoi period or earlier with many reaching massive sizes in the transition period into the Kofun period, and the evolution of and merging of various shapes into the keyhole shapes over time can be evinced from the layout of the regional tombs. Most Japanese and Western archaeologists and historians believe that “Yayoi evolved without obvious break directly into the KOFUN culture”.  By contrast, in South Cholla, at time when keyhole tombs were constructed, square-shaped mounded tombs were also being constructed at the same time indicating that the keyhole tombs were imported ideas from their neighbours in Japan with whom they long had close trading ties. Another evidence of the local South Cholla culture was that the local elites continued to keep their traditional burial culture of giant jar coffins which was distinct from that of incoming Paekche arrivals and its other neighbours.

3) From archaeological viewpoints, it appears that the keyhole tombs in the South Cholla province of Korea were constructed by the local elite group of a culture that was distinct from Paekche’s – but that had long acted as trading intermediaries with its neighbouring groups — with Kaya, Japan as well as the people from Paekche who had begun to expand their territorial control into South Cholla.  Archaeological evidence also showed that integration with Paekche only happened much later — the local elite in South Cholla province only became bureaucrats of Paekche after the mid 6th century, judging from the late emergence of corridor style stone chambers of Nungsan-ri type were constructed in the mound of tomb No.3 at Pogam-ri.

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The Daisen Kofun in Osaka Prefecture, which belongs to Japan’s Emperor Nintoku, the 16th emperor, measures about 500 meters (1,640 feet) in length, 249 meters in diameter, 35 meters in height for the back circular mound, 305 meters in width and 33 meters in height for the front mound. The mound is built with three distinct levels and with a space for religious ceremonies, on either side of the narrowest part of the tomb, and surrounded by three trenches.
There is an about 2.8 kilometer-long walkway encircling the tomb, which takes an hour to walk around.

This huge tomb is located in the middle of a cluster known as the Mozu Tumuli, which consists of 92 large and small kofun lying within an area of roughly 16 square kilometers (6.2 square miles).

Another group of mounds, located about 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) away from the Mozu cluster is known as the Furuichi cluster. It has the Ojin-tenno-ryo Kofun of 425 meters (1,394 ft) length which is said to be the second largest in the country. This group also has 11 more huge massive rounded “keyhole-shaped kofun” with mound length of 200 meters (660 ft) or more.

Thousands kofun burial mounds have been discovered and identified; these date back from the late third to late seventh centuries.

In Japan, there was a common ancient custom to bury people of high social status in kofun tombs that were covered with large mounds of earth.

The kofun funerary mounds were not only used to bury people but also items made of iron, swords,  weapons such as arrowheads, hoe and spade tips, fine armor, glass pots, dishes, and many other similar items.

Kofun: Megalithic Keyhole-Shaped Tombs That Belonged To High Status People In Japan


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