難波の南蛮、戎橋の夷。

Where the Dead Rest Easy

Two days ago, I traveled south of Osaka for the first time, to the city of Sakai.  Now a city of some 800,000 , Sakai is far older than Osaka, dating back at least to the Heian age as a free port city, like Kobe.  I wasn’t there for the city, though, at least not yet.  I came for the tombs.

Somewhat east of the city center is the land where the imperial family once buried their dead in earthen mounds, centuries before the first known written records in Japan.  Since then, a very quiet residential neighborhood has grown around the tombs.  From the air, the landscape is dotted with keyhole-shaped forested islands, each surrounded by a moat.  Some of them are pretty gigantic.  It’s a little like Japan’s Valley of the Kings.  Thing is, nobody knows who’s buried here.  The Imperial family claims them as family lands, so nobody’s ever been able to carry on an archaeological investigation.

The greatest of the tombs is believed to contain Emperor Nintoku, who ruled some time in the late 4th century.  If Khufu’s Great Pyramid is the greatest tomb in the world by height, this mound is the greatest tomb by area.  It’s not nearly as famous- even people from Osaka just to the north wondered why the hell I wanted to go to Sakai.

Although I have noticed Japanese people tend to be pretty self-effacing when it comes to their cities and sites.  Anyway…

I got off the train to realize these tombs were even larger than I had thought.

That small mountain there is actually Emperor Nintoku's tomb, an artificial island surrounded by two moats.

 

As close as you'll get to the tomb without making somebody angry. Though I'm certain someone actually gets to go on the island for groundskeeping. How mysterious.

 

To the south is a slightly smaller tomb thought to belong to Emperor Richu, one of Nintoku's sons. Since it only has a single moat, you can get a much better view of the island itself.

 

 

Some resting places are humbler than others. The tombs of emperors are surrounded with smaller graves, not just of attendants and family, but of other folk who wanted to rest in the shadows of the royals. This is perhaps the smallest surviving burial mound around Nintoku's, just across the street to the south.

 

Another small tomb.

 

Downtown Sakai to the northwest. I didn't venture into town, but I plan on checking out the city space some other day.

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One response

  1. lord kelvin

    So amazing and mysterious. I think there must be a great sense of calm there. No one enters, no one leaves. My favorite is the small tomb with the little moat. Still very impressive. I enjoyed viewing this area on google earth and seeing all of the keyhole shaped mounds, hundreds of them actually, with the city going right up to the moats. In the distant past, countryside.

    December 22, 2010 at 11:46 PM

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