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.