Richard had heard about the series of tombs in Sakai City, in the southern part of Osaka. (Photo from Wikipedia. I couldn't get an aerial view otherwise.)
So we got directions to get there, and headed out. It wasn't too difficult, since it was on the same railway line as our hotel - we just had to switch to a different branch of the same line, and go more eastward instead of our usual westward diagonal.
So, this kind of a tomb is a tumulus, meaning a burial mound. Rocks and stuff are placed over the gave, making a small hill. Or large hill, depending on how tall those creating the tumulus would like to make it. The plural of tumulus is tumuli. I know, it sounds like clouds, but it really is the correct word. Tumulus.
In Japan, a tumulus is referred to as a kofun, which means ancient grave. But kofun means specifically the humongous tombs constructed between the early 3rd century and the early 7th century Common Era. In fact, these kofun of this time period were so important, the era is now referred to as the Kofun period in Japanese history. Many of the kofun have the one-of-a-kind keyhole-shaped mounds, apparently unique to ancient Japan.
This particular tumulus, the burial mound of Emperor Nintoku, is HUGE. The perimeter outside the moat surrounding the kofun is 2.85 km, or 1.76 miles. The actual grave of the emperor is buried under the megaliths of the round part, which was plastered and painted with murals of dancing girls from his court. (At least, this is what my research says. It isn't open to the public. It also contradicts something said in the information at the site, so I'm skeptical about that part.) This is Japan's largest keyhold-shaped tomb, and is part of a complex of other kofun in the same region. Some of these kofun are still intact, others have collapsed; but none are as huge nor as famous as Nintoku-ryo, the tomb of Nintoku.
We walked around the entire tumulus, and into the city park just to the south of the tumulus (and where you can find a few of the subordinate tumuli).
Here's what the informational signage said about Nintoku-ryo:
"The period from the end of the 3rd century CE to the end of the 7th century CE is called the Age of Kofun or “old tombs” in the history of Japan. In those days many colossal barrows were built as tombs dedicated to the memory of the Imperial Family, nobles, and powerful men of the central government. Of course, it was a custom inimitable for the common people.
"This mausoleum, which is also named “Mozu-no-Mimihara Nakanomisasagi” or “Daisen-ryo” is thought to have been built in the early 5th century when the ancient culture of Japan was at its height and the Emperor’s power was being established in and around the Yamato district (now Nara Prefecture).
"According to the oldest archives, Emperor Nintoku, who is entombed in this mausoleum, was the 16th Emperor of the Imperial Family, and he loved his people dearly. That is why he was given the name “Nintoku” after his death, which means “benevolence.”
"The mausoleum as seen from the air is trapezoid shaped in front and round in the rear. The lofty barrow surrounded by the three moats constitutes the main tomb. Outside the moats, there are 12 minor subordinate toms which look as if they were guardians of peace for the deceased Emperor.
"The mausoleum itself has never been opened, but a variety of implements and ornaments often used to be buried with the dead have been unearthed around it.
"The Boston Museum of Fine Arts exhibits armor and swords which are said to have been found here, and also in Tokyo National Museum a girl’s head made of clay which was part of “Haniwa” dolls buried in this neighborhood is preserved.
"In 1872 a typhoon damaged some of the front part of the mausoleum, and many pieces of armor and swords made of gold and copper were discovered. These things give us valuable clues in the study of the culture of that time.
"King Khufu’s pyramid in Gizeh, Egypt, is 230 meters (253 yards) in length along one side of its base, while this mausoleum, the greatest of its kind in the world, measures as follows:
"Area: 464,124 square meters (115 acres)
"Circumference: 2,718 meters (2.718 km or 1.7 miles)
"East-west length: 656 meters (718 yards)
"North-south length: 793 meters (868 yards)
"The Nintoku mausoleum, one of the world’s largest burial mounds, is square at the head, rounded at the foot, and encircled by three moats. It appears that the Nintoku mausoleum was originally surrounded by about 15 smaller tumuli, of which 13 remain. In Japan, Subordinate tumuli surrounding a large tumulus as in this case, were long thought to be tombs of relatives and attendants of the individual buried in the main tumulus. But in some subordinate tumuli human bodies have not been found. The function of subordinate tumuli is unclear. From the Tukamawari tumulus (National hsitoral monument) located about 400 m south of this sport, a hollowed-out wooden coffin was unearthed in 1912, together with mirrors, swords, and big comma-shaped jade beads.
"At 486 meters in length, 306 m across, and 464,123 square meters in area, this is one of the largest keyhole-shaped tumuli in Japan, one of the world’s three largest burial mounds alongside the Pyramids of Egypt and the Tomb of Qin. It is believed to have been built in the 5th Century. You can’t go inside, but you can feel something mysterious from the prayer deck at the front."
I don't know if I felt something mysterious. Powerful, definitely. Overwhelmed by the size of this tomb, this grave. Awed by the fact that people created this burial mound, that now looks like a large hill - that the people worked for years to build this large hill, some 1500 years ago. So, possibly something mysterious. Maybe not spiritual, but awed and impressed by humans, once again.
Also impressed by nature - I don't know if the builders of the kofun added dirt and the trees that have turned this into a forest, or if this happened over the last 1500 years and nature took its course. What was once a stone-covered mound now looks like a forest on a keyhole-shaped hill.
It really was an awe-inspiring place.
We never found the visitor's center there, just some informational signs. Nor did we find the museum we were told was here - there's a city museum, but we had been told there was a museum dedicated to the kofun. Couldn't find it.
So we walked around the rest of the tomb, and found our subway station, and headed back.