Mozu-Furuichi Kofun Group: Mounded Tombs of Ancient Japan comprises 49 distinctive, often keyhole-shaped earthen burial mounds.
The tombs were made for kings and their associates and date from the peak of the Kofun period (4th-5th century). The geometric terraced mounds are surrounded by moats. A rich selection of grave goods and clay figures that used to stand on top of the mounds have been preserved as well.
Community Perspective: the keyhole shape is best seen from the air, and you can do so shortly after the departure from Kansai Airport westwards. Hubert also describes a number of tombs in the Mozu cluster that he visited at street level, GabLabCebu and Tsunami both visited Nintoku-tenno-ryo (a.k.a. Daisen Kofun) which seems to be one of the main ones. The Furuichi cluster so far has been unreviewed.
Map of Mozu-Furuichi KofungunLoad map
Without doubt, you get the best impression of this WHS from an aerial view. Shortly after the departure from Kansai Airport westwards you have a perfect view of the Mozu Konfun complex. It is strange to see these huge tombs like green islands in the middle of a sea of modern buildings. One inevitably wonders what this densly populated area may have looked like in the 5th century when the largest of these kofuns were built. And what remains of this ancient culture might still be hidden underground. However, the builders of these tombs have left no written records, no remains of palaces or fortifications have been preserved. Only the kofuns and the artifacts that were found in there.
Visiting this WHS at street level is odd and unsatisfying. What you can see are tree-covered mounds and the moats that surround the larger kofuns. From this perspective, their keyhole shape can only be guessed. The kofun of Emperor Nintoku is the largest of the inscribed tombs. However, there are also doubts as to whether it is really Nintoku’s tomb. Certainly an important person was buried there, the kofun has a total length of about 800 meters and is one of the three largest tombs worldwide. You can walk around on a circular path, but there is not much to see apart from the closed entrance gate and the outermost of the three moats.
I liked the medium-sized kofuns better, where you have an unobstructed view to the actual burial mound: the Gobyoyama kofun or the Itasuke kofun with the ruins of a bridge.
The smaller tombs would receive little attention if they were not included in the WHS. However, all have information boards in English, even the smallest with a diameter of only about 20 metres.
The Sakai City Museum, just across the street from the Nintoku-Tenno-Ryo Kofun, offers a virtual reality drone tour that shows the tombs from a height of 300 metres. Unfortunately, I was too late for the morning tour and the afternoon tour was already fully booked on the day of my visit, so I cannot report on that.
Alternatively, you can go to the observation lobby of the Sakai town hall (21st floor, 80 m high, free entrance). The photo shows the view of the Nintoku-Tenno-Ryo Kofun, so you can assess whether it's worth a visit. In my opinion it is not.
The WHS consists of two clusters with a total of 49 kofuns of different sizes and shapes, only the larger ones are surrounded by moats and have a keyhole shape. I only visited the Mozu Cluster, but I don't think the Furuichi kofuns have other or deeper insights to offer. You can reach the Mozu kofuns by train on the JR Hanwa Line (Mozu Station) in about one hour from either Kansai Airport or Shin-Osaka.
After a failed attempt to visit Antequera in early 2017, I finally succeeded in visiting a WHS inscribed less than a year before on my December 2019 trip to Kansai and Hiroshima. The kofungun at Mozu in Sakai are now the closest WHS to Osaka, and it's from there that I visited Nintoku-tenno-ryo. I used the Nankai Line to Mikunigaoka Station, which is basically at the tip of the great tomb, and walked the whole length of it to the front. Mozu Station is actually closer to the front, and you can access it on the JR Hanwa Line. On the way, I passed a few small circular mounds, including one that seemed to be accessible from the adjacent garage. Otherwise, the scenery was quite uniform throughout the walk, just a small canal-like moat on one side and modern houses on the other. The trees on the mounds look lovely in autumn colors, though. Upon reaching the front of the famous kofun, I was greeted with the view that everyone who comes to this little-known site gets. Crossing the bridge reveals another moat layer behind the first, and in the distance, a Torii gate seems to serve as the spiritual entrance to the tomb. While the mound is huge, probably even greater in volume than than the Pyramids of Giza, it sure doesn't have the same effect.
The mound looks like a forest, and that's mostly what it is. It's not significantly taller than its surroundings, and it just doesn't really demonstrate any unprecedented level of engineering for its age. Just a few hundred years later, beautiful temples were being built in Horyuji! All that being said, I personally appreciated the serenity of the area, the unique preservation of the tombs as holy sites, their beauty in the autumn scenery, and the surprising number of them. They do indeed represent the unique culture of the kofungun and are indeed the richest site to represent them, but how they compare to the rest of the world, I can't say yet. I feel like they're a worthy WHS, comparable to the tumuli sites in nearby Korea, but they don't offer much to the casual visitor. I'd still recommend a visit to anyone who visits Osaka, as this seems to be the most authentic and interesting look into the ancient past of this great metropolis.
In 2014 I visited the centerpiece of this nomination, the Daisen Kofun, which is considered to be the grave of Emperor Nintoku and is the single largest grave in the world by area.
It is so large that the best way to view it is perhaps to take off or land at the Kansai (Osaka) International Airport.
The photo shows the Shinto Torii Gate in the middle, behind which lies the widest of the three moats that surround the all important keyhole-shaped grave.
I believe it'll be surprising if this site gets a go at getting on the WH list, simply because, no matter what the nomination dossier says, nobody is certain that the Daisen Kofun is really the grave for the Emperor. This absurdity comes from the fact that the belief that the grave belongs to an Emperor means it is managed by the Imperial Household Agency, an ultra conservative entity that wouldn't allow anyone to visit such a holy site, let alone to dig it, resulting in the uncertainty. (Remember that the Japanese Imperial Family is considered to be the descendants of Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess, in the Japanese mythology.) I was told by a man who managed this property on site that the Ministry of Culture, which takes care of the World Cultural Heritage in Japan, had been unsuccessfully battling it out with the Imperial Household Agency, which takes care of the living deity!
But this nomination is not just about the Daisen Kofun, but about the whole group. Numbers count.
Read more from Tsunami here.
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