Connected to the Past—-Kofun, Ancient Huge Tombs in Japan

fiction, Apr. 2019


There are things which you never thought about at all before but suddenly preoccupy your mind.

When I moved to Ibaraki prefecture, where I grew up, with my new family, I began to see lots of “Kofun.”

Kofun are ancient huge tombs with unique keyhole shapes built by the powerful people of the land around the third to seventh centuries.

Today, more than 160,000 Kofun still exist throughout Japan.

When driving a car around my parents’ house, my eyes are suddenly filled with some Kofun-hills surrounded by trees.

In my city, Kasumigaura, Ibaraki, Kofun are well preserved as “Kofun parks” by the city. I’ve never seen such simple parks with only brown soil hills in my previous city.

I used to play in such a Kofun park when I was little, but now I finally realize that playing in a “tomb park” is a unique experience.

Although I learned about ancient earthenware or Haniwa (figures made for ritual use) at elementary school many times, they didn’t leave me much impression.

On the other hand, stories of the dead who rested in Kofun were very interesting to me.

“A great man who had come to this land died here,” “A cow which came across the lake after his master died here”……I was so attracted and my imagination was inspired by those stories because there were only a few fact-based documents, and no one was sure whether the stories were in reality or legends.

One day, I took my son to the Kofun park nearby.

I wondered whether a hill shaped like a keyhole was mysterious or not to the eyes of a five-year-old child, but my son was just simply excited by a small mountain-like slope.

“This hill, in front of you, it’s actually the old man’s tomb,” I never said this to my son.

The wind blew gently over the entire surface of the lawn. The Kofun became a part of nature here so that we didn’t get any signs of tombs or the dead.

This made us feel very comfortable, and I never wanted to frighten my son.

Now my son ran up to the top of the hill and shouted, “Can I slide down from here?”

Before I replied “Be careful!”, my son slipped and fell. But soon I heard his cheerful laughter.

My son seemed to be exactly the same as me in my childhood: visiting the Kofun park as a school trip, I was so excited by the comfortable lawn on a sunny day and the slope of the hill that my teacher scolded me.

He kept saying “It’s a grave so you should show respect,” but I never understood back then.

Now I finally know its historical meaning. Thinking about how to tell my son about Kofun, I walked towards him.

When I reached the top of the Kofun, hugged my son and looked at the sky, which was changing its color to the night, I felt as if I would be connected to the place and time other than here.

“I will have my own tomb in this town too,” I whispered gently to the ancients, who lived here and are now resting in the Kofun.

Kofun Park in Kasumigaura
Ibaraki, in which Kasumigaura city is located, is full of nature, especially flowers like Nemophila, and fruit picking!

For more information, visit the official site.

Some famous Kofun places throughout Japan:
Tomb of Emperor Nintoku, the largest key-hole shaped Kofun in Japan (in Osaka)
Tsukuriyama Kofun(in Okayama)
Ishibutai Kofun (in Nara)
Saitobaru Kofun (Saitobaru Burial Mounds)(in Miyazaki)

written by


Writer. Born in 1987, Ibaraki prefecture. Mainly writes novels.

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