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  • Writer's picturePhillip Radcliffe

Kofun: An Ancient Grave

Updated: Jan 1, 2023

By Masuzu Nishimura

Copyright © Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism

There are many ancient tombs throughout Japan. In Japanese they are called Kofun. They were built for people of power. But no Kofun have been found in Hokkaido, Aomori, or Okinawa. Hyogo Prefecture has the highest number of Kofun at 16,577. However, the largest Kofun is located in Osaka. The name is Daisenryo Kofun, and is thought to be the tomb of Emperor Nintoku, but according to recent research, this might not be true.

So, who is buried in this tomb? Prof. Naofumi Kishimoto of Osaka Metropolitan University thinks this tomb might have been constructed in the 5th century. However, Emperor Nintoku died in 399, so it doesn’t fit with the era. On the other hand, Taichiro Shiraishi, honorary director of the Asuka Chikatsu Museum in Osaka thinks it is definitely the tomb of Nintoku because it is written that Nintoku is buried in the Daisenryo tomb in Nihon Shoki, which is a history book written in the Nara Period.

In fact, it was believed that an emperor was buried in one of the tombs, but it turned out not to be the case after excavation of the site. However, the Daisenryo tomb is maintained by the Imperial Household Agency, so it is difficult to examine the inside of the tomb.

Noriyuki Shirakami, a curator of a museum in Sakai City, says that anyone could casually enter the Daisenryo tomb before the Edo Period. Now no entry is permitted in the Daisenryo tomb, but it used to be private land. Moreover, many people lived in the area around the tomb.

So whose tomb is it? It might be an eternal mystery. Noriyuki Shirakami hopes that it will be proven to be the period in which the Daisenryo tomb was built. However, he thinks it will be impossible to determine exactly who is buried there.


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