Tokyo: Ancient tomb mound unlocks secrets of past

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A replica of a standard-size ancient tomb mound occupies most of the space in an exhibition room and nearly reaches the 5-meter high ceiling.

Kofun, or ancient tomb mounds built around the fourth to the seventh centuries, are scattered across the Denenchofu district in Ota Ward, Tokyo, an affluent residential area that enjoys its fair share of popularity.

The tomb designs widely vary, from keyhole-like kofun to circular ones.

Visitors to the Tamagawadai Park Kofun Tomb Exhibition Room have the opportunity to learn about various aspects of the tomb mounds — whether it be the location of prominent figures from those years enshrined there and the uncovering of items buried with the deceased, or the processes involved in constructing these sometimes-massive final resting places.

The Ota Ward Office opened the exhibition site in November 1992 to help people gain a deeper understanding of the tomb mounds, which have a high historical value.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Replicas of haniwa clay figures in the shapes of a horse head and a human face, among others

The facility is located on the grounds of Tamagawadai Park, where many of these types of tombs were discovered, meaning visitors can view actual tomb mounds as well as exhibits.

In fact, a replica of a tomb mound sits in the exhibition room and stretches just about to the ceiling, which is 5 meters high.

The replica is the round part of a keyhole-shaped tomb mound that was built around the sixth century in the Kanto region. Viewing the replica helps visitors better understand the features of standard tomb mounds.

Atop the replica of the tomb mound sit haniwa clay figures, which are believed to drive away evil spirits.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Figures re-create a scene of a funeral ceremony based on shapes of excavated haniwa clay figures.

A cross section of the mound indicates that it was formed by layering red and black clays with varying degrees of viscosity. It also shows the efforts people in that era made to strengthen the resilience of each level.

Inside the replica, a cavern-shaped stone chamber contains a reproduction of a coffin.

About 60 items, including the coffin, in which a political leader is buried, are stored inside the chamber.

Magatama comma-shaped beads, the same as ones actually excavated from real tomb mounds, and other excavated articles such as a replica of an iron spear, are placed in lines.

Panel displays explain how people used straw rope as a means of measuring sections of piled up soil to build the tomb mounds.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Inside the replica of a tomb mound is a stone chamber housing a reproduction of a coffin and replicas of items buried with the deceased.

There are also figurines re-creating a funeral scene for a person of power, with high-ranking people spreading word of the ceremony and the enthronement of the next political leader.

The items on exhibit show not only tomb mounds as historical relics, but also lifestyles of that era.

Said Aya Saito, 41, curator of the Ota Ward Folk Museum: “In the Denenchofu district alone, more than 40 [ancient tomb mounds] have been discovered, so they are actually ingrained in our lives. I hope the exhibition will encourage people to get interested in ancient tomb mounds, that number of an estimated 160,000 across the nation.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The tomb mounds provide information about the lifestyles of people dating back as far as 1,500 years ago, as well as information about how the mounds were built and the deceased buried inside.

The large number of replicas in the exhibition room that feature precise reproductions and scenes from that time provide a spark of intellectual curiosity and imagination.

Tamagawadai Park Kofun Tomb Exhibition Room: 1-63-1 Denenchofu, Ota Ward, Tokyo