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Goin’ Japanesque!

Lesser-Known Attraction of Nara: Tour of 1700 Year Old Ancient Tomb!? Part 1

I know it sounds out of the blue… but what do you think about tumuli?

What, tumuli?!

Yes, tumuli.

Well, I did learn about then in school and saw some pictures in the textbooks… but by tumuli, you mean ancient people’s tombs?


The Tumulus

Over 1700 years ago (yes, 1700 years!), at a time when there were no heavy equipment, huge burial mounds were built to mourn for the dead or for leaders to make a show of their power. That is the tumulus. It may be easier to picture if you think of them as a Japanese equivalent of the Egyptian pyramids.

There are several types of tumuli. There are those which are meant to be gazed from the outside, but there are also those that you can go through the passage tomb (A corridor-like approach that connects the outside and the burial chamber. The burial chamber is a horizontal stone chamber.), to touch the large stones of the chamber and even touch the stone sarcophagus that lies in the chamber. The highlight of this type of tumulus is that you can actually “experience” something from 1700 years ago. 


The area around Sakurai City of Nara Prefecture was the center of politics in Japan around the time of the Yamato Court (Yamato Chotei) conquering Japan (ca 4th-ca mid-7th centuries). Therefore, there are many tumuli and tombs of royal families or powerful families. There are truly quite a number, including those that are esoteric, but here we would like to guide you through the most representive tumuli!


Hashihaka Tomb


Writer’s Photo

Look at the beautiful sight with the Miwayama Mountain in the background. This is considered to be the oldest from the appearance period of tombs. It is a large key-hole shaped tomb mound from the later part of the mid-3rd century. It is located directly south of Makimuku Iseki Ruins, which is an ancient ruins from the late Yayoi Period (ca 300 BCE to 300 AD) to the early Kofun Period (250 to 538 AD).    

The Makimuku Ruins is garnering attention as it is said to support a hypothesis that the ancient Yamatai Kingdom was in the Kinki area in western Japan. (The location of the kingdom has been a matter of dispute and views are divided between Kyushu and the Kinki regions). It is said that this Hashihaka Tomb may possibly be that of “Himiko” the Queen of Yamatai Kingdom. To think that it could be Himiko’s tomb…how romantic!   

Writer’s Photo

The tomb is now managed by the Imperial Household Agency as the mausoleum of Yamatototohimomosohime, the Imperial Princess of the 7th generation Emperor Korei. 

There is a sad legend behind the naming of the Hashihaka (lit. Chopstick tomb) Tomb.

In the Nihon Shoki (The Chronicles of Japan) in the chapter on the tenth year of Sujin Emperor’s reign, Yamatototohimomosohime became the wife of Omononushi-no-okami. However, she and Omononushi-no-okami could not meet during the day; he only came to her at night. She begs to see his appearance. To this, he answers that she should open the comb box the next morning, and for her to not be startled at his appearance. The next morning she is shocked to find that Omononushi-no-okami is actually a snake. Devastated, she kills herself by piercing herself with “hashi” or chopsticks in the genitals. That is the story behind the Hashihaka.

However, it makes you surprised and you wonder, why…why chopsticks?

Access: The Hashihaka Tomb is a 20-minute walk from JR Makimuku Station. Map


Feeling the adventurous spirit of ancient Japan by imagining Yamatai Kingdom’s Himiko; next we are heading to the Kusahaka Tumulus. It’s really starting to get exciting!

Lesser-Known Attraction of Nara: Tour of 1700 Year Old Ancient Tomb!? Part 2

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About the author

I am a licensed guide (in English) who was born and raised in Nara. I hope to convey the beauty of Nara and its history, the current Nara as well as the old and new of Kansai Area. Trust me to keep you in the know about Nara and the Kansai Area!

View all articles by Atsuko