Hashihaka-kofun Tumulus (箸墓古墳)

Hashihaka-kofun Tumulus (also called Hashi Nakayama-kofun Tumulus) is the leading kofun (tumulus) of the Hashinaka-kofun Tumuli Group in Hashinaka, Sakurai City, Nara Prefecture. It is considered the oldest class of kofun of all the kofun that were made during the period in which they first appeared. It is a large-scale, keyhole-shaped tumulus from after the mid-third century.


There is a tendency to consider that the tumulus belongs to Himiko, the queen of Wa-koku (the oldest recorded name for Japan), described in the Gishiwajin-den (the Wei Chronicle) (in accordance with the Yamatai-koku Kinai-setsu, which argues that the Yamatai-koku Kingdom was in Kinai, or the five central provinces surrounding the ancient capitals of Nara and Kyoto, namely Yamato, Kawachi, Settsu, Izumi and Yamashiro, which are now the municipalities of Kyoto and Osaka and the prefectures of Nara and Hyogo). Traditionally, this has been considered unlikely because there is a lag between the date of construction between the end of the third century and the early fourth century and that of her death, which is believed to be in the first half of the third century. Recently, however, the view advancing the beginning date of the Kofun period has become influential, reflecting the age estimate using dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating. The above-mentioned construction date of Hashihaka-kofun Tumulus varies slightly among scholars. However, the predominant view is that it was built between the middle and the latter half of the third century, in or around the year of Himiko's death (approximately 248). Also, it has become more likely that Hashihaka-kofun Tumulus is the tomb of Himiko.

Today, it is administered by the Imperial Household Agency as the Oichi tomb (Oichi no haka) of Yamatototohimomosohime no Mikoto, the daughter of the seventh emperor, Korei. Consequently, citizens and scholars are not permitted to freely enter the burial mound. In the "Nihon Shoki" (The Chronicles of Japan), Yamatototohimomosohime no Mikoto is a sister of Emperor Sujin, who is the grandfather of Emperor Kogen. Oichi is the name of the place where the kofun is located. In the "Kojiki" (The Record of Ancient Matters), it is Yamatotomomosobime no Mikoto.

The Origin of the Name

The following tale is recorded in the article concerning the nineteenth month of Emperor Sujin in the "Nihon Shoki." It is generally called 'Miwayama Densetsu' (The Miwayama Legend).

However, Yutaka TSUCHIHASHI says Hashihaka (Chopsticks--called hashi in Japanese--Tomb) came from Hajihaka, or the tomb of the Haji clan, which is the group that made the kofun, because there is a large gap between the period in which chopsticks were introduced into Japan (possibly the seventh century) and that in which the tale was devised.

Shape and Scale
Regarding the shape of Hashihaka-kofun Tumulus, its square front starts to open like a plectrum in the middle, as is observed in many of the oldest-class, keyhole-shaped tumuli. The appearance of the contour on the survey map indicates that the front of the square front was wider than the actual state. Other kofun with a square front whose tip opens like a plectrum include Yakuyama No. 1 Kofun Tumulus in Ibogawa-cho, Hyogo Prefecture; Gongenyama No. 51 Kofun Tumulus in the same prefecture; Tsubai Otuskayama-kofun Tumulus in Yamashiro-cho, Kyoto Prefecture; and Urama Chausuyama-kofun Tumulus in Okayama City. In this regard, Urama Chausuyama-kofun Tumulus is considered to be half-size, with proportions similar to Hashihaka-kofun Tumulus. It is half in length and width. However, the shape of its summit is different from that of Hashihaka-kofun Tumulus, being a horizontally long rectangle rather than a trapezoid.

With respect to the actual size of Hashihaka-kofun Tumulus, its length is approximately 278 meters. The rear, which is rounded, is approximately 150 meters in diameter and about 30 meters in height. The front width of the square front is approximately 130 meters, and its height about 16 meters. Its volume is approximately 370,000 cubic meters. The results of the investigation of the surrounding area suggest that it was originally a size larger.

Some scholars (such as Yoshiro KONDO) point out that the rear has four terraces and a small knoll (on which it is believed that a clay platform, whose diameter and height were approximately 44 to 46 and 4 meters, respectively, and special vessel stands were placed) on top of the terraces. Regarding the square front, the terrace structure on the side is not obvious. However, it is supposed that there is a four-terrace structure in the front. In this regard, Hashihaka-kofun Tumulus is the only kofun that is a five-terrace construction (composed of four terraces and a small knoll on top of the rounded rear). Kofun that are of four-terrace construction (comprising three terraces and a small knoll on top of the rounded rear) include Nishitonotsuka-kofun Tumulus (Oyamato-kofun Tumuli Group); Andonyama-kofun Tumulus (Yanagimoto-kofun Tumuli Group); Shibutani Mukaiyama-kofun Tumulus (Yanagimoto-kofun Tumuli Group); Sakurai Chausuyama-kofun Tumulus (Torimiyama-kofun Tumuli Group); Mesuriyama-kofun Tumulus (Torimiyama-kofun Tumuli Group); Tsukiyama-kofun Tumulus (Umami-kofun Tumuli Group) (in Yamato Takada City); and so on. All other kofun with imperial-class mausoleums are of three-terrace construction (both in the rounded rear and in the square front). This might reflect the ranking of the buried individual.

The presence of a 10-meter-wide surrounding moat at the foot of the burial mound and a 15-meter-wide outer levee outside of it has been confirmed through the excavation research carried out in the vicinity of the area specified as the imperial mausoleum by the Nara Prefectural Archaeological Institute of Kashihara and the Sakurai City Board of Education. Therefore, it has become clear that the huge keyhole-shaped tumulus had a surrounding moat from, its earliest period.

External Facilities and Relics

Fuki-ishi (stones covering the surface of the burial mound) using river stones have been identified on the north slope of the burial mound at the tip of the square front.

A procession of haniwa (burial mound figurines) did not yet exist in that period. However, the Miyayama-type special vessel stands and jars, the Totsuki-type cylindrical haniwa, which is the oldest type of haniwa, and other items have been collected by the staff of the Imperial Household Agency. There is no doubt that they had been placed on the burial mound. While the special vessel stands and jars, which are presumed to have been brought from Okayama City and its environs, are only seen in the rounded rear, the jar-shaped Haji pottery with a dual-rimmed mouth and holes on the bottom have been gathered from the square front. Thus, it is very possible that vessel types determined their locations. Because of the unearthed special vessel stands and jars, Hashihaka-kofun Tumulus is considered to have been constructed in the early Kofun period.

The burial facility is not known. However, it is believed possible that it was equipped with a stone chamber dug into the earth, given that basaltic stone slabs were found at the foot of the burial mound. It has been determined that they are the stones of Shibayama, in Kashiwara City, Osaka Prefecture. Hence, they are not the stones of Mt. Osaka (Mt. Nijo) described in the tale of Emperor Sujin.

With regard to the surrounding moat, some portions of the approximately 10-meter-wide surrounding moat and the 10-to-20-meter-wide outer levee have been found in the excavation research of portions of the square front and rounded rear. A connecting bank that has a pile of fuki-ishi on both sides has also been found in a part of the surrounding moat that is on the southeast side of the rounded rear.

The Construction Period

Based on the shape of the burial mound and the contents of the unearthed relics, Taichiro SHIRAISHI and others have indicated that Hashihaka-kofun Tumulus is of the oldest class of keyhole-shaped tumulus. However, the Furu 0-style earthenware was excavated from the bottom of the 10-meter-wide surrounding moat at the foot of the burial mound in the excavation research, in the vicinity outside the area specified as the imperial mausoleum. Moreover, it has been confirmed that Hashihaka-kofun Tumulus was built at the beginning of the first half of the Kofun period (in the middle of the third century).

Additionally, things such as the following have come to light:
The square front of Hashihaka-kofun Tumulus is similar in shape to the projecting portion of the Makimuku Ishizuka Tomb, which is covered with a heap of earth and is considered older than Hashihaka-kofun Tumulus. Hashihaka-kofun Tumulus is equipped with a connecting bank. Its surrounding moat is narrow in relation to the scale of its burial mound. Because of these findings, Hashihaka-kofun Tumulus is believed to be a dramatically enlarged version of (and successor of) the tombs covered with heaps of earth from the Yayoi period.


There is a clear distinction between Hashihaka-kofun Tumulus and the tombs protruding from the earth that precede it with respect to the points mentioned below:
The country is dotted with kofun that are considered to share the blueprint of the burial mound, which is so big as to be mistaken as a naturally formed knoll, having a total length of about 280 meters and a height of approximately 30 meters at the rounded rear. The earthenware that belongs to the family of earthenware from Kibi Province, which is the antecedent of haniwa, has been found among the unearthed relics.

Additionally, it is believed that its scale, haniwa and so on served collectively as a model for the later kofun. Many scholars consider the construction of that kofun as the beginning of the Kofun period.

The Buried Individual

Hashihaka-kofun Tumulus is administered by the Imperial Household Agency as the tomb of Yamatototohimomosohime no Mikoto, the daughter of the seventh emperor, Korei. However, some scholars claim that it is the tomb of Himiko.

The following points, among others, are cited as evidence:
The diameter of the round rear of this kofun nearly matches that of the round barrow of Himiko, 'a hundred odd bu' (a unit of volume), described in the "Gishiwajin-den." It is likely that the square front was added later, because the terrace structure that is found in the rounded rear vanishes in the square front. Of all the large-scale kofun throughout the country, it was constructed in the earliest period. However, the precise details remain unknown at this time.

Incidentally, a ri (a unit of distance) of the Wei-Jin period is believed to equal 300 bu, or 76 meters. Hence, a bu is approximately 25 centimeters and 100 odd bu equal slightly less than 30 meters.


Further, wooden Wa-abumi (round stirrups, which are equestrian gear) were found in the heaped earth within the surrounding moat through the excavation research of the vicinity executed by the Sakurai City Board of Education in 2000. The inference is that it belongs to the fourth century, considering the Furu 1-style earthenware that was unearthed at the same time. On that basis, the understanding with regard to the inflow of the kiba culture (the equestrian culture) into the Japanese archipelago, as well as the diffusion of the kiba culture in East Asia, has been modified in order to reflect their earlier occurrences. However, it is also possible that they are secondary artifacts belonging to later periods that have nothing to do with the construction period of the kofun itself, since they were unearthed from inside the surrounding moat.

Moreover, it is reported that a tea-ceremony room was set up on the burial mound under the rule of the Oda clan. A ditch that is found on the southeast side of the rounded rear on the survey map is supposed to be associated with a teahouse that was run by a choja (millionaire), Hashinaka, around the foot during the Edo period. It is said that candies and sweets were sold, mainly to travelers on pilgrimages to Ise, as special products. A portion of the outer levee of the surrounding moat has also been detected in the east.

The ditch diagonally dividing the square front and rounded rear on the survey map is the trail the villagers used before the burial mound became inaccessible.

[Original Japanese]