Kitora-kofun Tumulus (キトラ古墳)

Kitora-kofun Tumulus is located in Asuka-mura, Takaichi County, Nara Prefecture. In recent years, mural paintings were discovered in this tumulus, for which a preservation project has been carried on as in the case of Takamatsuzuka-kofun Tumulus.

It is a round tumulus constructed with the double-terraced slope of a mound. The tumulus is located on the south hillside of slightly high Mt. Abe.
The name, 'Kitora' is said to be a corruption of 'Kitaura.'

On November 7, 1983, Genbu (god of water who protects the northern direction) was discovered on color mural paintings in the rock chamber.

On July 31, 2000, it was designated as a historical site by the Government and on November 24 in the same year, as a special historical site.

It is sometimes called a 'brother' of Takamatsuzuka-kofun Tumulus due to the similarity between the two in that they are round tumuli and have mural paintings of Shijin (four gods said to rule over the four directions) and so on.


The influence of Tang culture shown on mural paintings and so on appears not so noticeably in it as in Takamatsuzuka-kofun Tumulus, therefore, it is considered to have been constructed from around the end of seventh century to the early eighth century before Kento-shi (Japanese envoy to Tang Dynasty China) returned to Japan (704).

Tomb owner

Who was buried in it is not yet known.

It is considered to be highly probable due to the era and so on that it was a Prince or a closely associated high officer of Emperor Tenmu. Furthermore, since kinzogan (gold inlay) was excavated, it is presumed that the tomb owner was lower in the lineage and social position than that of Takamatsuzuka-kofun Tumulus was, where silver-plated metal fixtures were excavated.

Taichiro SHIRAISHI and Kojiro NAOKI maintain that the tomb owner was ABE no Miushi, Minister of the Right. They mentioned as evidence that the whole area around the tumulus is called 'Mt. Abe' as a place name. Toshio KISHI supports their opinion saying the probability of that being true is extremely high. ABE no Miushi, Minister of the Right, Junii (Junior Second Rank) died in April 703 at the age of 69 ("Shoku Nihongi" [Chronicle of Japan Continued], "Kugyobunin" [directory of court nobles]).

On the other hand, Kanekatsu INOKUMA maintains it was Takechi no Miko (Prince Takechi) of Emperor Tenmu.

Minoru SENDA mentions as the tomb owner Kudara no Konikishi Shojo, who immigrated to Japan from Kudara (Paekche).


It is a round tumulus constructed with the double-terraced slope of a mound. The upper stage is 9.4 meters in diameter and 2.4 meters high, and the lower terrace 13.8 meters in diameter and 90 centimeters high.

The stone burial chamber was constructed by combining cut stones of tuff and the inside is approx. one meter wide, approx. 2.6 meters long and approx. 1.3 meters high. The interior wall and ceiling are painted with Urushi (Japanese lacquer) and mural paintings were drawn.

Mural paintings
Shijin, i.e. Seiryu (blue dragon), Byakko (white tiger), Suzaku (red Chinese phoenix) and Genbu (god of water) were drawn on the center of the four walls of east, west, south and north respectively.

It is estimated that three figures with animal heads on human bodies based on the Junishi (12 signs of the Chinese zodiac) are drawn below each of the Shijin. However, only six have been discovered so far, including 'Ne' (Mouse) below north/Genbu, 'Tora' (Tiger) below east/Seiryu, 'Inu' (Dog) below west/Byakko and 'Uma' (Horse) below south/Suzaku.

Due to the fact that embossed carvings and clay dolls of animal heads on human bodies have been discovered in ancient tombs of the same era in China and the Korean Peninsula, Kitora-kofun Tumulus is considered to have been influenced by the cultures of China and the Korean Peninsula. However, the costume of 'Uma' discovered in 2005 was drawn in Shu-iro (Empire red), the same color as that of Suzaku which was drawn on the same south wall. From this, it is presumed that each of the Junishi figures was drawn in the same color as one of Shijin to which it belongs. This is a characteristic which has not been found in China and Korea.

There was a full-scale astronomical chart, on which the sun, the moon, constellation, equator and so on were drawn. The astronomical chart has received attention due to a possibility that it is the world's oldest chart among existing astronomical charts, since the oldest astronomical charts existing in China and Korea are those of the 11th and the 12 century.

Preservation project

At the present time, the whole area around the tumulus is being developed as a part of the Asuka Historical National Government Park.

It came to be known some time after excavation that deterioration of the mural paintings was in progress due to mold growing in the rock chamber caused by humidity. Therefore, a countermeasure is being performed by removing the mural paintings from the wall to preserve them. The Agency for Cultural Affairs started removing the mural paintings in order of seriousness of damage from August 2004. According to the Agency, Suzaku was cut out from the south wall by February 15, 2007, by which the removing work of all the mural paintings discovered was completed (except for the astronomical chart on the ceiling). Some of them will be opened to the public at Asuka Historical Museum of Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties from May 8, 2009 to May 24.

Research, preservation and exhibitions are mainly managed by the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties.

Commemorative publication

Two kinds of 80+10yen special postage stamps with donation were issued on October 15, 2003.

[Original Japanese]