Takamatsuzuka Tumulus (高松塚古墳)

The Takamatsuzuka Tumulus is a tumulus located in Asuka-mura, Takaichi-gun, Nara Prefecture (state-run Askuka Historical National Government Park). It is one of the tombs of the Final Kofun period built in Fujiwara-kyo (the Fujiwara Palace; the ancient capital of Fujiwara) (694-710). It is the two-layer round barrow tumulus with its diameters of 23 meters (lower layer) and 18 meters (upper layer) and height of 5 meters. With the discovery of a richly colored (gaudy) mural paintings in 1972, it came into the spotlight in a single bound.

Excavation and Research
The excavation and research of Takamatsuzuka Tumulus started on March 1, 1972. Around October 1970, a farmer in the village digging a hole to store gingers discovered old hewn stones, which led to the start of the excavation. Local people sought actions from the government of Asuka-mura, Nara Prefecture. The Asuka-mura government raised the fund and Archaeological Institute of Kashihara, Nara Prefecture took charge of the excavation and research. The Asuka-mura government was the project owner, while Archaeological Institute of Kashihara was in charge of the excavation. In those days the Asuka-mura government was promoting activities to excavate uninvestigated archaeological sites to edit an anthology of the village in commemoration of its fifteenth anniversary of foundation. The excavation and research of Takamatsuzuka Tumulus was part of such activities. Under the supervision of Masao SUENAGA, the head of Archaeological Institute of Kashihara, the excavation works at the site were conducted by Muneyasu DATE (an archaeologist) and a group of researchers and students of Kansai University and Ryukoku University headed by Yoshinori ABOSHI, a professor of Kansai University. On March 21 in the same year, a stone chamber was identified, in which richly colored mural paintings were discovered. The tumulus was designated as a special historic site on April 23, 1973, and the richly colored murals were designated as national treasures on April 17, 1074.

The tumulus suffered from grave thieves around the Kamakura period; the southern wall of the stone chamber had an opening for grave thieves. However the richly colors of the mural paintings kept intact and part of burial goods that escaped grave robbing were discovered at the time. The emergence of the richly colored mural paintings became the front page news as the big discovery unparalleled in history. The Agency for Cultural Affairs soon started to take conservation measures and conducted research and investigation. Soon after the discovery of the mural paintings, Takamatsuzuka Tumulus Emergency Conservation Research Committee was set up and the first academic investigation was conducted on April 6 and 17, not later than a month after the discovery. Separately from the Emergency Conservation Research Committee, Takamatsuzuka Tumulus General Science Research Committee consisting of experts in archaeology, art history, and conservation science was set up. In October, 197T, Takamatsuzuka Tumulus General Science Research Committee conducted an academic investigation.

The facility for burying bodies in the Takamatsuzuka Tumulus can be classified as "Yokoguchishiki Sekkaku" in terms of archeology. The word "Sekishitsu (stone chamber)," is used in this section because it is more common.

Historical Age of the Tumulus
A bronze mirror and other items that escaped grave thieves and remained suggested that the tumulus was built in the Final Kofun period between the end of the 7th century and the beginning of the 8th century. In the excavation and research in 2005, however, it was estimated to have been built in Fujiwara-kyo (694 - 710).

Who were Buried
Who were buried is unknown and opinions are divided. In the first place, who were buried in burial mounds in the Asuka region have been rarely identified. Opinions over who were buried can be largely grouped into three.

Emperor Tenmu's princes as the candidate
Some suggest that a prince of the Emperor Tenmu--Osakabe no Miko (Prince Osakabe), Takechi no Miko/Prince Takechi, or Yuge no Miko (Prince Yuge)--was buried.

The typical experts who support Osakabe no Miko as the candidate include Kojiro NAOKI (emeritus professor of Osaka City University), Kanekatsu INOKUMA (professor of Kyoto Tachibana University), and 王仲珠 (a researcher of Institute of Archeology, Chinese Academy of Social Science). One of the grounds is that the estimated age of the unearthed human bones is close to the age at which Osakabe no Miko is thought to have died. Another ground is that the costume of the painted persons.

The typical experts who support Takechi no Miko/Prince Takechi as the candidate include Dairoku HARADA (an archeologist), Kunihiko KAWAKAMI (deputy director of Nara Prefecture-run Archaeological Institute of Kashihara, Nara Prefecture and currently a professor of Kobe Women's University), and Aritsune TOYOTA (a writer).

The typical experts who support Yuge no miko (Prince Yuge) as the candidate include Fuminori SUGAYA (professor of The University of Shiga Prefecture) and Takeshi UMEHARA (a philosopher).

However, the teeth and jaw bones of the unearthed body suggest an elderly man between the 40's and 60's. Therefore the possibility of Yuge no miko thought to have died relatively young at the age of the 20's can be low.

A subject as the candidate
Kenichi OKAMOTO (professor of Kyoto Gakuen University) and Taichiro SHIRAISHI (Professor of Nara University) support ISONOKAMI no Maro as the candidate. If this theory is true, the Takamatsuzuka Tomb is of the Nara Period.

A royalty of Chosun peninsula genealogy as the candidate
Minoru SENDA (professor of International Research Center for Japanese Studies) supports Zenko as the prime candidate.

Keiichi HOTTA (professor of Koyasan University) suggests that a royal class member of the Goguryeo was buried.

Stone chamber and Mural Paintings

The stone chamber consists of layers of tuff cut stones with a corridor to the grave in the south and a plane stretching north-south. The stone chamber (inside) is about 265cm deep from north to south, about 103 cm wide from east to west, and 113cm high. It has a small space barely enough for only two adults to enter with their heads bent low. Classified into a type called Yokoguchishiki Sekkaku, the tumulus is a structure of a combination of flat stones on substrates. Categorized into the Yokoguchishiki Sekkaku are Oni-no-Manaita Stone (The Devil's Chopping Board), kawaya (toilet), the Kengoshizuka Tomb thought to be the burial mound of the Empress Kogyoku, Noguchino Ono-haka-kofun Tumulus (the burial mounds of the Emperor Tenmu and the Empress Jito), and Kitora Tumulus. This type had been constructed since the mid 7th century until the beginning of the 8 century.

The mural paintings were found on the east, west, and north (deepest) walls and the ceiling, and drawn on few-millimeter plastered cut stones. The subject matter of the paintings are a group of people, the sun and moon, shiho shijin (four gods said to rule over the four directions), and seishin (constellation). The painting on the east wall depicts, from the near side, a group of men, a blue dragon (shijin) of the four gods with the sun above, and a group of women. In contrast, the paining on the west wall depicts, from the near side, a group of men, a white tiger (one of the four gods), the moon above it, and a group of women. The number of the drawn men and women is four per group, totaling 16. In particular a group of women on the west wall were vivid in colors (at the time of discovery) and have been presented by colored photos in textbooks of history and other various places. This group of women are well known by a nickname of "Asuka Bijin (Asuka beauties)." The items carried by those figures match those carried by the toneri (a servant) and other government officials (especially one of low to medium rank) seen in "Jogan Gishiki (the ritual processes by the Jogan Codes)" who attended a ceremony of Choga (New Year's greetings or well-wishes offered by retainers to the Emperor) on New Year's Day. The flags of the sun, the moon, and shijin are hosted in the ceremony of Choga on New Year's Day.

The deep north wall depicts Genbu God of the shijin, while the ceiling depicts seishin (constellation). It is likely that a Suzaku (red Chinese phoenix) was drawn on the south wall, but it was destoryed by grave thieves during the Kamakura Period. On the ceiling painting, round gold leaves represent stars and red lines connecting stars represent constellations. The center represents Shibien consisting of five polestars and Shiho Shisei surrounded by 28 sei shuku (moon stations).. These are based on ideas of ancient China, in which Shibien in the center means the whereabouts of God of Hosts.

Since the beginning of the excavation, studies have been done to compare the mural paintings with Mural Painting of Koguryo Tomb (world heritage)
"The Mural Paintings of Takamatsuzuka Tumulus Asahi Symposium" was written and compiled jointly by Masao SUENAGA and Mitsusada INOUE, The Asahi Shimbun Company, 1972. Fore reference, Masao SUENAGA was the first director of Archaeological Institute of Kashihara, Nara Prefecture. He was a professor of Kansai University and a recipient of Order of Culture. Mitsusada INOUE was the seventh director of National Museum of Japanese History. He was a professor of Tokyo University and a recipient of Shiju hosho (medal of honor). Although shijin was a motif originally characteristic of tombs of the Goguryeo style, it is pointed out that shijin on the painting of Shijin in Takamatsuzuka Tomb and Kitora Tomb are drawn in uniquely Japanese style different from the Goguryeo style. The painting of Tenku, in contrast, is pointed out to have been drawn possibly using an original drawing of Tenku coming from Koguryo. It is also pointed out that the attires of the female figures are similar to those depicted on the murals of 愁撫塚 and 舞踊塚 of Koguryo Tomb.

It was known from only a few remaining pieces of the coffin in the stone chamber that the coffin was made of lacquered wood. The stone chamber was unearthed by looters around the Kamakura period, but some burial goods and part of the coffin remained. The yields include, in addition to the remained pieces of the lacquered wooden coffin, metal fittings and bronze nails for the coffin, and burial items such as sword fittings, Kaiju Budo Kyo (bronze mirror with design of animals and grapes), and gems (of glass and amber). Kaiju Budo Kyo of a Chinese style in the Sui and Tang Period and transparent metal fittings decorating the coffin are well known.

Special Historic Sites

Takamatsuzuka Tumulus

National Treasure

Four mural-painting in the Takamatsuzuka Tumulus

Important Cultural Property

Takamatsuzuka Tumulus Excavated Articles
Remains related to the coffin
One transparent gilt bronze fitting
Six round-shaped decorative gilt bronze fittings
Two pedestal-shaped gilt bronze fittings with a design of six flowers
Six pedestal-shaped metal fittings of copper
A set of metal square nails of copper
A set of pieces of a laquered wooden coffin
Nine metal fittings for Ginso Karayou (silver Chinese-style) sword
One Kaiju Budo Kyo (bronze mirror with a design of animals and grapes)
936 millet-like small gems of glass
Six round gems of glass
Two round gems of amber
A set of earthenware (Haji pottery, unglazed (ceramic) ware, and pottery of tile), etc.

Deterioration of Walls and FutureTasks

After the excavation, it was decided to conserve the mural paintings at the site as they were. The Agency for Cultural Affairs has been engaged in conservation and management activities, such as temperature and humidity control in the stone chamber and anti-fungal treatment, and has conducted annual inspections since 1981. In 2004, however, pictures taken between 2002 and 2003 revealed a significant loss and change of colors on the mural paintings caused by the entry of rain water and the growth of fungi, etc.

The deterioration of the mural paintings of Takamatsuzuka Tumulus had not been known to the public until the fact was unveiled in "Kokuho Takamatsuzuka kofun hekiga (Mural-paintings in the tumulus Takamatsuzuka)" published by the Agency for Cultural Affair in June 2004 and subsequently widely covered by newspapers. When the mural paintings were discovered in 1972, the stone chamber was filled with sediment running from an opening in the south wall, which was made by looters. The most murals remained richly-colored, although some parts of the paintings such as the right half of a man in the mural of the east wall had been damaged by sediment and groundwater. These mural paintings were drawn not directly on cut stones but on a layer of plaster applied in few millimeters in thickness. A concern was that the plaster itself was bristle and in danger of fall-off. In addition, the stone chamber had been under ground for nearly 1300 years and preserved in a closed environment. When the stone chamber was opened to allow people to enter, there was grave concern about damages to the mural paintings due to environmental changes, such as varied temperatures and humidity conditions, the growth of fungi, and insects and other creatures. Measures to prevent damage and pass the mural paintings to future generations have been discussed from different perspective since the discovery.

The stone chamber is so small that only two adults can barely enter it with their heads bent low.
In view of such a small space, it was very difficult to make them public at the site
The chamber was highly humid (about 100% relative humidity). Even if staff entered in the chamber for repairs and research for only a few hours, the temperature in the chamber elevated and the humidity decreased.
Experts at home and abroad gave different opinions on how to restore the mural paintings
After studing many measures, including the way of detaching the mural paintings from the walls for restoration at a different place, it was finally decided to conserve them at the site without discomposing them.

After a while, a construction work started in 1974 to build an conservation facility having a air conditioner in the front space south of the chamber and ended in March, 1976. Consisting of an antechamber, vestibule, and machine room, the conservation facility was designed to monitor the temperature and humidity within the stone chamber and regulate the temperature and humidity in the antechamber to match those in the chamber. It should be noted that this conservation facility is not designed to regulate the temperature and humidity in the stone chamber, but adjust those of the antechamber to the naturally varying temperature and humidity in the chamber. In other words, the role of the conservation facility was to adjust the temperature and humidity in the facility to match those of the stone chamber so that the chamber was not subject to the outside conditions when staff entered the stone chamber. The conservation and repair works of the mural paintings started in September 1976 and were conducted in three stages: the first, second, and third stages. In 1985, the third stage repair ended. During the works, a large amount of fungi grew, but the measure to remove them with chemicals was successful at that time.

It was in 2001 that a large amount of fungi was found next. In February in the same year, when the work to prevent the fall-off of the ceiling was done in the space called "Toriaibu" between the stone chamber and the conservation facility, staff entered the chamber without any protective clothing. It is pointed out that this caused the growth of a large amount of fungi. The "Toriaibu" was a space between the conservation facility and the stone chamber, where soil is exposed. The deterioration of the mural paintings did not begin abruptly at that time but had gradually increased. However, the Agency for Cultural Affairs did not disclose the fact that fungi had grown and the mural paintings had deteriorated, which aroused mistrust of the people.

About a year later, on January 28, 2002, an incident occurred that damaged the west wall. On this day, a blank space below a group of men drawn on the painting of the west wall got damaged when a repair staff accidentally fell an air purifier. On the same day, the plaster under the breast of a man drawn on the west wall came off when a different staff came in contact with an indoor lamp. Out of these two incidents, the former damaged the blank space without a picture. In the latter incident, the damaged area had been already soiled with sediment and the original colors of the murals had been lost at the time of discovery. Therefore the damaged areas were repaired with a solution of soil outside the stone chamber and the Agency for Cultural Affairs did not disclose these incidents and said that these were within the scope of "regular repairs."

In 2003, an emergency conservation committee for the mural paintings of Takamatsuzuka tumulus was set up. In August in the next year (2004), the word "emergency" was changed into "long-term" and a long-term conservation committee for the mural paintings of Takamatsuzuka tumulus was founded. In June in the same year (2004), "National Treasure Takamatsuzuka Tumulus" (supervised by the Agency for Cultural Affairs and published by Chuo Koran Bijutsu Shuppan) revealed the deterioration of the mural paintings, in particular, the significant deteriorated "Byakko" on the west wall. The deterioration of "Byakko" was widely reported on the morning edition of "The Asahi Shinbun" dated on June 20, 2004 published by its Osaka headquarters. With this report, the deterioration of the mural paintings attracted public attention.

Various measures have been studied to prevent the deterioration and conserve the mural paintings. A discussion was which to conserve, the special historic site (tumulus) or the national treasure (mural paintings). To repair and conserve the mural paintings in the future, every possible measure was sought after, such as the way of covering the entire tumulus with a conservation facility and the way of moving the murals to a different place to conserve them eternally. Finally a plan was adopted to discompose and relocate the stone chamber for repairs and put them back after completion of the repairs. On June 27, 2005, the long-term conservation committee for the mural paintings of Takamatsuzuka tumulus decided to adopt this plan. Some suggested that, like Kitora Tumulus, the mural paintings be detached and conserved outside the tumulus, but the plan specified that they were returned to their original places.

In one view, discomposing the stone chamber and carrying out cut stones on which the mural paintings were drawn meant destruction of the tumulus designated as a special historic site. On October 25 in the same year, Japanese Archaeological Association supported this view and issued "a statement to call for the conservation and protection of Takamatsuzuka tumulus as a special historic site" with a claim that the historic site be preserved at the site. On August 4 in the same year, Asuka Preservation Foundation submitted "a request for repairs at the site" to the Agency for Cultural Affairs and the conservation committee.
On August 11 in the same year, Asuka Village Council also voted for the request to conserve the mural paintings at the site and submitted it to the Agency for Cultural Affairs also
These showed that there were still growing demand among those concerned for the conservation and repairs at the site.

The third party investigation committee (the committee to investigate the work for preventing the collapse of the ceiling in the Toriaibu of Takamatsuzuka Tumulus and the damage incidents of the west wall of the chamber, headed by Yoshiaki ISHIZAWA, president of Sophia University) reinvestigated the growth of a large amount of fungi and the occurrence of damage incidents of the west wall between 2001 and 2002. The committee submitted a report to the state on June 19, 2006. The report pointed out harmful effects of the vertical sectionalism and low awareness of information disclosure in the Agency for Cultural Affairs. In case of Takamatsuzuka Tumulus, the Monument and Site Division is in charge of the tumulus itself as a special historic site and the Art and Craft Division (whose name changed to Fine Art Division in January 2001) is in charge of the mural paintings as a national treasure. The coordination of the two divisions was reported to be inadequate. The growth of a large amount of fungi associated with the works to prevent the collapse of the ceiling in February 2001 was reported to be caused by unsterilized preventive clothing of the workers. The Monument and Site Division ordered the works and left the management at the site only to the Art and Craft Division with no attendance of the staff of the Monument and Site Division. National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo was not informed of the work at all. The workers did not know the presence of a "Manual of Conservation and Repairs," which specified that they had to wear protective clothing. This resulted in the growth of a large amount of fungi. Moreover, the fact that fungi grew was made public two years later. Although two portions of the west wall were damaged in January 2002 as mentioned above, the Agency for Cultural Affairs did not disclose this fact and repaired the colors so the damage became inconspicuous. In addition to these two portions of the west wall, the paintings of the east and north walls and the ceiling were also repaired by adding colors. This fact was not disclosed, either. It was also revealed that the agency had provided newspaper companies with what they claimed were recent pictures of the (undamaged) mural, but these had actually been taken on March 21, 2000--two years before the damage to the west wall occurred.

In response to these situations, the Agency for Cultural Affairs started excavation and research of the tumulus to "conserve mural paintings in the Takamatsuzuka Tumulus eternally." The surrounding burial mound and other buried constructions were discovered, which the tumulus has helped reveal how was originally structured. Many cracks possibly caused by past earthquakes were also found on the tumulus. These are considered as the routes that insects and rainwater may have passed through.

The excavation and research of the tumulus and discomposing and repairs of the stone chamber started on October 2, 2006. In January 2007, the heat-insulating covering roof that covers the entire tumulus was completed. With this, the inside temperature and humidity have been kept at 10℃ and 90%, respectively. On March 12 in the same year, a renovation facility was completed in Asuka Historical National Government Park. It was decided that the stone chamber was once discomposed and carried out to this renovation facility for repairs. On April 5, one of the four pieces of the ceiling stone were lifted with a crane to be moved with a dedicated vehicle to the renovation facility. All of the four pieces ceiling stones and 8 pieces of the wall stones were relocated piece by piece and the wall called "west wall stone 3"--on which Asuka Bijin (Asuka beauties) was drawn--was moved on May 10 and 11. It was on June 26 that the last 12th pieces of the wall stone (west wall stone 1) was carried out. The relocated mural paintings are scheduled to be conserved and repaired in 10 years and, upon completion, carried back to where they were.

On November 25, 2008 during repair works, an incident occurred in which the pigment of a group of women on the east wall was damaged with an analyzer when the pigment was being analyzed.

Commemorative issues

The following special stamps were issued on March 26, 1973: two types of \20 plus \5 donation, a type of \50 plus \10 donation.

Photo postcard: \200

[Original Japanese]