Imperial Mausoleum (天皇陵)

An imperial mausoleum is a grave designated as an emperor's grave by the Imperial Household Agency. Surveys of imperial mausoleums by archaeologists are conducted under highly restricted conditions, and there are many graves, such as the Daisenryo Tumulus, about which it is doubtful whether or not they are truly graves of emperors or imperial family members.


With the current classification by Imperial Household Agency, graves for the emperor and the imperial family, such as the empress, the grand empress dowager, and the empress dowager are called mausoleums while those for others such as the crown prince and the imperial prince are known as graves.

In addition, other than the graves for the emperor, the empress, the grand empress dowager, and the empress dowager, all of the following are called 'mausoleum,' such as the graveyards of 'Emperor Tsuison' (a title of emperor given to an imperial prince who never ascended to the imperial throne after his death), 'Emperor Sonsho' (a title of Retired Emperor given to an imperial prince who never ascended to the imperial throne during his lifetime), so-called 'Kamiyo Sanyo' (three deities) (also called Hinata Sanyo, Ninigi, Hoori, and Ugayafukiaezu), a part of graveyard of Yamato Takeru, and a graveyard of Iitoyo no himemiko (Crown Princess Iitoyo) (also called Emperor Iitoyo).

Apart from these graves, the Imperial Household Agency currently manages various other properties, including quasi-mausoleums (such as cinerariums, cremation mounds and ash mounds), memorial pagodas used to bury hair, teeth and nails, and potential mausoleums with unidentified owners that have the possibility of being imperial family members' graves, and all these properties are collectively called mausoleums.

There are a total of 896 mausoleums, including 42 quasi-mausoleums, 68 memorial pagodas and 46 potential mausoleums that have the possibility of being imperial family members' graves according to tradition.

The imperial mausoleums that the Imperial Household Agency administers are located in thirty-three prefectures from Yamagata Prefecture in the north to Kagoshima Prefecture in the south, and there are one hundred eighty-eight mausoleums in total including one hundred twelve imperial mausoleums for the successive emperors and seventy-six mausoleums for the empresses. There are five hundred fifty-two graves for the imperial family. There are forty-two semi-mausoleums, sixty-eight Hasshiso-to pagodas, forty-six referable mausoleums that are considered as possible imperial mausoleums according to the tradition, so there are eight hundred ninety-six in total. There are four hundred fifty-eight locations since some of the mausoleums are located in the same place.

The imperial household still carries out the rituals for these imperial mausoleums even today, so researchers cannot enter the mausoleums freely to investigate. However, due to archaeologists' repeated requests for permission to conduct surveys on these mausoleums, researchers are often allowed to enter mausoleums in recent years to conduct joint research with local communities or to participate in repair surveys.

For the names of mausoleums, please refer to the following list of imperial mausoleums administered by Imperial Household Agency.


During the Tumulus period, when emperors were called "Great Kings" ("okimi" in Japanese) in the Yamato kingdom, an emperor's tumulus was built in a circular shape with a rectangular frontage (from the tumulus of Kaika, the ninth emperor to that of Bidatsu, the thirtieth emperor).

In the 7th century, when the Yamato kingdom came under the influence of the political system of the Chinese continent, emperors' tumuli came to be built in a large rectangular or round shape, and from the mid-7th to early 8th centuries, in an octagonal shape (e.g. Dannozuka Tumulus of Emperor Jomei, Gobyono Tumulus of Emperor Tenchi, Noguchino Imperial Tumulus of Emperor Tenmu and Empress Jito, and Nakaoyama Tumulus of Emperor Monmu). Some people argue that these octagonal tumuli, which were built only for Great Kings, were built as symbols designed to establish the status of these kings, who led the union of chiefs in and around the Kinai region (region around Kyoto and Nara), as supreme rulers like Chinese emperors ranking far above other ordinary chiefs.

Mausoleums built from the Nara to the early Heian periods include graves of emperors (e.g. Emperor Shomu) whose bodies were buried, graves with burial mounds (Emperor Kanmu), graves of emperors in later periods (Empress Jito) whose bodies were cremated due to the influence of Buddhism and graves of cremated emperors that were built without large-scale construction work (Emperors Saga and Junna).

During the period of the cloister government by Emperor Shirakawa, a new funeral style was adopted, in which the ashes of a deceased person were placed in a Buddhist chapel, and during the Edo period, tower-shaped stone graves were built at Senyu-ji Temple in Kyoto for the emperors after Emperor Gomizuno. When a political philosophy advocating the reverence for the emperor was adopted by many people toward the end of the Edo period, an ancient style was revived in the construction of imperial mausoleums; thus, Emperor Komei's mausoleum was built with a large burial mound. The Mausoleum of Emperor Meiji adopted the style of a dome-shaped mound on a square base which was modeled after Mausoleum of Emperor Tenchi and continued after that to this day. Also, the imperial mausoleum for the empress was built on the east side of the imperial mausoleum following the ancient Chinese style (Empress Dowager Cixi's 'Teitoryo'). Therefore, the mausoleum of the empress was called 'xx no Higashino Misasagi' (literally, mausoleum of xx on the east side).

After Emperor Taisho, the imperial mausoleums for the emperors and the empresses were built inside goryochi (an Imperial estate) in present Hachioji City, Tokyo. Meanwhile, after the death of the Meiji Emperor's son, graves for the imperial family came to be built on a hill at the back of Gokoku-ji Temple in Otsuka, Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, which is today known as the Toshimagaoka Cemetery.


It was not until the Meiji period that imperial mausoleums began to be carefully maintained under the close supervision of the government. Under the Ritsuryo system (a system of centralized government based on the Ritsuryo code), graves, including imperial mausoleums, were supposed to be managed by the central government, and the codes of law formulated during the Taiho and Yoro eras (known respectively as the Taiho-ryo and the Yoro-ryo) defined a government officer (called "shoryoshi" in Japanese) who managed graves under the supervision of the Ministry of Civil Administration (Jibusho). After that, Shoryoshi was improved during 729-748 and renamed as Shoryoryo. Engishiki, a book of laws and regulations compiled in the early Heian period, contains a list of mausoleums managed under the jurisdiction of Shoryoryo, which shows that the graves of maternal relatives of the imperial family (such as the members of the Fujiwara clan, which married daughters to emperors) were included among these mausoleums. During this period, certain special families were appointed to serve as keepers of imperial graves (called "ryoko" or "boko" in Japanese) in order to maintain mausoleums. After the management of Emperor Daigo's mausoleum was left in the hands of Daigo-ji Temple, graves built on temple grounds came to be managed by temples in exchange for territories awarded by the government, causing the management of graves to leave the hands of the government.

On the other hand, the state ran the ritual called Nosaki no Hei for each imperial mausoleum. This ritual was not equally performed for all imperial mausoleums; mausoleums were distinguished into groups of different ranks, from important ones built for the close relatives of the imperial family to less important ones for distant relatives, and amounts of offerings made in rituals also differed between mausoleums. Nobles who were sent to attend mausoleum rituals were known as "nosaki no tsukai" (messengers sent to pay tributes). Due to negative images about mausoleums (graves = death = uncleanliness), nobles came to avoid mausoleum rituals, causing the locations of imperial mausoleums to be forgotten.

Some of the mausoleums were left in ruins as the imperial family declined in power during the medieval period, while others, like the tumulus which is believed to the tomb of Emperor Ankan, were converted into castles of Sengoku daimyo (territorial lords in the Sengoku period).

Among graves built during or before the Nara period that are currently recognized as imperial mausoleums, only a few (including mausoleums of Emperor Suiko, Emperor Temchi, Emperor Tenmu and Empress Jito) can be historically and archaeologically certified as such. The locations of many of the mausoleums built from the Heian to the Muromachi period are difficult to identify due to simplified burial styles, or are unknown due to temple closures, further reducing the historical and archaeological reliability of identification. Examples of mausoleums, such as Emperor Goshirakawa's Hoju-ji Mausoleum and Emperor Godaigo's mausoleum at Nyoirin-ji Temple, that were carefully maintained and passed down to succeeding generations until the Edo period are relatively rare.
The Imperial Household Agency has refused to allow archaeological investigations because 'the imperial mausoleums are places for imperial rituals, so their tranquility and dignity must be maintained.'
Commenting on the historical and archaeological reliability of identification, the Imperial Household Agency also maintains that sites where mausoleum rituals are performed are imperial mausoleums even if they are wrongly designated as such.

The mausoleums are currently divided into five different locations throughout the country, and the following offices of Imperial Household Archives administer the mausoleums.

Tama Mausoleum Regional Office (Hachioji City, Tokyo, Musashi Imperial mausoleum=Mausoleum of Emperor Taisho and Emperor Showa, jurisdiction=Yamagata, Nigata, Tochigi, Tokyo, Kanagawa, and Nagano Prefectures),

Momoyama Mausoleum Regional Office (Fushimi Ward, Kyoto City, Momoyama Imperial mausoleum=Mausoleum of Emperor Meiji and Empress Dowager Shoken, jurisdiction=Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, Okayama, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima Prefectures),

Unebi Mausoleum Regional Office (Kashihara City, Nara Prefecture, Mausoleum of Emperor Jinmu=Nara, Mie, Gifu, Aichi, and Shizuoka Prefectures),

Tsukinowa Mausoleum Regional Office (Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City, Senzan Imperial mausoleum=Mausoleum of Emperor Komei and Tsukinowa, jurisdiction=Toyama, Ishikawa, Shiga, Kyoto, Hyogo, Tottori, and Shimane Prefectures),

Furuichi Mausoleum Regional Office (Habikino City, Osaka Prefecture, Mausoleum of Emperor Ojin, jurisdiction=Osaka, Hyogo, Wakayama, Kagawa, Tokushima, Ehime, and Kochi Prefectures),

Search, identification and repair of mausoleums

Most of the attempts to search for and identify imperial mausoleums that are recognized as such today were made during the Edo period and some of these attempts continued into the Meiji period and even later.

As the philosophy advocating the reverence for the emperor was adopted by an increasing number of people, attempts were made to search for lost imperial mausoleums, with scholars such as Kenrin MATSUSHITA, Norinaga MOTOORI, Kunpei GAMO, Sadamasa KITAURA, Yoshiomi TANIMORI, and Hyosai HIRATSUKA studying historical evidence and visiting past mausoleum sites; mausoleum repairs performed by the Tokugawa government are not unrelated to these attempts.

Judged by current academic standards, the identifications of mausoleums during the Edo period had various problems, but these identifications were never made based on arbitrary standards; various documents regarding imperial mausoleums were collected and compared against place names and local traditions in order to identify mausoleums and relatively high levels of research was conducted by the standards at the time.

Shuriku' means to repair the ruined mausoleums. During the Edo period, mausoleums were repaired in the Genroku, Manji, Enpo, Kyoho and Bunkyu eras. A repair project known as the Bunkyu Mausoleum Repair undertaken toward the end of the Edo period involved particularly large civil engineering work.

Although Mitsukuni TOKUGAWA, the lord of the Mito Domain, requested permission from the Tokugawa government to repair mausoleums in the Genroku era, the government performed repairs by itself without granting the permission.

Repairing in Bunkyu era

A mausoleum repair project, known as the Bunkyu Mausoleum Repair, was undertaken starting in 1862 by the Tokugawa government based on a proposal made by the Utsunomiya Domain. The Tokugawa government permitted this project as a result of the circumstances during the last days of its reign.
At this time, Eshi painters painted before and after conditions, presenting volumes one and two of these paintings to the Imperial court and bakufu in 1867, which were the so-called 'Bunkyu Sanrikuzu.'
Presently the books presented to the Imperial court are possessed by Imperial Household Archives and those presented to bakufu are possessed by the National Archives of Japan. "Bunkyu Sanrikuzu" which was published in 2005, was based on the books of the National Archives of Japan.

There were one hundred nine places where repair work had taken place during the Bunkyu era. Emperors' mausoleums that were repaired during this period, without counting other graves, amounted to 34 in Yamashiro, 34 in Yamato, 24 in Kawachi, 3 in Izumi, 1 in Settsu and 2 in Tanba, amounting to 76 in total.

[Original Japanese]