I departed on a new journey, as I thought that the region in Okayama that used to be referred to as “Kibi” may provide some hints regarding Mr. Takeda’s mysterious comment that “Momotaro doesn’t visit places unless there is treasure there.”
To be honest, I was not familiar with the region of “Kibi.”
Upon doing some research, I learned that during the Kofun period, Kibi had a huge amount of influence, rivaling that of the Kinai region.
How is this known?
It seems that there are various methods for figuring this out, and the most straightforward is looking at burial mounds.
I hope that you will read the following part if you are not familiar with burial mounds, or only faintly remember studying that subject in school in the distant past.
Japanese burial mounds (kofun) are the tombs of chiefs (regional rulers) in the area extending from what is currently the Kinki region, along the coast of the Seto Inland Sea to northern Kyushu, that started being built in the latter half of the 3rd century. Around this time, the Yamato court centering on the Kinki Yamato region was established, it had political ties with the above-mentioned regions where burial mounds appeared. Kibi is one of these regions.
During the middle of the Kofun period, due to the influence of the Korean peninsula, tombs in which multiple people from the same family would be buried started being built, and these were referred to as “horizontal stone chambers.” Entrances could be build on the sides of these burial mounds, and this made it possible for people of later generations to be buried in the same grave in what were called “additional burials.”
During this period, a series of huge burial mounds was built in the Kinai region, and actually many huge burial mounds were built here in Kibi as well.
Among these is the Tsukuriyama (造山) Burial Mound, which I will talk more about later on. It has a total length of about 350 m, and is the fourth largest burial mound in Japan!
Comparing the burial mounds by size, eight of the top 10 are in the Kinai region, and the remaining two are in Kibi. This seems to be an amazing fact.
Yes, it is in fact amazing!
As such, ancient Kibi was a region rivaling Yamato, and this can be seen simply by looking at the burial mounds in these regions.
We decided to start by visiting a burial mound that is very rare among the burial mounds of Kibi.
The Ryogusan Burial Mound was built in the latter half of the 5th century and it is the third largest burial mound in Kibi. It is surrounded by a moat, which is rare for burial mounds in the area, and when viewed from above, it is recognizable as a keyhole-shaped burial mound that appears to be floating on water.
Nevertheless, when we visited, it was under maintenance so the moat was empty.
Strangely, this did not upset me at all.
While it would of course have been better if we could have visited when the moat was full, the burial mound was still interesting in its—perhaps slightly embarrassing—state of being drained and completely exposed. Namely, the absence of water made it possible to see the sides of the burial mound and the bottom of the moat, which are usually hidden.
While there is currently one moat, apparently there were initially two. There is no doubt that this had a beautiful appearance.
After walking along the embankment and viewing the burial mound from various angles, we entered through a space between the surrounding private homes, and slowly walked up a slope surrounded by trees.
I had never experienced hiking up a burial mound before, and felt bad about hiking on someone’s grave. Nevertheless, I appreciated being able to have such a rare and valuable experience.
Burial mounds that have a moat are often surrounded by a fence in light of safety concerns. While having a fence would of course be safer, I feel that that would detract from the experience and become somewhat of a mental barrier for burial-mount sightseers.
Ryogusan Burial Mound does not have a fence, and this made it possible for me experience the burial mound up close, and made it easier to envision the Kofun period.
As we departed, I thought about how this burial mound seemed to be an ideal one for people who are just starting to visit burial mounds.
(To be continued…)