Blues singer inspired by ancient tomb mounds

by Sakura Watanabe

Kyodo

Blues singer Marikofun finds inspiration in a unique place — Japan’s ancient tomb mounds, known as kofun in Japanese.

She has visited more than 1,000 ancient tomb mounds across Japan over the past seven years — a dedication expressed in the line of one of her songs, “I was so desperate to see you.”

In April, the musician, who will not reveal her real name or age, released her first album titled “Kofun de Kofun!” It’s a bit of a pun as “kofun” also means “excited” as well as an “ancient tomb mound.” Her album has won some fans among younger listeners.

There are tomb mounds in more than 130,000 locations in Japan, some of the bigger ones are for Emperors and are administered by the Imperial Household Agency, so entry is prohibited.

Marikofun says tomb mounds must exist “in the corner of everyone’s memory” in Japan as students learn about them at school.

“When I visit a tomb mound, it makes me think about the regions and people that have handed it down to us today,” she says. “I hope we can pass it down through the next 1,000 years.”

Marikofun, born to a family of musicians in Kuki, Saitama Prefecture, says she has composed songs since she was at elementary school.

Seven years ago, she visited the tomb for Emperor Nintoku, the 16th Emperor of Japan, in Sakai, Osaka, finding time between singing engagements.

Although she walked around the tomb, Marikofun was unable to find the keyhole shape she had been looking forward to seeing. She made a song about her feeling of frustration and the visit became the start of her tour of tombs across Japan.

For Marikofun, ancient tombs that create various forms combining circles and squares are “cute,” while keyhole-shaped tombs have “beautiful waists.” She describes a rectangular tomb as like “a chocolate bar.”

She said her heartbeat quickened when she first saw a house-shaped Haniwa clay tomb with a loft and drainage ditch built in. She was amazed by the creator’s passion.

Looking at a tomb in the southern region of Kyushu, whose inner walls were decorated in a vivid red, black and yellow combination, she started to think that the Japanese of long ago were “uninhibited, stylish and spontaneous.”

Her passion for tom mounds does not look like it will wane anytime soon, as she has even founded a “Kofun ni Kofun” association to share her passion with other kofun admirers.