Japan’s burial mounds drawing new breed of tourist

by

Kyodo

A new genre of tourism is emerging: amateur archaeologists who enjoy viewing ancient burial mounds.

A mini music and dance festival at one such tumulus recently drew around 19,000 people.

“Come Come Hanicotto” was held in a 9-hectare park built around the Imashirozuka Kofun earthen mound in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture, in November. Musicians played and dancers performed, while shops sold sandwiches and souvenirs such as accessories shaped like burial mounds.

The event, the fourth of its kind, was planned by Rie Maki, a local artist. The first took place in 2012.

The Imashirozuka tumulus is believed to have been constructed for Emperor Keitai in the sixth century. Various “haniwa” clay figures have been excavated there. But for a long time local residents have passed the large keyhole-shaped mound without paying it much attention.

Maki believed a festival would boost local interest. And sure enough, they loved the tumulus-related goods designed and sold by her and other artists. With each festival the number of participating shops and the volume of visitors has increased.

Tumuli “can arouse interest even from people uninterested in history if approached from the angle of art,” Maki said.

Growing popular interest in tumuli is traceable to the opening to the public of the Kitora Tomb, a small stone chamber with impressive murals, in Asuka, Nara Prefecture, that is believed to have been built in the seventh or eighth century.

Another trigger was a campaign to get UNESCO World Heritage recognition for the Mozu-Furuichi Kofungun, two tumulus clusters built in Osaka Prefecture between the late fourth and early sixth centuries. Its bid was submitted in November 2010.

Moreover, in 2013, blues singer Marikofun founded the “Kofun ni kohfun Association” (Association of People Carried Away by Tumuli). Its 100 members plan trips across the country to visit tumuli, which they consider to be “cute.” They also produce and sell tumulus-shaped goods.

The association is being invited to more events, and members participated in the Come Come Hanicotto event in November.

“While many tumuli are being demolished for property development, we hope to create opportunities to recognize heritage long preserved by local people,” said So Ito, director of the association.

In a related development, the Ogaki Municipal Government in Gifu Prefecture is adopting cutting-edge technology called augmented reality to increase public interest in the Hirui Otsuka Kofun tomb in the city.

AR is a live, direct or indirect, view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as video, graphics and GPS data.

In plain English, visitors can go to a mound and hold up a tablet computer that displays an image of how the location would have looked in times gone by. In this case, the period was 1,600 years ago, when there were numerous clay figures present. Moving the tablet around causes the image to change accordingly. The tomb’s cross-section and interior can also be seen.

The city office introduced the technology to help people understand the unique burial method adopted in the tumulus. A local research body developed special software for the system. The city has 20 tablets available for use by visitors on school excursions and from other local governments.

The system is “welcomed by users as it helps them enjoy and understand” the tumulus, an Ogaki official said.