Visiting Japan's mysterious "keyhole" tombs: Kohuns - Waku Waku

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Visiting Japan's mysterious "keyhole" tombs: Kohuns

Do you know "kofun", referring to a large tomb created during the 3rd - 7th centuries in Japan? And Sakai city still has 44 ancient Kohuns with the largest tomb of Emperor Nintoku

Carolina Suarez

Carolina Suarez

Published on 29 May, 12:00

I lived in Japan for over two years while pursuing my master's degree. My university was in the region of Kansai, and for some time, I stayed in the city of Ibaraki, Osaka. Living nearly a year with my boyfriend (current husband), we tried as much to go out to discover Japan affordably!

One day, I was on YouTube and came across a documentary called "Japan's mysterious keyhole tombs". That title was shocking to me, and I started reading more and more about it. My boyfriend told me that he knew that story but had never been there. As you may imagine, we decided to go and explore!

Sakai Station, 2021
Sakai Station, 2021

Finally, we arranged our trip for May 2021. We left from the city of Ibaraki, which is around 50 minutes away, but still, we paid less than 1000 yen per way. We arrived at Sakai station, which appeared to be "normal" and the surroundings too.

Sakai has an important port for the country, but it is also known for the mysterious Keyhole tombs (古墳). There are multiple theories related to their origins, creation, and inside. One thing for sure is that access to their interior is strictly prohibited.
Visiting Japan's mysterious

Walking less than 2 kilometers from the station, we encountered the first Keyhole tomb. It looked like a closed park, full of trees and quite mysterious inside. This tomb belongs to the Emperor Nintoku (仁徳天皇) with 486 meters in length and 307 meters in width.

Aerial view for the Emperor's Nintoku Tomb (Daisen Kofun)
Aerial view for the Emperor's Nintoku Tomb (Daisen Kofun)

Inside, it is believed to be the remains of the emperor, but still, it is a mystery

The tombs have not been explored due to the possibility of damaging the structure. Some research was conducted from the outside, and even pictures are not taken directly above them.

My picture in front of the Emperor Nintoku's Tomb (Daisen Kofun), 2021
My picture in front of the Emperor Nintoku's Tomb (Daisen Kofun), 2021

I was impressed by all the trees and the inability to see something from the public area. The temperature was getting hotter as we stayed, appreciating the thick forest inside and trying to catch something between the trees. No matter how hard we tried, it was impossible to find something there (hehe).

This tomb was not crowded, but we decided to go back to the information square. Over there, we found a scale model showing the structure and different levels inside.

Model of the Emperor's Nintoku Tomb (Daisen Kofun), 2021
Model of the Emperor's Nintoku Tomb (Daisen Kofun), 2021

As we visited during the pandemic, no guides or staff were explaining the distribution of tombs or places of interest. Nevertheless, we could grasp a lot of information regarding other close-by locations.

My picture near the map of the Tombs in Sakai, 2021
My picture near the map of the Tombs in Sakai, 2021

Leaving that tomb, we took a walk around other smaller places. All of those were also free and had different views. It was still impressive to see how, regardless of the size, the same shape kept repeating.

Picture of the map for the Circuit of the Tombs, 2021
Picture of the map for the Circuit of the Tombs, 2021

Around the city, you can find six similar tombs of different sizes. There is also a tour rote showing how to move around the circuit. The view for all of them is free, so do not worry about paying six different fees to appreciate them.

Together with the tombs, the city is known for its knives, representing a high percentage of Japanese production. All this information is in the Sakai City Museum. During my visit, we planned to go, but it was closed for the day. Again, the pandemic had the hours reduced, and we were affected.

Visiting Japan's mysterious

Aside from the tombs, we went to have lunch at a Japanese traditional Soba restaurant (called Kagawa), a small place near the main Tomb. As a vegetarian, I enjoy eating Zaru Soba, and this place was good!

Picture inside Kagawa restaurant, Sakai, 2021
Picture inside Kagawa restaurant, Sakai, 2021

We also walked around the city, finding some spots full of trees and gardens near the tomb of Emperor Richū. We took a rest there, and also pictures!

My picture at a walking path in Sakai, 2021
My picture at a walking path in Sakai, 2021

I bet some of you did not know about the keyhole tombs, but you can become more curious about them! If you live in the Kansai region, or travel to Japan, come once and visit this place. It is completely "out of this world" and a different Japanese UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Carolina Suarez

Carolina Suarez

こんにちは!Hello Everyone! 🌼🌼 I am Carolina, a Japanese culture lover and digital content creator! I am happy to share with you my memories of living in Japan and studying there!!! Also, I am married to a Japanese now 💕 You can check my posts and my YouTube channel: misakissme ☺️

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