Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

May 26, 2012

Five Colors Tumulus - Goshiki Kofun, Kobe (Museums)

In the middle of Kobe, almost obscured by flats and residences, lies one of the largest ancient graves (kofun) in Japan, the Goshikizuka Tumulus.

Top of the tomb
[Goshikizuka Kofun. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

It sits in Tarumi on a hill overlooking Awaji island across the channel - affording a good view of the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge. The tumulus dates from the late 4th or early 5th century and is a 194-meter long keyhole-shaped tomb (an elongated square topped by a circle). It probably belongs to a local chieftain who dominated traffic through the sea channel. At the side is a smaller, circular tomb (called kotsubo, "small vase") and the whole used to be surrounded by a deep moat that was 10 meters wide.

The 18 meter high tumulus had three tiers and the slopes were covered with packed cobble stones. On the top of the mound and the flat planes at the bottom, upright finned cylindrical haniwa were lined up. In the moat, three island-like platforms were built, probably to allow bridges to connect with the mound proper.

Climbing the tomb
[Goshikizuka Kofun. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

The tumulus used to be much larger in the past - of the elongated square front part only one third is left, the rest was flattened when the Sanyo and JR lines were built.

The name Goshiki "Five colors" (in the sense of "many colors") was suggested by the small stones with which the upper part of the tumulus was covered. They are from Awaji island and have glittering parts that reflect the sunlight in many colors.

Down from the grave
[Goshikizuka Kofun - Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in the distance. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

In all 2,200 haniwa were found during the excavation. Although they included a few figures, most were simple cylinders about 50 cm high.

The tumulus is already mentioned in the Nihon Shoki. In Edo times it had famous visitors as etcher Shiba Kokan. Unfortunately, it suffered during and after WWII, but after extensive excavations starting in 1965, it was as much as possible restored to former splendor, even including some copies of the haniwa.
5 min walk east from Sanyo-Tarumi Station on the Sanyo Line. Entry is free. Upon registering at the small office next to the entrance, you will receive an English pamphlet. Opening times: 9:00-16:30. Closed on Monday.