Project for the Preservation and Utilization of Artifacts from Nonaka Kofun

Nonaka Kofun

Explanation: the Mozu-Furuichi Kofun Group(Part 2)

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What is The Mozu-Furuichi Kofun Group?

4. Toward the ending of The Mozu-Furuichi Kofun Group

After the construction of the Daisenryo Kofun, the Mozu and Furuichi Kofun Groups moved toward an end, each at their own pace.
The Haze-Nisanzai Kofun was the last large tomb to be built in the Mozu Kofun Group.
In recent years, the remains of a row of wooden poles leading from the round rear part of the Haze-Nisanzai Kofun to the moat have been discovered. Suggesting that a bridge was once laid over the moat, they represent an important hint to the reconstruction of the funeral ceremonies of the time.
Elsewhere, compared to the Mozu Kofun Group, construction of large tombs in the Furuichi Kofun Group continued until relatively late. These included, a little way away from the Konda-Gobyoyama Kofun, the Ichinoyama (Ingyo-tenno-ryo Kofun), Maenoyama (Hakuchoryo Kofun), and Oka-Misanzai (Chuai-tenno-ryo Kofun) tombs.


Of these, the Ichinoyama Kofun, with a burial mound 230 meters long, has notable characteristics. Its subsidiary tombs, the Karatoyama Kofun and Nagamochiyama Kofun, have revealed stone coffins in shapes similar to the later “house-shaped” stone coffins. 
Until this point, the only coffins found in the imperial tombs of The Mozu-Furuichi Kofun Group had been oblong chest-shaped stone coffins. The discovery of stone coffins in a subsidiary tomb may represent a major turning point. The changes in subsidiary tombs are thus also important when considering the historical significance of The Mozu-Furuichi Kofun Group.
Although the construction of large keyhole-shaped tombs with round rear mounds in the Furuichi Kofun Group continued longer than in the Mozu group, it came more or less to an end with the 240-meter long Oka-Misanzai Kofun. Thereafter, a few keyhole-shaped tombs with round rear mounds about 100 meters long were built, but the era of large tomb groups was roughly over.
However, the Kawachi Otsukayama Kofun, located between the Mozu and Furuichi Kofun Groups, is thought to have been built after the Oka-Misanzai Kofun. With a burial mound 355 meters long, it is very large indeed. It is not clear why a large tomb was built in this period, but along with the Yamato Gojono (Mise) Maruyama Kofun, a reappraisal is clearly in order. Some theories hold that the burial mound of the Kawachi Otsukayama Kofun remains incomplete; it is a highly mysterious site.
Excluding this tomb, which is somewhat west of center of the Furuichi Kofun Group, the later tombs of this group are smaller and fewer in number, representing a significant change from the large tomb construction boom of the 5th century.
However, a few major large tombs were still constructed in the final stage of the Furuichi Kofun Group, such as the Tsukaana (Kume no Miko) Kofun.
That said, the Furuichi Kofun Group was well past its glory days; many major tombs were being built in this period in locations like Shinagadani, also called Kawachi-Asuka, around today’s Taishi Town. The focal area of tombs in the Kawachi region was shifting from Mozu and Furuichi to Shinaga and so on.

Conclusion: Characteristics and remaining points concerning the Nonaka Kofun

Having thus introduced The Mozu-Furuichi Kofun Group, let us finally consider once again the historical significance of the Nonaka kofun, the center of this project.
As noted above, the Nonaka kofun holds a special position as the baicho or subsidiary tomb of the Hakayama Kofun. Unlike most tombs, its contents (burial goods, etc.) are mismatched with its burial mound size and shape. 
It is thought that the Kofun period included a wide-area order combining tomb size and burial mound shape. However, the subsidiary tombs are the clearest example that not all tombs mechanically followed these practices.
That is, a little burial mound like the Nonaka kofun contains a vast plenitude of burial goods which would not be out of place in a giant keyhole-shaped tomb with round rear mound over 100 meters long.
Its location is likewise close along the main keyhole-shaped tomb with round rear mound, suggesting an intimate connection. One interpretation of the subsidiary tombs posits people directly attached to the highest-ranked leaders and taking guiding roles as officials. The existence of these subsidiary tombs conceals important hints to the social structure of the time.

However, subsidiary tombs themselves include significant variation. For details, see Nonaka Kofun and the Age of the Five Kings of Wa: The Government and Military of 5th-Century Japan (Osaka University Press). For example, some tombs, such as the Konda-Maruyama Kofun, contain the highest degree of luxury items in small quantities thought to belong to an individual. In contrast, some tombs, like the Nonaka, Ariyama Kofun, and Nishi-Hakayama Kofun, contain far more iron burial goods than a single person could have been expected to own; the content of the burial goods suggests various different backgrounds to the construction of the tombs.
As well, the period of construction of the subsidiary tombs varies, from those like the Ariyama Kofun constructed shortly after their main tombs to those like the Nonaka kofun with more of a time lag. In the case of the Nonaka kofun, the question arises of why the subsidiary tomb was built not next to the tomb of a contemporary leader but near a major tomb of the previous era.
One possibility among many is that the builder of the subsidiary tomb had a personal connection to the person interred in the main tomb and focused on that, proudly maintaining their connection to the predeceased person interred in the main tomb. Conversely, that would indicate the kind of political and social structure where personal relations of this kind held sway.
Certain problems remain in this case, however. The Nishi-Hakayama Kofun, also a subsidiary of the same Hakayama Kofun, has been found through excavation to be a “burial facility” not used for the burial of the deceased.
Subsidiary tombs were not necessarily used to bury people, but also included associated facilities for main tombs. On that point, it remains a matter of debate whether or not anyone was ever buried in the Nonaka kofun.

The position diagram shows the positions of the burial goods in the Nonaka kofun from above and from the side. According to this diagram, the goods were buried in rows, of which the first row and the southern half of the second row were so packed with weapons and arms that nothing else would have fit in.
The major focus is the space at the north end of the second row. Red pigment was found here. Regarding the Nishi-Hakayama Kofun, referred to above as not designed for human burial, no dispersion of red pigment has been found; in general, red pigment was frequently sprayed on wooden coffins in tombs. Therefore, human burial is a likely possibility. However, the problem is that the range of the red pigment is only about 70 centimeters long. An adult male would not fit.

The red pigment suggests human burial, yet the space is too small. This confusing situation has led to longstanding debate over whether the tomb was in fact used for human burial.
The Nonaka kofun also includes third and fourth rows, but later mixing has rendered their original status unclear, so that it cannot be definitely said that there was no other space for human burial.
A focus on other elements is required in order to resolve this issue. For example, if the Nonaka kofun was not used for human burial, why was it built so long after the main tomb? If the burial goods in the subsidiary tomb belonged to the person interred in the main tomb, there was no reason to wait before burying them after the person’s death.
That said, there is insufficient evidence for human burial, and unfortunately at the moment no definitive ruling can be made. Because the question of whether people were buried in the Nonaka kofun and other subsidiary tombs is an important point related to the political structure of the time, research and discussion must continue.
Even allowing for this problem, discussed here in some detail, the Nonaka kofun is highly significant. It is extremely significant in its contents, the many weapons and arms representative of the period, which provide materials helping to clarify the production, logistics, and retention relations of the time. In particular, the superiority of possession of iron weapons and arms in the Kinki area and the major political and military power shown thereby have already become accepted theories.
In the future, new knowledge leading to the reconstruction of the actual politics and society of the time is expected to derive from the Nonaka kofun. A little tomb can hold the secrets to a vast image of history: this is the significance of archaeology, and also its delight. The key to solving these mysteries still lies beyond our ken.


Project overview

The Nonaka Kofun-period mounded tomb (referred to below as Kofun) contains many weapons and arms such as suits of armor, suggesting the force and political strategy of the Yamato government of the time.


Mozu-Furuichi Kofun Group

The Mozu-Furuichi Kofun Group in Osaka Prefecture was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on July 6, 2019, and is one of Japan’s largest kofun groups.


Nonaka Kofun 3D imaging

You can see the abundant weapons and armor excavated from Nonaka Kofun in 3D images.


Interpreting the Kofun period

To make knowledge on Kofun more accessible, explanations of the tomb shapes, decorations, burial goods, and The Mozu-Furuichi Kofun Group are available.