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This view,this beauty
A tear unbidden
Creeps into my eye.

My stay is short
But I shall return to this place
If only my life is long enough.

Such beauty
Gazing upon it
I hope my years are many.

Bokusui Wakayama.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Tombs & Kofun of Kyotanabe.

   During my research for my post - 'The Shrines & Temples of Kyotanabe' - I discovered there was a lot of history attached to this area. I mentioned in the post how Kyotanabe was once the Capitol of Japan (AD511-518). What I also discovered is that there are several Kofun located within the city boundaries.

Image courtesy of Google Maps.
   Kofun's are the Japanese equivalent of the Tumulus, or megalithic tombs, and were constructed between the early 3rd century and the early 7th century. The term Kofun is the origin of the name 'Kofun Period' (AD300-538). There are many hundreds of these, maybe thousands, spread throughout Japan. Some are very small, and inconsequential, while others are enormous and hold great importance, like the Daisen Kofun in Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture. It is considered to be the largest grave, by area, in the world, measuring in at 500-metres long and 300-metres at it's widest, and took some 20-years to construct.

Looking east, towards the Kizugawa River, from the Yakushiyama Kofun.
   My original plan involved checking-out five Kofun - Geshi Kofun, Yakushiyama Kofun, Ino'oka Kurumazuka Kofun, Osumi Kurumazuka Kofun and Osumi Minamizuka Kofun - and maybe a shrine-or-two along the way. And, as always, keeping off the beaten track. But, by the end of the day, I had discovered another two tombs - Gorogoroyama Kofun & Tomb of Motomichi Konoe - and an archaeology museum specializing in artifacts discovered in the Kyotanabe area - Doshisha University.

    I was out the door and on my bike at 8am and made a beeline for the settlement of Fugenji, and the Tomb of Motomichi Konoe. This was familiar territory to me as I have passed-through here many times since living in the area. It's a lovely area, especially at this time of year, with the rice-fields a sea of green.

Map Location.


   Motomichi Konoe (AD1160-1233) was a Kugyo from the late Heian Period to the early Kamakura Period. In 1179 Motomichi was promoted to Kampaku/Sessho (Regent) as a result of a coup led by Kiyomori, a military leader, and, in February the following year, he took the position of Regent-ship for Emperor Antoku, the 81st Emperor of Japan. Sadly the site has seen better days and, as can be seen in the images, is well overgrown with shrubs, grass and other weeds.


   My next destination, Shinguushaya-jinja Shrine and Geshi Kofun, were just a hop-step-and-a-jump away across the road.

   I don't know if the two are connected to each other; the staff I spoke to at the museum weren't aware there was a shrine there. Access to Shinguushaya-jinja is via a narrow lane, that ends at the steps to the shrine. The shrine itself looks very new, but the Torii and other structures look considerably older.
   After checking-out the site, and taking the obligatory photos, I tried to find a way to the Kofun. The site is surrounded by forest, which adds to the appeal of the shrine, and I began my search for a track which would lead me to my next destination. There were two tracks, the first of which lead nowhere (little did I know it did), and so I took the other.

   The second required some bush-bashing. Judging from the terrain, I felt that I was somewhere on the Kofun, and kept my eyes open for a marker of sorts; if you are interested in this style of pursuit, don't do it at this time of year as the insects and cobwebs are bloody annoying. I was wondering if I was ever going to reach my goal, when I looked down and saw a track. I descended and, much to my joy, I had arrived.

Geshi Kofun.
   The impression I got, is Geshi Kofun (map location) is not so much a burial mound, but a collection of several burial sites, eight in all, (I managed to find six) spread over a small area. The site, I was soon to discover, was located within the Dashisha University Campus.

                                                                                                                                                                             I have no information as to who is buried here, and when, but I have a friend that is doing some research for me. I may have to attach any information at a later date.Two of the graves were very distinct, with their sides lined by large boulders, while others were signified by a layer of rocks. In the vicinity of some of the graves, were signs giving details of the site. There was also a path throughout the graves, including one from the campus. When it was time to leave, I followed a track in the hope it would lead me out and back to where I parked my bike. I was walking blind, as I had no idea of my location in relation to where I entered the forest. The track suddenly petered-out and I found myself bush-bashing, again. Then, low-and-behold, there was track number-1, (the one I gave-up on earlier) and the shrine.

Settlement of Inooka (map location).
      From Geshi Kofun, I would make my way to the settlement of Inooka, and an unplanned discovery. Looking at the attached map, Inooka is located on a knob of land, surrounded by rice-fields & tea plantations (above image), and one can't help but get the impression that this site may not be natural, but excavated.

Yakushiyama Kofun.
                                                                    My research told me there were two Kofun located here - Ino'oka Kurumazuka  & Yakushiyama Kofun - but, while cycling-through the narrow lanes to my first site, I stumbled-across another - Gorogoroyama Kofun. 
                                                                   Atop the summit of Yakushiyama Kofun, stands a temple, with a religious icon inside behind a locked gate. The view from the summit, glimpsing through the trees, is awesome (see image at top of page). In front is the Kizugawa River and, in the distance, the town of Ide, at the foot of the Ide Hills.

   The impression I got, at the time of my research, was that Yakushiyama & Ino'oka Kofuns were located side-by-side. Wrong, as I was about to discover.

                                                                                                                              As I was making my departure for my next site, at the settlement of Osumi, I passed this sign, partly camouflaged by trees. A quick check revealed that this is the site of Gorogoroyama Kofun. Okay, this wasn't in my plans. Time to check this out. Parking my bike, I ascended the mound. All there was at the top was a concrete post with something inscribed into it.

Gorogoroyama Kofun.

    Taking note of this site, so as to apply it to 'Google Maps', I moved on, to another unplanned stop.

   As I was weaving my way through the narrow lanes of Inooka, I stumbled-across another sign. The inscription on this read - 'Ino'oka Kurumazuka Kofun. I was become more-and-more intrigued by this place; it seemed every corner I turned, there was another discovery.

    A hundred meters or so up the lane from the sign, was an old shed with a track, of sorts, leading up the hill to a clump-of-trees. The track soon petered-out and I found myself weaving my way through, what appeared to have once been, a bamboo grove, now cleared. If I thought my earlier view, from Yakushiyama Kofun, was awesome, the view from here was much better. Looking for a track that may lead me into the trees, and a monument, I literally stumbled-upon these . . . .

Ino'oka Kofun.
   When I said 'I literally stumbled', I did. If I hadn't tripped myself up on this dead branch, I possible would have missed these two headstones.
   It is thought that up to eight or more tombs may be located within the vicinity of Ino'oka Hill and that Emperor Keitai's Son/Prince may be laid-to-rest in one of them.
   As the day was beginning to heat-up (it was still only 10am), I decided to take a short break here, take in the surrounding view, before moving-on. While here I decided to take a short detour to the archaeology museum at Doshisha University.

Site of Tsutsuki Palace.
    I came here just over a week ago, to explore the site of the Tsutsuki Palace, the residence of Emperor Keitai. While here I was informed that there was a museum on the campus grounds but, as it was a weekend, it was closed and is only open weekdays.
   I have a special interest in museums, art-galleries, libraries and the like, and I was so pleased that I made the decision to include this on my itinerary. Arriving at the main entrance, a very kind security officer escorted me to the museum; if it had been left to me to find my own way there, I would still be looking now - this is a huge campus.


   I was escorted into the room by a member of the staff, who also gave me a tour of the displays and their history. It was like traveling back in time, which is the effect museums can have on one. There were artifacts, excavated from within the Kyotanabe area, that dated back to the Jomon Period (BC14,000-300), on to the Yayoi Period (BC300-AD300) and finishing at the Kofun Period (AD300-538). Pity my Japanese language skills were so poor, I might have been able to have learnt more from my visit.

Osumi Minamizuka & Osumi Kurumakuka Kofu.
   I departed Doshisha, with the intention of returning (with someone with Japanese language skills) and headed to the settlement of Osumi, and the last two Kofun of my tour - Osumi Minamizuka & Osumi Kurumazuka Kofun (map location). To the casual passer-by, one would get the impression that these were just a couple of clumps of trees in the middle of a rice-field.

   Parking my bike, I went off to explore Osumi Minamizuka Kofun, but I needed to find access first. I made my way along a bank that separated two rice fields. Arriving at the site I set-out to explore but there was nothing - no monument or sign - so decided to circumnavigate instead. 

   To do this, I needed to zigzag my way around through muddy ground (there was no path around the Kofun), remnants of water used for the flooding of the rice-fields. Annoying as it was - I hadn't planned on getting my feet wet - it was quite picturesque. Around the rear was a pond (moat?), surrounded by reeds, with a family of geese enjoying the hot sunny day.

   Returning to my bike, I then headed for Osumi Kurumazuka Kofun. Out of all the Kofun I visited, this was the most distinct. It's 'keyhole' shape stood-out at the base of the trees that covered the mound.

     To the rear of the site were signs giving details of the Kofun and a concrete monument. Parking my bike, I then set-off to explore. First by circumnavigating, then onto the mound itself (a bit disrespectful, if I say so myself). Standing at both ends of the mound I could more clearly distinguish the shape. Again, it is totally unknown who is interred in either of the Kofun, but it is known that they were created in the late 4th to early 5th century.

   It was now getting-on to midday, and I had been on the road for four hours, and I still had an hours ride before reaching home. As I hadn't had a bite-to-eat since leaving home, I decided this site was an ideal location to take-on some much needed sustenance.
   While doing this I took the opportunity to assess the day and view images taken along the way. My impression is that  there is more history to be explored in Kyotanabe, along with it's scenic beauty.

So, until next time,


   I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to Jaroslav, who operates a 'Facebook Page' on 'Japan Kofun'. His invaluable assistance would not have made this post possible.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Shrines & Temples of Kyotanabe.

Ikkyu-ji Temple.
Tsutsuki Palace Site.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Kyotanabe City was once the capitol of Japan, albeit briefly,during the reign of Emperor Keitai (511-518). It's not a big city, covering an area of just under 43-square kilometers. Kyotanabe, like many other metropolitan areas of Japan, has it's fair share of history; like the site of the 'Tsutsuki Palace', and a collection of shrines & temples; some famous, like Ikkyu-ji Temple, and some not-so-famous.

    The idea for this post stemmed from my need to visit a bike-shop in the area, a 30-minute ride from home and, as the shop didn't open until 10:30am, I decided to leave early and do a tiki-tour of the area - namely the shrines & temples dotted-about rural Kyotanabe. Two of the sites I was familiar with, the others were first time experiences.
   Some of the sites have important history attached to them, while others, location is their main attraction. With an outing like this, my main aim was to keep off the beaten-track as much as possible and stick to the narrow lanes & paths so common in rural Japan. 

    I was out the door and on my bike by 07:30am, so as to arrive home by midday and avoid the scorching heat. My destination was the settlement of Mizutori, one of three settlements located within the 'Kyotanabeonesugi Hiking Course', an 8-kilometer circular walk that takes you through rural Kyotanabe.

    As I made my way my attention was distracted by the green rice-fields, still a month away from being fully grown and harvested. A scene I would witness throughout my tour.

Saiko-ji Temple.
                                                                                                                                                                         Saiko-ji Temple (map location) isn't one of those religious sites one will find in a tourist guide, but it was it's location - tucked-within a narrow lane surrounded by houses, with rice-fields all about - that gave it it's appeal. 


             The complex wasn't huge, about the size of a basketball court and, by standing in the center of the site, one is able to take-in the entire area. I was very impressed with how neat-&-tidy the site was, and the trees & shrubs nicely trimmed. In the above image is the main entrance and belfry. The structure, in the image on the right, has left me a bit confused; is it a Chozuya, or some other purification font? 

   Moving on from Saiko-ji, my course took me off the road and onto a narrow sealed lane, and some pure rural Japanese scenery. It doesn't get more beautiful than in the above image, and it is so serene.

   About six-weeks ago, whilst on one of my 'rambling bike-rides' in the area, I approached this junction. Looking into the trees on my left, I got the feeling there was something in here that may be of interest to me. About 100-meters in was the Chozuya, indication there may be a shrine in the vicinity.

   I ventured further into the forest, passing a stone monument, when I reached this flight of steps and, up in the distance, was the distinct vermilion-colored Torii.




   Shiroyamadaimyoji-jinja (map location) is located in the settlement of Fugenji. It's nothing spectacular, as shrines go, but again, it's the location that gives the site it's appeal. Which is why I included it in this post.

   Just along the lane from Shiroyamadaimyoji-jinja I passed-through a cluster of houses and, as I did so, my attention was drawn to these lovely orange-colored flowers, prompting me to stop and take this photo of them. Set against the white backdrop of the building, I thought I did well.

   I was now about to enter rice-growing territory and, with the rice just weeks away from harvest, this is a sight-to-behold. I arrive at a junction where a narrow lane leads me to my next two religious sites - Omido Kannon-ji Temple & Chigi-jinja Shrine (map location ).

                                                               Twice a year this complex is a sea of color. Sometime during May (Spring),when the Sakura are in full bloom, many come here to celebrate Hanami. Then, in October/November, it's the Autumn colors that attract the visitors.  
Omido Kannon-ji Temple.

   I lean my bike up-against a lamp-post, and wander down this tree-lined avenue to the main temple. 

Built in the Asuka Period (AD 538-710), Kannon-ji was, until the Muromachi Period (AD 1336-1573), one of many buildings that made up a large Buddhist Temple.
   The temple is home to the eleven-faced figure of Kannon. Made with wood-core and dry lacquer, the statue was created during the Nara Period (AD 710-794) and is designated a 'National Treasure'. If you inquire at the priests house, you might be fortunate to be guided to a small hall where the statue is housed. Although there is no admission fee, it would be polite to purchase a souvenir to provide protection of this priceless image.

   The temple exudes an atmosphere of serenity and beauty, and I was fortunate to have had the place to myself. The temple is partly-surrounded by a moat, with a large pond off to one side. 

   In a corner of the complex, partly hidden by trees, is a concrete Torii, with a flight of steps leading to Chigi-jinja Shrine.


   The shrine is totally enveloped by trees and covers an area about the size of a basketball quart. It's a combination of the old and the new. The old, I would hazard-a-guess, dates back several centuries, with the new being only recently constructed.

                                                                                                                                                                       Shibayama-jinja (map location) took some careful navigating, and patience, to reach, and I am sure I passed the entrance more than once.


   Again, location was the main attraction here - nestled amid a bamboo forest - with all facilities sited within a small area. The shrine was located inside a fenced-off enclosure, with barbed-wire to prevent intruders.
   I did find this collection of Ema, or small wooden plaques quite impressive. These are a common sight at Shinto Shrines & Buddhist Temples.

Saga-jinja Shrine.

   Saga-jinja has an ancient history. Re-built in the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (AD 1573-1600) it's main hall is designated a 'National Cultural Asset'.

   After passing through the Ryobu Torii - distinctive with it's four supporting posts - the main complex is up two flights of steps; I didn't realize until after my visit, that there is an access lane & car-park.


             Saga-jinja is the largest site of today's outing. In the courtyard is another Torii and Setsumatsusha - small auxiliary shrine - next to a shelter. Plus the Chozuya and a collection of Toro - stone lanterns. In an enclosed area, behind the main building, are a collection of shrines and, to view or photograph them, one has to peek over the wall.




   Re-mounting my bike, my route took me through this avenue of trees and onto my next site . . . .

Shofuku-ji Temple.
   . . . . Shofuku-ji Temple (map location). On my way here I passed a cemetery and I got the impression that the two were connected, so, not wanting to be intrusive, I had a quick look around.

   As-soon-as I entered the complex, through this gate, I was impressed with the variety of color. Upon entering I was greeted with a small garden and this lovely pink-colored tree. In another corner was a tree that gave me the impression it was early Autumn. 

Hakusan Shrine.

   After cycling through the settlement of Miyazu, I arrive at the penultimate religious site of the day - Hakusan Shrine (map location). The shrine has three historically interesting points - it is the oldest shrine building in Kyotanabe, the shrine is of Muromachi Era (AD 1336-1573) architectural style and has been designated an 'Important Cultural Asset'.

   Dotted throughout the grounds are a collection of miniature shrine-like structures, along with several concrete lanterns. The complex has seen better days but, as seen on the map link, the view is what gives this shrine it's appeal - overlooking fields of rice.

    It was now time to head to the final site of the day, which required me to partly backtrack. Trying to avoid this as much as I could, I continued on from Hakusan along a dirt track, through this orchard, and onto a busy sealed road. I then changed-onto a narrow lane.

Sakaya-jinja Shrine.
   I soon arrived at a junction, and was greeted by these two large concrete lanterns. The path lead along an avenue of trees, passing more lanterns along the way and, as I reached the top, in front of me was - Sakaya-jinja (map location).

   The shrine's established date is still unknown to this day, however, according to the shrines history, it is said the Empress Consort Jingu (AD 169-269) left Sake barrels here as an offering to the gods before departing on an expedition to the Korean Peninsula. Today many people visit the shrine to worship the Gods of Sake.

   As I entered the complex I was about to purify my hands at the Chozuya (the first time today) but, as luck would have it, there was no running-water. So I proceeded towards the main building, passing a collection of Ema and O-mikuji.

   The main building is a magnificent wooden structure and, unfortunately, is enclosed within another confine. As I wondered-about the perimeter of the enclosure, I found myself in a large park-like area.

Looking around I espied this concrete Torii and several small Setsumatsusha, or auxiliary shrines, plus more concrete lanterns.


   In one corner of the park, partly camouflaged by trees, was a path. Eager to see where it lead, I entered the forest and discovered some steps and, atop, a wooden Torii. And another shrine. 

   Upon arrival, I took a peek into the shrine and noticed the two Kitsune, indicating that this may be an Inari Okami Jinja. This is where people may come to worship 'The Gods of Sake'.

   By now, after about four hours of checking-out nine different religious sites, I was feeling a bit 'shrined-out' (a personal description) and ready to return home. But there was one more surprise in store for me. As I was making my way back to my bike, I noticed another track leading into the forest. "Why not, one more  won't do any harm" I thought. About a hundred meters in, almost camouflaged by bamboo, was this small structure. How quaint but, for what purpose, I have no idea. No doubt it was connected with Sakaya-jinja. 

   Before mounting my bike, and returning home, I couldn't resist the temptation for a photo-opp' and, where better, than among the green foliage with the Torii & Chozuya in the foreground. 

   During my research for this post, I discovered other historical sites in-and-about Kyotanabe City. As I live just 30-minutes from the area, I think a return visit may be on the cards. 

So, until next time - 

   Map & course details -
   Video -