KANSAI Close-up

Historic Kansai : Let's visit site of Japan's origin in New Year

by Junzo Tanaka
There is no spectacular object like the Great Wall of China among Japanese historical legacies as many of them are undersized. However, unobtrusive and poised structures having a subtle charm, like of which are considered few internationally, are included in Japanese heritages. The fact that making trips to historical relics flourishes among Japanese originates from the refined atmosphere provided by them.
For instance, the Ishibutai Kofun in Asuka village in Nara Pref. is an ancient burial mound. Its surroundings are dotted with tumuli and stone structures. Some people may imagine gigantic Egyptian pyramids or a scenic spot akin to elegant historic areas such as Daereungwon in Gyeongju, South Korea. In reality, however, it is not. It comprises stones shaped like a tomb exposed on the slope of a hill and unsophisticated rockwork that offers an eye-opening sight.
The rockwork is located at the top of 2- to 3-meter-tall swelled ground at the center of a square hill stretching 50 meters in the four directions of north, south, east and west. The stone chamber in the form of a casket with a pile of granites measures 8 meters in length, 3.5 meters in width and 5 meters in height. The granites number more than 30 and the largest one is said to weigh 77 tons.
How visitors to the Ishibutai Kofun ponder in viewing it seems to be a key factor in appreciating Japanese historical heritages. Many Japanese may stand still for a while in front of the arrangement of stones and then look around their surroundings. The gentle hill gives them a chance to see the whole area of a basin where a country district spreads. Furthermore, they may direct their conscious eyes to the townscapes of Nara and Kyoto over the mountains and even to the skies of Tokyo far in the distance.
Why? Asuka was the Imperial capital of Japan during the Asuka period in the 6th and 7th centuries. It has been said that the Ishibutai Kofun was the tomb of Soga no Umako, a member of the Soga clan that wielded political power in the country at the time. He was described as a historical villain who reportedly killed his political opponents and even an emperor.
Visitors may also entertain vague thinking that the Japanese imperial family has maintained its presence at the center of the country as the Yamato Imperial Court centering on the emperor shifted from Asuka to Nara, Kyoto and Tokyo up to the present era.
They may feel warm inside to think that although Asuka, once the capital of the country, now gives a quiet appearance with mountain villages and fields, it was the site where Japan began as a nation and an excellent place of the country that won reverence of people.
While I was a student, I stayed at Asuka for three days with my friend who majored in Japanese history. We sat down and watched the rockwork at daybreak and sunset. I felt that the fog at dawn and twilight was trying to say something. I would like to visit there even after seeing various relics in the world. The Ishibutai Kofun has something that makes me feel I should go there at least at the beginning of the year.