Japan Archaeology Part II
Mound tombs take on even greater importance due to the scarcity of human settlements in this period. Reproductions in clay of houses and the drawing of four of them on a mirror from the beginning of the 5th century, found in a tomb in the pref. of Nara, indicate notable innovations and progress in the construction field. The traditional pit and level house remains, but a new type also appears, in rough wood and reeds, with a raised floor on a platform, a development of the type already existing in the Yayoi. They are the residences of the aristocracy and also the first Shinō shrines, whose original form is still preserved in some. Such must have been the buildings of the ancient capitals of Yamato, of which only the traces of the historical one, Fujiwara (692-710) and the imperial residences of Naniwa (615- 686) and Heijō (710-784).
According to HEALTH-BEAUTY-GUIDES, the kofuns are formed on the outside of artificial mounds of earth, of various shapes and proportions, rounded, quadrangular, with or without a moat and entrance corridor. The circular type with rectangular projection is found only in Japan; the most grandiose is that of Emperor Nintoku (around the end of the 4th century – beginning of the 5th century), in the plain near Osaka, and occupies an area of 32 hectares surrounded by three moats. The haniwa were placed outside the mound, literally “clay cylinders”; they were in fact originally simple cylinders placed to delimit the area of the tombs, but were then transformed into figures of men and animals, houses, weapons, tools, etc. It is assumed that, initially placed on the burial on the occasion of funeral rites, they later became a permanent element. Similar would be the case with the human figures and horses in stone found in Kyushu.
Inside the tumulus is the burial chamber, with the walls mostly covered in stone; the sarcophagus is made of wood, stone, terracotta, and of different shapes. The funerary equipment is extremely rich and varied: ornaments and objects for personal use, weapons and armor, horse harnesses, Chinese and Japanese coins and mirrors, terracotta. Many come from the continent or show its influence; many others testify how foreign forms are accepted and then transformed, and the sober traditional taste also remains. An example of this are the swords and daggers made of deer bone, together with sumptuous personal ornaments, weapons and horse harnesses, all in gilded bronze and of continental taste, found in the tomb of Inariyama, believed to date from the 6th century, in the pref. by Shiga.
Terracotta is of two types: the Haji, derived from the Yayoi one, is reddish and usually not decorated; archaeological data and literary sources indicate that it is the work of the same corporations that made the haniwa. The other, the Sue, of various shapes at times very elaborate, comes from Korea and is found inside the tombs; generally it is greyish, with shades ranging from brown to blue-black gray, decorated, when it is, with lines.
It was believed that the only type of kofun wall painting was that present in Kyushu, geometric and with rare anthropomorphic motifs, of boats, horses, birds, until in March 1972 the kofun was discovered in KinaiTakamatsuzuka, which is not only the first mound tomb with paintings found in the area, but also the only one with human figures, of the highest artistic and technical level. The paintings, made on the squared and polished slabs of the burial chamber, depict, in addition to sacred animals, groups of men and women in ceremonial costumes; the clothing is similar to that of North Korea, the style shows the influence of Chinese and Korean painting, modified by typical Japanese elements. Inside, a wooden sarcophagus covered with lacquered cloth contained the remains of a middle-aged man; There were also gilded bronze ornaments, sword trimmings, a mirror probably of Chinese origin, etc.
Different opinions have been expressed about the numerous problems posed by the tomb, about its significance with regard to relations with the continent; on the paintings, which according to some would represent a court ceremony, according to others a rite or a funeral procession; on the buried character, perhaps a naturalized Korean, or even an imperial prince. The most probable date is the end of the 7th century-beginning of the 8th; however it is one of the last kofun, because under the influence of Buddhism cremation was already replacing burial. Further research and examination of other kofuns they will be able to give an answer to this vast problem, contributing to a better understanding of ancient Japan and its relations with the civilization of the continent. An even greater contribution could make the desirable lifting of the ban on opening and examining the numerous imperial tombs existing in the area.