NIPPONIA No. 37 June 15, 2006


A Flight over History and Culture

The Search for the Spiritual Takes Shape

Far back in time, for some reason the Japanese constructed immense tombs and a shrine that "floats" on the sea at high tide. Could it be they wanted to make things so amazing that their gods and the spirits of their ancestors would admire their work from high in the sky? Today we are lucky to be able to look down from the air at the same amazing sights.

Mozu tomb mound cluster

For several centuries in ancient Japan, large kofun tombs of mounded earth were built for the ruling elite. The photo shows a number of the almost 50 kofun, some large, some small, in the northern part of the city of Sakai, Osaka Prefecture. The two huge ones in the photo are said to be approximately 1,600 years old. They were constructed in the typical keyhole shape, and are preserved right in the middle of a modern urban environment. Foreground: Misanzai Kofun, total length 365 meters, reputed to be the final resting place of Emperor Richu. Background: Daisen Kofun, total length 486 meters, the largest tomb in the world, said to hold the burial chamber of Emperor Nintoku.


Itsukushima Shrine

There is an ancient belief that every part of the island of Itsukushima is so sacred that even the hills and surrounding waters are gods. Inspired by this most unusual belief, a deeply religious 12th century military commander named Taira no Kiyomori had this shrine complex constructed as an integral part of the natural environment. When the tide is high, the main sanctuary and other structures appear to be floating. The shaden sanctuary's stage is used for events such as dream-like takigi Noh performances illuminated at night by burning wood. The shrine was added to the list of World Heritage Sites in 1996. The island is within the district of Miyajima-cho, Hatsukaichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture.

(Photos: Watanabe Manabu)