What is Kofun?

Up until last Sunday, you could go to Tokyo National Museum and look at an exhibition of wallpaintings from Asuka Kofun. Unfortunately, the exhibition is over, but you might be thinking “What’s a ‘Kofun’, and what is an ‘Asuka’?”. Well, here is a short explanation of what a Kofun is:

The word Kofun, or 古墳, literally means “ancient grave”, and are megalithic tombs in Japan. (“Megalithic” means that it’s monument made out of large stones.) These graves were built between the early 3rd century (or the 200’s if you want) and the early 7th century (the 600’s), a period in Japanese history that has gotten its name from these graves: the Kofun Period.

Daisen Kofun, Osaka, the largest Kofun. (Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The kofun has taken many shapes through-out the years, but the most common one is a keyhole shape, like the one on the picture above, with a rectangular and a circular shape together (前方後円墳 “Zen-pou-kou-en-fun”). But they can also be only circular (円墳 “En-fun”), rectangular (前方後方墳 “Zen-pou-kou-hou-fun”), and squared (方墳 “Hou-fun”).

Asuka is a village in Nara Prefecture, where in the ancient times the Asuka Palaces were built, and a lot of graves of this type can be found. Two of the more famous tombs in Asuka are Takamatsuzuka Tomp (高松塚古墳 “Takamatsuzuka-kofun”), and the Kitora Tomb (キトラ古墳 “Kitora-kofun”).

The exhibition at Tokyo Natonal Museum was about wall-paintings found in the Kitora Tomb in Asuka. Sadly, I could not go myself, although I really wanted to. Will keep my eyes open, in case they show this exhibition again, or another similar one.

/Philip

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