Daisen Kofun, the largest of all kofun, one of many tumuli in the Mozu kofungun, Sakai, Osaka Prefecture (5th century)
Daisen Kofun, the largest of all kofun, one of many tumuli in the Mozu kofungun, Sakai, Osaka Prefecture (5th century)

Kofun (古墳, from Sino-Japanese "ancient grave") are megalithic tombs or tumuli in Northeast Asia. Kofun were mainly constructed in the Japanese archipelago between the middle of the 3rd century to the early 7th century CE.[1]

The term is the origin of the name of the Kofun period, which indicates the middle 3rd century to early–middle 6th century. Many kofun have distinctive keyhole-shaped mounds (zempō-kōen fun (前方後円墳)). The Mozu-Furuichi kofungun or tumulus clusters were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2019, while Ishibutai Kofun is one of a number in Asuka-Fujiwara residing on the Tentative List.[2][3]


The kofun tumuli have assumed various shapes throughout history. The most common type of kofun is known as a zenpō-kōen-fun (前方後円墳), which is shaped like a keyhole, having one square end and one circular end, when viewed from above. There are also circular-type (empun (円墳)), "two conjoined rectangles" typed (zenpō-kōhō-fun (前方後方墳)), and square-type (hōfun (方墳)) kofun. Orientation of kofun is not specified. For example, in the Saki kofun group, all of the circular parts are facing north, but there is no such formation in the Yanagimoto kofun group. Haniwa, terracotta figures, were arrayed above and in the surroundings to delimit and protect the sacred areas.

Kofun range from several metres to over 400 m long. The largest, which has been attributed to Emperor Nintoku, is Daisen Kofun in Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture.

The funeral chamber was located beneath the round part and comprised a group of megaliths. In 1972, the unlooted Takamatsuzuka Tomb was found in Asuka, and some details of the discovery were revealed. Inside the tightly assembled rocks, white lime plasters were pasted, and colored pictures depict the 'Asuka Beauties' of the court as well as constellations. A stone coffin was placed in the chamber, and accessories, swords, and bronze mirrors were laid both inside and outside the coffin. The wall paintings have been designated national treasures and the grave goods as important cultural property, while the tumulus is a special historic site.[4][5]

Locations and number

Kofun burial mounds and their remains have been found all over Japan, including remote islands such as Nishinoshima.[6]

A total of 161,560 kofun tomb sites have been found as of 2001. Hyōgo Prefecture has the most of all prefectures (16,577 sites), and Chiba Prefecture has the second most (13,112 sites).[7]


The stone chamber of Ishibutai Kofun, said to be the tomb of Soga no Umako, Asuka, Nara Prefecture (7th century)
The stone chamber of Ishibutai Kofun, said to be the tomb of Soga no Umako, Asuka, Nara Prefecture (7th century)
Circular groove tomb at Seta Ruins (Kashihara City, Nara Prefecture)
Circular groove tomb at Seta Ruins (Kashihara City, Nara Prefecture)

Yayoi period

Most of the tombs of chiefs in the Yayoi period were square-shaped mounds surrounded by ditches. The most notable example in the late Yayoi period is Tatetsuki Mound Tomb in Kurashiki, Okayama. The mound is about 45 metres wide and 5 metres high and has a shaft chamber. Broken pieces of Tokushu-kidai, cylindrical earthenware, were excavated around the mound.

Another prevalent type of Yayoi period tomb is the Yosumi tosshutsugata funkyūbo, a square mound with protruding corners. These tombs were built in the San'in region, a coastal area off the Sea of Japan. Unearthed articles indicate the existence of alliances between native tribes in the region.

Early Kofun period

Panoramic view of Hashinaka Kofun in Sakurai, Nara
Panoramic view of Hashinaka Kofun in Sakurai, Nara

One of the first keyhole-shaped kofun was built in the Makimuku [ja] area,[8] the southeastern part of the Nara Basin. Hashihaka Kofun, which was built in the middle of the 3rd century AD, is 280 metres long and 30 metres high. Its scale is obviously different from previous Yayoi tombs. During the next three decades, about 10 kofun were built in the area, which are now called as the Makimuku Kofun Group. A wooden coffin was placed on the bottom of a shaft, and the surrounding walls were built up by flat stones. Finally, megalithic stones formed the roof. Bronze mirrors, iron swords, magatama, clay vessels and other artifacts were found in good condition in undisturbed tombs. Some scholars assume the buried person of Hashihaka kofun was the shadowy ancient Queen Himiko of Yamataikoku, mentioned in the Chinese historical texts. According to the books, Japan was called Wa, which was the confederation of numerous small tribes or countries. The construction of gigantic kofun is the result of the relatively centralized governmental structure in the Nara Basin, possibly the origin of the Yamato polity and the Imperial lineage of Japan.

Mid-Kofun period

During the 5th century AD, the construction of keyhole kofun began in Yamato Province; continued in Kawachi, where gigantic kofun, such as Daisen Kofun of the Emperor Nintoku, were built; and then throughout the country. The proliferation of keyhole kofun is generally assumed to be evidence of the Yamato court's expansion in this age. However, some argue that it simply shows the spread of culture based on progress in distribution, and has little to do with a political breakthrough.

A few tombs from the mid-Baekje era were excavated around the Yeongsan River basin in South Korea.[citation needed] The design of these tombs are notably different. The tombs that were discovered on the Korean peninsula were built between the 5th and 6th centuries CE.[citation needed] There remain questions about who were buried in these tombs such as nobility, aristocracy, warriors or mercenaries.

Late Kofun period

Keyhole-shaped kofun disappeared in the late 6th century AD, probably due to the drastic reformation in the Yamato court, where Nihon Shoki records the introduction of Buddhism during this era.

UNESCO Kofun Group

This list includes the "Mozu-Furuichi Kofun Group: Mounded Tombs of Ancient Japan",[9] which was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 6 July 2019.[10]

Name Coordinates Property Buffer Zone
Aoyama Kofun 34°33′21″N 135°36′02″E / 34.55583°N 135.60056°E / 34.55583; 135.60056 (Aoyama Kofun) 0.51 ha (1.3 acres)
Chuai-tenno-ryo Kofun 34°33′57″N 135°35′39″E / 34.56583°N 135.59417°E / 34.56583; 135.59417 (Chuai-tenno-ryo Kofun) 9.34 ha (23.1 acres) 350 ha (860 acres)
Dogameyama Kofun 34°33′46″N 135°28′56″E / 34.56278°N 135.48222°E / 34.56278; 135.48222 (Dogameyama Kofun) 0.06 ha (0.15 acres)
Genemonyama Kofun 34°33′55″N 135°29′29″E / 34.56528°N 135.49139°E / 34.56528; 135.49139 (Genemonyama Kofun) 0.09 ha (0.22 acres)
Gobyoyama Kofun 34°33′17″N 135°29′27″E / 34.55472°N 135.49083°E / 34.55472; 135.49083 (Gobyoyama Kofun) 5.4 ha (13 acres)
Hachizuka Kofun 34°34′05″N 135°35′44″E / 34.56806°N 135.59556°E / 34.56806; 135.59556 (Hachizuka Kofun) 0.31 ha (0.77 acres)
Hakayama Kofun 34°33′28″N 135°36′16″E / 34.55778°N 135.60444°E / 34.55778; 135.60444 (Hakayama Kofun) 4.34 ha (10.7 acres)
Hakuchoryo Kofun 34°33′04″N 135°36′16″E / 34.55111°N 135.60444°E / 34.55111; 135.60444 (Hakuchoryo Kofun) 5.65 ha (14.0 acres)
Hanzei-tenno-ryo Kofun 34°34′34″N 135°29′18″E / 34.57611°N 135.48833°E / 34.57611; 135.48833 (Hanzei-tenno-ryo Kofun) 4.06 ha (10.0 acres)
Hatazuka Kofun 34°33′24″N 135°28′58″E / 34.55667°N 135.48278°E / 34.55667; 135.48278 (Hatazuka Kofun) 0.38 ha (0.94 acres)
Hazamiyama Kofun 34°33′42″N 135°36′08″E / 34.56167°N 135.60222°E / 34.56167; 135.60222 (Hazamiyama Kofun) 1.5 ha (3.7 acres)
Higashiumazuka Kofun 34°33′50″N 135°36′44″E / 34.56389°N 135.61222°E / 34.56389; 135.61222 (Higashiumazuka Kofun) 0.03 ha (0.074 acres)
Higashiyama Kofun 34°33′42″N 135°36′21″E / 34.56167°N 135.60583°E / 34.56167; 135.60583 (Higashiyama Kofun) 0.41 ha (1.0 acre)
Ingyo-tenno-ryo Kofun 34°34′23″N 135°37′00″E / 34.57306°N 135.61667°E / 34.57306; 135.61667 (Ingyo-tenno-ryo Kofun) 6.43 ha (15.9 acres)
Itasuke Kofun 34°33′11″N 135°29′09″E / 34.55306°N 135.48583°E / 34.55306; 135.48583 (Itasuke Kofun) 2.42 ha (6.0 acres)
Joganjiyama Kofun 34°33′25″N 135°36′07″E / 34.55694°N 135.60194°E / 34.55694; 135.60194 (Joganjiyama Kofun) 0.52 ha (1.3 acres)
Komoyamazuka Kofun 34°34′01″N 135°29′03″E / 34.56694°N 135.48417°E / 34.56694; 135.48417 (Komoyamazuka Kofun) 0.08 ha (0.20 acres)
Komuroyama Kofun 34°34′05″N 135°36′34″E / 34.56806°N 135.60944°E / 34.56806; 135.60944 (Komuroyama Kofun) 2.92 ha (7.2 acres)
Kurizuka Kofun 34°33′46″N 135°36′45″E / 34.56278°N 135.61250°E / 34.56278; 135.61250 (Kurizuka Kofun) 0.11 ha (0.27 acres)
Magodayuyama Kofun 34°33′36″N 135°29′06″E / 34.56000°N 135.48500°E / 34.56000; 135.48500 (Magodayuyama Kofun) 0.45 ha (1.1 acres)
Maruhoyama Kofun 34°34′01″N 135°29′07″E / 34.56694°N 135.48528°E / 34.56694; 135.48528 (Maruhoyama Kofun) 0.69 ha (1.7 acres)
Minegazuka Kofun 34°33′08″N 135°35′50″E / 34.55222°N 135.59722°E / 34.55222; 135.59722 (Minegazuka Kofun) 1.12 ha (2.8 acres)
Mukohakayama Kofun 34°33′26″N 135°36′22″E / 34.55722°N 135.60611°E / 34.55722; 135.60611 (Mukohakayama Kofun) 0.33 ha (0.82 acres)
Nabezuka Kofun 34°34′18″N 135°36′53″E / 34.57167°N 135.61472°E / 34.57167; 135.61472 (Nabezuka Kofun) 0.14 ha (0.35 acres)
Nagatsuka Kofun 34°33′28″N 135°29′15″E / 34.55778°N 135.48750°E / 34.55778; 135.48750 (Nagatsuka Kofun) 0.51 ha (1.3 acres)
Nagayama Kofun 34°34′05″N 135°29′12″E / 34.56806°N 135.48667°E / 34.56806; 135.48667 (Nagatsuka Kofun) 0.97 ha (2.4 acres)
Nakatsuhime-no-mikoto-ryo Kofun 34°34′12″N 135°36′45″E / 34.57000°N 135.61250°E / 34.57000; 135.61250 (Nakatsuhime-no-mikoto-ryo Kofun) 7.23 ha (17.9 acres)
Nakayamazuka Kofun 34°34′05″N 135°36′49″E / 34.56806°N 135.61361°E / 34.56806; 135.61361 (Nakayamazuka Kofun) 0.24 ha (0.59 acres)
Nintoku-tenno-ryo Kofun, Chayama Kofun and Daianjiyama Kofun 34°33′53″N 135°29′16″E / 34.56472°N 135.48778°E / 34.56472; 135.48778 (Nintoku-tenno-ryo Kofun, Chayama Kofun and Daianjiyama Kofun) 46.4 ha (115 acres)
Nisanzai Kofun 34°32′45″N 135°29′58″E / 34.54583°N 135.49944°E / 34.54583; 135.49944 (Nisanzai Kofun) 10.53 ha (26.0 acres)
Nishiumazuka Kofun 34°33′22″N 135°36′24″E / 34.55611°N 135.60667°E / 34.55611; 135.60667 (Nishiumazuka Kofun) 0.07 ha (0.17 acres)
Nonaka Kofun 34°33′32″N 135°36′16″E / 34.55889°N 135.60444°E / 34.55889; 135.60444 (Nonaka Kofun) 0.19 ha (0.47 acres)
Ojin-tenno-ryo Kofun, Konda-maruyama Kofun and Futatsuzuka Kofun 34°33′44″N 135°36′34″E / 34.56222°N 135.60944°E / 34.56222; 135.60944 (Ojin-tenno-ryo Kofun, Konda-maruyama Kofun and Futatsuzuka Kofun) 28.92 ha (71.5 acres)
Osamezuka Kofun 34°33′32″N 135°29′17″E / 34.55889°N 135.48806°E / 34.55889; 135.48806 (Osamezuka Kofun) 0.07 ha (0.17 acres)
Otorizuka Kofun 34°34′01″N 135°36′32″E / 34.56694°N 135.60889°E / 34.56694; 135.60889 (Otorizuka Kofun) 0.51 ha (1.3 acres)
Richu-tenno-ryo Kofun 34°33′14″N 135°28′39″E / 34.55389°N 135.47750°E / 34.55389; 135.47750 (Richu-tenno-ryo Kofun) 17.3 ha (43 acres)
Shichikannon Kofun 34°33′24″N 135°28′47″E / 34.55667°N 135.47972°E / 34.55667; 135.47972 (Shichikannon Kofun) 0.09 ha (0.22 acres)
Suketayama Kofun 34°34′05″N 135°36′47″E / 34.56806°N 135.61306°E / 34.56806; 135.61306 (Suketayama Kofun) 0.12 ha (0.30 acres)
Tatsusayama Kofun 34°33′40″N 135°29′00″E / 34.56111°N 135.48333°E / 34.56111; 135.48333 (Tatsusayama Kofun) 0.34 ha (0.84 acres)
Terayama-minamiyama Kofun 34°33′22″N 135°28′48″E / 34.55611°N 135.48000°E / 34.55611; 135.48000 (Terayama-minamiyama Kofun) 0.42 ha (1.0 acre)
Tsudo-shiroyama Kofun 34°34′55″N 135°35′37″E / 34.58194°N 135.59361°E / 34.58194; 135.59361 (Tsudo-shiroyama Kofun) 4.74 ha (11.7 acres) 23 ha (57 acres)
Tsukamawari Kofun 34°33′46″N 135°29′26″E / 34.56278°N 135.49056°E / 34.56278; 135.49056 (Tsukamawari Kofun) 0.07 ha (0.17 acres)
Yashimazuka Kofun 34°34′05″N 135°36′52″E / 34.56806°N 135.61444°E / 34.56806; 135.61444 (Yashimazuka Kofun) 0.25 ha (0.62 acres)
Zenemonyama Kofun 34°33′10″N 135°29′12″E / 34.55278°N 135.48667°E / 34.55278; 135.48667 (Zenemonyama Kofun) 0.1 ha (0.25 acres)
Zenizuka Kofun 34°33′19″N 135°29′04″E / 34.55528°N 135.48444°E / 34.55528; 135.48444 (Zenizuka Kofun) 0.3 ha (0.74 acres)

Aerial photos

See also


  1. ^ 岡田裕之「前方後円墳」『日本古代史大辞典』大和書房、2006年。ISBN 978-4479840657
  2. ^ "Mozu-Furuichi Kofungun, Ancient Tumulus Clusters". UNESCO. Retrieved 18 May 2011.
  3. ^ "Asuka-Fujiwara: Archaeological sites of Japan's Ancient Capitals and Related Properties". UNESCO. Retrieved 18 May 2011.
  4. ^ "Database of National Cultural Properties". Agency for Cultural Affairs. Retrieved 14 May 2011.
  5. ^ "Database of National Cultural Properties". Agency for Cultural Affairs. Retrieved 14 May 2011.
  6. ^ 島根県遺跡データベース Archaeological Database of Shimane(Japanese)
  7. ^ 兵庫県教育委員会 兵庫県の遺跡・遺物数の全国的な位置(pdf file, Japanese)
  8. ^ Krako-kagi Archaeological Museum (2013). "たわらもと2013発掘速報展". Comprehensive Database of Archaeological Site Reports in Japan. Retrieved 2016-09-01.
  9. ^ "Mozu-Furuichi Kofun Group: Mounded Tombs of Ancient Japan". UNESCO. 6 July 2019.
  10. ^ "Seven cultural sites inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List". UNESCO. 6 July 2019.