Japan’s creation myths talk about Gods and how they created the Land of the Rising Sun. The Gods dipped a spear or sword into the ocean, and the drops that fell from it created the islands of Japan. The descendants of these Gods became the ancestors of the people who lived in these lands. But if we were to, for a moment, dismiss these myths and wonder how the people of Japan physically arrived on the islands, what would be our answer?
Perhaps the ancient burial mounds in Matsusaka city can lend a clue. There is a park in Takarazuka-cho, near where my wife, Mandy, and I live. The park is called Takarazkua-kofun Park. The word ‘kofun’ refers to two large burial mounds, found on a hill within the park grounds, just three kilometers from the city center. These mounds were originally discovered and excavated in 1928. There were over 80 burial mounds found, but only 26 of those were still intact. In 1932, the area was designated a national historical site.
However, over the decades since their discovery, time has taken its toll. The main culprit was urban development, as the city of Matsusaka grew and modernized. Housing and roads followed as the area expanded. By the 1980s, there were only two mounds left considered salvageable, and still in excellent condition, but a road was built right between the two to a new estate. The local government came to the rescue and created a park to protect the mounds from further damage, although the access road still separates the two mounds.
The main burial mound sits atop of the park, looking down over Matsusaka, the summit providing a 360-degree view. Over two years spanning 1999 and 2000, the Mie Prefectural Board of Education oversaw the re-excavation of the main burial mound and its smaller twin across the road. The larger mound is a keyhole-shaped tomb, and the largest of its kind in the entire Ise provincial area, at over 100 meters in length. It has since been attributed to one of the early leaders of the Iitaka clan (the rural highlands to the west of Matsusaka, where Mandy and I lived for ten years before moving to Matsusaka city) dating back to the 5th century. Many funerary objects were uncovered, along with Haniwa (terracotta clay objects and figurines, created for use in rituals, and often buried in tombs with the deceased), and all of these were put together with similar artifacts discovered in the original 1928 excavation. These items can now be seen at the Matsusaka City Cultural Center.
Japan’s Traditional Sport
Sumo is Japan’s traditional national sport and is one of the most popular spectator sports in the country. Sumo has its roots in ancient Shinto religious rites to ensure good harvests. It is believed to be at least 1500 years old. For me it is the traditional aspects and rituals of this ancient sport that really appeal. I will briefly explain about some of the more common traditions and rituals in this post.
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John Asano is a web developer and freelance writer living in Gifu, Japan. Originally from Melbourne Australia, he writes for Japan Australia, a blog dedicated to Japan travel, culture, traditions and modern life in Japan as well as Japan Travel Advice, a website dedicated to travel in Japan.