Japan Guards the Emperors' Secrets
Parry, Richard Lloyd, The Independent (London, England)
EMPEROR Nintoku, the 16th ruler of Japan, was plainly a remarkable fellow. There was his conception, for a start: according to the ancient records, his father, Emperor Ojin, was a sprightly 90 years old when his son was born. On the day of the child's birth, a mystic owl flew into the room and observed the delivery. Over an 87-year reign, Nintoku proved himself a wise and magnanimous leader who built canals and ports, promoted rice farming and reformed taxation. In 399 AD he died, at the hearty age of 143.
But the most remarkable thing about Nintoku is his final resting place. In the town of Sakai, a few miles south of the gleaming hotels and skyscrapers of Osaka, it stands even today - a vast, keyhole-shaped burial mound, 500 yards long, surrounded by earthen ramparts and a water-filled moat. Its area is half that of a good-sized pyramid; 26,000 tons of stone slabs are believed to lie beneath the tumulus, covered by an immense volume of heaped earth and trees. Inside there may be swords, jewels, crowns, statues, and the coffined remains of the great god- emperor himself. On the other hand, there may be nothing there at all. Nobody knows because, officially at least, nobody has been allowed inside for 1600 years.
This is not for want of trying. "It's a fiasco, a scandal, unprecedented in a civilised country," says one academic. Throughout its history, Japanese archaeology has laboured under an extraordinary handicap: the tombs of the Japanese emperors, some of the most important historical sites in east Asia, of which Nintoku's is the biggest and most famous, have been placed entirely off-limits by the Japanese government. This summer, after years of lobbying, archaeologists were told by ministers that plans were afoot to lift the ban. But after a cabinet reshuffle they were once again put on hold. "For 50 years I have been studying this field," says Professor Hatsue Otsuka, of Meiji University, "and I feel as if I have just been paddling round the edges. I have never been allowed into the deep water."
There are more than 200,000 ancient burial mounds in Japan, most of them originating from the so-called Tumulus Era, between the 4th and 8th centuries. Few written records survive from this period, making them a crucial source of historical information. Thousands of lesser tombs, belonging to local lords and princelings, have been systematically excavated to reveal unique historical information about daily life under the rulers of Yamato, …
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Publication information: Article title: Japan Guards the Emperors' Secrets. Contributors: Parry, Richard Lloyd - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: November 12, 1995. Page number: 15. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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