The Japan Times
March 29, 2000

Nara tomb discovery may stir debate over site of Queen Himiko's realm


KASHIHARA, Nara Pref. (Kyodo) The Hokenoyama tomb in Nara Prefecture, found to be the oldest-known keyhole shaped burial mound, may be evidence that the legendary state of Yamatai ruled by Queen Himiko around the early third century was located in the area.

Two conflicting theories over the location of the legendary kingdom — one suggesting a site in the Kinai region and another an area in northern Kyushu — have long been topics of debate in academic circles.

Researchers here said burial chambers dating back to the mid-third century have been found at the Hokenoyama tomb in the city of Sakurai, and the raised burial area is one of the largest discovered from that time period.

The keyhole-shaped tomb, which has a rectangular area at one end and a raised area at the other, is typical of tombs in which high-ranking people were buried in primitive Japan.

According to Takayasu Higuchi, head of the prefectural Archaeological Institute of Kashihara, wooden beams surrounding a coffin in the 80-meter-long Hokenoyama tomb apparently date from the third century.

The chamber measures 7 meters x 2.7 meters and is believed to have housed a coffin measuring 5 meters x 1 meter, surrounded by vertical beams and a number of round stones, Higuchi said.

The "gamontai shinjukyo" mirror, which was also found in the tomb, could be one of the 100 bronze mirrors described in "Account of Wa People," a sixth-century Chinese chronicle, according to Higuchi.

The chronicle, which describes Queen Himiko's legendary state of Yamatai that dominated Japan in the late second and early third centuries, says Wei Kingdom in China sent the mirrors as gifts to Himiko after she sent a friendly mission to China in 239.

The mirror measures about 19 cm in diameter and has images of gods and mythical animals in relief on the reverse side.

Similar mirrors have been excavated from tombs in the Kansai and eastern Shikoku regions. The discovery of the mirror in the Hokenoyama tomb suggests the possibility that Himiko's Yamatai Kingdom was located in the prefecture. There has been a long dispute over, whether the kingdom was based in Kyushu or in an area covering Nara, Kyoto and Osaka prefectures.

Kunihiko Kawakami, a senior researcher at the institute, said he believes the occupant of the coffin was a powerful local leader belonging to the generation of the father or grandfather of Himiko.

He said the tomb was completed between 220 and 230.

Meanwhile, Masao Okuno, a professor at Kiyazaki Municipal University who supports the theory that the historical site rests in northern Kyushu, said his rivals are forcefully trying to connect the tomb and the Yamatai Kingdom.

RESEARCHERS BELIEVE the Hokenoyama tomb in Sakurai, Nara Prefecture, seen here from above, is the oldest keyhole-shaped tomb in Japan. KYODO PHOTO