While I was in Kumamoto, we had a chance to visit kofun (ancient tombs). There are many in Kumamoto, but we chose to go to the ones in Tamana city, as it was only a 45 min. drive from Kumamoto city.
Before going we did some research on the net, so we knew which kofun we wanted to visit, but we didn't realize that they were completely closed off from the public for preservation purposes. We called Tamana City Hall and asked how we could see inside the kofun. They told us to call the Tamana History Museum. So we did. The person who answered the phone was very nice, but he needed to stick with the rule which is to go through the school board. He asked us to get permission from the school board, but then when I mentioned that we were visiting Kumamoto for a short period of time and had to go back to the States, he invited us over to the museum and told us that we could join a private tour which happened to be scheduled for that afternoon. We were very lucky! We drove down to the museum right away.
Mr. Araki, the man on the phone, was waiting for us outside of the museum (in the very hot and humid weather!!). I had forgotten such a spirit of hospitality. We felt very welcomed. We went in and said hi to some of the museum staf and those who would join the tour. We had about an hour till the tour, so we decided to explore the museum. The museum was incredibly great. It contained all kinds of information about the kofun that we would go to see. It gave us good information prior to visiting the kofun.
The first kofun we visited was called Taibo Kofun. We enjoyed strolling along the scenic country road to get there. It was extremely hot that day, but I certainly enjoyed the scenery.
Taibo Kofun is said to have been built in the 6th century. The outside is about 43 meters long, the inside about 6 meters long. The inside is divided into three rooms, but you can only see a little bit of them as the entrance is securely sealed with a heavy-duty glass window. There are triangular patterns of blue and red on the wall. The museum had some items found in the tomb such as a gold earring, pearls, and weapons.
The next kofuns we visited were called Eianji Higashi (East) and Nishi (West) Kofun. Unfortunately they were doing some testing on Nishi Kofun, so we only got to see the inside of Higashi Kofun. They are both built side by side. It looks like the east one was built first in the 6th century and the west one right after that. They were both discovered long before the researchers got to them, so all of the items perhaps buried with the body were all gone. What's amazing about the Higashi Kofun is the patterns on the wall painted with red. You can see triangles, circles, ship-like figures, and a horse-like figure. One of the cicles even has the dripping of red ink, which I heard is very rare.
The tour was supposed to end there, but we were pretty excited and decided to go further into the mountain side to see more kofun. Yay! The area we headed for is called Ishinuki. The first one we went to see had an array of 48 tombs on the side of a rock cliff. The cliff is about 300 meters long and 7 meters high. The entrance to each tomb is trapezoid-shaped that are doubled or tripled. Inside, you see carved knives and other weapons on the side wall.
We also visited another kofun in Ishinuki which has a figure of Kannon carved into the wall. This area had three tombs in a row, and the middle one had the Kannon figure in the center of the wall as you go in.
So, that was the end of the tour. It was very educational and fun. Thanks to the director of Tamana History Museum for allowing us to be on the tour, and thanks to Mr. Araki, and Ms. Matsunaga, who guided us through the tombs! Both Mr. Araki and Ms. Matsunaga were experts on kofun, and we were very lucky to have them as tour guides. Although the outside temperature was probably way above 100F and very humid, we enjoyed every single moment of the tour.