Visiting Spots in Wakayama City

Details of Kii-fudoki-no-oka Museum


About the name of the museum

A sign at the entrance
a name plate in kanji characters at the entrance

Some Japanese people may feel nostalgic at the name, "Wakayama Prefecture Kii-fudoki-no-oka Museum of History."

"Wakayama" was originally a name of a castle built in the 16th century in the city, Wakayama Castle. And it became the name for the prefecture at the beginning of the Meiji period in the mid 19th century.

"Kii" has been a traditional name for present Wakayama Prefecture area. It began to be used in the Nara period in the 8th century at the latest.

"Fudoki" was initially a part of a name for topographies compiled in the 8th century. The official books were about the history and cuture of regions. Each of the three kanji characters used in "fudoki" means "wind", "soil", and "record." The next syllable "no" is like an English word "of". and the last part "oka" means "hill" in Japanese.

In 1966, the phrase "fudoki-no-oka" began to be used as a part of names for some prefectural museums of history in Japan.

The building of the museum
The building of the museum.

About Fudoki-no-oka museums in Japan

Various prefectures in Japan began to build museums named "fuodki-no-oka" to utilize remains and historical resources one after another in the late 1960's.

Regrettably, during Japanese rapid growth period in 1950's and 1960's after World War II, a lot of historical sites including kofun tumuli were destroyed in various parts of Japan. For example, a large-sized keyhole-shaped kofun tumulus by Kii-fudoki-no-oka Museum was leveled during preparation of a housing site in 1962. Recognizing the mistake, the national government and prefectural governments planned to open museums to preserve archaeological sites. Those museums were named Fudoki-no-oka. There are 16 Fudoki-no-oka museums in the whole nation now. Kii-fudoki-no-oka, which was founded in 1971, is one of them.

About kofun tumuli in Japan

shapes of kofun tumuli
Four different shapes of kofun tumuli

Keyhole-shaped tumuli are the symbol of the Kofun period of Japan. Though burial mounds designed in various patterns appeared in the past in Japan. particularly tumuli built between the mid 3rd century and around the beginning of 7th century are called "kofun" in Japanese archaeology. Those kofun tumuli have distinctive styles as you see in the figure below.

The Japanese word "kofun" literally means "old grave" and the period when kofun tumuli were built is called the Kofun period in Japan.

The form of the leftmost is called keyhole-shaped kofun. It is known that only chiefs were buried in the keyhole-shaped ones. The number of kofun tumuli in Japan is almost 16,000. The number of kofun tumuli which are 200 meters long or more is around 40. The largest keyhole-shaped kofun tumulus in Sakai City is 486 meters long.

About kofun tumuli at Kii-fudoki-no-oka

Maeyama A58
A kofun tumulus named Maeyama-A-58

Kii-fudoki-no-oka Museum is located by a notable kofun tumuli cluster, Iwase-senzuka. The remain has been designated as Special Historic Site by the national government since 1952.

The number of kofun tumuli in the cluster area is very large. It is more than 850 or more. It is one of the largest in Japan. It is said to be still increasing. In fact, two new ones were found by the museum building in 2022. In detail, 27 of them are keyhole-shaped ones, 4 of them are rectangular ones, and all the rest are round ones.

The name of the kofun cluster, Iwase-senzuka, indicates that the local people have known the existence of kofun tumuli since the ancient time. "Iwase" is the name for the district including the kofun cluster. The two kanji characters in the place name means "rock bridge." The second part "senzuka" means "a thousand burial mounds" in Japanese.

Studies on Iwase-senzuka are progressing. Archaeologists says that the kofun tumuli in Iwase-senzuka were built in the late 4th to 6th century; people buried in the tumuli were ruling class members in the Wakayama Plain at the mouth of the Kinokawa River.

You can go into some of the stone chambers

an entrance of a stone chamber
An entrance of a stone chamber.

What is the most different from other similar kofun sites is that you can enter around 13 stone chambers freely. You will directly feel the mysterious atmosphere which has been kept for more than 1,500 years there. Each stone chamber has retained its original shape. They are built with greenish stones produced in the local area.

About haniwa clay figures

 cylindrical haniwa clay figures
Cylindrical haniwa clay figures

Clay figures which were arranged on top of keyhole-shaped kofun tumuli are generally called haniwa in Japanese. Two kanji characters used in the word mean "clay circle". Inside of any haniwa figure is hollow.

Shapes of haniwa clay figures are broadly classified into two types. They are cylindrical haniwa and representational haniwa which depict people, animals, houses and others. Massive majority of haniwa were cylindrical ones. These were arranged to surround the flat area on kofun tumuli.

Cylindrical haniwa appeared at the same time of emergence of keyhole-shaped kofun tumuli in the mid 3rd century. Representational haniwa clay figures like house-shaped ones appeared in the mid 4th century. These were placed in the flat part surrounded cylindrical ones.

Wonderful haniwa clay figures are displayed in the exhibition room of Kii-fudoki-no-oka Museum. Of course, they were unearthed in Iwase-senzuka.

Haniwa of Iwase-senzuka

a warrior haniwa
A haniwa of a warrior

Of course, haniwa clay figures unearthed in the Iwase-senzuka include those which are commonly found in other sites in Japan.

a haniwa of a bird spreading its wings
A haniwa of a bird spreading its wings

On the other hand, the museum is well known for its unique haniwa clay figures. They are "a man who has two faces," "a bird spreading its wings," "koroku quiver" and "a man wearing a ring-shaped hat" and so on. These are haniwa clay figures which were found for the first time in Japan.

The past of Iwase-senzuka Kofun Cluster

Kinokawa River

the Kinokawa River
the Kinokawa River

Kinokawa River has been always playing a significant role in present Wakayama City region.

The length is 135 kilometers. Its source is in an area of high rainfall in the central part of the Kii Peninsula.

The river flow carried a large amount of soil and sand to its estuary until 2,500 years ago. And then, when the sea level went down, the Wakayama Plain was formed there. Rice growing started in the flat part and ports were built in the lagoon in the Yayoi period.

After that, in the Kofun period, around 1,400 years ago, the river became a main route between the outer port and Asuka in the southern part of present Nara Prefecture where the first capital in Japan was situated.

The river has provided the Wakayama Plain with agricultural water since the ancient time. Even now, the stream is the important water source for those who live in the area including Wakayama City. (June 26, 2023)

Rice Growing in Japan

harvesting in fall
Harvesting in fall

Rice cultivation was introduced from the continent around 2,500 years ago. It was the beginning of the Yayoi period. It came to the northern part of Kyushu and then spread throughout Japan in the Yayoi period (until the 3rd century C.E.). It reached even the most northern part of the main island of Japan (present Aomori Prefecture) during the period. A group of farmers who had the new agricultural technique came from the continent to the nearest in the Japanese islands for some reason. Some Jomon people must have learned the new agriculture.

The new farming drastically changed Japanese society. People began to work to grow rice together in big groups.The nutritious grain supported the large population. Leaders led their villages. The villages merged each other and strong kings appeared. They began to control their small countries. War sometimes broke out among the rulers. (June 27, 2023)

The Wakayama Plain and the Ki family

a rice paddy in late spring
A rice paddy in late spring

The Wakayama Plain was a good place for rice growing. The flatland was formed at the mouth of the Kinokawa River during the Jomon period. It must not have been difficult to change the grassland into rice paddies. It was possible to make use of the river water as agricultural supply.

Collective labor and leadership on the group work were necessary to rice cultivation. In the case of the Wakayama Plain, it is said that a family called the Kii family was already powerful in the area at the beginning of the Kofun period in the 3rd century; their roles included maintenance of the irrigation system to rice paddies, religious ceremony wishing for peace and good harvest and fostering relationship with other small countries.

In the history of Japan, powerful families in ancient times are called "gozoku." Gozoku kept on dominating their own regions for a long time since then. The Ki family was one of them. (June 28, 2023)

Owners of the kofun tumuli at Iwase-senzuka

Nichizen-gu Shrine
Nichizen-gu Shinto Shrine

Experts on Japanese ancient history agree that owners of clustered kofun tumuli at Iwase-senzuka were the high ranking members of the Ki family and those who served under the clan in the Kofun period.

The origin of the Ki family goes back to the beginning of the history of Japan. The oldest official history books compiled in the 8th century (Records of Ancient Matters and Chronicles of Japan) refer to the founder of the ancestry. One of the records says that the originator &&40;Ki Tsuno;) was dispatched to the Korean Peninsula during the time of the 15th emperor in prehistoric times.

According to historians, the Ki family in the Kofun period branched out into two groups. One was in the northern bank of the Kinokawa River. It had a close relationship with the Yamato sovereignty in Asuka, the first central government in Japan, which was situated near the upper reaches of the river. Later, descendants from the northern Ki family became aristocrats in Nara. The other was in the southern bank of the river. Leaders of the southern Ki family devoted themselves to the local politics in the ancient times. The family also became chief priests of a highest-ranking Shinto shrine, Nichizen-gu, which is located near Kii-fudoki-no-oka. Even now, Mr. Ki is the head of the shrine.

Nichizen-gu Shinto shrine was much more powerful until the end of the medieval period. The precincts were five times as large as the present ones. In the 16th century, a strong warlord(Hideyoshi Toyotomi) defeated the shine and took most of its site away. But in the Edo period in the 17th century, Yorinobu Tokugawa, the lord of Wakayama Castle, rebuilt the shrine as it is.

The origin of Nichizen-gu Shinto Shrine is said to go back to fertility rites, especially rituals for water deities, in the Kofun period. This means that ancestors of the present Ki family held the ceremony wishing for good harvest and they were the heads dominating the Wakayama Plain in those days.

Considering these things, it seems to be certain that owners of the kofun tumuli in Iwase-senzuka were heads of the Ki family and those who served under them. The kofun tumuli were built in the late 4th century to the end of the 6th century. The Ki family were already powerful enough to rule the granary at the mouth of the Kinokawa River in those days. Keyhole-shaped kofun tumuli in the cluster were for the kings and round kofun tumuli were for the senior members of the local government in those days.

The name of the river "Kinokawa" means "river of Ki" and the traditional name for the prefecture "Kinokuni" means "country of Ki" and "the Kii Peninsula" is almost the same as "the Ki Peninsula." The chiefs of the Ki family were kings of the region for a long time in ancient times. (Revised on June 30, 2023)

Asuka and Wakayama

Storehouses at Narutaki
Model storehouses at Narutaki

Asuka was a very important place in the ancient times in Japan. Asuka is a place name for a district in the southern part of the Nara Basin. Currently, the district is called Asuka-mura or Asuka Village. It is around 75 kilometers away from Wakayama in the east. It takes roughly 90 minutes to go there from Kii-fudoki-no-oka by car.

In the 3rd century, a political force in the southern area in the Nara Basin became powerful. Considering that keyhole-shaped kofun tumuli which were as large as those in Nara were built in other regions, the power in Nara was not a leading one but one of countries forming an alliance. And in the 4th and 5th century, the authority in Nara succeeded in becoming the leader of the union. In fact, the by far hugest keyhole-shaped kofun tumuli were built in the southern part of Osaka, which is next to Nara, in those days. The political power in the southern Nara Basin is called the Yamato sovereignty and the era when the first Japanese central government in Asuka is called the Asuka period. In the 3rd century to the 7th century, the southern area in Nara including Asuka was the center of government in Japan.

In the Kofun period, there were important ports for the Yamato sovereignty in preent Wakayama city. In 1982, remains of seven large-sized storehouses were discovered at Narutaki in the north bank of the Kinokawa River. The lengths of the rectangular depots were 7 to 10 meters long and the largest area was 82 square meters. The place where the warehouses were built faced by one of ports in lagoons of the Kinokawa River. According to ancient history books, the Yamato sovereignty dispatched soldiers to the Korean Peninsula in those days. The government in Nara is thought to have used the buildings to store food, water, weapons and others. The Ki family must have been members who handled the port and the magazine. (July 1, 2023)