Visiting an Ancient Burial Mound in Kyoto | Kofun
Last Sunday, on Februrary 23rd I visited a kofun (ancient burial mound) in Kyoto together with four Japanese people. One of them had been there before and knew a lot. We also visited a few other interesting places which I am going to introduce in this post as well.
At first, before going to the kofun, we visited a famous temple called Koryu-ji Temple 広隆寺.
It was founded in 603 and is the oldest temple in Kyoto. Imperial Prince Shotoku Taishi 聖徳太子 (574 – 622) donated a Buddhist statue of Miroku Bosatsu 弥勒菩薩 (Maitreya) to it. It is said that Miroku Bosatsu will come down to the earthly plane 5,670,000,000 years after Guatama's (Buddha) death to save those who have not yet attained enlightenment.
The temple contains many beautiful statues, including one of Shotoku when he was 16 years old. However, to enter we had to pay 800 yen each, which I find quite expensive regarding the small size of the temple. If you just want to enjoy the temple without going inside the building, you can do so for free.
Amatsuka Burial Mound
After the temple, we went to Amatsuka Burial Mound 天塚古墳,located in Ukiyo-ku, Kyoto.
First of all, let me explain what a kofun (ancient burial mound) is.
Kofun are megalithic tombs or tumili in Japan. They were constructed between the early 3rd century and the early 7th century AD and usually have distinctive keyhole-shaped mounds unique to ancient Japan.
We went to there by foot, which took quite a while. I imagined the Amatsuka Burial Mound being outside the city, surrounded by nature. But to my surprise we kept walking through a residence area with lots of really old houses.
Suddenly the person leading us said "It's right over there!". From far it just looked like a tiny hill with trees on it, nothing special. But when we reached it, the entrance was marked by a torii 鳥居, just like the torii in front of Japanese shrines. I was excited and a little scared at the same time. The whole hill was surrounded by a red fence, once again reminding on a shrine. There also were fox statues and one sign had something about "Inari-kyo" written on it. It is possible that the Inari-Kyo people built this shrine on top of the kofun without it actually having a relation to the person buried there.
We took stairs to get to the top and walked around. Honestly, I was a little scared because you know, it's an actual tomb from ancient times. I felt a little uncomfortable and tense the whole time we were there. It was like I could feel a strong energy which freaked me out a little. When we crossed over the kofun, we saw the entrance to it. This kofun is one of the very few ones where you actually can go inside. I imagined we would go deep inside of it and actually walk around in it. However, that is not possible and I am very glad about it because I'm still scared a little even now. We were able to walk about 2 meters and there was a kind of altar and that's all.
There is one more entrance on the other side, but to go in there you have to pass through a building, probably belonging to the Inari-kyo people. But there is no bell and even when knocking, noone opened, so we just left. However there seem to be people who were able to get inside.
Saigu Shrine and Hirosawa-Ike
Afterwards, we took a kind of train and visited Saigu Shrine.
Then we crossed Arisugawa River and followed it for a little while. We eventually reached Hirosawa-Ike. The pond was originally constructed in mid-Heian Period ( 10th century ) by the grandson of Emperor Uda. This pond has one more name, "Hensyojino-ike". It was named after the place name of Hensho-ji Temple built by Kancho in 989 AD. Hirosawa-ike used to be a part of the temple located in the its south. The pond remained even after Henshoji was abandoned and according to some sources it was originally constructed by Hata Clan as a pond to pool the water in this area. The pond is very beautiful and therefore was featured in many poems and it is also a popular spot for the autumn moon viewing ( tsukimi ).
From there, we walked all the way till Arashiyama. We crossed a rural era with many fields and vegetable patches. We even passed two more small kofun, but only saw them from far. They had nothing on them than grass and trees, no shrine.
After walking for quite a while, our surroundings finally started to look like a city again. There were beautiful old Japanese-style houses.
Adashino Nenbutsu Temple
Then we finally arrived at our next destination - Adashino Nenbutsu Temple. It is famous because of its 8000 Buddhist statues placed in memory of those who died without kin. The temple is dedicated to the repose of souls who have died without families to remember them. However, we were sad to see it had already closed when we arrives around 4:30 pm.
Otagi Nenbutsu Temple
Nevertheless, we walked up the mountain to our next destination, Otagi Nenbutsu Temple only to realize that it had closed too five minutes before our arrival. It has a collection of 1200 unique and whimsical statues that represent the disciples of the historical Buddha.
By the way very close to it is a tunnel which is said to be hunted. For example it is said to never go inside when the traffic light is green when you arrive or else you'll never get out of it again. Instead it is better to wait until it turns red and then green again. Quite creepy, isn't it? Also, I wouldn't recommend walking in there as it is very small, just enough for one bus so you could get hit by one. We only watched the tunnel from afar and that already was creepy enough, especially because it was already gettig dark.
We decided to take a break inside a kind of Ryokan called Hiranoya right there. By a lady wearing a kimono, were led into a room with tatami. We ordered Matcha and a kind of wagshi (Japanese sweets) made from the peel of the yuzu fruit and sugar. It tasted sweet and a little bitter at the same time.
After that, we walked to Arashiyama station which was an adventure itself. It was already dark outside and we had to get down the mountain. We also had to get through the pitch black bamboo forest. And that on a day we visited a burial mound and a tunnel supposed to be haunted - not the best combination. The scariest thing was that although it is a very touristy area and it was only around 6:30 pm almost no people were there. And the people we DID see, used their phone's flash light so we could see moving lights only. Quite creepy if you ask me. The only real source of light were the toilet houses randomly popping up for tourists.
I was so relieved when we finally got out of the forest and close to the river. We crossed the famous bridge and surprisingly already closed souvenir shops which lead us to the station from which we took the train and bus back home.
It was a very exciting day in which I saw and learned a lot, what I'm very grateful for. I saw parts of Kyoto I didn't even know about and I am definitely going to visit the temples that were closed again on another day. All in all we walked about 20 km and I felt pretty exhausted but happy.
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