The Tomb of Emperor Nintoku (Daisen Kofun)
A distinct keyhole-shaped burial mound that's considered the largest in the world. Exactly who’s buried here, however, is a bit of a mystery.
Daisen Kofun, believed to be the final resting place of the mysterious Emperor Nintoku, is the largest tomb in Japan. Nintoku was reputedly the 16th emperor of the nation, but because his life and reign are shrouded in myth, his existence remains controversial.
The grounds of the tumulus are amongst the largest in the world. Spanning an area greater than the Great Pyramid of Giza, the forested burial site is certainly fit for royalty.
Mozu Kofun Tombs
The mausoleum of Emperor Nintoku is the centerpiece of a cluster of 49 burial mounds known as the Mozu Kofun Tombs. These megalithic mausoleums are located in Sakai, a city in Osaka Prefecture just south of the metropolis of the same name.
The tomb clusters were erected for wealthy leaders and aristocrats during the Kofun Period (250 to 538 AD).
While they have various shapes and sizes, the most famous tombs have a distinctive keyhole shape when viewed from above.
Daisen Kofun measures 1,594 feet (486 meters) in length and 115 feet (35 meters) in height. Though the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor of China are technically taller, Nintoku’s mausoleum beats them both in surface area and volume.
Nintoku is technically an emperor of legend rather than fact — though he may have actually existed, there isn’t enough historical evidence to back up exactly when or even what his reign was like. One of Japan’s oldest historical books called Nihon Shoki (The Chronicles of Japan) claims he ruled from 313 to 399 AD, but these dates are disputed by historians — it would have been a damn long reign.
The mausoleum is thought to have been constructed during the fifth century by approximately 2,000 people working tirelessly for almost 16 years.
Emperor Nintoku’s mausoleum and the surrounding Mozu Kofun Tombs were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the summer of 2019.
Visiting Daisen Kofun
The tomb is encircled by a sightseeing path approximately 1.7 miles (2.8 km) long, which takes about an hour to walk around. Though now surrounded by modern homes and buildings, the grounds of the tomb remain lush and scenic. The walk is quiet and serene, with wooded areas and three moats to explore. It’s extra picturesque during cherry blossom season in spring.
Unfortunately, visitors aren’t allowed to enter the tomb itself. In fact, the interior has yet to be excavated, hence the mystery surrounding who the tomb even belongs to.
However, the nearby Sakai City Museum features an incredible collection of artifacts from the site for the curious.
To see the tomb from above — recommended to glimpse the keyhole shape — visit the panoramic observatory in the Sakai City Hall complex.