Report on the Sightseeing Tour "VR Experience and Tumuli Tour"

~ Commemorating National Recommendation as a World Heritage Site ~
The Mozu Tumuli Cluster walking tour, as led by a tumuli specialist

In 2017, the Mozu Tumuli Cluster in Sakai acquired a national recommendation as a World Heritage Site. To commemorate this achievement, a walking tour was created in which a sightseeing guide takes participants around the highlights of representative tumuli and viewing spots. Another appealing point is that as well as walking around, VR (virtual reality) is used to allow the tumuli cluster to be viewed from high up in the air. Here's a report from someone who took the full tour.

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Discover the appeal of tumuli with your own two feet.

One type of tumulus is the "keyhole-shaped tumulus," so-called due to its distinctive shape. It is comprised of a circular rear section and straight front section.
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The tumuli guides all belong to the Sakai Volunteer Tourism Association, known for their yellow staff jackets. On the day of our visit, we were guided by Michiyo Taruno, a tumuli fan for more than 40 years. "Tumuli are most interesting when viewed from the ground!" she enthusiastically explained, heightening our own expectations for the tour.

 

Ms. Taruno went on to explain how tumuli were tombs for important people, and were created in Japan between the 3rd and 6th centuries. From among these, construction of those in the Mozu Tumuli Cluster, which includes the massive Nintoku-Tenno-Ryo Tumulus, was concentrated in the second half of the 4th century through to the 5th century, the period during which both the culture and technology of tumuli were at their peak. There were originally more than 100 tumuli in the cluster, but currently 44 remain. "If you walk them on your own two feet, you come to understand the structure and subtle placement of the tumuli. You'll also find the joy of encounters with small tumuli that don't appear in any guidebooks," Ms. Taruno explains.

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Mastering the key to tumuli spotting - "view from the corner of the front section."

Ms. Taruno started by taking us around the Nisanzai Tumulus, known as the most beautiful tumulus in Japan, the Gobyoyama Tumulus, and the Itasuke Tumulus, teaching us the best points to view them from. "If you stand on the corner of the front section of a keyhole-shaped tumulus and look out over it, you can see the full shape," Ms. Taruno explains. We proceed to actually do so, and the "neck" section where the round and straight parts intersect can indeed be clearly seen. The fact that "at the time of construction stones were laid across the surface, meaning no trees grew on the tumuli" is also a big surprise. Amid the spreading forests of the time, the massive stone structures must have been quite a startling sight.

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The Gobyoyama Tumulus, created in the first half of the 5th century. It is silhouette also looks beautiful when reflected in the water.
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"The tumuli were created by piling up earth from the surrounding area, which created moats in the vicinity. Many of these moats now have beautiful cherry trees or crimson leaves in the fall, making them popular spots for taking a walk," Ms. Taruno explains. She also explains that the large tumuli are created in three layers, and that these layers can be confirmed with the naked eye.

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This is the Itasuke Tumulus. The broken bridge serves a purpose as something of a memorial, a symbol of a citizens' movement that protected the tumulus from destruction. It has now become the playground for a family of raccoon dogs that live inside the tumulus.

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The spectacular scenery of the Richu-Tenno-Ryo Tumulus, the third largest tumulus in Japan.

The Richu-Tenno-Ryo view spot. This tumulus was created at the start of the 5th century and is 365m long.
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Our next destination is the Richu-Tenno-Ryo Tumulus, the third largest tumulus in Japan. "Tumuli in which an emperor is interred, known as "Tenno Ryo," always have a place for prayer in front of them. They are very serene places, so please do go and take a look," Ms. Taruno recommends. A further recommendation is the "view spot" on the rear round side, with a view that's enough to take your breath away.

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An observation deck inside Daisen Park. As well as the Richu-Tenno-Ryo, you can also take in the tallest skyscraper in Japan "Abeno Harukas" and the mountains of Kobe.
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After taking a break for lunch, we headed to the "Peace Forest" in one corner of Daisen Park. The unique stone observation deck here is a recreation of the circular tumulus that once stood here. It allows you to really imagine what the original tumulus must have looked like.

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Small tumuli are also scattered across the sprawling 38 hectare Daisen Park.
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The climax is a tumulus experience tour using VR.

Just putting on the VR headset allows you to enjoy the scenery from 300m up in the air. 
 

Next, we took part in the VR (virtual reality) tumuli tour at the Sakai City Museum. The appeal of this attraction lies in footage of the entire tumuli cluster as seen from 300m in the air, and a CG recreation of the stone chamber inside the 470,000 square meter Nintoku-Tenno-Ryo Tumulus. This thrilling experience is like actually being there yourself.

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The Nintoku-Tenno-Ryo Tumulus prayer place. Beyond the torii gate there spreads the massive, 486m long tumulus. At one time people were allowed onto the tumulus, and there are records of those in power at the time hawking there, and regular people viewing the blossom.
 

Finally, we visited the Nintoku-Tenno-Ryo Tumulus. The impeccably clean prayer place had quite the solemn atmosphere. "Calculations suggests that even if 2,000 people were working on it every day, it would still have taken longer than 15 years to complete," comments Ms. Taruno. The sheer scale was quite overwhelming.

Including the break for lunch the tour took five and a half hours, with a distance walked of approximately 7km. Our day with the tumuli turned out to be plenty of fun, full of unexpected surprises and discoveries.

 

As these are private tours, they can be casually enjoyed by just you and your friends. They come highly recommended for anyone who wants to learn more about Japanese tumuli culture.

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Tour Guide: Sakai Volunteer Tourism Association
Reporter / Text: Noriko Yamaguchi / Photos: Yoshinori Yamazaki

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