Fujinoki Tomb: Horse’s harness, splendid glass, stones and other tomb treasures hint of Korean connections

Tabblo: Fujinoki Tomb Treasures, Ikaruga, Nara, Japan

Above: The Fujinoki tomb has a stone chamber and passageway. Inside was a house-shaped stone sarcophagus As the tomb had not been robbed, it provided one of the richest finds of artefacts among Kofun tombs. …Click on Tabblo above>

The Fujinoki Tomb located in Ikaruga, Nara prefecture dated to the end of the 6th century A.D. Kofun period. It was a circular tomb mound (seeaerial map) with a stone burial chamber (w2.67m x ht4.41m) and corridor that opens to the southeast. The chamber and corridor together run for a total length of 13.95m.

HajiandSue(47 pcs) pottery-wares were found at the front of the chamber. A house-shaped coffin made of tuff and painted in red vermilion lay sideways, near the back of the chamber.

The remains of two people were found in the coffin – one of a male of between 17 to 25 years old, the sex of the second body is also thought to be male but this is not ascertainable at the present time, and its age is also unknown. The buried persons were draped in a thick ornamented textile cloth excavated in a rare and good condition (for Kofun era finds).

Within the coffin was a rich find of burial goods. They include:

  • Ornamental metal beads;
  • Ornamental glass beads (more than 10,000 pieces);
  • 1 gilt bronze crown (According to Kidder, “most gilt-bronze crowns found in Japan were made in Korea” and that they were specifically of Paekche craftsmanship, but there are others who suggest that they resemble Silla crowns)
  • 2 pairs of gilt bronze shoes with dangling fish ornaments;
  • 1 large ornamental fish-shaped waist-sash belt;
  • 1 belt-buckle;
  • 1 bronze belt with two silver daggers stuck inside;
  • 2 pairs of heavily gold plated earrings;
  • 416 gold pendants;
  • 2 pcs. ornaments with dragon designs;
  • 1 pair of gilt-bronze half-cylindrical leg guard pieces.

Inside the stone chamber piled on the floor behind the sarcophagus a number of war-related artefacts and horse-trappings were also found, and the most unique and splendid of the tomb’s artifacts are thought to be the horse trappings with rich decorations such as the open-worked motifs of palmetto, phoenix, elephant, and devil’s face.

Elephant motif detail on the saddlebow

Also among the finds are:

  • 1 suit of iron armor (1,000 slats);
  • Dipper shaped stirrup;
  • Iron arrows and arrowheads;
  • 5 large swords including ceremonial ones with bead decoration;
  • 1 gilt bronze saddle decorated with elephant and phoenix motifs;
  • 1 pc. gilt bronze straps unions with metal pendants;
  • 3 pcs. bell-shaped harness pendants;
  • 2 pcs. prickle leaf-shaped harness pendants;
  • Gem with three round bulges;
  • 1 pc. heart-shaped ornament;
  • 1 pc round-shaped ornament;
  • 2 pcs. decorative fitting used at joint of the crupper (a strap attached to the saddle or harness to keep it from slipping)
  • 4 copper mirrors – one of the copper mirrors has a wide rim with small motifs of animals, deities and abstract designs; another mirror, according to Kidder, has inscriptions of three characters (yi zi sun) implying “May the owner have an abundance of descendants” exactly like the mirror from the Paekche tomb of King Mu-nyung (d.523). Kidder draws comparisons for Fujinoki tomb’s grave-goods to those from the tomb of King Mu-nyung, and is of the opinion that most of them may actually have come from Paekche.
Other artefacts of much interest are the cloth fragments found in an extremely fragile state that were used to wrap the bodies and tomb artefacts. They were determined to be made of plain silk fabrics, twilled fabrics, warp pattern brocades and embroideries as well of “Ra” fragments.


The outer appearance and structure of the Fujinoki Tomb is also thought to be of Korean influence. Some academics think the gilt crown and shoes are similar to those of Paekche, others think the gilt crown resembles that of Silla’s.

It is thought that because the tomb is located in Ikaruga away from the Soga clan’s power base in the Asuka capital, the tomb must have belonged to a different immigrant clan, but allied to the Soga clan who had connections with the Korean peninsula. Based on dating of tomb artefacts as well as a document found in an old sea-chest at Sogenji (a sub-temple of Horyuji) that refers to the tomb mound as the Misasagi-yama of Emperor Sushun (‘misasagi’ means ‘imperial mausoleum’, Kidder has proposed that the tomb belonged to Emperor Sushun (a.k.a. Hatsusebe no Waka-sazaki who reigned between 587-592) whose mother was the daughter of Soga no Imame. However, the age of one of the bodies in the coffin is only between 17 and 25 years old whereas Emperor Sushun is believed to have died at the age of 79 (and the age of the other body has not been ascertained).

Although an examination and analysis of 15 specimens of the horse equipment relics was made, the report was inconclusive about the origin of the horse-trapping relics.


Source references and further reading:

Fujinoki Tumulus website(exhibition of replicas of tomb artefacts are on display to visitors)

Kokusai Shinpojūmu Fujinoki Kofun no Nazo (1988 : Nara-shi, Japan)
国際シンポジウム藤ノ木古墳の謎 (1988 : Nara-shi, Japan)

“藤ノ木古墳出土の馬具-畏獣図像からその来歴を探るHarness of the Fujinoki Ancient Burial Mound Exhumation”. Tenri University. (In Japanese)

The Fujinoki Sarcophagusby J. Edward Kidder, Jr. Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Winter, 1989), pp. 415-460

The Fujinoki Tomb and Its Grave-Goodsby J. Edward Kidder, Jr. Monumental Nipponica, Studies on Japanese Culture Past & Present42(1), 57-87, 1987

The Sudden Massive Influx of Continental Culture in the Late 4th Century: Egami Theory of the Horse-rider’s Invasion–The Archaeological Approach” by Wontack Hong, from his book “Peakche of Korea and the Origin of Yamato Japan” In his he writes that Fujinoki Tomb artefacts should be compared with those of 4th Century Paekche tombs of Sinbong-dong, Cheong-ju as the latter also contain large quantities of horse-trappings, stirrups, iron swords, arrowheads, etc.

Analysis of Degradation of Excavated Archaeological Silk Fibres Using FT-IR Microscopy“, by AKADA, Masanori et al. Vol. 55, No. 5 (Sep/ October) Journal of Textile Engineering abstract

Conservation of Excavated Fabric Productsby Naomi Ueda (Gangoji Cultural Properties Research Institute)

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