The Japanese Mausoleums: Graves Worthy for Emperors

Crypts, Tombs, and Graveyards are usually associated with negative things like sadness and death. This is an understandable reaction but there is also goodness and life in such a place. These places are where the lives of loved ones are remembered and commemorated. This commemoration is actualized by the presences of structures like mausoleums which are structures that are usually made to honor people with royalty or those who has done wondrous things for the world and others around him or her. The use of mausoleums is a practice done in many places in the world and amongst these places is the country of Japan.

The History of Mausoleums 

The mausoleum is a word that you must have encountered at least once in our life. Despite this familiarity with the word, that doesn’t mean that you know what it is exactly or how it is different from other burial grounds like crypts, tombs, and graveyards. A mausoleum must be outside any building or establishment because, by definition, it is an external structure that is constructed with the purpose much like a monument’s.

The history of mausoleums started from the Persian King named Mausolus. It is so fitting that the term of this particular burial ground is so similar to the name of this particular king because King Mausolus’ tomb was part of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World because of its extravagance and jaw-dropping size which are also fitting descriptions to what mausoleums are.

Traditionally, only leaders and people of great importance are commemorated with mausoleums. With this being said, the number of ancient mausoleums is surely scarce. This number, however, started to grow eventually because there was a point in time that smaller mausolea began to become popular with the nobilities of several countries. Japan, of course, was one of these countries.

Japanese Mausoleums Worth Checking Out

Japan used to use tombs called Kofun to house their royalty and emperors in the earlier periods of Japan. A perfect example of such is the kofun of Emperor Nintoku who reigned from 313 to 399. Once mausoleums became popular, Japan went with the popularity wave of smaller mausolea. There are quite a lot of mausoleums you can check out when you get to journey around Japan. A good thing about these mausoleums too is that they are open in the months of January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, October, November, and December so anytime of the year that you are in Japan, you can easily book a visit to a mausoleum that you would want to see. Note that there are several great warriors and leaders that Japan honors so their burial grounds may be an interesting experience to visit when you get the chance. An example of a great leader that was given praise after death with the construction of a mausoleum is Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Tokugawa Ieyasu was known for many things and amongst his many achievements is that he is the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate so one can already expect that his mausoleum would be one worth visiting. His mausoleum is called the Nikko Tosho-gu and it is found in Nikko, Japan. This place is also a Shinto shrine and many other things because more than one structure can be found in this area. This is so because the Nikko Tosho-gu is a compound of some sort. You can find the ashes of Tokugawa Ieyasu himself in an urn found in this vicinity. Also found around here is the Rinno-ji which is a temple that administers the mausoleum Tokugawa Iemitsu or the Taiyu-in Reibyo.

Another notable mausoleum is the Sennyu-ji. This place is actually a Buddhist temple found in Higashiyama-ku in Kyoto that has been used as a mortuary temple for the imperial house and aristocrats for centuries. It is here that you can find the official tomb of Emperor Shijo and all the other emperors because of emperors after Emperor Shijo. Do not be confused though. Emperor Shijo was not the first to be enshrined to this Imperial mausoleum because Emperor Go-Horikawa was enshrined alongside Emperor Shijo so it would be more acceptable to say that Emperor Shijo was only one of two emperors who was first commemorated here.

It is also here in Japan that you can find the royal mausoleums from the time of the Ryukyu Kingdom in Okinawa. You see, the area of Okinawa wasn’t always united. The whole of Okinawa used to be divided into three parts which were ruled by one chieftain or king. Throughout this time of division, the 3 royal mausoleums were constructed starting with the oldest of the royal mausoleums which are the Urasoe yodore.

The Urasoe Yodore is located in Urasoe Okinawa, just northeast of the Urasoe Castle. It was constructed in the year of 1261 and it holds the remains of the three rulers of the Ryukyu Islands as well as the remains of one king from the Ryukyu Kingdom named King Sho Nei. Despite the fact that the death of King Sho Nei was centuries after the placement of the remains of the last ruler in the Urasoe Yodore, the king’s remains were honored in the Urasoe Yodore because he requested to be buried away from the Sho family mausoleum which is also one of the 3 royal mausoleums to be found in Okinawa. King Sho Nei made the request to be buried in different mausoleums because of the events that happened in the Invasion of Ryukyu.

The particular royal mausoleum, that houses the remains of the Sho family, is known as the Tamaudun. It was built for the Ryukyuan royalty in the year of 1501 on the orders of King Sho Shin, who happened to be the third king of the Second Sho Dynasty and is located near the Shuri Castle. King Sho Shin constructed the Tamaudun, not for himself, but for his father, Sho En. This brought up some controversies because Sho En died in the year of 1476 and since the Tamaudun’s construction finished in 1501 that meant that they kept the remains of Sho En somewhere else until the Tamaudun was ready for his interment.

This mausoleum houses not only the kings of the Ryukyu Kingdom but also the many family members of the Sho family. There were 19 kings of the Second Sho Dynasty who ruled from the years of 1470 to 1879 and among these 19 kings, only 17 kings were entombed in the Tamaudun. You already know that King Sho Nei was one of the two kings who were not buried here. The other monarch that was not commemorated in the Tamaudun is Sho Sen’I who lived from the year 1430 to 1477. The last king to be interred here was King Sho Tai and that last internee who was not a king was the son of Sho Tai, Prince Sho Ten.

The last of the 3 royal mausoleums is the one they call Izena Tamaudun. It was also built in 1501 by the order of King Sho Shin. This place is located near the Izena Castle in Izena, Okinawa and this specific mausoleum has more connections to the Sho family aside from the fact that King Sho Shin ordered the construction of this mausoleum. This connection of the Izena Tamaudun and the Sho family is the son of Prince Sho Ten, Marquess Sho Hiroshi. They are connected because there is only one burial in the Izena Tamaudun and that is no other than Sho Hiroshi. He was honored here because of his great contributions to the nation of Japan through his many donations of the Sho family possessions since he was the last member of the Sho family to be given a title of royalty which was his title of Marquess or Koshaku.

The Sho family was not the only clan to have mausoleums made for them and their relatives. They were not the first to do this either because Date Masamune was able to do this with his mausoleum complex called the Zuihoden. This complex is found in Sendai, Japan and it holds the remains of Date Masamune and his successors who were daimyo of the Sendai Domain. An interesting fact about this mausoleum complex is that it was made in accordance with Date Masamune’s instructions that was given after his death in 1636. The complex finished construction a year after the passing of Date Masamune.

You will see many monuments here that honor the daimyos of the Sendai Domain throughout the years that they ruled there. There is the Zuihoden which was built in honor of Date Masamune himself. There is the Kansenden which was built in honor of Date Tadamune who was the second daimyo of the Sendai Domain. You will also find the Zennoden which was built in honor of Date Tsunamune who was the third daimyo of the domain. The other monuments found here were also built to honor certain members of the Date clan but not all daimyo’s received personal monuments in their honor.

As stated earlier, not all mausoleums are for royalty or people with status and the existence of the Okunoin Cemetery is proof of this. This place is the largest cemetery in Japan and at the center of it, you will find a mausoleum made to commemorate the monk named Kobo Daishi. He is important here because he is the monk that founded this temple complex that eventually turned into the biggest cemetery in Japan. Because of its importance to Japan, the UNESCO named Mt. Koya a World Heritage Site in the year of 2004.

The Japanese Mausoleum for Royalty: Musashi Imperial Graveyard

Mausoleums are traditionally made for great leaders and royalty so you can expect that the mausoleums made for the Japanese emperors are the grandest of all you will be able to see in Japan. These mausoleums that house the Imperial family’s remains can be found in a mausoleum complex called Musashi Imperial Graveyard.

It can be found in Nagabusa-Machi, Tokyo, Japan which is near a forest by the western area of Tokyo. It was named Musashi after the Musashi Province. This complex contains the mausolea of Emperor Showa and the Taisho as well as certain family members, namely Empress Kojun and Empress Teimei. They all died in different years with Emperor Taisho passing away in the year of 1926, Empress Teimei passing away in the year of 1951, Emperor Showa passing away in the year of 1989, and Empress Kofun passing away in the year of 2000.

They were all buried in the traditional way but that traditional way may change for the current emperor and empress, namely Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko. This is the case because, in the previous years, the Imperial Household Agency confirmed that the wish of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko is to be cremated, unlike their predecessors.

With this wish, the Imperial Household Agency plans to construct two new mausoleums to grant the wishes of the two. They plan to construct a cremation facilities in the Musashi Imperial Graveyard. Their ashes will then be interred in their individual mausoleums, should the time come for them. They plan to construct these two new mausoleums by the tomb of Emperor Taisho which is on the west side of this vicinity.

Although tradition is a very important thing in Japan, the wishes of the current emperor and empress and the granting of their wishes show that Japan is also a country that can compromise. These mausoleums have been used to honor so many lives and it is a beautiful way to do so because having such unique structures to commemorate such people reminds others that what you do with your life is important. Since these are not just for saints and people that belong to a monarchy, it can be a goal to have even if you are a commoner. These are not just placed for the dead but a sign of hope for those who simply wish to do good things for other and be remembered in this world as a person who tried to make things better, one way or another. With this being said, check these mausoleums out to really appreciate the grandness and uniqueness of each of these burial grounds.