Tsuka (mound) means a raised round site higher than its surrounding land surface, specifically, it means an elevation made of a pile of something, a small mountain, a hill and an ancient burial mound. Hokora (a small shrine), a pagoda and a monument made of various materials such as stone and wood that were built at these sites or places of particular significance are also a mound.
For information on mounds in terms of remains, see Kofun (Ancient Burial Mounds) and Funkyubo (grave mound of tumulus). For the other artificial mounds, see Earthworks and Banks.
Mounds may be interpreted as tombs; however in the strict sense of the word, they are not tombs because mortal remains were not necessarily buried and things other than creatures were buried. Specifically, the mound is a monument erected to offer prayers, to express gratitude, or as a memory of memoria service, in various faiths constituted through syncretization of the Ancient Shinto (a Japanese folk religion) with esoteric Buddhism and Inyo gogyo shiso (Yin-Yang Wu-Hsing Idea) of Taoism.
It could also be a monument dedicated to prevent the appearance of Araburu Kami (a violent god in Shinto) or dedicated to express appreciation and to offer prayers to various tools used for people's living. Such ways of thinking had been retained through the Edo period and sublimated into an idea, which resulted in the practice of utilizing every inch of captured whales as a resource and a number of mounds for whales erected in various locations throughout Japan. Additionally, it can be said that thinking on the mounds of wara zuka (a mound for rice straw) and mikkyo zuka (esoteric Buddhism mound) stacking straw bits and even ashes, caused the conversion of the straw bits, ashes and human wastes into fertilizers and put them into distribution to partly contribute to the development of grain-growing region related to economic growth and food culture of soybeans as well as to the development of grain farming.
The following story is described in Kojiki (the Records of Ancient Matters) : Izanagi and Izanami used 'Chibiki no iwa' (a huge boulder) as kekkai (barrier) to keep off the pursuers dispatched by the demon when returning from Tokoyo (the world of the dead), and the boulder became associated with iwasaka (the area a deity sits), then the god of the barrier 'Sai no kami' appeared. Mounds subsequently began to have a significance as the barrier; based on the mythology of Amenouzume in which she beguiled Sarutahiko, who later became her husband, into acting as a guide for Ninigi-no-mikoto, the god of the road 'Chikata no kami' appeared. These two gods above mentioned became syncretized and developed into the Doso-shin (traveler's guardian deity) faith to become stone mounds. The Doso-shin faith was syncretized with Tamuke no Kami (a travelers' guardian deity) to erect mounds such as ichirizuka (milestones) and mountain-path mounds at locations at a distance from villages.
Some of the mounds having different purposes and significances (in addition, erected at different locations) have the identical name as described later. For example, there are two kinds of 'Hime Zuka' (princess mound); one is the appellative of ancient burial mounds, the other one is a mound dedicated to a certain princess in her memory.
In Japan, it has been believed that spirit and life reside with everything in the universe since ancient times. This philosophy, as discussed in the field of animism in cultural anthropology, is similar to religions that spontaneously emerged during the times of the primary civilization around the world. This philosophy is called the Ancient Shinto, the origin of which traces back at least to the Jomon perid, and it is also called the Jomon Shinto. Among modernized countries having undergone feudal perods, only a few countries retain such an interpretation of the world which can be called a primitive faith; it is also a festival originated from the concept that has specifically been nurtured in Japan.
Dedicatory and Commemorative Mounds
These mounds were dedicated to persons of great distinction to pay homage and confidence for their marks and achievements.
Seimei Zuka (Seimei Mounds)
- Seimei Mounds were built at various locations in Japan including Seimei-jinja Shrine in Saga Arashiyama (Kyoto City) to offer prayers to their founder ABE no Seimei by shamans of the post-Seimei era.
Basho Zuka (Basho Mound)
-Basho Mounds are the mounds built in various locations in Japan to commemorate poems written by Basho MATSUO and places that he visited.
Mino Tsuka (Mound for Straw Raincoats)
- Located at the grounds of Zendo-ji Temple and Sogen-ji Temple in Nishibori, Chuo Ward, Niigata City, Niigata Prefecture, they are also dogu zuka for old worn straw raincoats erected to commemorate the occasion of Basho Matsuo's visit to this area. The reason why they are referred to as mino tsuka remains unknown, but the word 'rain' in a poem considered to have been written by Basho that reads, 'When rain falling on the sea is getting me soaked, how I long for the warm body of a prostitute' suggests its association with straw raincoats.
- In 1684, Basho MATSUO wrote a poem that reads, 'The sound of watayumi bow beating cotton is beautiful like that of Japanese lute buoying my spirit' at Takenouchi, Katsuragi City that was associated with one of his pupils Senri. In 1809, a poem monument was erected to commemorate the above event within the ground of Kozen-an which was Senri's residence.
- Hokke zuka is also referred to as Hokke-kyo zuka that is a mound in which Nichiren shonin (the Venerable Nichiren) buried a copy of the Lotus Sutra that he transcribed thinking of Kamakura and his birthplace Awa Province and praying for peace and propagation of Buddhism during his exile in Izu Province.
Dedicatory and Memorial
In the Ancient Shinto and Shinto teachings, it is considered that there are two aspects (or four spirits according to another philosophy) of a divine spirit known as Aramitama (wrathful divine spirit) and Nigimitama (peaceful divine spirit). It is considered that there are times when the divine spirit is violent and there are other times when it is quiet and calm, representing evils and blessings, respectively. Additionally, based on the teachings of ancestor and nature worship, since it was believed that a life ended in bitter disappointment would turn into a wrathful spirit which might bring evils to this world, history shows that a mound was erected as an object to be honored in place of a person's soul (divine spirit) for the repose of his or her spirit. The original definition of kanji representing 'festival' is a memorial service.
Kubi-zuka (Mound for Severed Head)
- Kubi-zuka is a burial place of heads of persons beheaded during the war or by the judgment of trial after the war for the repose of their souls so that they would not become violent gods. In some battle fields, the kubi-zuka was erected so as to enshrine friends and foes alike.
Dozuka (Mound for Severed Torso)
- Dozuka is a burial place of headless bodies of persons perished in the battle field or killed in action. Those headless bodies were collected and buried in the dozuka for the repose of their souls so that they would not become violent gods.
Katana zuka (Mound for Weapons)
- Katana zuka is dedicated to weapons of the people perished in battle fields or killed in action that were collected and buried. There is another explanation that these mounds were built to protect personal effects of the dead from sword thieves at a battle field when the battle was over.
Mokozuka (Tumulus for Mongol Warriors)
- Mokozuka is a mound at which Mongolians perished in battle fields or killed in action during the Mongolian invasion were buried for the repose of their souls so that they would not become violent gods.
Kujira Zuka (Mound for Whales)
- Kujirazuka (mounds for whales) were erected in various regions where people effortlessly captured whales such as beached whales and where people practiced whaling, in appreciation for and in memory of whales. Similar whale-related mounds such as Kujira-baka (graves of whales), Kujira-hi (monuments for whales) and Kujira-kuyoto (pagodas erected in memory of whales) can be seen across Japan. See Whaling Culture for details.
Dedication and Thanksgiving
Around the Muromachi period, with development of light manufacturing, consumer society started to become a trend in and around major cities. The philosophy which had been for ancestor worship and nature worship, began to cover livestock and properties (tools used in daily life), and in order to save on things, the idea of divine spirits such as Tsukumogami (the divine spirit that resides in old tools or creatures) was developed, which was inherited down to the Edo period. According to the recent studies, during the Edo period, Japan was an unprecedented recycling-oriented society in the world.
- Dogu zuka (grave for tool) is a mound erected to bury old worn tools used in daily life and tools used in various professions in appreciation of their many years of service as well as to pray for improving skills in one's work.
Hocho-zuka (Mound for kitchen knives)
- Hocho-zuka was erected to bury old worn knives to express appreciation for many years of service and to pray for improving skills in using knives for cooking. In old days, knives for cooking were made from recycled swords and those knives had to be charged with spirit before using, then the dogu-zuka was erected for the purpose of charging.
Ningyo-zuka (Grave for Dolls)
- Ningyo-zuka is a mound where old worn dolls were buried in appreciation for the enjoyment that they offered to their owners and also where dolls are buried as substitutes for people in hope to protect them from evils.
According to the world view of the Ancient Shinto, the world is divided into two parts; one is Utsushiyo (the actural world), the other is Tokoyo or Kakuryo (the sacred area, the country of gods, and the afterworld). Places such as Kannabi (a place such as a mountain or forest where the divine spirit resides), Iwasaka (the area a deity sits) and Himorogi (a temporarily erected altar used as a place of worship) were considered to be borders between the actual world and the sacred area whereby these places were marked with sacred ropes as barriers and, in some cases, became kinsokuchi (a tabooed land). In addition to places, certain hours of the day such as Omagadoki (twilight hour) and Ushimitsudoki (the dead of night) were thought to serve as boundaries to the sacred area. As the time passed, the following were also considered the border between the real world and the sacred land: ridges, mountain paths and slopes whose shapes of the roads were unique; and in some case, bridges, gates, borders of settlements such as villages and towns, and intersections of roads.
Michishirube (signposts) were originally erected to help travelers stay oriented but were also the boundaries to keep evils out of the village. Other types of mounds and stone statues, erected in the past to wish travelers' safe trips, are standing inconspicuously on roadsides today and people still have faith in them.
- See Jizo.
- See Koshin Zuka.
Ichiri Zuka (Milestone)
- See Ichiri Zuka.
Hokora (Small Shrine)
- See Hokora.
Rights and Conflicts
There were conflicts in various locations in Japan over the claim on or ownership of a mountain, or boundaries of villages or towns, and those conflicts consequently left the people involved with bitter disappointment or damage, and in addition those locations were sacred places such as the Shinto shrine precincts; then mounds were erected to shrine the god residing there and the people who died in the conflicts.
Tekka Zuka (Remains of Courts)
Tekka Zuka is a mound on which the authorities would conduct superstition-based trials to resolve boundary disputes; such trials included the Tekka Saiban (literally the 'red-hot iron trial,' which involved the concerned parties taking hold of a red-hot iron bar to enable a judgment to be made on the issue in question based on whether a burn appeared on their hands) and Higisho (a trial which involved the concerned parties taking hold of a piece of red-hot iron to enable the truth of the matter to be ascertained based upon whether they were able to continue holding the iron piece in their hands). There were Tekka Zuka in the areas including Kurogane Cho, Aoba Ward, Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture and Oaza Miyado, Yarawa Mura, Tsukuba County, Ibaraki Prefecture.
Gathering of People or Animals
A small rise made of a pile of something and built by people or creatures was basically also referred to as a mound. Mizu-zuka (a mound used as a shelter) was a stockroom for food in times of emergency from a different perspective, and mikkyo-zuka (mound of esoteric Buddhism) was basically an accumulation of residues much like kai-zuka although it has some religious implication.
Kai-zuka (Shell Mounds)
- Being well known as the remains of ancient times, shell mounds literally are piles of food waste consisting chiefly of shells, which are seen in coastal areas throughout the world. See 'Shell Mounds' for details.
Wara Zuka (a mound for rice straw)
- Wara-zuka is also referred to as wara-guro or wara-kozumi. It refers to the condition that, after harvesting rice, the remaining rice straws have been collected and kept in piles to be used for various purposes. There are various examples of usage of rice straws, such as shimenawa (sacred rice straw ropes), straw sandals, natto (fermented soy bean) wrapping, filler material, tatami mats, straw rice bags, feed and fertilizers.
Zori Zuka (Zori Mounds)
- A zori mound is a pile of old straw sandals worn by people, cattle and horses (as there were no horseshoes prior to the Meiji era) to make fertilizer for secondary use of straw.
Mikkyo Zuka (Mound of Esoteric Buddhism)
- In the past, when an epidemic broke out, people used to move to another place after burning their houses and belongings. The mikkyo-zuka is believed to have been the site where the ashes of houses and belongings of those people were collected and buried in hope of the cease of the epidemic.
Mizu-zuka (a mound used as a shelter)
- The mizu-zuka was a shelter in a case of floods seen in regions of Gunma Prefecture, being a wooden tower building of two stories erected on an elevated earth; the first floor stored miso (soybean paste) and other food and temporarily stored household goods, whereas, the second floor was used as a living quarter. There are additional mounds that come in a variety of shapes including those built on dikes and the ones that were not erected on the elevated earth.
Mogura Zuka (Molehills)
- A molehill means a pile of dirt created when a mole comes out of ground being a sign of biological activities of that creature.
Ari Zuka (Anthills)
- An anthill is a tower-shape mound made by termites using their bodily fluid, earth and plants for their nest.
Funzuka (Dung Piles)
- The funzuka is a pile of feces of animals such as Japanese raccoons, being made because these animals have a habit of defecating at the same place to mark their territories.