The Ishibutai Tumulus, Asuka. Image credit Wikimedia Commons

Asuka village lies some 20 kilometres south of Nara City, in the Kansai region of Honshu, central Japan. Some thirteen hundred years ago however Asuka was the site of Japan’s first capital, and it was probably here that Buddhism first established a foothold in the country, and here where the first major construction projects in wood and stone were undertaken – from the kofun (tumulus) constructions of the 7th century to the enigmatic Sakafune Stone which, in some ways, resembles British rockart.
The Ishibutai kofun (above) dates from the early part of the 7th century and is thought to have been constructed for Soga-no-Umako, a member of the powerful Soga clan and a champion for the acceptance of Buddhism in Japan. The kofun’s capstone is estimated to weigh in the region of 75 tons, while the chamber itself measures some 8 by 4 metres, and is 5 metres high. While the basic construction is not dissimilar to barrow construction in Britain of a much earlier date the far more linear aspect of Ishibutai is immediately striking.
 The Sakafune Stone circa 1916 
By comparison, the purpose of the Sakafune Stone (literally saké boat stone) remains a mystery. Various theories have been advanced to explain the function of the Stone but so far nothing definite has been confirmed (see link below, Astronomy Among Ancient Tombs and Relics in Asuka, Japan). Along with other megaliths and tumuli in the area, however, Sakafune is well worth a visit. Getting to Asuka is not too difficult, the nearest airport being Kansai International, followed by a few short train journeys from Kyoto, Nara or Osaka. The reward to the visitor will be a wealth of fascinating megalithic sites, museums, temples and shrines, all well away from the more well-known tourist sites in the area.
Map of Asuka’s main prehistoric sites
Location of the Ishibutai Tumulus and Sakafune Stone is shown near the bottom centre
(click on map for details)
Links and further reading: