Death and burial in pre-1600 Kyoto

Question raised by: Matthew Stavros

Discussants: David Pollack, Carol Tsang, Hank Glassman, Karen Brock, Rokuo Tanaka, Hank Glassman, Richard Bowring, Andrew Goble, Rokuo Tanaka, Janet Goodwin, Tom Conlan, Robert Khan, G. Cameron Hurst, Jacqueline Stone

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Date: Tue, 27 Nov 2001 16:54:00 -0500
From: Matthew Stavros
Subject: Death and burial in pre-1600 Kyoto

Dear Members,

Can anyone offer some insight as to where people might have been buried (or otherwise disposed of) in pre-1600 Kyoto or any other urban centerin premodern Japan? There were undoubtedly different practices for different sectors of society. Mostly, I would be curious to know if there were any particular stipulations about burial within the city or not. I'm thinking mostly about the many people who died in the Onin war or any one of the many Warring States conflicts that rocked the capital.

Really, any insight on this at all will be appreciated. Even if it be a reference for me to look further.

Much appreciated,
Matthew Stavros

Date: Tue, 27 Nov 2001 22:13:42 -0500
From: David Pollack

I don't have any references to hand at the moment, but the name Toribeyama comes to mind as the usual Kyoto suspect. In Shishigatani, no? Lots of sad smoke being said to waft from that direction.

David Pollack

Date: Tue, 27 Nov 2001 22:23:23 -0500
From: David Pollack

This from
(with apologies to Royall)

Selections from The Life Of Genji Poems translated by Jane Reichhold
from The Tale Of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
available in autumn 2001 by Stone Bridge Press, Berkeley, California.

12 - 1
Due to changes in the palace politics, Genji abruptly decides to leave for exile to the remote coast of Suma. Before leaving he visits his deceased wife's residence, where his friend, the First Secretary's Captain lives. While there, Genji, visiting with the women who had served his wife, decides to stay the night with one of them. At dawn, the traditional time of parting was made even sadder by knowing Genji might never return here again. When the Great Princess sent him a note saying it was a pity he could not stay to see his son, Lord Evening Mist, Genji whispered as if to himself while he wept:

moe shi keburi mo
magau ya to
ama no shio yaku
ura mi ni zo yuku

if going to
shores where fisherfolk's
salt fires burn
there is smoke rising
as from the cemetery

Poor people, usually women, living along the coast derived some income from boiling sea water down for its salt or burning gathered sea weeds for minerals contained in the ash to be used as fertilizer. Though the work was hard, wet and dirty, poets found a wealth of images in the process: dripping wet sleeves, briny tears, fires on lonely beaches, smoke like that of the crematoriums. Mount Toribe (toribeyama) was the customary place of cremation and burial for Kyoto.

D Pollack

Date: Wed, 28 Nov 2001 07:37:57 -0600 (CST)
From: Carol Tsang

For what it's worth...

The many bodies of those who died in Kyoto during the massive famine of the 1430s were disposed of in at least two ways: Many were abondoned on the riverbanks, and in the river itself; there were also some mass graves dug by monks tending to the dead. It seems that a nuber of bodies rotted where they lay, if one reads the sources, but it is hard to imagine that would be. I would think it more likely that people who died on the roads were dragged to the riverbanks.

A good source for this is the Hekizan nichiroku.

The higher aristocrats, presumably, mostly could afford cremation. The problem with using this example as a general one is that many of those who died in Kyoto at the time of the famine were not locals, but rather refugees from provinces where conditions were even more severe.

I know this is a bit earlier than you have asked about, but it is reasonable to think that the corpses from the Onin War were disposed of in similar fashion.

Carol Tsang
Assistant Professor
Department of History
Uniersity of Illinois at Chicago

Date: Wed, 28 Nov 2001 09:53:57 -0500
From: Royall Tyler

There was also the Otagi burning ground--I think it was on the other side, toward Atago. (Actually I think it was written with the same characters as Atago.)

Royall Tyler

Date: Wed, 28 Nov 2001 16:10:55 -0500
From: Hank Glassman

In respone to Matthew Stavros' query:

It seems the Onin War marks an important shift in urban burial practices in Japan. While the Bakufu tried to forbid funerals and graveyards "in town", from the sixteenth century on people increasingly wanted to be buried near temples in the capital.

For Kyoto, famous funeral grounds are Toribe-no (Toribeyama), Rendai-no, andAdashi-no. Note the distinction between cremation site and burial place. (People were buried at Toribe, but my sense is that many more had funerals there and then were buried elsewhere.)

For general information on pre-modern burial, take a look at:

Chusei no soso, bosei : sekito o zoritsu suru koto / Suito Makoto Tokyo : Yoshikawa Kobunkan, 1991


Sogi no rekishi/Yoshiga Noboru Yuzankaku, 1987.

For a detailed account of another urban situation in Iwata-shi (Shizuoka), see the excellent:

Chusei no toshi to funbo : Ichinotani iseki o megutte / Amino Yoshihiko, Ishii Susumu hen. Tokyo : Nihon Edita Sukuru Shuppanbu, 1988.

hope this helps.

Hank Glassman

Date: Wed, 28 Nov 2001 19:55:18 -0700
From: Karen Brock

Hi all,

Just an aside to the Toribeno thread, when the Kyoto National Museum was being built in the late 19th century at Shichijo and Higashi-oji many graves and small stone markers were excavated there. Some of these markers are located within the grounds of the museum, and every year during obon a small kuyo is carried out attended by the staff of the museum. I don'tknow what the dates of these stones are, but I was told that the site was part of Toribeno.

An important cemetary for late 15th and 16th century aristocrats is the temple of Nison'in in Saga. There is an extensive area filled with large stone markers, many of them inscribed and some dated. The graves of Sanjonishi Sanetaka can be found there, among many others.

Karen L. Brock
Independent Scholar
Albuquerque, NM

Date: Thu, 29 Nov 2001 03:06:27 -1000 (HST)
From: Rokuo Tanaka <

Professor Pollack's mention of Toribeyama prompted me to go to _Kadokawa Nihon Chimei Daijiten, Vol. 26, Kyoto-Fu, Pt.1_ (1991, pp 1016-17).

Voila! Two entries under Toribeno (now in Higashiyama-Ku) and Toribe no go^ (now in Higashiyama-Ku) detail the location of burial sites for royal families and aristocrats such as Fujiwara clan with citation of literary and documentary sources.

The wild field in Toribe at the foot of Mount Toribe (thus,Toribeyama and Toribeno are synonymous) was considered to be a site for burial services since the archaic days. From the mid Heian and on, Toribeno was recorded as such, e.g., Chu^gu^ Teishi, a consort of Emperor Ichijo^, for whom Sei Sho^nagon was a Lady-in-waiting, was buried there.

Toribe no go^ (now in Higashiyama-Ku), one of twelve go^ (villages) of Otagi (now read as Atago) District in Yamashiro Province was also known as a burial site for royal families and Fujiwara clan. The first instance was recorded in _Nihon Kiryaku_ (ca, mid 11th C-12th C) regarding the death of Prince Ko^sei (Tsunetsugu?), a son of Emperor Jun'a (786-840) on Tenth Day of Fifth Month in Third Year of Tencho^ (826).

The death of Fujiwara no Michinaga on Fourth of Twelve Month in Fourth Year of Manju (1027) and cremation and burial of his ash on Seventh Day were recorded in _Eiga Monogatari_ (Book XXX, Tsu ru no hayashi, NKBT V. 76, Pt.2, p331) reading:

"Keburi tae yuki furishikeru Toribeno ha (wa) tsuru no hayashi no kokochi
koso sure to nam arikeru."
This part of the Monogatri alludes to Priest Hokyo^ Chu^myo^'s poem in
_Goshu^i Wakashu^_ (Book Ten, Aisho^, No. 544) which reads:

Takigi tsuki yuki furishikiru Toribeno ha (wa) tsuru no hayashi no kokochi
koso sure.

Followed by Michinaga's burial at Toribeno, the burial services of Heian aristocrats were frequently held at this location, Thus, Kenko^ writes in _Tsurezuregusa_ "Adashino no tsuyu kiyuru toki naku, Toribeyama no keburi tachisarade..." (If man were never to fade away like the dews of Adashino, never to vanish like the smoke over Toribeyama....[Tr. by D. Keene].
Rokuo Tanaka

Date: Thu, 29 Nov 2001 11:35:00 -0500
From: Hank Glassman

Hello All,

William Bodiford was very kind to point out to me off list that I mistakenly rendered Haga Noboru sensei's family name as Yoshiga in my last posting. Please take note of my error. The reference should be:

Sogi no rekishi/Haga Noboru (Yuzankaku, 1987)

Rokuo Tanka wrote that Michinaga was buried at Toribe-no. Not to contradict Mr. Tanaka, but I if I am not mistaken Michinaga was interredat Kohata in Uji with rest of his family, where he founded Jomyoji as a memorial temple. As I said in the my last message, many funerals were performed at Toribe, while the remains were more likely buried in places like Kohata, Shirakawa, etc. or even divided among multiple locations (bunkotsu). (Talking mid-Heian period, here.) Again, I feel it's useful to make a distinction between burial site and the location of the funeral, since this distinction was quite important to the actors themselves.


Hank Glassman

Date: Thu, 29 Nov 2001 17:47:16 +0000
From: Richard Bowring

Most of the correspondence to date on this topic has concentrated on the aristocrats, who could afford the services that surrounded cremation and subsequent burial. But I think the initial question was geared more to non-aristocrats, warriors and the like. Yet again this an earlier reference than the Onin wars, but it is clear from works like the Hojoki that 'those of no note' were just left to die on the streets and then dragged down to the river beds. But it takes quite a long time for a body to decompose and one begins to get a picture that the capital must have always been full of rotting corpses. I find this hard to believe. Is there no record of mass burial grounds outside the city?

Richard Bowring
Cambridge, UK

Date: Thu, 29 Nov 2001 12:13:21 -0800
From: Andrew Goble

As to non-Toribeno burials (and perhaps see Eiga monogatari for references to where people were disposed of):
1. Kyoto as "city" probably masks the fact thatit seems to have been surrounded by (and maybe was dotted with) non-built-up areas.
2. "Open-air" burial was very common (and see a depiction of this in Gaki zoshi), and in such cases the fact that animals devoured the flesh probably meant that the "aesthetics of decomposition" would have been less of an issue. Internment (in-ground burial) doesn't seem to have been that common in Heian.
3. On death and graves, perhaps there may be some useful Heian references in Suito Makoto's Chusei no soso, bosei : sekito o zoritsu suru koto.

ate: Thu, 29 Nov 2001 10:26:22 -1000 (HST)
From: Rokuo Tanaka

On Thu, 29 Nov 2001, Hank Glassman wrote:

Rokuo Tanka wrote that Michinaga was buried at Toribe-no. Not to contradict Mr. Tanaka, but I if I am not mistaken Michinaga was interred at Kohata in Uji with rest of his family, where he founded Jomyoji as a memorial temple. [...]

I am humbly speaking under correction. I should have read more carefully and thoroughly Eiga Monogatari, Book 7 Torinobe, Book 17 Omgaku, Book 18 Tama no utena, and especially Book 30 Tsuru no hayashi (page 331).

When Michinaga became gravely ill, he wished to stay in the Muryo^juin (Amida Do^,) one of the halls of Ho^jo^ji, a gorgeous temple Michinaga founded in near Kamogawa in Kyoto. He died in this Hall. The Ho^jo^ji was burned down and no longer exist. Michinaga also founded Jo^myo^ji in Kohata, Uji, which had traditionally become the graveyard for Fujiwara clan since Michinaga's death.

Eiga Monogatari writes the cremation should be held at Torinobe on Seventh Day of Twelve Month. At the dawn of Eighth, the lords and high priests picked up Michinaga's ash, put it into a jar and took it to Kohata. (p.331).

No mention of "bunkotsu" in this Book 30, though.

Rokuo Tanaka

Date: Thu, 29 Nov 2001 16:39:37 -0800 (PST)
From: Janet R. Goodwin

If you're interested in burial practices in locations other than Kyoto, you might want to look at the article by Ishii Susumu entitled "Toshi Kamakura" in Amino Yoshihiko, Ishii Susumu, Kasamatsu Hiroshi, & Katsumata Shizuo, Chuusei no Tsumi to Batsu (Tokyo Daigaku Shuppankai, 1983). The article isn't about burials per se, but contains some interesting information about 13th century burial practices. For example, people were forbidden to throw corpses (of human beings, oxen & horses) into the city streets, indicating that this might have been a frequent practice. Gravesites within the city were prohibited, but Ishii mentions the area of Myouetsu, probably in the outskirts, where gravesites known as yagura were located, and commoners were buried. (You can visit yagura, which are actually shallow caves that often contain stone buddhist images and grave markers.) Ishii also refers to information about burials in Nichiren's Risshou Ankokuron.

--Jan Goodwin

Date: Thu, 29 Nov 2001 23:10:00 -0500
From: Tom Conlan

In the late 1950s, graves at Zaimokuza, in Kamakura were excavated. Theremain most probably represent members of the Kamakura bakufu who were killed in 1333, as sword wounds can be found on some of bone. Ibelieve that approximately 800 people were buried in the sands right by the ocean, and some evidence exists of the bodies being gnawedat by animals (or crabs?). Furthermore, a few skulls have the remains of sanskrit letters, just as described in the Hojoki. (An old Iwanami Shoten book called Nihonji no hone, I believe, provides some information regarding this discovery). A number of skulls were discovered in Fukuoka as well, and they too probably date from 1333.

Although I am not familiar with the situation in the Heian era, in the fourteenth century some noted individuals had fragments of their bodies distributed to several temples. I know that the hair, bones (and ashes) of Ashikaga Yoshiakira were sent to several temples, following the precedent of his father, Takauji. I imagine Yoshimitsu (at least) did the same.

Tom Conlan

Date: Fri, 30 Nov 2001 14:11:33 +0000
From: Robert Khan

A very useful resource for information on death and burial in early Japan is

Mace Franois. La mort et les funerailles dans le Japon ancien. Paris: Publications Orientalistes de France, 1986.

[Do the e-acutes and cedilla come through OK Michael?]
{accent-free rendering substituted above /ed.}

This is a substantial 'tome' - 660 pp. including sections on 'La mort,'Le mogari,' 'La tombe, 'Caractre et evolution des funerailles,' about fifty pages each of illustrations, translated documents, and bibliography, *and*, chose rarementvue dans les publications franaises, really substantial and multiple indexes.

The chronological focus is primarily up to mid-Heian, but since this thread has generated a fair bit of interest, perhaps others may find thisinformation more useful than the poser of the original request will.

Best wishes,

Robert O. Khan

Assistant Professor of Japanese
Department of Asian Studies
University of Texas at Austin

(Currently on leave in England)

Date: Fri, 30 Nov 2001 09:37:54 -0500
From: G. Cameron Hurst

Dear All:

I haven't been following the discussion on burial as closely as I ought (endo f the semester rapidly approaching), but I perked up at the mention of the death of Michinaga. I want to confirm Hank Glassman's recollection that Michinaga's funeral and cremation were carried out atToribe-no, and then the next day the urn containing his remains wastaken off for internment at Kohata, where most Northern Branch Fujiwara nobles were buried. The matter is covered in both <Shoyuki>and <Eiga monogatari>.

G. Cameron Hurst

Date: Fri, 30 Nov 2001 16:36:11 -0500
From: Jacqueline Stone

For another overview of medieval burial practices, see Katsuta Itaru, "Buraku no soosei to kazoku," in _Chuusei o kangaeru kazoku to josei_, ed, Minegishi Sumio (Yoshikawa Koobunkan, 1992).

--Jackie Stone

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