The particularly exciting thing about Iki Island, beyond how impressive the natural sights look surrounded by the green forest, is that it has a long history. After visiting Koyasan and doing a Kumano-kodo pilgrimage, I have become interested in our origin of belief and culture in Japan. This is why I decided to see with my own eyes one of the birthplaces of culture and history in Japan on Tsushima and Iki islands.
The description of Gishiwajinden in the 3th century Chinese chronicle says Iki was governed by Yamataikoku and archaeologists think the Haranotsuji area was an imperial city. Important artifacts from the jomon (4 B.C.) and yayoi kofun (4 B.C. – 3 A.D.) periods have been found on Iki Island indicating continuous human history. On my first day, I visited several historical sites and here is a summary of key cultural delights on Iki Island.
My first destination was the center of Iki Island where many tumuli were excavated. About 280 tumuli built from the later 6th to the beginning of the 7th century can be found and 60% of the tumuli of Nagasaki Prefecture are located on Iki Island.I headed for Kakeki Tumuli (end of the 6th century) which has a drilled type of stone coffin sarcophagus. You can enter the inside to see the construction and it is an amazing feat of human ingenuity and engineering. Iki Fudoki no Oka, next to Kakeki Tumuli, exhibits a number of private residences, farmhouses and outside baths from the Edo Period.
You can take a 2-hour historical walk around Kakei Tumulus, Lilly field mounds and Sasazuka mounds to Souroku Tumulus. After 20 mins of walking from the end of Lilly field mounds, you can reach to Sasazuka Tumulus and enter it. It was surrounded by deep forest, so I needed some courage to enter.
Souroku Tumulus is the biggest “keyhole-shaped” tumulus (mid-6th century) in Nagasaki Prefecture with the stone room measuring 91 meters in length. Iron weapons, ornaments of semi precious stone jewels and glass beads were found and many of these relics indicate a close connection between Japan and the Korean Peninsula and China.Souroku Tumulus is the best place to observe the whole structure closely. You can enjoy the wide open space surrounded by native forest and you can almost climb (please don’t) the small hill. Some locals mentioned they used to play a lot here.
Before visiting Haranotsuji Ruins, where the old restored houses exhibit the lifestyle of the Yayoi period from 2,200 years ago to 1,650 years ago, I visited Ikikoku Museum. This museum, designed by Kisho Kurokawa, is located on a hill overlooking the Haranotsuji Ruins and offers a good bird’s eye view of the site.The Ikikoku Museum is certainly worth a visit to see a diorama showing how people used to live and some artifacts that were discovered during the excavation of the site. Explanations of Iki Island history and daily life are given in English too. I could understand how people came to Iki Island, where they were situated and how they lived here.
The diorama imitated locals as models. Some kids were brought to the museum and told they were there as a baby.The size of the museum is not big, but if you want to enjoy the nice observatory and unique outside, 1 and a half hours is needed.
This large scale Haranotsuji ruins originated from 2-3 Century B.C to 3-4 Century A.D. After excavation, the area was renovated as a historical park and old houses were restored to display the 2500-year-old Yayoi settlements as a life-size replica of the capital of the Ikikoku Kingdom. The park is composed of four zones: central zone, circular mounts, botanical garden and activity zone and each zone has unique houses and old buildings. Houses were reconstructed in traditional materials using traditional building techniques. The site is surrounded by multiple moats.The Haranotsuji area is part of the second largest plain in Nagasaki Prefecture and this is one of reasons it became the former site of a settlement that flourished as the capital seat of the kingdom.
The best time to visit Haranotsuji Village is in the late afternoon when sunset is approaching. By staying in this area, the culture of the village is right on your doorstep, so you’ll be able to travel back to the old ages. You can spend hours wondering at Iki’s astonishing history.
My second object to visit Tsushima and Iki islands was to see first-hand the historical sites related to the Mongolian Invasion which I had learned about at elementary school. The first Mongolian Invasion happened in 1274 with 30,000 soldiers and the second in 1281 with a 140,000-strong army. It was the first large attack on Japan from outside, and we learned that it was a huge turning point in Japanese history.
I asked questions of a tour guide and he was so knowledgeable and a great story teller. He guided me from the beginning of the Mongolian Invasion on Iki Island. We went to Amagahara Beach where the Mongolian army had arrived and Uromi Beach where the Mongolian army had landed. Only a few hundreds villagers were living there at that time and they must have been surprised to see 30,000 soldiers appearing in front of them.We visited a battlefield where lots of human bones were found and cemeteries where locals and warriors were buried. Nowadays, these historic sites are just calm and there is no indication of the battle, so it was hard to imagine for me.
Ruins of Castle where the princess tried to bring a message
I also visited a place where a princess was hurt and couldn’t survive to deliver the news of the attack to the mainland. Of course, those stories were delivered verbally and some accuracies might be missing, but the original scenery hasn’t changed. There were no tall buildings and the old shrines still remained. I really enjoyed the atmosphere.