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Mt. Okubo―Land Use History of Azami Hill―
Sleeping ruins in Waseda University's Honjo Campus

Ryota Nakakado
Assistant of Aizu Museum, Waseda University

2012 marked the 30th anniversary of Waseda University Honjo Senior High School. Did you know that there are ancient remains on almost all of the Honjo Campus, including under those school buildings?

Those remains are called the Mt. Okubo Archaeological Site, and excavational investigations took place before the construction plans of Honjo Campus. On this occasion, sponsored by the Aizu Museum and Cultural Planning Section, Cultural Affairs Division, Waseda University, we will hold the exhibition "Mt. Okubo―Land Use History of Azami Hill―"with unearthed materials from the Mt. Okubo Archaeological Site.

Location and environment of the Mt. Okubo Archaeological Site

The Mt. Okubo Archaeological Site lies on Azami Hill (or Mt. Azami Hill) which straddles Honjo City and Kodama Town. Azami Hill is one of the monadnocks descending from the Kodama hill, and is a rise left behind from the process of the gradually encroaching plains from the Mt. Chichibu ranges. The Kanna River flows to the west and joins the Tone River in the north, with the Koyama River flowing to the south. The area of Azami Hill measures 1.8km east to west and 1km north to south with a relative elevation of 40m from the plateau. There are two large valleys carved into the eastern flank, connected to the western side by the three peaks of Mt. Azami, Mt. Okubo, and Mt. Tsukamoto from the north (photo 1). The place name is one of the Musashi-Shichito Parties and originates from the Kodama Party Asami clan. Because many mountain azaleas used to bloom, it is affectionately known by locals as "Mt. Azalea".

(Photo 1) Aerial view of Honjo Campus (from the top Mt Azami, Mt. Okubo, Mt. Tsukamoto)

Centered around Mt Okubo, the two valleys, which come between Mt. Azami and Mt. Tsukamoto, are respectively called "North Valley" and "South Valley", with the North Valley side having steep geographical features and the South Valley side a gentle slope.

Of these hills, the comparatively level summit, gentle slopes on the southern face, and flat valleys can be given as places which have been actively used as places for people's lives. In this exhibit, excavated items from the Mt. Okubo Archaeological Site have been adopted to give an overview of the history, and changes in land use from the Jomon Period to the present can be followed. (Photo 2)

(Photo 2)

Jomon period to Yayoi period

In this exhibition, traces of people's lives in the Mt. Okubo Archaeological Site start from the early Jomon period. As well as pit dwelling remains and holes at an elevation of about 75m having been confirmed as ancient Jomon period structural remnants, on the flat area at the top of Mt. Okubo (Zone II), a group of holes mainly comprising of holes with stones have been unearthed, and discarded Jomon pottery has been dug up on the northern slope.

In the following Yayoi Period, pit dwellings were built on the gentle slope of Mt. Okubo's south-eastern side (Zone IV A, Zone III B). From the gentle slope under 70m to the low-lying areas, in the same way as the Jomon period, very few remnants of the Yayoi period can be seen, so it is believed that villages of the time were built at higher elevations on the gentle slope.

Kofun period to ancient times

A majority of the Mt. Okubo Archaeological Site is made up of settlements from the Kofun period to ancient times, with about 800 pit dwellings from that era alone being excavated. Settlements that had been developed on the flat area at the top of the hill and high elevations of the gentle slope expanded into lower heights on the slope and into the low-lying areas of the valley. Looking over Mt. Azami as a whole, in addition to early Kofun period tombs surrounded by square moats being built in Mt. Azami area, there are many ancient tombs such as the Maeyama No.1 Tomb (70m), the largest example of a keyhole-shaped tumulus in Saitama Prefecture, the East Valley Tomb with a corridor-type stone chamber, and the Mt. Tsukamoto cluster of burial mounds with over 170 tombs.

On Azami Hill, with the settlement on the southern slope of Mt. Okubo as a focal point, we can tell that Mt. Azami, Mt. Tsukamoto and Maeyama were used as burial sites. It can be believed that the Mt. Okubo Archaeological Site is not a settlement completed on Mt. Okubo alone, but functioned in multiple forms over the whole of Azami Hill.

In Honjo City in the 7th and 8th centuries, traditional villages were abandoned or scaled down, and villages seen to be "planned villages" with a political background involving the establishment of the political system based on the ritsuryo codes appeared. However, those large scale villages disappeared in the 10th-11th century, with people moving to new land and living again in Kofun period and Nara period settlements. Among all this, in the Mt. Okubo Archaeological Site, although the location changed slightly depending on the era, villages were continuously developed from the Kofun period based around the southern slope of Mt. Okubo. Lowlands spreading out in front of the settlements could be used for farming and abundant forests grew behind them. Because of that, in the period of change from the Kofun period to ancient times, it can be considered that the Mt. Okubo Archaeological Site maintained some sort of independent economic foundation and continued to have villages built.

(Photo 3) Unearthed items from the A2 road zone No.9 dwelling (late 5th century - early 6th century)

Middle ages

For a time after the construction of the stone burial mound (No.1 Tomb) at Zone IIIA in the 10th century, there is little evidence of human activity in the excavational investigation area of the Mt. Okubo Archaeological Site. However, because few remains have been unearthed, people probably avoided entering the burial zone and moved their dwellings to the central valley or low lying land.

Traces of humans moving back to the Mt. Okubo Archaeological Site have been dated to the middle of the 12th century. A large castle was built about 20m west of the above mentioned No.1 Tomb. The Kita-Musashi region of the Mt. Okubo Archaeological Site was the stronghold and home of a middle age samurai group that supported the foundations of the Kamakura government, and Kodama Party, one of the Musashi-Shichito Parties, positioned its base around Azami Hill. A castle was built on the land which housed ancestral graves, and by incorporating that holy land, it is presumed that they showed to the region that they were the legitimate successors. Also, in the Mt. Azami area, temple remains have been discovered on the flat area carved into the foot of the slope. "Honjo City History" says "Koreyuki Arimichi (author's note: said to be the founder of Kodama Party) built a temple on Mt. Azami to enshrine Amitabha and named it Seikoji Temple," and it is thought that Azami Hill took on the role of being holy ground for Kodama Party. Looking over the whole of Azami Hill, remains of the castle, houses and temple are grouped together, so we can presume it functioned as a single settlement.

The castle disappeared in the early 14th century, and after that, with the uncovering of gravestones composed of five pieces piled up one upon another and stone stupas, it is believed that it was used as a burial site in the late middle ages.

Early-modern times to the present

Early-modern pottery has been excavated at the Mt. Okubo Archaeological Site, and the scenery of Azami Hill in early-modern times is slightly different from the large-scale settlements that continued from the Kofun period.

In early-modern times there was the Nakayama Road and water transport on the Tone River, and the Honjo relay post was situated near the present site of JR Honjo Station. Honjo relay post is said to be the relay post boasting the most people and buildings of the relay posts on the Nakayama Road. When looking at Edo period illustrations, Azami Hill was drawn as luscious green natural woodland surrounded by several villages. Because of this, post early-modern Azami Hill is thought to have played a role as common land providing natural resources more than being a settlement for people to live. Even today, Azami Hill keeps its luscious green form, and you can witness the changing colours of the four seasons.

This exhibition will be displayed at Honjo Campus from January 24, 2013 after its conclusion at the Aizu Museum. Items owned by the Honjo Municipal Board of Education will also be on display at this exhibition, so you can follow an even more complete history of the changes of Azami Hill. By seeing the unearthed items of that land on that actual land, I hope you can have a deeper feeling of the land use history of Azami Hill.

Mt. Okubo―Land Use History of Azami Hill―
Aizu Museum and Cultural Planning Section, Cultural Affairs Division, Waseda University
Honjo Municipal Board of Education and Honjo Project Promotion Office, Academic Affairs Division, Waseda University

【Session 1】
November 16, 2012 (Fri) - January 12, 2013 (Sat)
Opening Hours: 10:00 - 17:00 (Admission until 16:30) Entry free
*Closed on Sundays, public holidays and December 23 to January 6
Venue: 1st floor Exhibition Room of Aizu Museum

【Session 2】
January 24, 2013 (Thu) - March 9, 2013 (Sat)
Opening Hours 10:00 - 16:00 (Admission until 15:30) Entry free
*Closed on Sundays and public holidays
Venue: Reference Room at the 2nd floor of Waseda Research Park Communication Center (Building No.93)

Ryota Nakakado
Assistant of Aizu Museum, Waseda University

Born in 1982. Started his doctorate at the Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University in 2009, and started current position in April 2011. Majors in Japanese archaeology and ethnoarchaeology.