I was in Okayama on a Monday when all the museums are closed, so I took a 10 minute train ride to Bizen-Ichinomiya Station and rented a bicycle to go exploring the Kibi Plain. This was the site of the Kibi Kingdom which was very powerful in 4th century Japan, with its strategic position between different tribes in Japan and its connections with kingdoms in Korea. It was a really nice cycle through rice fields, passing temples, historic sites, and sites connected to the legend of Prince Kibitsuhiko, who was the basis of the even more legendary Momotaro, a hero born of a peach who battled ogres and enjoyed kibi dango, sweet millet dumplings.My first stop was Kibitsuhiko Shrine where the prince prayed before going to fight the ogres. The omikuji fortunes at this shrine are in the form of peaches, in honour of Momotaro, the Peach Boy.It started out as a dull day, and the rice fields looked very desolate with their burnt stalks.
Kibitsu Shrine is where the prince battled the ogre, and it has really long covered corridors which look out on lovely little gardens where the plum trees were blossoming.What I was really excited to see on this trip were the kofun, keyhole-shaped burial mounds dating from between the 3rd and the 7th centuries A.D. that gave their name to that period. I don’t know much about them but they remind me of the megalithic monuments in Ireland, although of course, the ones in Ireland are thousands of years older. The mounds were build to house tombs of the Kibi royalty, who were interred in stone coffins in the round part of the mound, with swords, mirrors and other accessories.
These mounds are really noticeable in Japan because of the lack of hills. It’s either flatland or mountains. I liked Tsukuriyama because of its rural setting, dividing a tiny hamlet from rice fields. The only tourist facility was a box where you could take a photocopied map of the mound. There was a shrine built over where the grave would be on the circular part, and then two rows of trees going down to the squared-off end. The sun came out and cast a golden light over the rest of the afternoon.
After Tsukuriyama Kofun, I went to Komori Kofun where a tunnel had been excavated into the burial chamber so you could see the stone coffin through a gate.
The last notable place on the trail was the Bitchu-Kokubunji Temple with its five-storey pagoda, and the yellow fields of rapeseed made a nice change from the burnt rice paddies. It being a Monday in February, I was the only tourist exploring the plains, the only other people I saw were working in the fields or walking their dogs. My pink rental mama-chari bicycle served me well and I dropped it off at another bicycle rental shop at Soja, from where I got the train back to Okayama city.