Nose tomb

The Mimizuka monument in Kyoto, Japan, is full of Korean noses. It is a hanazuka, a nose tomb.

Mimizuka - Kyoto nose tomb
Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Japanese samurai collected trophies from those they killed during wartime. Traditionally this was the enemy’s head, which the samurai would bring back home and bury in special burial mounds known as Kubizuka (“neck mound”).

The Japanese invasions of Korea in the 16th century were an absolute bloodbath. The war changed Korea and Japan forever; it was the birth of Japanese imperialism and Korean nationalism. Losses sustained by the Japanese army led to the end of the Sengoku period and the rise of the Tokugawa shogunate (other Japanese lords sustained many more losses than Tokugawa’s forces in the Korean war, allowing him to take control of Japan two years later). Losses in Korea were enormous. The Japanese army killed around a quarter of a million soldiers – and maybe three times that number of civilians.

For the invading samurai, this presented a gruesome problem. It was just not feasible to carry that many heads back to Japan. So they took people’s noses instead. Thousands of noses – most from dead bodies, some from the still living. These noses were sealed in barrels, pickled, and sent back to Japan.

What do you do with barrels of pickled noses? Well, back in Japan, those noses were buried in dedicated war monuments – the so-called Hanazuka (“nose mound” or “nose tomb”). The one pictured above is just outside Toyokuni Shrine in Kyoto. That specific monument had its name changed in the 17th century to Mimizuka (“ear mound”) because apparently “nose mound” was a little too visceral.

This nose tomb still contains an estimated 38,000 Korean noses. It’s an understandable sore point for Korea, and Korean tourists still visit the site to pay their respects.

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